Mansell: PM misusing child abuse report

Friday, June 29, 2007

Aboriginal activist and legal director of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre Michael Mansell has questioned whether PM John Howard is accurately reading the report he claims motivated his new push into Aboriginal communities. The following is abridged from a June 25 press statement issued by Mansell.

The prime minister claims the Little Children Are Sacred report inspired him to act swiftly to deal with the "state of emergency" that exists in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. However the authors of the report, Rex Wild QC and Pat Anderson, state "There is nothing new or extraordinary in the allegations of sexual abuse of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory. What is new, perhaps, is the publicity."

I could not find a single reference in the report that suggested an invasion of Aboriginal communities by the army and police. Instead, the report recommends "that the police conduct effective, meaningful and ongoing consultations with individual Aboriginal communities with a view to developing protocols for working with the community and supporting each community's own efforts at maintaining peace, law and order" and that there be "genuine consultation with Aboriginal people in designing initiatives for Aboriginal communities".

The reoccurring theme of the report is not to impose a regime of change from outside, but to work with communities to foster a better environment. Yet the prime minister is charging in like a bull at the gate, and hang the consequences for anyone who gets in his way.

While there are examples in the report of specific cases of abuse, the report is not laced with examples of such abuse. It puts its fact finding in a sensible context: "Sexual abuse of children is not restricted to those of Aboriginal descent, nor committed only by those of Aboriginal descent, nor to just the Northern Territory. The phenomenon knows no racial, age or gender borders. It is a national and international problem."

If there had not been a history of this government misrepresenting intelligence reports, the prime minister's slant may have been dismissed as a slip. But there was the weapons of mass destruction report relied on by Howard to send Australia to invade Iraq, and the children overboard scam.

I am not disputing the existence of social problems in Aboriginal communities. I am concerned the prime minister is being selective about using material to convey a state of emergency in those communities.

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