Coercive Reconciliation: Stabilise, Normalise, Exit Aboriginal Australia

By Hollinsworth, David | Social Alternatives, October 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Coercive Reconciliation: Stabilise, Normalise, Exit Aboriginal Australia


Hollinsworth, David, Social Alternatives


Coercive Reconciliation: Stabilise, Normalise, Exit Aboriginal Australia. Edited by Jon Altman, Melinda Hinkson, Melbourne: Arena Publications, 2007 (ix + 342 pp, $27.50). ISBN 978 0 9804158 0 3.

On the 17th of August 2007 the Howard government enacted a number of Bills comprising the Federal government National Emergency response to revelations of widespread allegations of child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. These allegations had received spectacular media coverage with the release of the Little Children are Sacred report by Rex Wild and Pat Anderson. That report found evidence of widespread neglect and abuse but also documented underlying issues including chronic underfunding, poor health and alcohol problems. The report also noted the efforts of mostly women to address these issues and concluded that genuine consultation and empowerment of affected communities was absolutely essential. Federal Minister Mal Brough drove the 500-odd pages of legislation through parliament with almost no debate with every query being met with the accusation: "Don't you care about children being abused".

In what may be an Australian record, Arena was able to publish a remarkable collection of 33 authors, 14 of them Indigenous, edited by Jon Altman and Melinda Hinkson, responding to what has come to be known as the Northern Territory Intervention. The intervention was as comprehensive as it was hasty, expensive and unilateral. Not only children's health and safety were to be managed, but land tenure was overturned in favour of 5-year compulsory acquisition (Turner & Watson, Dalrymple, Tilmouth), abolition of the permit system that controlled non-government visitation to Aboriginal land (Ross), scrapping of the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP), banning of alcohol and pornography (Brady), and income management where half of your welfare income must be redeemed for approved purchases in specified stores. For such draconian measures to be legal, the Race Discrimination Act (1975) had to be suspended.

Many of the contributors are cynical about the Howard government's intentions, given its adoption of a new agenda based on privatised home ownership and land tenure, and its hostility to self-determination and an Indigenous rights agenda. …

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