23 June, 2006

Cultural slurs

There were appalling revelations on the news yesterday about persistent paedophilia centred around the community of Mutitjulu, near Uluru (Ayres Rock). As if young people there didn't have enough to worry about.

Of course, the news reports were insistent about the incidence of this problem being higher than average, in indigenous communities. Gosh, I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that as children, a generation of these people were forcibly removed from their families, raised on a flawed and racist theory of cultural assimilation, and subjected to on-going abuse from a prejudiced and fearful majority population?

I should not be surprised that in the accompanying soundbites, politicians declaimed the need to bring the perpetrator to justice. However for me the shock value of this news story is not in the crime, nor the fact that the abuser is still 'at large'; after all, just as paedophiles are found among groups of all ethnicities, so are cases of communities and family hiding the truth from themselves or from outsiders.

No, the way I see it, the real story here is the failure of Australian governments to provide the social services, justice and support necessary to help individuals and community overcome the cultural, societal and psychological disconnect that they have experienced. It seems that none of this is new - for example, the Bringing them Home report, based on National Inquiry findings, recommends "the provision of adequate funding to relevant Indigenous organisations in each region to establish parenting and family well-being programs", as well as culturally appropriate counselling, support and mental health care. I think we can safely say that those haven't been 'adequately' addressed. And what about tackling the presence of other causes of child abuse, related to poverty, safe housing, employment opportunities, and health education? It seems that such forward-thinking initiatives are beyond the capacity of Australia's elected leaders. Far better to continue to overspend on the incarceration of indigenous men than start to address the needs of damaged communities.

One phrase often used in this discussion really concerns me. A "culture of silence" was said to have prevented law officers and social services from bringing the abuser before the court. Yes, that phrase, "culture of silence" is common enough, and the culture referred to may be the habitual behaviour of a scheming political faction, cowed hospital staff or a group of naughty schoolboys. But it is clear that in this context, the word has another obvious association; the listener may well make a subconscious connection to indigenous cultural practice. To use that slippery word 'culture' in this context is, at best, irresponsible and, at worst, racial vilification.

You see, this all echoes recent suggestions, heard even from that champion of the indigenous people, Mal Brough MP, that violence and abuse are tolerated or swept under the carpet by indigenous culture and 'customary law'. In recent weeks, a picture of a 'culture of violence' has been built up, and connections made between the corporal punishments sometimes used under indigenous traditional laws, and the abusive violence which has begun to receive so much media attention. Less attention has been paid to the condemnation of sexual abuse and violence against women and children by indigenous leaders and at the Forum on Ending Violence in Indigenous Communities.

Now, it is implied that 'indigenous culture' is to blame for the fact that paedophiles in positions of authority are evading prison. Is 'White man's culture' to blame for those white paedophiles in religious or educational positions who were moved from parish to parish or institution to institution, despite repeated allegations? I would suggest not.

We are told that indigenous communities refuse to support the police, and the victims of abuse refuse to come forward to identify their abusers. Now, as any regular viewer of 'The Bill' will be able to tell you, witnesses who won't take the stand to testify in child abuse cases are a pretty common problem in any society, anywhere in the world. Providing survivors of abuse with the protection and support they need is a complex issue, which requires extensive resources - especially in a society where entire swathes of older generations are survivors of abuse. From what I understand, in some communities there is a serious lack of appropriate police resources. Judging from the limited scope of the NPY Domestic Violence Service I would guess that many have no access to the advocacy and protection services that white, urban, middle class Australians would take for granted. Why isn't this mentioned when they talk about the problems of getting people coming forward? Is it just that 'support services' and 'protection for survivors of abuse' don't make great soundbites?.

Call me a conspiracy theorist. But this cycle of child abuse and neglect has been playing out in indigenous communities for some years; why is this taking centre stage right now? Well, some might argue that it has something to do with the government's ideas for 'reform' of Aboriginal Land Rights Act in the Northern Territory (ALRA). There's a lot of spin about how these changes will enable indigenous Australians to buy their own homes with all that cash they've been hoarding... and of course it's just coincidence that it will make it easier for mining companies to move into certain areas they've got their eye on. Mr Howard's latest drive to secure economic progress at the expense of society's rights and security. The thing is that there are a few voters out there who still care about indigenous land rights and might kick up a stink. So, a bit of dirt-flinging to get people questioning the morality of indigenous laws which, after all, form the basis of Native Title and indigenous Land Rights - well, it certainly won't do the government's cause any harm, will it?

More links:
http://www.aic.gov.au/conferences/2003-abuse/stanley.pdf - Child Sexual Abuse in Indigenous Communities, National Child Protection Clearinghouse, Australian Institute of Family Studies
http://www.antar.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=241&Itemid=106 - Rights of indigenous women and children must come first, byLarissa Behrendt, professor of law and director of research at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, University of Technology, Sydney
http://www.abc.net.au/message/news/stories/s1662086.htm - Aboriginal Cultural Violence or Violence of Aboriginal Culture a lecture by Lester-Irabinna Rigney
http://eherald.alp.org.au/articles/0606/natp20-01.php - 'Broughs myths must be dispelled' By Chris Evans, Federal Labor Leader in the Senate , Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs
http://www.darwinresearchcentre.com/feature001.asp?id=50 - A paper delivered to the Bennelong Society in Canberra by David Tollner MP, Member for Solomon
http://www.bennelong.com.au/articles/pdf/gandrews2006.pdf - Economic passivity and dependency in Mutitjulu:Some suggestions for change (from Mutitjulu Tjungu Waakaripayi Project ‘Working Together’)http://www.antarvictoria.org.au/documents/IndigenousPoliticsoppiece31May06.doc - Clueless White Males
By: Clare Land and Eve Vincent

20 June, 2006

Reading from right to left

A couple of articles caught my eye this week.

The first item appears on the ANTaR website but was originally published in the National Indigenous Times. It discusses the importance of accepting responsibility for the atrocious disparities (in opportunities, representation, income, life-expectancy) between indigenous and non-indigenous communities. It urges the government to say Sorry and to look to Canada to identify solutions for a just Australia which we can all be proud of. There are a couple of points I don't agree with, but it is a holistic, solutions-based piece which makes some excellent recommendations to government and to us all.

The second item, in today's online edition of The Age, discusses the insidious shift in Australia's immigration policy. The author reminds us that the Convention of the Status of Children is threatened by the latest Migration Amendment bill, and describes offshore processing as "cruel and inhumane". He argues that the government's policies impact on the country's international standing and urges all Australians to stand up and fight the proposed immigration changes.

Interestingly, both these articles were written by a chap named Malcolm Fraser. Mr Fraser just happens to have been the Liberal PM of Australia (1975-1983) and was incidentally described as an "extreme right-winger" in his early political career. A little more research however, shows that Fraser has become one of John Howard's most vocal critics, in recent years. He has taken the government to task over its acquiescence to the USA. He is particularly outspoken about the fear, reaction and deception practiced since September 11, 2001, the War on Terror, and the Tampa affair.

No wonder that a search on his name led me to the promotional site for "Beyond Right and Left". Worth more of a look when I get a minute.

That chilling Winston Churchill line, "Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has no heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains" can be laid to rest for once and for all.

Other links:
http://www.chilout.org/ - Say No! to children back in detention
http://www.unhcr.org.au/basicoblig.shtml - UNHCR basic obligations
http://www.safecom.org.au/malcolm-fraser-rights.htm - Malcolm Fraser on Human Rights and Responsibilities in the Age of Terror
http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/news/media/rel05/austcana.htm - Australia, Canada and New Zealand: collaborative research project to improve Indigenous health
http://www.ncylc.org.au/croc/images/Aust_NGO_Key_Issues_CRC_200.pdf - NGO report on Australia’s record with regard to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/898586b1dc7b4043c1256a450044f331/6f6879be758d0e8ec12570d9003340ba/$FILE/G0544374.pdf - UN Committee on the Rights of the Child: Concluding observations on Australia. Grim stuff.

19 June, 2006

World Refugee Day 2006 - Melbourne Rally

At the weekend I dragged my partner along to Melbourne's march and rally to mark World Refugee Day, http://melbourne.indymedia.org/news/2006/06/115114.php.

I really liked the fact that as well as some interesting speakers and political groups' stalls, there was a multicultural festival to enjoy at the end of the route.

It would have been wonderful to see more people there, especially with the diabolical measures being proposed by the coalition goverment in their new Migration Amendment Bill. I haven't been able to get terribly riled by the howls that this bill is all about appeasing the Indonesian government. I have more of a problem with Australia shirking its UNHCR commitments to an even greater extent.

That and the fact that offshore processing of asylum seekers' claims, and mandatory detention, are immoral and have been proven to cause unnecessary suffering to people who are in need of protection and support.

I gather that the bill has been passed in the House of Representatives but could still be rejected by the Sentate. I got my act together and wrote an e-mail to Victoria's senators. I guess some of them will think that it's just a copy-pasted form letter, but it's the best I can do at this late stage. I somehow suspect that Ms Vanstone's (somewhat flustered) responses to the Senate's Committee findings will have more bearing than any letter I could write.

Post the first

Hi. Thanks for stopping by. This is an attempt to impose some order in the mess of ideas, aspirations and intentions running through my mind these days.

I find myself flitting from cause to battle to social issue day by day and even hour by hour. There are so many wrongs in the world, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the apparent impossibility of making any difference at all to the world around me.

Here's a brief sample: free trade agreements which favour rich countries; major pollutants' refusal to recognise the impact of global warming; entrenched racist and colonialist policies which continue to treat indigenous communities as second-class citizens; increasing inequality in income and self-determination between rich and poor; unjust wars waged by bullying governments on fallacious principles; the disproportionate impact of HIV/AIDs on the world's poorest countries; advertisers' psychological manipulation of the young; internet carriers' attempts to undermine network neutrality; the inability of CEOs to make decisions that they know are the right ethical choice; the appropriation of community spaces and local economies by the bulldozer of big business...

And so on.

The challenge is to find a way to make a difference in any one of these areas. To avoid getting drawn into the over-consume, over-spend, over-work cycle. To do something productive with my days on the planet.

It's not like there's a lack of material out there, nor a lack of people trying to do the right thing. It's almost that there's too much. Trying to gain a sense of direction by finding some leading lights in the jungle of information and issues will be my starting point.