”We regard this as akin to a national emergency.”

— John Howard, lunchtime today, announces his dramatic response to the Little Children are Sacred, the report into s-xual abuse in indigenous communities.

Strong, emotive words. But unlike most national emergencies, the apparent crisis of poverty, indifference, dispossession, intoxication, disease and abuse that besets portions of Aboriginal Australia has festered over decades and centuries. No one can deny that the s-xual abuse of children, in any Australian community, is an evil that must be stopped, and this week’s Little Children are Sacred report painted a grim picture of the instance of abuse in indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. But this is not a problem that has suddenly come upon us with cyclonic force and urgency.

All sorts of issues are raised by the prime minister’s statement today. Issues of constitutionality, civil liberty, land rights, individual rights, medical intrusion, stern paternalism … perhaps even issues of plain politics. Is this the big issue that will wedge Labor out of the national debate as Howard taps a growing desire for tough Aboriginal love? Is this the Tampa we’ve been waiting for?

The reactions we’re publishing in this special edition Crikey email are just initial responses to some of these issues, more and more detail will follow. But already the headline take from the PM’s message, a six-month ban on alcohol in indigenous communities, seems a little odd and opportunistic. Many communities in the territory already have a permanent alcohol ban in place.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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