The Prime Minister has today announced a raft of clumsy and heavy handed policies in respect to Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, without any apparent consultation with Indigenous communities or with the NT Government.

In a knee-jerk reaction of gargantuan proportions, today’s statement advises of plans to seek to introduce alcohol restrictions, welfare reform, acquisition of townships, changes to the permit system and much more. Why today?

On 2 March 1996, Australian voters gleefully ditched ALP Prime Minister Paul Keating — widely perceived as ‘arrogant and out of touch’ — and handed the reins to John Winston Howard.

Since that day the Prime Minister has done precious little about the parlous state of Indigenous Australia. The portfolio has been little more than a sideshow alley in which to try and score cheap political points.

Until today. Only months out from an election and in the shadow of polling predicting the demise of his government, the Prime Minister has panicked. He has today announced a raft of confused and draconian measures in an attempt to provide enough colour and movement to disguise his culpable neglect of these issues over the preceding eleven years.

Last Friday, Pat Anderson and Rex Wild released Little Children are Sacred — a report into the s-xual abuse of Aboriginal Children. The ugly circumstances that exist in some remote Indigenous communities have long been known to anyone in close touch with these settlements.

These issues achieved national prominence in May of last year when crown prosecutor Nanette Rogers told her stories on Lateline, prompting the issue to run hot in the national media for several weeks.

Playwright Louis Nowra also rode late into the fray this year with the publication of his essay Bad Dreaming, recounting graphic detail of the nature of some of these abuses.

The Sacred Children inquiry obviously needed to revisit this landscape and the report clearly underscored once again the fact that all was not well. The report provides a series of 97 recommendations which offer a way forward. However, it beggars belief that the Prime Minister appears to be using the report as a trigger for these announcements.

The scope and nature of these problems has long been recognised. However the Federal Government has comprehensively failed to thoughtfully engage with Indigenous communities to tackle these problems in a measured and considered fashion.

It was a national emergency eleven years ago Prime Minister. Where have you been?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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