Well well well. So those of us who thought John Howard had a liking for authoritarianism have had our hunch confirmed today, with the PM’s response to the Northern Territory Government’s report on child abuse in Aboriginal communities.

This is no less than a declaration of martial law. Let’s not mince words here – this is a Prime Minister who is prepared to suspend the rule of law and democracy simply to get a cheap headline.

Mr Howard justifies his crude tactics – of dubious legality – on the grounds that this is a national emergency. While there is no doubting the social and economic problems in Aboriginal communities today, to describe it as a national emergency and to immediately impose draconian prohibitions is simply playing the crude politics of race.

Does Mr Howard think that banning the sale, possession, transportation and consumption of alcohol on Aboriginal lands in the NT will actually work? He knows as well as anyone that prohibition never works and that all he has done today with his crass announcement is to create an opportunity for a thriving black market in booze.

And the compulsory commandeering of Centrelink payments – 50% of welfare payments through Centrelink to parents of Aboriginal children on NT Aboriginal land will be quarantined to prevent money being spent on alcohol – is not only horribly paternalistic but is also a recipe for corruption in the social security system.

Ban on X-rated pornography? Wow, that’s really going to work Prime Minister! And why is it ok in law to ban X-rated pornography for one group of people in Australia and not for others? Surely there’s a constitutional challenge in there somewhere. If there is not, and the PM is allowed to get away with it, what’s next – stopping Aboriginal Australians from gaining access to the Internet?

Given the preparedness of this Prime Minister to suspend the rule of law for base political motives – he did it with Tampa in 2001 – today’s announcement should come as no surprise. But let’s hope the ALP finds some backbone to oppose this latest assault on rights and freedoms, as opposed to 2001 when it played ball with the Tampa law.

Australian democracy and its commitment to the rule of law just got shot up badly today thanks to John Howard. All those right-wing commentators who say they don’t like to see the Australian Constitution and the law generally subverted for political ends should be up in arms about Mr Howard’s actions. But what’s the bet that the likes of Greg Craven, David Flint and other Howard acolytes either shut up and hide, or seek to justify these egregious actions with some twisted logic of their own.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.