Less than four days into Australia’s sterling effort to be the first member of the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ to invade itself, and it looks as if the initiative is failing before it has even started. With reports that families are fleeing Mutitjulu, one of the first communities to be targeted for military intervention, and that that community is also considering a ban on tourist access to Uluru.
In response, Minister Mal Brough has resorted to the time-honoured accusation that “agitators and troublemakers” are stirring things up, it apparently being impossible for Aborigines to watch Channel Nine and see reports of troops being “sent in”.
Conceived in a mixture of cynical electoral calculation and knee-jerk emotionalism (the PM was allegedly moved to act after hearing the “passion in Noel Pearson’s voice” during an ABC interview), the occupation of the Northern Territory is already showing the strain of being ill-thought out, a projection of power rather than real action.
The operation – predicated on the idea that police and troops will be welcomed – seems to have never considered that the exercise of total state power might invite resistance. But what if adults refuse to let doctors examine their children? Will the police intervene? Will troops? If people leave communities to avoid examining children will they be pursued? Will doctors co-operate, or will they obey the first provision of the Hippocratic Oath – ‘first, do no harm’ – and refuse to conduct blanket invasive examinations, or will they examine screaming children under military guard?
Will parents who resist be arrested and locked up? In other words, will every squalid episode, and then some, in the decades of the “stolen generations” be repeated in a sped-up farcical-tragical fashion?
The same applies to blanket prohibition. As health workers have pointed out, about the only thing worse than alcoholism is a rapid withdrawal from it, which can be fatal, especially when hospital facilities are distant. Has anyone thought this through? Will serious alcoholics – and there would be hundreds at least – be taken to drying-out facilities outside the prohibition areas? Or will they be left to take their chances?
How will sly grog-runs to major towns be prevented, when the number of police and troops are in their dozens and the lands in question occupy hundreds of square kilometres? Will townships and settlements within the lands be effectively fenced off with entry and exit points – de facto detention camps? If illegal house parties start up, will all the participants be arrested? If they are, will children then be removed by welfare services on a more permanent basis? Will the occupation be indefinite, so that NT Aborigines are simply subject to military diktat and denied any semblance of control over their own lives? Or will they depart after a face-saving few months with no substantial change, for things to pretty much resume as they were?
These are the questions that aren’t being asked by the plan’s booster club, which seems to occupy large sections of the mainstream media.
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