Here in Alice Springs, the Federal Government’s taskforce has hit town and the troops in their camouflage fatigues are heading for Mutitjulu today. But there’s nothing to be concerned about.

The women and children who are fleeing into the surrounding sand hills — “scared stiff” as one report put it — really have nothing to fear. This reassurance come right from the top: from Malcolm Thomas Brough, no less, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs.

These children — blameless victims of circumstance — are confronted with the threatening language of “compulsory” medical checks, and “enforced” school attendance. Their townships will be ‘acquired’ and the Minister has plans for them to be “stabilised” and “normalised”. But there is nothing to fear.

Brough is pumped. He’s spending his time in crisis meetings with military brass, pulling together his intervention plan. There’s whiteboards, maps, charts, clip-boards and purposeful facial expression in abundance. He and his paramount leader have decided what’s best for indigenous Territorians and they are damned well going to get it. How much clearer can he be?

What did I miss? Last Thursday, the Prime Minister announced the single greatest policy shift in indigenous affairs in perhaps the last 30 years. The trigger for these announcements was the recently released Pat Anderson/Rex Wild report into the sexual abuse of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory, Little Children are Sacred.

The report highlights two key factors. Firstly, there is the desperate need to stem the flow of the ‘rivers of grog’ that create the preconditions for so much of the misery of indigenous Australia. This problem must be attacked at the source — in towns like Alice Springs, Katherine and Tenant Creek — rather than in a few ‘wet canteens’ in remote locations.

But, perhaps even more importantly, Sacred Children focuses on the singular importance of education as the salvation of indigenous Australia. The report identifies that “education is the key to helping children and communities nurture safe, well-adjusted families”. The document offers recommendations numbers 50 to 56 setting out a way forward.

It’s about getting kids to pre-school and then school. Being flexible and thoughtful in the way children are taught. Using the insights of earlier reports like Learning Lessons and the Indigenous Languages and Culture in Northern Territory Schools.

“Getting children to school is essential because they are safe while at school. Education provides a way to escape the social and economic problems that contribute to violence, and children can confide in their teachers when they are at school,” the report concludes.

Sadly, it is the level of sophistication — addressing long-term recovery — which is so starkly absent form the Federal Government’s gung-ho, send-in-the-troops rescue mission.

Peter Fray

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