On Wednesday (item 17), Christian Kerr asked the following question:

… for the bleeding hearts, smug ideologues and dwellers on the grassy knoll bleating about uranium and Halliburton, new Tampas and black kids overboard. I know you don’t care about losing elections. That lets you assert your moral superiority, that you are right and everyone else is wrong. But how do you feel about these comments from Noel Pearson on Lateline last night:

“In my view, self-determination is about people taking responsibility for themselves, for their own families and for their communities and, you know, it’s an absolutely shameful hour that has descended on us, absolutely shameful hour where even an emergency intervention to protect the safety of our children is hindered, is hindered by people who supposedly have good will for Aboriginal people and, in fact, those people are willing, they are willing the protection and succour to Aboriginal children to fail in the same way and as vehemently as they will failure in Iraq.”

I assume this question is not directed at someone like myself – I haven’t “bleated” using any of those descriptions and I do care about losing elections. After all, I’m running for re-election in the Senate and I would very much prefer to win than to lose. But I have to say how I feel about this particular comment.

Noel Pearson is an effective and passionate advocate for putting children first, but he is not the only person who is passionate about it, and in this instance his passion appears to be clouding his judgement. His comment is an unfair smear which is beneath someone of his calibre. Indeed, it displays a depth of intellectual dishonesty usually only (p)reached by serial offenders like Alexander Downer – as if the predictable debacle in Iraq is the fault of those who said in advance it would be a disaster, rather than those like Downer who perpetrated it while waving aside all concerns by smearing anyone who raised them as being supporters of Saddam and soft on terrorism.

There are many Aboriginal people besides Noel Pearson who have been calling for years for urgent, sustained support from governments to help protect indigenous children from violence and abuse, and many of those same Aboriginal people – including from the Northern Territory who know the situation in their communities intimately and will have to live with the consequences if this becomes another failed intervention – are expressing concern about what they have heard so far regarding how the Federal Government’s plan is likely to be carried out.

Having had to battle on for so long with their calls for action and support being ignored, surely these same people should be able to have their views listened to about what type of action will and won’t work without being subjected to the smear that they are “willing the protection and succour to Aboriginal children to fail”?! They have developed solutions, many of which are reflected in the many past reports and the Little Children are Sacred report. Surely they have a right to express concern if they feel the recommended measures are at risk of not being properly implemented or funded? After all, it’s happened many times before that governments have responded to a report with great fanfare, only to fail to properly fund and follow through on implementing it.

Noel Pearson himself has stated that at least two key aspects of the Howard-Brough plan need to be amended, and also that he is not confident the government bureaucracies are up to the implementation challenge. He even stated ominously that “Howard and Brough will make a historic mistake if they are contemptuous of the role that a proper and modern articulation of Aboriginal law must play in the social reconstruction of indigenous societies” – something I agree with and where to date I see no sign his fears will be assuaged.

On the same Lateline program he said “the big danger for the Government is that they can’t go marching in like cowboys. They’ve got to go marching in with humility, with support, not with arrogance, and they’ve got to enjoin the Aboriginal people of that community.” This is very similar to the key concern being expressed right now by many other Aboriginal people. Why can they not also express this concern and seek “enjoinment” with the Federal Government without being howled down?

It’s past time to get this debate focused on the practicalities of implementation and resourcing, and to allow some opportunity for the people with expertise and experience with the issues to be heard.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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