When John Howard announced his Northern Territory Aboriginal rescue plan less than two weeks ago he believed he was on an election winner. But already this misconceived, ill-advised, policy-on-the-run project is in serious trouble.

  1. Any military and police-led operation in war or peacetime must meet four criteria: what are the mission’s objectives, how long will it take, what is the exit strategy and how much will it cost? In Howard’s plan, no answers are available to any of these questions.
  1. Just like the $10 billion Murray River rescue plan announced earlier this year, the Aboriginal initiative was dreamt up in Howard’s own office while Treasury was kept in the dark. Treasury boss Ken Henry is watching this open-ended funding fiasco unfold with mounting alarm.
  1. The central issue remains Howard’s land grab on behalf of the mining companies. Not one member of his conga-line of apologists has been able to explain why it is necessary to confiscate Aboriginal land to rescue children from sexual abuse. Why can’t families and communities be saved on their own land without taking its ownership away?

Among experts in the field of dealing with sexual abuse, the concept of removing the ownership of the offenders/victims’ property is novel. Next time we learn that priests at some Catholic, Anglican or Protestant college are sexually abusing their pupils will the school and grounds be appropriated by the federal government? Of course, the church owners would be offered a “fair price” as compensation, according to the Howard humanitarian doctrine.

Kevin Rudd, who is belatedly asking questions about the Howard plan after initially signing up as a member of the coalition of the over-willing, has a clear duty to announce that if he becomes PM the land removed during this operation will be returned to the tribal owners immediately.

Peter Fray

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