It was with increasing anger that I watched the Lateline interview with Noel Pearson in which he attacked “naysayers” who are criticising those aspects of the Federal Government’s Northern Territory intervention operation that relate to the compulsory acquisition of leasehold title over land and the scrapping of the permit system.

He accuses the critics of having themselves done nothing to address the conditions that have contributed to child s-x abuse and says that they should be condemned for not supporting initiatives to address that abuse.

It is clear that Mr Pearson was aiming his comments primarily at people like Pat Turner and Olga Havnen who made a public statement in Canberra earlier that day, but I regard myself as being in that same firing line. Pearson’s undoubted excellence as an advocate in his own cause enabled him to completely divert and distort the simple message Pat Turner, Olga Havnen and others were sending to the Prime Minister.

That message was that they support a serious and properly resourced initiative to combat child s-x abuse, but that in order for it to be credible the Prime Minister’s intervention must immediately jettison the two ideologically driven elements that have nothing to do with child protection and everything to do with implementing the plan for dismantling the Land Rights Act that was devised on behalf of the Federal Government a few years ago by John Reeves QC (guess who has just been appointed to join the Prime Minister’s “Taskforce” to implement the intervention?).

Mr Pearson seems to have been accorded intellectual property akin to copyright in the ideas of tying welfare payments to social (in particular parental) obligations and restricting or cutting off the flow of grog, ganja, and other destructive substances. I have been pushing that line for years, as have many other Aboriginal leaders. The s-xual abuse problems at Mutitjulu which were the subject of last year’s Lateline programs were directly tied to the scourge of petrol sniffing.

I developed unprecedented legislation giving Police and other authorised persons the power to interrupt sniffing activity, seize associated items, and take sniffers to a safe place pending the making of compulsory treatment order.

That legislation is now law in the Northern Territory and is part of the reason (together with the rollout of non-sniffable Opal fuel) for the dramatic and very welcome reduction in the number of young people slowly killing themselves in this way in that part of Central Australia which is governed by the Northern Territory.

Long before I became a politician I have been standing up against family violence and child s-xual abuse. I defy Noel Pearson or anyone to challenge my sincerity and commitment in that regard. I will work together with the Commonwealth to implement welfare reform (a Commonwealth not NT Government program and responsibility), reduction in the availability of alcohol, and improvements in the quality of law and order.

At the same time I will continue to fight against what has rightly been referred to as a “land grab” – part of long-running campaign by this Federal Government to remove or neutralise hard won property rights and a campaign that has absolutely nothing to do with protecting children from s-xual abuse.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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