Indigenous Affairs Minister Malcolm Brough has always worshipped at the altar of laws and order. He signalled that in his first few months: nearly every statement he made in the early days were about the need for heavy policing on Aboriginal towns and communities in the Northern Territory.

It was why he was quick to fund a police post at Mutitjulu, and mounted an inquiry into the need for policing Aboriginal communities in remote Australia. In the last fortnight his words have been echoed by his leader, Mr Howard as part of their “intervention, stabilisation, normalisation, exit” mantra.

It’s curious, then, that Brough’s office has made no apparent attempt to talk to the Territory’s bush coppers, who might just know a few things. That would be the way the military mind should work … get some intelligence on the ground.

Clearly none of that has happened. There is a growing groundswell of opinion from bush coppers that the abolition of the permit system on Aboriginal land will be a disaster from a policing point of view. Whether that will translate up the hierarchy to the NT police commissioner and on to Brough is another thing.

By and large, coppers are the only people who can ask someone for a permit on Aboriginal land in the Territory—not even Traditional Owners can do that. It’s used by police as a “first line” in protecting communities from grog runners and dope sellers. Put simply, if you don’t have a permit, you get told to get out of town: it has often led to busts for more serious offences.

They are appalled at Brough’s comments that the permit system protects p-dophiles and other criminals. According to them, the opposite would be the case: the inevitable influx of unpoliced—and unpoliceable—strangers in remote towns would overwhelm vulnerable local communities. It would, they say, open such communities to the very grog runners Brough’s boots and all alcohol ban is designed to counter.

A policing nightmare, and a long way from a solution to a “national emergency”, they say.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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