The Australian reports today that NT cabinet minister Marion Scrymgour has “backed away” from her criticisms of the NT intervention.

That might be a bit of an overstatement. All Scrymgour has done is holster her pistol until after the federal election. And she’s done so in the interests of a greater good, namely the ousting from office of a political party that has led Australia to a pretty ugly place.

Scrymgour is an impressive Aboriginal leader with a long history of fighting for the rights of Aboriginal people. But in political terms, she is every bit the moderate. Trying to characterise her as some sort of ”Labor radical”, as Brough and The Australian have tried, is ridiculous.

It’s the same old trick the conservatives tried in the early days of the Iraq war. If you don’t support the invasion, then you support the terrorists.

I don’t support the NT intervention, but I do think Aboriginal kiddies in the central desert finally getting access to a basic health check is a good thing.

And I think it’s great that some Aboriginal communities are, for the first time in their history, seeing a full-time police presence. I think it’s bloody fantastic that after 11 years in office, the Howard government is finally threatening to build some houses in Aboriginal communities (although I’ll believe it when I see it).

What I don’t accept is that Aboriginal people have to give up their basic human rights in the process.

Conservatives like Howard, Mal Brough and even Noel Pearson would have you believe that in order to provide services, you must erode freedoms. But if that were true then Australians would be living in either (a) a dictatorship with free dental; or (b) a rights utopia where the trains are always late.

Of course, we live in neither. Our society has good services, and our human rights are reasonably well protected. Ironically, before the NT intervention, Aboriginal people in the Territory lived in a free society, albeit with crap services. Now they live in a dictatorship, but they still have crap services.

The $1.3 billion question is why can’t they have good services and enjoy the same basic freedoms as everyone else? Why can’t the NT intervention deliver both?

Because that’s not its goal.

The NT intervention was not created to alleviate Aboriginal misery or suffering. It was created to politicise the issue of child s-xual abuse in the lead-up to a federal election. And it serves that purpose very well. Anyone who opposes Brough and Howard can be branded a paedophile, a wife basher or a supporter of both.

The problem the Liberals have is that save for a quick counter-punch by Marion Scrymgour, Brough has mostly been confined to arguing with the politically unaligned Aboriginal leadership. The people Brough really wants to fight – the Kevin Rudds and Jenny Macklins of the world – just won’t bite. Nice try. Better luck next time.

Peter Fray

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