It’s no secret that Crikey had misgivings about the Howard/Brough Northern Territory Intervention from day one. It struck us initially that Howard, this time last year staring down the prospect of an impending election that his internal advice suggested might be catastrophic, was looking for a distraction that might also serve as a political wedge. What could be better than using the s-xual assault of children as the pretext for a military intervention in the Territory? Who could argue with it?
Well, we did. Were Howard’s motives pure, we wondered? The subtexts were disturbing. Why the utter absence of consultation with anyone on the ground? Why was it necessary to abolish the permit system that in many cases saved remote communities from the predatory attentions of whites peddling booze and drugs? Why overturn land rights legislation if the long-term intention was not to open aboriginal land to the attentions of the resources sector? Why the overt, muscular — uniformed –paternalism if the intention was not to whisk Aboriginal people from their land and assimilate them into the broader Australian community … an intention Howard owned without a blush but one that many others equated with a surreptitious cultural killing.
These were our concerns as the army and military moved into communities and some children hid in the bush; as the “medical checks” began, ignoring some endemic health issues while focussing fixedly on others; as the normal rights and privileges of Australians were abridged universally in the name of child protection; as all Aboriginals in the Territory were assumed to be in some way culpable; as employment programs were abolished and a culture of carefully monitored universal dependency re-established.
The end may not have justified the means, tricky as that was to say, faced with the unforgivable evil of child abuse; and that thought informed our reporting, reporting that has drawn fire from some sections of the establishment media.
Today we’ve put together a package of our reporting on the Intervention over the past 12 months, beginning with Prime Minister Howard’s hastily assembled declaration of military emergency, and ending with today’s assessment of the process at year’s end by the ANU’s Professor Jon Altman.
The thing to say at twelve month’s remove is that since the election of the new Australian government the focus has been more on the ostensible purpose of the Intervention and less on the series of unpalatable subtexts that first made us bristle. Which is to the good.