ON the same day Canberra hosted the symbolism of an apology to the Stolen Generations, the man who led John Howard’s intervention into Northern Territory indigenous communities used a Sydney forum to warn of a new “lost generation” of Aboriginal Australians.
“I don’t hold a great deal of hope,” Mal Brough said in a devastating critique of the reality of Aboriginal life.
Speaking at a dinner for Quadrant magazine in Sydney, the former indigenous affairs minister said he could take people to Aboriginal towns today that were rife with child abuse, disease and appalling housing.
Before he lost his Queensland seat in the Coalition’s election defeat, Mr Brough was the driving force behind the Howard government’s $1.6 billion intervention into communities in the Territory. “If I’d had my way I would have gone into every state, certainly Western Australia,” he said last night.
In his concession speech on November 24, Mr Brough implored the new Labor Government to continue the intervention, designed to tackle endemic child abuse.
Mr Brough said he did not want to detract from Kevin Rudd’s apology. But he rejected the policy of reversing a key measure of the intervention to reintroduce the permit system, which limits access to communities for members of the media and other outsiders.
“It is apartheid,” he said of the permit system. “The only reason they are in place is race-based. I have heard NT police say permits help keep baddies out. Why then do 45 out of 45 towns in the NT have sexual abuse problems?”
Mr Brough said if animals were forced to live in the conditions that many Aborigines endured “the RSPCA would go in and charge the owners and the owners would be on A Current Affair tomorrow night”.
“What is it that is preventing us as a country from actually dealing with this?” he asked.
“East Timor has its president wounded and we have 90 police on the ground the next day and 120 soldiers.”
In contrast, Victoria had taken months to send any police to the NT as part of the intervention.
Mr Brough said it was “sad” that some people had turned their back when Brendan Nelson gave his response to the apology in parliament yesterday. The Opposition Leader was criticised for raising the horrific cases of abuse still suffered by children in Aboriginal communities.
“What Brendan Nelson said today was the truth,” Mr Brough said. “Nothing he said today was wrong and nothing should have been offensive.”
Mr Brough chronicled some of the appalling conditions existing in Aboriginal Australia. In one community health workers recently found 300 rat bites on children, caused by a fight between two community organisations who had rat baits over who should put them out.
In another town with 90 males, 15 faced charges of sexual assault against eight six-year-olds. Most of the alleged offenders were aged between 10 and 15.
Mr Brough said political correctness was one of the major problems confronting those who wanted to bring about change. He said Aboriginal leader Pat Dodson had made many of the same warnings years ago that he had made as minister, yet Mr Dodson was not ridiculed.
He said one Aborigine had told him that many of the problems dated back to the welfare policies of the Whitlam Labor government. He said it had given “sit-down” money and had created a welfare dependency with no expectations of doing anything in return.
* * *
These statements are nothing new to people familiar with Mr Brough’s 2007 Deakin Lecture. In one part of that talk, he tells of an Aboriginal woman who says of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and child abuse, “Their mental capabilities will be such that the culture of their forefathers will be lost forever, never to be regained. My plea is, please understand my story. Save at least one half of my generation from total physical and mental annihilation.”
People dress up self-determination, they dress up land rights, they dress up all sorts of nuances of arguments. Really in their heart they are saying that the right of a child to be born and to be safe and to have an education and to have an opportunity in this country is somehow below that of these other niceties that don’t even reflect anything of what occurs in their life.
When is the right of a child going to be more important than any other single thing we do?
–Mal Brough, October 2, 2007