NT Intervention repeating Stolen Generation mistakes

Jason Hobba and Mathew Crane Anglican News 12th May 2011

The Northern Territory Intervention is repeating the mistakes which led to the Stolen Generation, argue Jason Hobba and Mathew Crane.

The year is 1960, the place is Melbourne. A woman, who has had a long and difficult labour, gives birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl. The little person enters a warm world, for it is summer, a world where she should be loved, cared for and adored. The midwife exclaims at the beauty of this child, "Praise God!"
Picture this, if you can: the midwife, whilst examining the beautiful, healthy baby girl, hands the new-born to a woman, dressed impeccably, and she takes the beautiful, healthy baby girl from the room, never to be touched or held by the mother who has just endured the long and painful labour.

This beautiful, healthy baby girl is then handed to an older couple, who adopt her as if she is their own.

This beautiful, healthy baby girl is Mathew's mother, and she is Aboriginal. She was removed from her mother at birth and she has never knowingly met a member of her biological family. She is a child of the Stolen Generation.

If we want to 'talk turkey' about the 2007 Intervention in the Northern Territory's Indigenous communities, we need to begin by talking about the Stolen Generation and the Bringing Them Home report (1997). There are 54 recommendations in the report, a report which totals 524 pages. This report investigates and provides recommendations to government on the long-term issues caused by the forced removal of 'half-caste' Indigenous children between 1869 and 1969, although in some places children continued to be removed well into the 1970s. The Apology in February 2008 by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd went some way in beginning the reconciliation process, a process which still needs greater attention. Many of the recommendations to government centre on issues of equality and compensation to people of the Stolen Generation, and are still to be implemented.

The Northern Territory intervention began in 2007 under the Howard Government, with police and defence forces entering Aboriginal communities, without consultation of Aboriginal leaders, and without any real say in decision-making that would drastically affect their communities. The result: severely damaged relationships between Aboriginal peoples and the Federal Government. Does this sound familiar? It came as a response to a Federal Government report, The Little Children are Sacred, and it was suggested that levels of sexual and general abuse of children in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities were out of control.

On 6 March, 2011, at the Church Missionary Society in Blackburn, a group of approximately 50 or so people gathered to watch a documentary, Our Generation, which details the effects of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (commonly known as the Intervention), and seeks to raise awareness of Indigenous issues throughout the Northern Territory. When people gather to hear the first-hand stories of the lack of success of the Intervention and the impact it has had on Aboriginal communities, a sense of injustice and a need to 'do something' is felt.

Yet in so many ways we can begin so close to home. Not every Indigenous person is a drunkard, wife-beater, child abuser or dole 'bludger' who cannot 'hold a job', and yet this is the common stereotype of Indigenous people. In fact, many Indigenous people contribute to the high-culture of our society in ways we don't bother to imagine. In this fine city and Diocese, we are blessed with priests and teachers, chefs, restaurateurs, musicians, artists, poets, writers, sociologists and philosophers - all of whom are Indigenous people.

Yet, in the history of government attitudes to Indigenous Australians, the message is loud and clear: you are incapable of looking after yourself, so we, the Government (and by extension, non-Indigenous Australia) must do it for you. The Intervention tars all Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory with the same brush: all Aboriginal people are deemed to be dysfunctional; all Aboriginal people are seen to be drunks, petrol-sniffers, child abusers, perverts peddling pornography, involved in crime and family violence, incapable of making decisions, unable to look after themselves or their families, let alone govern their communities, and take their part as worthwhile members of 'Australian society' (whatever that means).

In all of this, there is a noted sense of hypocrisy attached to the focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, while crime, the extensive abuse of alcohol and drugs, and the high levels of family and other violence among the non-Aboriginal community are just as significant in outback Australia, let alone in major cities like Melbourne and its suburbs. To focus only on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities has more than a tinge of discrimination and a "we-know-better-than-you" paternalism to it.

Unfortunately, in Prime Minister Gillard's recent third annual report to the Federal Parliament on Closing the Gap (9 February, 2011) between Indigenous and non-Indigenous health, welfare and education outcomes added to the negative stereotype of Indigenous Australians. Ms Gillard said:

"Closing the Gap means change in peoples' lives. And Indigenous people know that when the child starts attending school... when the drinker stops abusing alcohol... when the adult takes the job that is there... then change begins."

"And Indigenous people know these decisions are not made by governments. They are made by people. The job of government, of communities is to support decisions."

Well, then, if this were the case and Ms Gillard was right, she would have put an end to the Intervention and helped to facilitate self-determination and equality for Indigenous people in the Northern Territory.

Aboriginal leader, Aunty Bev Manton, commented at the time:

"This is an old cliché. A dangerous and outrageous cliché, made even more dangerous and outrageous by the fact it was uttered by our nation's leader."

Aunty Bev laments:

"As the Prime Minister danced around the realities of more government failure, I was reminded that Aboriginal people have endured hardship on a scale most Australians could only dream of. Monday to Sunday is life and death for Aboriginal people in Australia."

However, it wasn't just Julia Gillard. The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, certainly didn't help matters. In his exuberance to see achievement in Closing the Gap, Tony Abbott suggested a study of the statistics of school attendance and employment in Aboriginal communities, noting that the results were likely to be 'very embarrassing'. Embarrassing for whom? Successive governments or Aboriginal people? Mr Abbott then suggested setting adventurous targets such as achieving 100% school attendance for Aboriginal children and 100% employment... in 12 months! Such targets are manifestly unable to be achieved, given the educational challenges facing Indigenous people, the intergenerational poverty, and the lack of jobs in remote communities, let alone issues of discrimination that Indigenous people face in school and the workforce. And when such a policy failed, as it inevitably would have, who would bear the blame - the Government or Indigenous people? It is all rather predictable.

Why should Melbourne Anglicans care about the Intervention in the Northern Territory? We should care because God is a God of justice and mercy, as the prophet Micah makes clear: '…and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?' (Micah 6:8 NRSV) We should care because we are enjoying the rights of self-determination, democracy and so-called equality, while our Indigenous brothers and sisters are not.

We should care because while many of us sit in middle-class comfort, and do not utter words of change, communities are being torn apart, lives ruined and wounds deepened.

We should care because in saying nothing - to our elected representatives and other community leaders - we are allowing the government to force assimilation and essentially to re-live the Stolen Generation over again.

We should care because through Christ we - Indigenous and non-Indigenous Christians - are reconciled to each other and to God the Father and maker of all things (Ephesians 2:14-18). We are the body of Christ and His spirit is with us.

We leave you with a poem by Oodgeroo Noonuccal(see left).

Mathew Crane is a Resident Theological student at Trinity College and a Candidate for the Priesthood in the Diocese of Wangaratta. The Revd Jason Hobba is currently taking study leave and attends Christ Church Berwick. Both are members of the Melbourne Anglican Social Responsibilities Committee.

See http://www.ourgeneration.org.au/ for further information on Our Generation which was aired at CMS.


Intervention is an act of genocide

That was an excellent article. With so many organisations and individuals (and of course the First Australians), you have to wonder at the arrogance of the current government. Personally I would like to see a boycott of Australia by foreign governments, just like the hypocritical boycott by Australia of South Africa over apartheid. It was that very hypocrasy in the face of the neglect and suffering, and indeed the unofficial apartheid, in this country that made me want to help the First Australians in the first place. That was 30 years ago. Back then I blamed the churches too, but I have read of the terrible atrocities committed against the Aborigines in Victoria, and if the Churches had not come in and provided shelter for the few Aborigines that were left after the slaughter, there would be none less. Also, like it or not, a great many of the First Australians in the Northern Territory are Christians, and very committed Christians at that, though they are able to meld Christianity with their traditional culture and ceremonies. The Churches are not responsible for what happened to the First Australians. The Government is, and always has been responsible for the policies and the Church just had to carry them out. With the Church so openly opposed to the Intervention and working so hard to prevent it, we should alienate them. That just lessens our strength and aids the common enemy - the government. I am not a christian, I do not believe in religion. I do however believe in the one Creator. Please do not fall into the Government's trap of blaming each other - it takes our eyes of the target which is the Government itself.

Nampajinpa Snowy River

you should not mention your

anomymous user comment

you should not mention your God here. Your 'God' is partly responsible for this abuse of both black and white people. If you wanna talk reality, then we can come together but your imposing God has created so much suffering. THERE IS NO SOUL. THERE IS NO GOD. THERE IS ONLY YOUR MIND AND BODY. START TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR ACTIONS. STOP TALKING BULLSHIT GOD JUDEO CHRISTIANS THAT MISHANDLE CHILDREN AND IMPOSE BOLLOX ONTO THE WORLD INSTEAD OF TEACHING ABOUT THE REAL VALUES. ok?
LONG LIVE HEATHENS....and the antichrist..

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