In 2001, Australian Prime Minister John Howard used the Tampa crisis and "children overboard affair" to whip up hysteria and hate against refugees and win an election (the sordid details of which are recounted in Wilkinson and Marr's Dark Victory). Now, with another election around the corner, he's doing it again, this time with Aborigines as his whipping boys. Under the pretext of curbing child sex abuse, Howard has declared a "state of emergency" in Aboriginal areas of the Northern Territory, banning alcohol and pornography, introducing compulsory medical examinations and limits on welfare, introducing market rents for housing and stealing Aboriginal land. Very little of this has anything to do with child sex abuse (much of which is perpetrated by white miners), and some of it - notably the introduction of market rents for housing and the abolition of the permit system for entry to Aboriginal land - seems grossly counterproductive. The rest is simply a horrificly authoritarian paternalism, designed more to grub support from former One Nation voters than to do anything serious to assist the plight of Australia's indigenous people. But then, since when has Howard (or most over Australians, for that matter) ever really given a rat's arse about them?
Unlike the refugee "crisis" of 2001, there is a real problem here. A recent Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse [PDF] turned up some appalling practices, fuelled by poverty, despair, alcoholism and government neglect. However, Howard's proposals bear little resemblance to the recommendations of that report (as reproduced by Polemica here). Instead, he's just tarring all Aborigines as pedophiles, blaming the victims, and then dropping the knee for good measure. Club Troppo sums it up well with the following:
Today is a day of shame in Australian politics. Everyone deplores the appalling incidence of violence and child sexual abuse in indigenous communities. But there simply isn’t any quick, magical solution. The policy Howard has just announced is worse, more racist and more wildly impractical and misconceived than anything Pauline Hanson ever spouted. Kevin Rudd’s meek, kneejerk endorsement of it is almost as disgusting, and marks him unfit to lead Australia. At least Howard has the guts to announce policies of his own, however repugnant and ill-considered.
It would be nice if Australia's politicians would treat their indigenous people as full and equal citizens, rather than as political footballs to be villified and used as a focus for vicious wedge politics. But I don't see it happening as long as there are overt racists like Howard in charge.