Friday, June 22, 2007

Howard's racist wedge

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.

(Further reading: Larvatus Prodeo, Hoyden About Town, The Dead Roo)


It's disgusting and vile. But, like the babies overboard crap, he'll get away with it...simply because he can.

What's amazing is the white chorus that they've got to do something...rather than facing up to what at best be described as criminal neglectful social policy and what at worst could be described as outright deliberate racism.

Howard's scraped pretty low previously, but even for him, this is just diabolical.

As I pointed out in a diatribe on Kiwiblog...the admission of failure to meaningfully grapple with the social problems that are endemic in these communities should be a mark of shame on Howard, his administration and the Australian governments. But they won't see it that way. These communities are bad because these people are quite simply sub-human animals. I remember an Australian proudly telling me about the uptake of broadband and other metrics of Western success in Australia (by comparison with our dismal rates). He was all "hah, hah, look at us and how fancy we Australians are". "Well," I pointed out, "that may be fine for most Australians - but I like to judge a country on how it deals with its most vulnerable citizens and the fact you've got whole communities living like animals means you're not that great a country". He was literally speechless while he obviously searched his mind trying to figure out who I was referring. After literally a minute of contemplation..he suddenly got it... "Oh!" the penny dropped, "you mean the Aboriginals?". "Yeah," was my reply, "those Australians". Out of sight and out of mind, I guess.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/22/2007 09:08:00 PM

On one of the linked blogs:
Anyone wanna take odds on violent and organized black resistance to these measures?!

I would hope there would be. Because basically Howard's stepped over the line (you could say the Aussies were always over the line and he's just tramped off into the distance, but...) This is pretty much akin to South Africa sending troops and police into the townships to 'sort out' the ANC-Inkatha conflicts.

For Aborigines, Australia isn't a democracy and the only thing they can do (having zero electoral power - particularly given Howard's federalisation of their local government) is resort to physical force.

Posted by Rich : 6/22/2007 09:47:00 PM

I would never ever countenance violence.

The point here is that Howard is perpetuating political violence against these communities. Rather than working with the communities to build sustainable solutions he dips into his big bag of nasty right-wing rhetoric and trots out this crap. It's nasty stuff - because he's playing with these people's lives for the most base and callous of reasons. He's not interested in real solutions - just at presenting these people (and I think it's often forgotten that these are people we are dealing with) as some how being moral and social sub-humans. It's so fucking repulsive, I don't know where to begin chundering.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/22/2007 10:01:00 PM

Some might think this - - off-topic, but I don't. Its another symptom of Howard's use of jingoism, racism and xenophobia to mobilise his support base. From kissing the flag at the big day to beating Lebo's on the beach at Bondi to right wing defence "think tanks" whipping up fear of the foreign peril and purchasing weapon systems that are far, far, far, more provacative and offensive to their neighbours, John howard is truly a nasty little man.

Posted by Sanctuary : 6/22/2007 10:15:00 PM

Just remember - the same people that are advising Howard advised Brash in the 2005 election. Remember the Iwi/Kiwi billboards? Same strategy.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/22/2007 10:21:00 PM

What's most spooky, Tony, is I believe Helen Clark pays close attention to Howard's winning ways. Because you have to be honest and acknowledge that, as sickening as it is, he's managed to pull off unlikely electoral success time and time again. Helen is an astute student of success. It would worry me if she took any lessons from this shameful episode. Particularly, as she feels the pressure of her current polling. I would hope not.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/22/2007 10:31:00 PM

First of all, I'm pretty sure 'aborigines' prefer to be called 'indigenous Australians', or by their various tribal names.

Anyway, it's time it seems for that perennial kiwi sport - trying to make ourselves feel progressive and enlightening by poo-pooing the Australians. I expect even if National were to win in '08 here and Labour to win this year's election over there, people would still be ragging on Australia as backward and conservative.

I feel the need to say that I of course feel Howard's ideology and policy is not only reprehensible, it's actually anti-conservative - isn't conservatism all about people prospering with less, not more, government intervention? No, it's about -white- people prospering etc.

But really, although brown and yellow skinned types may get better treatment in New Zealand than they do in Australia, they still get it pretty rough. I don't think we really have much cause to criticise the Australian approach to such matters until our own house is in order.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/22/2007 11:31:00 PM

"...I'm pretty sure 'aborigines' prefer to be called 'indigenous Australians'..."

And 'Germans' prefer to be called 'Deutsch,' but I can't see that happening anytime soon either...

Are Australians thick or something? Howard starts taking a hiding in the polls, so he finds some darkies for everyone to get angry at. It's not exactly the first time he's pulled this trick, ffs.

Posted by Psycho Milt : 6/23/2007 08:49:00 AM

and europeans probably prefer to be called european rather than white and yet I/S called them white right up there (where he implied a lot of them were child sex preditors).

on a side note I remember talking to a chinese friend who's mother noted white people had a reputation for sexually abusing their children so apparently the word is getting around despite no statistical evidence that I have seen.


Posted by Anonymous : 6/23/2007 09:16:00 AM

"Are Australians thick or something?"

Kath and Kim is a documentary in a lot of Australia.

Now I notice a most crudely jingoistic story from three years ago has been dredged up - I am astonished at the crude chest beating the conservative Australian media engages in - "THE British media call it "bottle" — and apparently the Royal Australian Navy has more of it than Her Britannic Majesty's navy." from the Age in Melbourne. Good grief. But as the election approaches, expect more racist and militaristic nationalism from a desperate John Howard.

Posted by Sanctuary : 6/23/2007 09:22:00 AM


I'm just amazed how Australia can do this and still act like a free and democratic nation.

Posted by Muerk : 6/23/2007 12:30:00 PM

meh. it's just a ploy to wedge labor. as long as rudd doesn't get himself into a slanging war with that rat-bastard howard on this one i'm not convinved it's a vote-winner.

most australians don't give two hoots about aboriginal people. so, it'll be interesting to see how howard uses that apathy to his own advantage.

i'm sure a bit of coverage of troops storming into desert camps and "liberate" aboriginal children from their parents will be nice tv.

pity they won't be getting footage of white miners coming onto aboriginal land and molesting children, which is what's alleged by at least one report.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/23/2007 03:49:00 PM

Tony Milne is right. This is part of a strategy to polarise the population for electoral gain. The authors of that strategy - Crosby/Textor - advised National in the lead-up to the 2005 NZ elections (eg, iwi/kiwi) and they appear to be doing so still. It occurred to me that a recent pro-National political columnist's attempt to drive a wedge between older baby boomers and younger voters could be part of this strategy. Expect to see more divisive tactics in the coming months. They should be called for what they are: attempts to damage social cohesion in order to gain power.

There's a new book about Howard's strategy that covers some of these issues:

Posted by Anonymous : 6/24/2007 09:56:00 AM

I find it amusing how those who love ranting about 'Nanny State' are now saying on other blogs that it is the govt's primary role to protect citizens from violence...

Irony is not dead.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/24/2007 03:33:00 PM

A little international reaction (at least before the aussies start arguing with each other at the bottom): (2882362) Australia to ban porn and booze in aboriginal communities, rendering them the Least Fun Communities in the World right behind Utah

Posted by Lyndon : 6/25/2007 10:04:00 AM

and I do wish Australia had an opposition sometimes

Posted by Lyndon : 6/25/2007 10:05:00 AM

nah, rudd is better off staying out of this farce.

howard's gung-ho military solution is going to run smack-back into his own history of apathy towards aboriginal people. he's spent 11 years disembowling aboriginal social services, and undermining aboriginal leadership. all the current process will do is expose that.

it's already starting to come unstuck.

$A1.4 billion to provide all this much needed housing? yeah right.

30 people living in a three bedroom house? the solution isn't more houses. it's a bigger damn house those 30 people are probably an extended family unit... or so my own research suggested.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/25/2007 12:23:00 PM

Australian Human Rights Commission welcomes idea of finally doing someting, just disagrees with the actualy actions proposed.

Posted by Lyndon : 6/25/2007 01:21:00 PM

from lyndon's article

"I have a letter on my desk from Mapuru in Arnhem Land, a remote community that has been writing to the Minister for over five years asking for a school to be built for their kids – and they are still waiting"

better late than never aeh, johnnie-boy?

Posted by Anonymous : 6/25/2007 01:40:00 PM

typo in the Hoyden About Town link

Posted by Lyndon : 6/25/2007 03:35:00 PM

Australia is still the best at looking after it's people compared to many countries of the world. The politicians of Australia are far better at listening to to the people.

Judge them when the results are out and many will see the difference.

For those who are unaware Australia is ruled by it's people and unlike some countries where handful of people run a muck.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/25/2007 05:08:00 PM

Thirty years of liberalism hasn't helped the plight of Australia's most disenfranchised people. The standard of living of NT aboriginals is on a par with sub-saharan Africa.

Throwing buckets of welfare at them, and drowning them in grog and child abuse doesn't help a single child.

Requiring that the children attend school, giving them compulsory medical checks, requiring that welfare money is spent on food for children and not booze, improving access to medical facilities, improving policing and law and order, and removing booze are all bloody good steps. It's about time something was done.

The same should be done here in New Zealand. Whole streets are awash with crime, booze, welfare dependency, violence, drugs, poor health and educational outcomes, and a culture of misery.

It's not racist at all. It's good public policy, and the only way that people who have lost everything through welfare dependency can begin to make their children a priority.

Posted by Insolent Prick : 6/26/2007 03:14:00 PM

" Thirty years of liberalism hasn't helped the plight of Australia's most disenfranchised people."

Oh you are a card IP. You mean this sort of liberalism?

Posted by Anonymous : 6/26/2007 05:05:00 PM

what's interesting is that this is essentially a step backward 40 years.

to the days when the government owned all aboriginal lands, and controlled every aspect of their lives.

what's ironic is prick suggesting they should go backwards to some kind of socialist control of peoples lives.

you'll also notice that there have been dozens of reports asking for government action. but no action till now. just on the cusp of an election. coincidence? maybe.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/27/2007 07:14:00 AM