The mistake the politicians made (although Clare Martin was an honourable exception) was to conclude that this very long-standing “emergency” demanded that the white politicians and bureaucrats urgently devise and impose their own “expert” punitive, paternalistic policy solutions on those recalcitrant, irresponsible black fellas who wouldn’t even protect their own children from the thugs and paedophiles in their midst.
The Territory government and land councils each have significant real world authority over the same land mass, and therefore real roles in important decisions made about land use, tenure and development on half of the Territory’s land, which in turn comprises twenty percent of Australia’s land mass.
The really disturbing feature of these revelations was that the people concerned were not evil - many of them would have been regarded as reliable and effective officers. They were ordinary Australians, in positions of some responsibility, who were either demanding, or at least accepting, clearly improper payments which could only have the effect of compromising them in the performance of their duties.
When Sir Ninian Stephen found that lands around Uluru-Kata Tjuta [Ayers Rock] were to be returned to their traditional owners he put his hand up to be the official representative of the Crown in handing over the title deeds.
Let’s start 25 years ago with Mabo when the High Court found ‘the Meriam people are entitled as against the whole world to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of the lands of the Murray Islands’. With those words, the High Court inserted the legal doctrine of native title into Australian law. This was a truly watershed moment in Australian legal history, though it was not, of course, without critique and debate: Raelene Webb QC.
Northern Territory Attorney General John Elferink: Land rights, he said, had become a “wall of imprisonment” blocking Aborigines from participating in northern development.
In December 1978, just a few short months after the grant of (limited) self-government for the NT, the conservative CLP government promulgated the Town Planning Regulations, subsequently held to be invalid as made for an improper purpose, under the Town Planning Act (TPA) These regulations stated that large areas of land (including submerged lands in Darwin Harbour) surrounding Darwin, Katherine, Tennant Creek, and Alice Springs were to be treated as if part of a town.
The Kenbi land claim survived. But it would face more challenges from CLP governments until a newly-elected Labor government decided in 2001 to call a halt to legal shenanigans and accept the December 2000 recommendations of Aboriginal Land Commissioner Peter Gray.
Child sex abuse is only one aspect of child protection. General child neglect and associated social dysfunction was the underlying problem which could have, and should have been focussed on by Mr Howard and Mr Brough. By using paedophilia as the emotive hook for their PR campaign, they indiscriminately and irresponsibly labelled the male population in remote Territory communities as predators of the worst kind. That was the second, again almost immediate, negative impact of the Intervention declaration.
I am honoured to have been given this 2010 NAIDOC award. I remember like it was yesterday being in the audience at this event in 2007 when my former colleague Jack Ah Kit spoke after receiving the same award. It was only weeks after John Howard and Mal Brough had made their shock-and-awe Intervention announcement in 2007.