Wednesday, 11 July 2007

And now the hard work begins.......

Probably the biggest news item for the last couple of weeks has been the decision by the Commonwealth government, spearheaded by John Howard and Mal Brough, to take over aboriginal townships in the NT, in a bid to tackle the extreme social deprivation there, including child sexual abuse, rape, petrol sniffing, child neglect and domestic violence.

For those outside Australia, this has meant sending in the army, public servants and doctors in a bid to tackle the huge problems in these townships.

The problem is not new. I remember all too well being a law student over 20 years ago and hearing Queensland's then foremost defence lawyer, Des Sturgess QC, talk about the case of Alwyn Peters. Mr Peters was charged with a violent crime that he had committed against, as I recall it, his partner in a town on Cape York Peninsula in far northern Queensland.

The significance of the case was that it was the first time that defence lawyers attempted to use the extreme social deprivation in the townships as a mitigating factor in sentencing. Sturgess had social research undertaken as part of the defence and it painted a shocking scene of deprivation, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, hopelessness and despair.

For too long our governments have tinkered at the edges while people have lived in such shocking circumstances, with aboriginal lives on average about 20 years shorter than the rest of Australians.

There is no more powerful statement than acting for an aboriginal woman who has been subjected to domestic violence by her husband (and at his instigation) their teenage boys, describing the alcohol consumption, the use of claims of racism to overcome his own abusive parenting, and the severe domestic violence to which she was subject. One never forgets hearing this woman saying that she would NEVER again be with an aboriginal man because she considered that they were all abusive, because her own experience and that of everyone she knew was pretty much the same...

News reports are now talking about the army and public servants turning up at various aboriginal towns, the most recent Hermannsburg. I am glad that Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd offered bipartisan support. I hope that this matter is not caught up in the usual quick fix political cycle and that our politicians can, as sensitively as possible stay the course, provide the support and provide safety and hope for these women and children.

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