The Australian newspaper recently reported on the tragedy of child abuse in the Northern Territory - and thank goodness, I say. Just this week we read, “Child protection authorities are overwhelmed by the scale of neglect and under-reported sexual activity involving children in the Northern Territory.” It is a problem many don’t like to acknowledge. Bill Leak found this out when he drew that cartoon on 4 August 2016, ironically Aboriginal Children’s Day, depicting an irresponsible Aboriginal father not knowing the name of his son. Sadly, Leak was the victim of far more outrage than the story of an alleged rape of an Aboriginal two-year-old girl recently. Where is the twitter hashtag army expressing their outrage now?
Back in May of 2006, Nanette Rogers had been Crown Prosecutor in Alice Springs for more than 12 years. Tony Jones interviewed her on ABC’s Lateline, where she had this to say:
“Well, in my experience, a number of children are assaulted as part of being a child. So, for example, I got a case the other day where the very small baby was stabbed twice in the leg because the husband was trying to stab the wife in the chest and she was holding the baby to the chest so he stabbed the baby twice to the leg. Violence happens to children. Children are punched or hit in the face, punched to various parts of the body.” Concerned readers who read the rest of the interview transcript will find much the same as what we read about today. We know the problem, and we also know that it is under-reported.
But child abuse and violence are not the only problems affecting communities in the Northern Territory, nor are problems restricted only to NT communities. You will also find other problems such as high rates of unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse, foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, intergenerational welfare dependency, squalid living environments, and youth suicide - both inside and outside of the NT. These problems are generally more prevalent in locations where the adults are not working and the children are not attending school regularly. Compounding the intractable nature of these problems is that they are generational. For example, according to a report by Andrew Forrest, four out of every five Indigenous Australians in remote areas leave school without pursuing further study or work, trapping them effectively in these communities where there are few opportunities for meaningful employment and only substandard housing to live in.
We know what the problems are, so what are the solutions? Again, quoting Nanette Rogers: “Aboriginal people choose not to take responsibility for their own actions.” Perhaps it’s not really as simple as choosing not to take responsibility (bearing in mind that it is not always easy to elaborate in an interview), but too many people have for far too long been conditioned - perhaps even rewarded - for not taking responsibility. Where there are few job opportunities or the people are not job ready, which can easily be the case if they lack good role models who are working, then not being responsible may be almost inevitable. Add to this sad state of affairs that so many of their city cousins and white social justice warriors are shouting from the rooftops the seductive message that they are victims of colonisation and an evil-white-racist government, and there is little incentive to take personal responsibility. A first step to ending the dysfunction is to help the people gain a sense of responsibility. Anything less is like applying a massage to rid the diseased body of cancer.
An effective way to instill responsibility in any group of people, be they Indigenous or non-Indigenous, is through employment opportunities. Former Indigenous NT politician Alison Anderson has said that employment is not just about the money, but much more about status and respect, about responsibility and dignity.
I am not suggesting that being unemployed is any excuse for inflicting cruelty or neglect on others, especially children, but simply that responsible people are more likely to feel good about themselves and as such care for and protect those around them.
As important as they are, the focus shouldn't solely be on jobs. There is a need for short-term solutions to deal with the crises of violence, child abuse, substandard housing, and unclean living environments. These can be, and should be, dealt with swiftly. But if we only ever focus on the short term, we will for ever be dealing with crises. Let’s focus on bringing employment opportunities to the people, and in those locations where that is not possible, then we need to consider the unpalatable proposition of bringing the people to where the opportunities are.
Jacinta Price has called on all Australians to march on Sunday 18th March in protest against the abuse of Aboriginal children. She has asked that you “organise your rally and be sure to make it known that our kids are our number one priority!” And let’s not forget, these are our kids, as Australians, and they are our future. I asked at the beginning of this article where is the twitter hashtag army to express their outrage at the abuse of Aboriginal children? Will you be marching?