A Crisis, Definitely a Crisis

My friend Justin Wolfers emails an observation on the Indigenous policy initiative.

I was just looking at the actual report that led to Howard’s actions with the aboriginal communities.  As I understand it, he is pushing these new policies based on the view that the report revealed crisis levels of child sexual abuse.  The most amazing paragraph from the actual report:

As no attempt has been made to create a national study of the prevalence of child sexual abuse in Australia, nor (more importantly for this Inquiry) to effectively estimate the extent of sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities, the Inquiry has had to rely on the national (and NT) child protection datasets and NT criminal justice statistics. These can only provide information on reported cases of sexual abuse and are not able to provide an in-depth analysis of the nature and extent of sexual abuse in the communities.

However, when taken together with the high rate of STIs in children, and the clear anecdotal evidence of children’s early involvement in sexual activity and of sexual abuse in NT communities (see Part I), the Inquiry has concluded that the prevalence of sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities is a pressing problem that has been significantly under-estimated. However, a better estimate of the actual size of the problem is highly desirable.

The amazing thing here is not that there is or isn’t a crisis, simply the complete absence of evidence of one.  Now my own guess is that given that aboriginal communities fare poorly on just about every socioeconomic indicator, it would be surprising if they weren’t also doing poorly on this one.  But it is rather amazing that this report is the catalyst to finally do something about deprivation in aboriginal communities.

About these ads
This entry was posted in Indigenous Policy. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to A Crisis, Definitely a Crisis

  1. Andrew Hillgrove says:

    Howard appears to be making a (late) show of resolving a “problem” – that his divisive stategies and lack of aboriginal empowerment has caused over the past decade.

    I am of the opinion that the aboriginal people need to be offered nomadic schools on their homelands. Where they can practice their traditional ways with elders and mix it with Western ways/skills. An aboriginal eco-tourism experience would also be great for travellers and cash source for the aboriginal communities.

  2. Absolutely in agreement, Andrew. The report is shocking on the casual way it has with the evidence. Indeed it says that it was not the primary purpose of the report to find such evidence, despite acknowledging that data was scarce. Where it did have data that suggested it was rare (p242), it attributes it to under-reporting without the evidence to back it up. This has although the classic signs of a child abuse panic. How appropriate that the first community to be targeted, Mutitjulu, was the one that was falsely accused by Lateline last year of running a paedophile ring.

  3. Sinclair Davidson says:

    when taken together with the high rate of STIs in children

    Just wondering how this happens? Osmosis? Toilet seats? Divine intervention? No, no, I know – the evil Howard government put something in the water. How do we define the term “the complete absence of evidence”? At best we can say “incomplete evidence”. I suspect Justin is saying the statistical incidence of STI is no greater than could have been expected after controlling for income and other social indicators. Perhaps that is true – but Justin should show us his regressions.

  4. Andrew Leigh says:

    Sinc, did they quantify ‘high’?

  5. backroom girl says:

    What has interested me in all of this is that apparently it requires evidence (or otherwise) of sexual abuse to move the government to action, as if physical abuse, malnutrition, substance abuse, high rates of a whole legion of other diseases and widespread school truancy (just for starters) are not enough. (I don’t think Noel Pearson has ever based any of his calls for change on the prevalence of sexual abuse, for example.)

    Andrew Hillgrove – I find your attachment to the ideal of the noble savage touching, but am not aware of evidence that this is how most indigenous people actually wish to live. And are you really saying that things have gone so far downhill just since the Howard government came to power?

  6. derrida derider says:

    it is rather amazing that this report is the catalyst to finally do something about deprivation in aboriginal communities.

    Well it’s “something” all right, as in “Something must be done, this is Something, so this must be done”.

    After doing nothing for 11 years (Howard didn’t even bother answering Clare Martin’s letter to him on this subject 14 monthhs ago) the gummint decides it must look strong four months out from the election. So it puts together a set of media-friendly measures (army convoys, etc) dreamed up quite literally overnight in the PM’s office, ignoring almost all the recommendations in the actual report that is supposed to have triggered the “emergency”, not to mention all the views of those with actual expertise. And of course it’ll all be forgetten after the election.

    So much for “practical reconciliation”. You just can’t be too cynical about this lot.

  7. Bring Back CL's blog says:

    two reports, this one and the bring them home report , based on simlar ‘research’.
    One rightly is poo-pooed yet we have to do something on the other.
    No-one has yet explained the link between drunkeness and chld abuse either.
    what happens if the children are examined and the crisis is not there?

  8. Sinclair Davidson says:

    “After doing nothing for 11 years ”

    and before that the ALP did nothing for 13 years, and before that Fraser did nothing, and so on. We should do nothing because nobody ever did anything is a fine conservative argument, but is somehow not compelling.

  9. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Sinc, did they quantify ‘high’?

    I looked at pages 236 – 240 of the report. I don’t see any formal t-tests and the like, but I reckon that numbers (STIs, pregnancy under 18 etc) for Aboriginals are out of proportion to their population numbers.

    (For others trawling through the document Justin’s quote is on page 253, under the heading “Barriers to research and analysis”).

  10. Have a look at p272 where they note that actual substantiated cases [indigenous and non-indigenous] in the NT are actually quite low. This may be due to under-reporting but they would need to find evidence to back this claim. The charges against the Aboriginal communities that they are incapable of protecting their children from child abuse are very serious so they need better evidence than provided by this report. We have already have one case (Mutitjulu) where they turned out be false.

  11. TPS

    You are very insistent on the ABC’s having made a mistake. They certainly are not admitting it. Quite the contrary. See

    http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2007/s1954871.htm?source=cmailer

  12. Bobbicee says:

    I’m in absolute agreement as well, Andrew, and that’s the reason why the stats aren’t discussed by the media, and definitely not by the government. The only reason they’re taking this extreme and draconian action at this time is because it’s Howard’s ‘rabbit in a hat’ to con the electorate, yet again. This time, instead of raising racial prejudice of Arabs, as with Tampa, it’s prejudice against the Aboriginals. Sadly, the majority of Australians appear to be easily conned and manipulated, and are either too lazy, naive, gullible or stupid to check the facts. Instead they react to the lies and spin spewed out by the government.

    I lived in Alice Springs and worked for Community Development from 1965-1989 when we moved to Queensland. Therefore, I not only know what governments have not done to improve health and education during those years, but I have maintained an active interest in the issues. Reality is that since Howard was elected, Howard and his Minister have not only shown no interest in the aboriginal situation, they have also withdrawn funds and services. The withdrawal of funds and services has escalated since Mal Brough took over the Ministership.

    Now Howard is conning the voters with his ‘apparent’ concern and his occupation of the NT, but this is to last 6 months, just until after the election. Then the issue will be dropped if re-elected through this latest fear and prejudice tactic, and all funds and services will be withdrawn.

    Thanks for offering this article. It’s something that all Australians should be made aware of.

  13. Mike,
    interesting interview although Clare Martin seems to be saying that there were no witnesses to support the claim and the doctor was not in Mutitjulu at the time. It certainly appears that the women of Mutitjulu did not support the claim
    http://www.kooriweb.org/foley/news/2006/september/smh16sep06.html
    Neither could Brough provide evidence to support it when he repeated the charge.
    http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/mutitjulu–a-troubled-community/2007/06/24/1182623741857.html

  14. As I stated elsewhere

    So they say some Aboriginals ( or a lot) are in breach of law, now we send in the troops unconstitutionally, discriminate against Aboriginals unconstitutionally as if that fixes it up.
    It might be an election ploy but anyone of sound mind should question the validity of what is being done.
    You could always check out what I have published on my Yahoo blog;
    http://au.360.yahoo.com/profile-ijpxwMQ4dbXm0BMADq1lv8AYHknTV_QH and/or my website http://WWW.SCHOREL-HLAVKA.CO

  15. Verdurous says:

    Child abuse crisis? Probably. But there is also a health crisis, cultural crisis, rapidly accelerating language extinctions, economic hardship, domestic violence, obesity crisis. The child abuse is just the one with the most media attention at present and provides the cover for federal take-over, police and military involvement and restrictions that would never be canvassed in non-Indigenous communities.

    I wonder what the rates of alcohol use, child abuse and pornography exist in, say, Windale (a suburb of Newcastle)- one of the poorest addresses in NSW? Can we imagine the federal government imposing across-the-board alcohol bans, computer searches, food voucher systems, heavy police/military presence, and compulsory intrusive physical examinations on anybody under 16 years of age.

    This would never be sanctioned by the Australian public.

    Backroom girl – you’re right that we ought to be careful not to impose our views of a particular lifestyle (“noble savage”) upon Aboriginial people. Equally though, it is sad to ignore the broader social and economic forces which promote a loss of distinctive Indigenous culture. The power of economic centralisation (from the efficiency drive) to our cities is one such force. We are subtly imposing our views and driving their choices whether we like it or not. To simply look at the drift away from ancestral homelands and say that “this is what they must want” is equally as short-sighted as conclusions based upon the idealism of the “noble savage”.

  16. backroom girl says:

    Verdurous

    I really don’t see what you can do about the “social and economic forces which promote a loss of distinctive Indigenous culture”. What would you do – lock Indigenous communities away so that the people there don’t know what the rest of the world might have to offer? Somehow force people to stay so that the culture will be maintained? If emersion in indigenous culture away from the contaminating influence of whitefellas is what will make people happy, why are people in those communities so unhappy?

    People in remote Indigenous communities see every day what life in the rest of the world is like – through Imparja TV. Should they only have access to approved Indigenous programs so that they won’t be contaminated?

    In the end, I think that what Noel Pearson among others is saying is that the young people in Indigenous communities do want at least some of what the wider world has to offer, but the conditions in their communities and the lack of educational attainment mean that for most those things are unattainable. Perhaps that is why they resort to grog and petrol-sniffing, I don’t know.

  17. frank luff says:

    I’m a whitey!
    When a child school attendance was compulsory, I would not have attended regularly given choice.
    The threat of finishing in a “home” was all to persuasive.
    As I understand it s still the case for whites, if they are under fourteen,
    I am now glad the law existed, so I believe will the offspring of the indigenous apprciate it when older.
    Witness those that represent indigenous communities on tele.
    Police and the army were not required then and neither are they now.
    Johns cynical approach to winning elections is evident again I’m sorry to say.
    fluff

  18. Caz Za says:

    Still exploring thsi issue and came across another interesting blog and this article:
    http://www.australiansall.com.au/evidence-or-panic-in-making-indigenous-affairs-policy/
    ‘We need evidence based, well thought out national Indigenous policy, target setting and performance measures for every sector of the Australian nation to take their responsibility in the challenges ahead.’

    Gregory Phillips is a Waanyi and Jaru medical anthropologist at The University of Melbourne, community healing worker and author of ‘Addictions and Healing in Aboriginal Country’ (Aboriginal Studies Press, 2003)

  19. Verdurous says:

    G’day backroom girl,

    Re:

    I really don’t see what you can do about the “social and economic forces which promote a loss of distinctive Indigenous culture”. What would you do – lock Indigenous communities away so that the people there don’t know what the rest of the world might have to offer?

    No. Not at all. We need to assist Indigenous communities identify their own priorities. Sometimes these will be contradictory, but we should try because it is a critical first step. Clearly, those people who choose to pursue mainstream, city-based consumer culture will do so and should not be restricted from doing so. We should acknowledge straight up though, that there already exists complex incentives and disincentives (not just financial) pushing cultures one way or another and those that exist here and now are not ordained from God and aren’t beyond questioning.

    One way of empowering a community is to assist with the maintenance of its language. ALmost every Indigenous language is critically endangered right now. I cannot understand why there is not an offical policy of bilingualism in Indigenous education. Learning more than one language has not appeared to be a financial burden for the Dutch or the Scandinavians or Indians etc. It is one of the better ways of promoting a sense of belonging and many communities would jump at the chance to be able to learn at least partly in their own language.

    Somehow force people to stay so that the culture will be maintained? If emersion in indigenous culture away from the contaminating influence of whitefellas is what will make people happy, why are people in those communities so unhappy?

    To accept your premise I would have to see evidence that those with greater exposure to white culture (e.g. Redfern) are happier than those with less (e.g. Northern Torres Strait islands). I suspect your premise doesn’t hold well, but I don’t have hard evidence to support that. I can only assume that contact with white culture is in some way part of the causal chain of current Indigenous wellbeing. Otherwise, we would have to look for natural phenomena or change in climate or foodstuffs to explain it, or perhaps some sort of spontaneous internal change within Indigenous societies which seems unlikely.

    People in remote Indigenous communities see every day what life in the rest of the world is like – through Imparja TV. Should they only have access to approved Indigenous programs so that they won’t be contaminated?

    No, but equally culture doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Australia has local content rules for the reason that we have realistic fears that dropping those rules would deny us the chance to see ourselves reflected in our own programming. Is it unreasonable for Indigenous people to have similar exposure promoted through positive means like this without censorship or restrictions.

    In the end, I think that what Noel Pearson among others is saying is that the young people in Indigenous communities do want at least some of what the wider world has to offer, but the conditions in their communities and the lack of educational attainment mean that for most those things are unattainable. Perhaps that is why they resort to grog and petrol-sniffing, I don’t know.

    I worry, that this tends towards a view that integration is best. I don’t think there is one right way. It seems like the TINA approach to economics and society (There Is No Alternative). I don’t deny that young people in Indigenous communities watch “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Extreme Makeover” nor deny their jealousy afterwards. But, is this how all societies must inevitably head? The questions clearly are complex and go deeper to the heart of the persuasion advertising industry and the nature of commercial television.

  20. backroom girl says:

    Verdurous

    I don’t think it is a question of making people choose one culture or another, but I think there is a definite limit to how far you can go to protect young Indigenous people from exposure to the broader Australian culture without, god forbid, being totally authoritarian. Certainly I think Noel Pearson would aim for people to be part of both cultures, difficult as that might be to achieve.

    I also agree that indigenous people should be making their own choices, though I think I would favour more individual, rather than community, self-determination. It seems fairly clear to me, however, that many kids in remote communities are not getting the kind of start in life or the ongoing support from the people around them that will enable them to be able to make their own choices about where to take their lives.

  21. Pingback: Club Troppo » Missing Link - 27 June 2007

  22. ChrisPer says:

    Greg Sheridan hit the spot, quoting Noel Pearson on his TV appearance. The urge to make John Howard the root of all evil is amazingly strong, but his consistent behaviour seems to be based on bloodyminded integrity, but with his own viewpoint on evidence. JH has heard and decided action is needed, and possible.

    I think absence of high-confidence data is irrelevant for the decision to shake up the State’s response to child abuse. Low-confidence anecdote seems to be the basis for any number of political decisions.

    As long as every individual case treatment is based on evidence, the strategic action that delivers it doesn’t have to be based on anything except emotion. Moral panic and moral status auctions are SO important – they gave us the law on guns, and the war on paedophilia, and the war on drugs, and the war on smoking, and probably even the war on speeding.

    Remember, ‘if it saves just one life…’ Its hard to see how this couldn’t save many lives, and measurable ones.

  23. AJ says:

    Any move to combat paedophilia is a good move but Howard is exploiting the report for his own purposes.
    Howard supported Hollingsworth whilst he was governor-general and said that Hollingsworth had not done anything to disqualify himself from office.
    Howard offered Pell his full support when he was accused.
    Howard ignored the calls from the Anglican Church and the state governments for a Royal commision into child abuse.
    Howard absolved the past crimes of the churches by stating that we should remember all the good works they had done.
    A Royal commision would have given the level of abuse perpetuated by the clergy, without this we can inly speculate that maybe it is as high as in Ireland and the USA where some figures put it as one in ten clergy being multiple offenders. A Royal commision could have looked at abuse in all of Australia including aboriginal communities.
    Now Howard is acting on a report in a way that draws him headlines and takes heat off issues he was not handling like Work Choices, Global warming, water resources, health, training, education, broadband.

    Howard had more evidence to act on a wider abuse crisis at the time of Hollingsworth but brushed it aside.
    Why?

  24. Verdurous says:

    ChrisPer

    re: “Remember, ‘if it saves just one life…’

    So you’d be in favour of banning swimming at our beaches?

  25. Interesting report in The Age quoting two froensic experts on child abuse that that STI’s say nothing “about the level of abuse, or the perpetrators.”

Comments are closed.