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'Sledgehammer to Crack a Nut' says Maori Party


'Sledgehammer to Crack a Nut' says Maori Party

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader, Maori Party

Tuesday 10 July 2007

The Maori Party today has reiterated its concern about the Government's response to the report of the Northern Territory Board of Inquiry into the protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse.

The Maori Party Caucus today called a special caucus meeting to consider the Australian Government's response to the report, describing it as a sledge-hammer approach - a widespread and ill-thought through attack on Aboriginal communities in Northern Territory - rather than focusing on the extremely significant situation of child sexual abuse.

"The report takes as its basis "that Aboriginal child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory be designated as an issue of urgent national significance" and as such, the call to work together for the sake of all children is a very important call" said Dr Sharples, Co-leader Maori Party.

"The report describes the precious value accorded to old people and children in traditional Aboriginal society - "the old people for what they learned through their life and the children because they would carry on the law, the religion, the beliefs and the culture" " said Dr Sharples.

"These are values which are closely aligned to our own philosophies as tangata whenua; and as such the statements that "the Inquiry accepts that sexual abuse of Aboriginal children is common, widespread and grossly under-reported" must be heeded" said Dr Sharples.

"It is not generally our approach to comment on the way other nations manage their business" said Dr Sharples.

"However, as would be expected, we are a political party who stands in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples throughout the world. While it could be said that Aboriginal communities raised genuine concerns in the consultation process which led to the 'Little Children are Sacred' report, we have to ask if they were aware of the way in which these concerns may be used to fulfil other political agendas".

"No one could fail to appreciate the enormous anger that the Australian Government's response has elicited" said Dr Sharples.

"We must and will continue to ask - how will this protect Aboriginal children?"

"There are two key issues for us: the decades of deprivation caused by the failure of successive governments to address the inter-generational trauma suffered by the Stolen Generation" said Dr Sharples.

"And the second major issue is the association between land acquisition, permits and sexual abuse".

"We have seen reports describing the Government's response as 'paternalistic and a form of apartheid'; as "heavily interventionist"; suggesting the policy "smacks of political expediency dressed up as moral indignation" said Dr Sharples.

"Aboriginal peoples have asked whether this is the continuing impacts of suffering an assimilationist policy, for "Stolen Generations" of Aborigines who as children were forcibly removed from their homes".

"The question has been raised - is this another approach to 'de-Aboriginalise' the indigenous peoples of Australia - a question given all the more weight by the abolition of ATSIC, the national indigenous representative organisation, and compounded by Census data revealing that measurements of improvements are health, housing, education and employment indicators of indigenous status are declining" said Dr Sharples.

Australian politicians have also expressed their concern says Dr Sharples.

"Greens leader Bob Brown has described "years of inaction" as leading into "dangerous racial discrimination territory" while Federal Labour Member for Lingiari, Warren Snowden has concluded that in proposing to remove permits and take townships away from Aboriginal people, the policy is "undermining some of the central elements of the Land Rights Act" said Dr Sharples.

"The political criticism of Democrats Senator, Andrew Bartlett was particularly salient" said Dr Sharples. "He called the policy "an outrageous authoritarian crackdown" and criticized the lack of consultation with the Northern Territory's indigenous communities, "if they aren't developing the solutions, then the solutions aren't going to work".

"Our overwhelming interest has been in hearing the voices of Aboriginal peoples about the Howard response" said Dr Sharples.

"We have not heard any Aboriginal leaders supporting the decision to deploy police officers and military logistics officers as a way of reducing sexual abuse within communities".

"Not one of the 97 imminently sensible recommendations from the 'Little Children are Sacred' report identifies that military force is a way of progressing Aboriginal wellbeing".

"We have not heard any Aboriginal leaders believing that scrapping the permit system on Aboriginal lands or usurping property rights in taking control of townships through five year leases will protect Aboriginal children from sexual abuse".

"Indeed it seems no explanation has been given of the link between removing the permit system and addressing the sexual abuse of women and children".

"What we have heard is the views of a group of ninety indigenous and welfare groups suggesting the move to take control over Aboriginal communities is a "Trojan horse to take over Aboriginal lands".

"We have also heard that the seizure of Aboriginal Affairs in the Northern Territory will "demoralise" communities "who no longer understand pride and dignity because it was taken from them a long time ago".

"There have also been reports that the Government's response follows applications from mining companies for more exploration permits in the Northern Territory" said Dr Sharples. "Even more worrying are the reports suggesting that the Aboriginal lands of the Northern Territory are being considered for the dumping of nuclear waste".

"Indeed, the more one looks into this situation, the less it seems to be about community development and wellbeing, and the more it seems to be about extremely worrying political agendas" stated Dr Sharples.

"We are not afraid of controversy - we have spoken up before in our belief that "little children are sacred" - and the stand we made then was not universally popular either" said Dr Sharples.

"Our emphasis must always remain on the special need for the protection of children, alongside our belief that locally based action, local resourcing, local control, by the people for the people, is the most effective way of achieving long term change".

"We also believe that the Aboriginal people of Australia, the 'Stolen Generations', are entitled to an apology for the decades of oppression, something the Howard Government steadfastly refuses to do, despite widespread support for such an apology throughout Australia" ended Dr Sharples.

Background

* The Ministerial Advisory Committee on a Maori Perspective for the Department of Social Welfare has defined racism as being grouped into three main forms - personal racism, cultural racism and institutional racism.

* "Whilst personal and cultural racism may be described in their own right, institutional racism is observed from its effects. It is a bias in our social and administrative institutions that automatically benefits the dominant race or culture, while penalising minority and subordinate groups".

Puao-te-ata-tu (1988) report to Labour Government

* Numerous solidarity rallies are planned throughout Aotearoa and Australia for the end of this week, including Saturday July 14th, rally and march from Midland Park to Te Aro Park in Wellington.

* Media reports suggest that the Northern Territory Government is seeking advice about whether legal action is necessary to challenge the compulsory acquisition of townships from traditional land owners and native title holders.

ENDS

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