Alcohol and pornography ban to tackle child abuse in Northern Territory communities.
The opposition Australian Democrats said Howard’s plan could breach racial discrimination laws, as they apply to Aboriginal communities but not to white Australians in other towns in the Northern Territory.
Howard has defended the measures saying the old approach of leaving problems to local authorities had “demonstrably failed” and governments had been too timid to intervene because of accusations of paternalism.
|“The Howard plan is selective, cynical and racist”
Bob Brown, Australian Greens leader
“Frankly, the care and protection of children is more important to me than slavishly following some philosophy or doctrine,” Howard told Australian radio.
“In the end, if you can’t protect children, you’ve failed.
“It has got nothing to do with race; it’s got everything to do with responsibility of the parents,” he said.
But many opponents have questioned his government’s motives.
Bob Brown, the leader of the Australian Greens, said that the Howard government had neglected Aboriginal health for 11 years and decided to act only in the lead-up to a national election.
“The Howard plan is selective, cynical and racist,” he said.
As well as banning alcohol and hardcore pornography, the government plans to ensure welfare payments are not spent on alcohol and carry out health check on indigenous children.
Tom Calma, Australia’s indigenous social justice commissioner, said the intervention would not solve the problem without other long-term support measures.
“Cleaning up houses and cutting off grog is not going to solve the problem,” he told Australian radio, adding that problems of alcohol and violence needed more than a law-and-order response.
Many Aboriginal communities already ban alcohol, but people overcome the restrictions by visiting bigger local towns to buy and drink alcohol, before returning home.
Australia’s police union expressed reservations about its members being expected to clean up indigenous communities without clearly defined goals and strategies.
“The ill-defined proposal to place interstate police into Northern Territory communities fails to recognise the realities facing every Australian police force,” Mark Burgess, Police Federation of Australia chief executive, said.