“But Jesus said, suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come unto me: for to such belongeth the kingdom of heaven.”
In the archaic language used in older translations of the Bible, the word “suffer” means to “allow”. In our remote indigenous communities we seem unable to make this translation and seem instead to be determined to allow the little children to “suffer” in the more conventional use of the word.
We have seen again recently more reports of sexual abuse of young indigenous children. Some with a long intimate knowledge of the remote communities say they’re surprised that this is suddenly newsworthy, when to their knowledge such behaviour has been endemic in these communities for decades.
Some of the Aboriginal apologists complain that the dysfunction leading to this appalling behaviour is due to poverty, and if we spent more on indigenous housing and indigenous services the problem would go away.
But this simplistic view is patently wrong. I have known many non-indigenous poor people, but I haven’t seen any great propensity among such people to abuse their children. They might have struggled to put food on the table, but they did their best to feed their families. They couldn’t afford the popular fashion labels, but they sent their children off to school clean and tidy.
I have also heard stories about how a few generations ago indigenous parents went to great lengths to ensure their children got to school. But many don’t seem to have that motivation today.
So what is really going on in these remote communities? For a variety of reasons, they have lost their capacity to adequately parent their children. After several generations of welfare dependence, the incursion of drugs and alcohol and the encouragement of the Aboriginal industry to see themselves as victims, they have few role models left to demonstrate how children should be raised.
As a result the progeny of these communities are poorly educated, suffer health issues, are grossly neglected, have poor employment prospects and, unsurprisingly, are statistically far more likely to be incarcerated than their non-indigenous counterparts. As I implied at the outset, never mind “suffer the little children” it seems we are determined to let the little children suffer.
In these dysfunctional communities one of the chief props of victimhood is the preservation of Aboriginal culture. It would seem to me, a relative outsider, that much of what is propagated as Aboriginal culture is confected, and even where it isn’t it not helpful for the individual to be able to successfully negotiate the requirements of modern society.
I mean no disrespect here. It is indeed a triumph that Aboriginal people have been able to successfully survive for millennia in an inhospitable climate and a more than testing environment. But the skills that enabled that triumph are not the skills required to survive and prosper in twenty-first century Australia.
But the culture that seems to be championed by the indigenous reactionaries is unduly focussed on male dominance. It is a subterfuge to allow Aboriginal men to escape censure, despite their often deplorable behaviour.
Now in coming to grips with this dysfunction and its deleterious effect on indigenous children, Anthony Dillon, who identifies as a part-Aboriginal Australian and is a researcher with the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education at the Australian Catholic University asks the eminently sensible question, “If these were your children, what would you want for them.”
Overwhelmingly, we would say we want them to be safe, healthy, nurtured and educated. And surely the cultural issues should be of secondary interest after these basic needs are met. But because many have glorified Aboriginal culture, it is often being promoted above meeting such basic needs for the children. Our efforts to protect these children are then subsequently derided by the Aboriginal activists as “racist”. There surely should be no debate here. Protecting those vulnerable and much abused children should be our primary concern.
This point was eloquently made by Jeremy Sammut, Senior Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies, in his fine book, The Madness of Australian Child Protection: Why Adoption Will Rescue Australia’s Underclass Children . Sammut argues that institutional bias in favour of relocating abused indigenous children with kinship groups virtually precludes indigenous children from being adopted by non-indigenous parents which might often provide a better option for the children.
And surely if being embedded in traditional culture is so wonderful the kids must really love it? Not so! There is a wealth of anecdotal material suggesting that many indigenous young people would actually prefer to be in detention, removed from the dysfunction, getting three meals a day and a warm bed to themselves at night.
Cathy McLennan worked as a young lawyer for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal aid
Service in Townsville and later became a magistrate in Innisfail. She documented some of her experiences of dealing with young indigenous offenders in her memoir Saltwater: An Epic Fight for Justice in the Tropics. Reacting to the Royal Commission set up to deal with issues emanating from the Northern Territory’s Don Dale youth detention centre she commented:
“My experience as a barrister is that children who end up in detention have been hurt, abused and broken long before they end up in detention, and they often see youth detention as a safe haven.’’
Now what an indictment that is! Far from viewing detention as a disincentive to bad behaviour, many see it as a more desirable option than enduring the indignities of their dysfunctional communities.
So what to do?
Most usefully I think we should accept Anthony Dillon’s counsel. My interpretation of his stance on the matter is that in the first instance we should forget about race. The victims of this societal dysfunction are first of all children – Australian children. Our first duty should be to protect them from, and where necessary, remove them from harm. This should always be our response for children in danger of neglect or abuse, wherever they live and whatever their race.
And then I think we should be sceptical about the value of propagating Aboriginal culture. Some of those who purport to be conservators of Aboriginal culture have confected cultural issues to bolster victimhood.
As well, championing Aboriginal culture (or any other culture for that matter), merely promotes the worst aspects of identity politics. None of us chose our parents, so ethnicity is a mere matter of chance. It doesn’t seem to me to be something that we should literally be “proud of”. It seems ludicrous to take pride in something over which we had no choice. As I have often said, I don’t feel proud to be Australian, I just feel grateful that fate has contrived to allow me to be a citizen of a country with a great liberal, democratic tradition. I had nothing to do with it!
Let us be forthright in proclaiming that overall, indigenous Australians are, in general, prospering in Australia. Where they have chosen to engage in the mainstream economy and adopted the norms of Australian society they have fared very well.
But in our remote communities, that have no real economies and are only sustained by government welfare, there is only despair. And those that suffer most, and deserve our earnest attention, are unfortunately the children.
Let us try to make sure that, despite what those who seek to elevate the issues of Aboriginal culture might wish, the little children don’t suffer.