Friday 22 June 2007

Justice for Indigenous Australians

I'm not sure how much you've seen of the reporting concerning the recent intervention of the Federal government in the affairs of Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. There have been many variations to the responses - some cautious and some not so cautious. All agree that there has been a problem for many years and that this has not been adequately addressed. There are numerous themes to the debate:

* avoiding paternalism;
* who is to blame;
* the problem of inaction;
* the divisions within the indigenous community on how it sees the solutions;
* how this action will impact on other issues such as land rights;
* the root of the problem;
* what will be the impact on urban indigenous communities if the Commonwealth controls remote communities;
* child abuse as symptomatic of other problems etc etc.

As Christians it seems to me that we need to be careful with our response in the light of the revelations of the most recent damning report about child abuse and community breakdown in remote indigenous communities (of course there are issues across all communities). Our first response should be one of horror (perhaps even righteous anger!) and compassion for the children and communities that are suffering. Many of the media responses seem to be filtered through a variety of lenses and agendas - existing political leanings, ideological concerns with heavy state intervention, individual concerns with elements of the problem or its causes (e.g alcohol abuse or pornography). As the prophet Micah (6:8) reminded the Israelites only one thing is required of us:

"He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

Speaking out is part of acting justly, as is the support of others who are bolder than us and take action. There are many other manifestations of our quest for justice as we walk humbly with our God and as he uses us for his purposes. We have a collective concern for the young lives that are being impacted in remote communities. We also need to remember the impact of community breakdown on all community members. We should avoid almost opportunistically seizing the moment to push one agenda (even if it's an important one and even when driven by right godly motives). For example, I noticed today that the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has rightly applauded the Federal Government’s plan to ban X-rated pornography in the Northern Territory and called on the ACT Government and State Governments to also take action in this area. They have commented:

“The child sexual abuse crisis in the Northern Territory has highlighted in the most distressing way the dreadful harm that pornography causes to communities”

“It is time to take action on this issue throughout Australia. We’re calling on the ACT Government to ban the sale of X-rated pornography and for all States to better enforce measures to control access to this material."

I'm with ACL in wanting to see a ban on such pornography but I don't want the Christian response to become one dimensional. The problem is much more complex than this. We need to commend the Federal government for taking action and add our voices to the debate. It's good that the Labor party has been bipartisan on this. We need to address issues of indigenous health, substance abuse, unemployment, school delinquency, deaths in custody etc.

I'm conscious that a number of Christian organizations and many individuals have been working in Indigenous communities for decades. A recent example, is the work of the Parent Controlled Christian Schools organization that has established a established a Christian boarding school for young Indigenous women in remote Arnhem Land. This school has made a difference to the young people who live at this school, and it has had an impact on their families. We need more of these wonderful examples of individual and collective Christian action. But, we also need coordinated action from all levels of government and any interest group seeking justice for Indigenous people.

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