Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Aboriginal elders are threatening to ban tourists from one of Australia's landmarks over a plan to curb child sex abuse in Aboriginal communities

BBC News:

The threat to close Uluru, or Ayers Rock, comes amid growing alarm.

Some 50 community, church and indigenous groups are meeting in Canberra to discuss the situation.

The government's measures include a six-month ban on pornography and alcohol in the Northern Territory, where evidence of sex abuse was found.

It also includes compulsory medical checks for Aboriginal children.

The Aboriginal backlash is growing in ferocity against what are increasingly being described as John Howard's shock-and-awe proposals, says the BBC's Nick Bryant in Sydney.

Although some Aboriginal leaders have welcomed the proposals, many call the prime minister's plan unnecessarily authoritarian and overbearing.

"What the prime minister and his minister, Mal Brough, are proposing is in the view of the combined Aboriginal organisations in Alice Springs totally unworkable," said their spokesman Pat Turner.

"We believe that this government is using child sexual abuse as the Trojan horse to resume total control of our lands."

Some of the fiercest criticism has come from Mutitjulu, a township in the shadow of Uluru, the iconic red rock in central Australia visited by some half a million people each year.

Mutitjulu leader Vince Forrester said Uluru's traditional owners are considering a civil disobedience campaign that would include a ban on climbing the rock.

"The tourist industry brings a lot of dollars into the territory and tourists all come to Uluru," he told Australian radio.

"Obviously, civil disobedience can come in protest form."

Painful memories of the infamous stolen generation have been revived - dating back to discredited assimilation policies under which generations of Aboriginal children were forcibly sent to live with white Australian families, correspondents say.

There have been reports from some Aboriginal communities that mothers are fleeing with their children, fearful they are going to be taken into care.

But many Aboriginal leaders and academics have been supportive of the proposals, believing the scale of the child abuse problem justifies such radical action, our correspondent adds.

The government has said there is no need for women and children to flee Aboriginal townships, for they have nothing to fear from the federal authorities.

Mr Howard continues to defend his proposals, likening Australia's failure on indigenous child abuse to the Bush administration's botched response to Hurricane Katrina in the US in 2005.

Australians had been aghast at the crisis in New Orleans, but a similar kind of lawlessness had taken hold at home, he said.

"We should have been more humble. We have our Katrina here and now.

"That it has unfolded more slowly and absent the hand of God should make us humbler still," Mr Howard said.

The prime minister has also been accused of politicising the issue in an election year, especially since his proposed ban on alcohol and pornography lasts only six months, our correspondent adds.

Many in the opposition Labor party have said his programme is a short-term political gesture rather than offering a long-term solution to the problem.

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No place for grubby politics


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