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Rudd’s confusion re abuse of indigenous children

And now for some political incorrectness on a sensitive subject ...

In the wake of a damning report that Aboriginal children are 6 times more likely to suffer sexual abuse than other Australian children (the figure is likely to be much higher because many cases from remote communities are not reported), state and territory leaders of the Commonwealth (COAG) are meeting in Darwin today to discuss, in Kevin Rudd's terms, "how to overcome indigenous disadvantage". Rudd's "root cause" rolls off the tongue and is accepted as a given but it neither withstands closer scrutiny nor allows us to address this terrible problem in any meaningful way.

There are many disadvantaged groups in society who do not routinely sexually abuse their children. To give just one example close to home, a significant proportion of our own local Jewish community arrived on these shores after WWII having suffered unspeakable emotional, material and ideological loss. Yet their relative 'disadvantage' did not lead to their abusing their children. This is because sexual abuse has more to do with a lack of values than it does with a lack of opportunity or advantage. Those Jewish migrants, disadvantaged as they were, nevertheless carried timeless values which enabled them to take their place in and contribute to our society.

This confusion, shared by our Supreme Leader, stems, I think, from the common misconception about what multiculturalism is supposed to be. A multicultural society is one where there is no single distinct ethnicity or religion to which everyone must adhere to and where social cohesion is promoted by permitting distinct ethnic or religious groups to celebrate and maintain their different cultural identities. It is a modern experiment which has been spectacularly successful in many liberal democracies including, for example, the USA and Australia. But it only works where all groups submit to similar the USA and Australia, that means Judeo-Christian values (which are largely reflected in our statutory and conventional laws).

Unfortunately, many think that multiculturalism means that all cultures are morally equal and that none is superior to another. To think otherwise is to be labeled bigoted and chauvinistic. That is a tragedy because different cultures are not necessarily morally equal. For example, a culture which promotes female circumcision is not moral, it is primitive and barbaric. A culture which promotes sati (the age-old practice on the sub-continent of perfectly healthy widows self-immolating on their husbands’ funeral pyres) is barbaric. So too is a society which celebrates honour killings (justifying the murder of rape victims by their own fathers and brothers) and teaches children Jihad (the list of examples is endless). Because the sexual abuse of Aboriginal children is unarguably rife, our leaders should perhaps view this unhappy fact from a different perspective.

Political correctness in this context - which I would describe as the institutionalised failure to recognise that diverse cultures are not necessarily morally equal in every respect – misdirects all our attempts to cure the problem. It explains why governments wanting to do good will typically address material matters only, while ignoring the fact that the real remedy lies in teaching/educating that certain practices are simply wrong and will not be tolerated. The closest attempts we have seen were the Howard government’s belated initiative in policing remote communities and, of course, the well-intentioned efforts of missionaries in the mid 20th century (the children involved, many of whom benefited greatly, being now referred to as the stolen generations).

Unfortunately, as Rudd has set incorrect parameters for the talkfest, don’t expect any significant improvement in the plight of indigenous children.

Reply to Bloch

by Rob Weiss

“There are many disadvantaged groups in society who do not routinely sexually abuse their children.” The implication Bloch makes is that sexual abuse of children in in indigenous groups is  routine , a natural part of their society and culture. There is no evidence that indigenous people ‘routinely’ sexually abuse their children either now or in the past before British colonisation. In fact, quite the contrary, as evidenced by lack of routine sexual abuse in some of the intact tribal structures still remaining in Australia. Sexual abuse of children is not an ingrained part of indigenous culture it is an acquired behaviour fuelled by alcohol, drugs, poverty, unemployment, disease, lack of education, remoteness, disenfranchisement from their lands and income derived from them. An out of sight out of mind attitude by successive federal governments condones the implosion of indigenous societies by unchecked self-destructive forces. The collapse of tribal structures associated with the racist and almost genocidal  destruction of indigenous Australians has led to impoverishment of self esteem and a mentality of self destruction leading to lack of caring for the future, the welfare of their children. To compare rates of child sexual abuse between post-Holocaust Jews and Indigenous Australians on the basis that these groups shared in  common the characteristics of being both impoverished and displaced doesn’t even skim the surface of the vast range of differences between these groups so as to make such comparisons superficial at best, ridiculous at worst. Even a cursory analysis comparing the two groups – post Holocaust Jews and Indigenous Australians living in 20th and 21st century Australia – is revealing – the Jews were white, educated, literate, often with skills and professions better than local Australian whites, many were the cream of European culture .  Pre-colonisation Indigenous societies had contact with the land and nature, no written or recorded values or rule books, it was in their tribal structures with the rule of elders and councils that haas been widely documented  – The impact of white colonisation shattered their links with their organised tribal past and sent their values disappearing.

Bloch’s asserts that multiculturism fails because of an assumption that all cultures are morally equivalent.  He gives examples such as the reprehensible and barbaric rite of female circumcision among some cultures, yet omits the fact that many just as easily condemn Jewish male circumcision as the other side of the same coin.  Bloch engages in moral relativism from the Judeo-Christian ‘high ground’, but I suggest this is in fact shaky ground given what many would these days consider barbaric biblical practices.  As Bloch points out, the list is endless – starting with the death penalty for not observing the Sabbath, for example.

Political correctness, in fact, allows one to examine root causes and systemic issues contributing to the state of affairs in a non-judgemental, respectful tone which then allows meaningful collaboration. Time and again the cures attempted for the problems afflicting indigenous societies, conceived from the high ground of paternalistic Judeo-Christain moral relativism have failed. I wonder how Bloch feels about those very same well meaning missionaries responsible for the stolen generations turning their efforts onto Jews in order to convert them to the righteous path of Christianity against their will. No, the way forward is to address these issues in a respectful consultative manner bringing in resources from a wide range of agencies and utilising them to achieve specific goals desired by all Australians. The social evils affecting indigenous societies – alcohol, drugs, sexual abuse, domestic violence – are all present in white Australian urban societies, it’s only that indigenous people are often remote, vilified because of the color of their skin, and not politically organised that they bear the full brunt of our society’s failures.  These ‘talkfests’ are necessary and are an integral part of the way forward.

Bloch responds to Weiss

Rob Weiss, in his interesting contribution to this debate, does not appear to disagree with my major premise that the sexual abuse of Aboriginal children has more to do with a lack of values than a lack of opportunity or advantage. Indeed Weiss observes that "the impact of white colonisation shattered  (the indigenous population's) links with their organised tribal past and sent their values disappearing" and that "the implosion of indigenous societies (was caused) by unchecked self-destructive forces" including "a mentality of self destruction leading to lack of caring for the future, the welfare of their children..".

Weiss offers a spirited view as to what the cause of moral decay in the indigenous population has been. He primarily lays it at the door of White Australia and he may well be right. Even though Weiss does not define or produce any satisfactory evidence as to what traditional Aboriginal values comprised and most of his observations are simply assertions, I will assume, for the sake of argument, that Weiss is correct. What exactly is Weiss then advocating? A return to tribal life? An indigenous exemption from our conventional and statutory laws? Governments must deal with facts on the ground - they cannot turn back the clock and undo over 2 centuries of European settlement.

My simple point is that if the sexual abuse of children is a product of moral dysfunction and decay, however caused, it logically follows that any remedy must therefore focus on "values" rather than focusing solely on "material" considerations. Weiss does not deal with this argument in any meaningful way. His failure to do so reflects our governments' failure to take this politically incorrect but required step. That is not to say that money should not be applied to indigenous communities and that some past injustices should not be redressed - I am not advocating a scorched earth policy. But I am saying that throwing money at the problem, without an educational focus on teaching values, will fail as it always has.

There is another aspect of Weiss's critique, while not directly relevant to the above argument, which is nevertheless deserving of a response. Weiss is absolutely wrong in saying that "Bloch asserts that multiculturism fails because of an assumption that all cultures are morally equivalent." I did not say that at all. To the contrary, I said that multiculturalism has been spectacularly successful in many liberal democracies. What I did say is that it only works where all groups submit to similar values and that in the USA and Australia, that means Judeo-Christian values upon which our statutory and conventional laws are largely based. I was not thereby advocating that Judeo-Christian values are the only values upon which a multicultural society could theoretically be created. If, however, as in the USA and Australia, the multicultural society is based on Judeo-Christian values, then yes, society is perfectly entitled to "take the high moral ground" and insist on minorities conforming to those values, as otherwise social cohesion is impossible.

Weiss's comments about "paternalistic Judeo-Christian moral relativism" and various biblical practices therefore miss the point as do his morally equivalent comments regarding female and male circumcision (as if those two practices can even be mentioned in the same breath).

Weiss's conclusion is factually accurate - governments are indeed guided by what is politically correct. However, just sometimes, being non-judgmental and overly respectful and obsequious can be counterproductive and I believe this to be the case when it comes to debating at a talkfest how the sexual abuse of children in the indigenous community can be addressed.

Rob Weiss replies to Bloch

by Rob Weiss

--- snip --- Lengthy quotation from

Furthermore, ‘routine sexual abuse’ of indigenous children has been documented (see above article) to have some of its origins with the similar well-meaning missionaries mentioned by Bloch in his first article. They were emissaries of the very Judaeo-Christian society values  that Bloch would have us consider as the gold standard.  It is self-evident that no-one can turn back the clock and restore intact tribal hierarchies and indigenous lifestyle, yet there are constructive mechanisms being suggested on restoring these values in indigenous communities, and I again refer the reader to the article above for further information. Bloch misses a significant point by not acknowledging that routine sexual abuse of children occurs quite frequently in our own urban non-indigenous communities as well; the indigenous ‘moral decay’ resulting in sexual abuse of children he refers to is prevalent in our society as well as in Israeli society – and amongst religious Jews too. And Catholic communities. And Anglican ones as well. All with Judeo-Christian values. Bloch would have us educate the indigenous communities with Judeo-Christian values – only to repeat the failures of missionaries who tried to do so and failed so spectacularly in the past. I seems logical that  educating indigenous people in their own values, ones they would find resonance with,  would be more realistic and productive in reducing abuse being witnessed these days, rather than foisting foreign ideologies upon them. In fact it seems we should be teaching non-indigenous Australians aspects of indigenous values given the absence of child sexual abuse in pre-colonisation Australia. Now that, is moral superiority!

Indigenous Australians in the past have borne the brunt of genocide, colonisation, racism, neglect from successive governments. They are, at the very least, deserving of special consideration from our elected governments and us as individuals.  Certainly education, including humanist, civic and societal values is important but so is medicine, housing, transport, sanitation.  These things do cost money, and it needs to be spent appropriately.  The ‘talkfest’ simply addresses the point that appropriate stakeholders interests and opinions are addressed in a meaningful, respectful, consultative manner, so necessary funds can be appropriately used.  If this ‘politically correct talkfest’ is what Bloch finds offensive then he is mistaken in what it is setting out to achieve. Collaborative negotiations appear to be the most useful approach in addressing the challenges facing indigenous Australians today and this conference sets that stage.

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It is not the cultural contributions of Indigenous people that is creating terrible suffering in their communities -- suffering especially endured by the most vulnerable, the children. The endless cycle of alcoholic and other dysfunction must be broken and the "intervention" is a possible way in to this. It may not be ideal but to stand by and say "the misery of these women and children is not my problem" can"t be justified.

Posted by Gabrielle on 2009-07-12 02:41:36 GMT

Absent in all this correspondence is any mention of cultural contributions many by indigenous Australians. They are numerous and often extraordinary. Just a tiny sampling: Bangarra Dance Theatre, Yothu Yindi, Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter, and didgeridoo virtuosos David Hudson and Chris Adnam. One of the most stunning pieces of theatre I have seen was the autobiographical Life Times Three, by David Page - brother of Bangarra"s founder Stephen Page - for Sydney"s Belvoir St. Theatre. Then of course, there are the visual artists - far too many too mention, though a recent comment from a Sotheby"s director puts things into perspective. As he noted, the market for Australia"s white artists, icons included, is almost purely domestic and "the only Australian art that consistently sells well internationally, is Aboriginal." The fact that Australia"s indigenous performing and visual artists have achieved so much despite often being exploited and sidelined, or subjected to racism, is a miracle.

Posted by Zelda Cawthorne on 2009-07-12 00:13:30 GMT

Reply to Bloch Please look to the lower Left (ie the body of the article) for this lengthy response by Mr Weiss - R.Z.

Posted on 2009-07-11 21:31:07 GMT

It is unfortunate that the Western education system including in Israel have replaced historical/spiritual values-that gave children a dignified sense of belonging including in the Aboriginal culture-by secularism/multiculturalism/political correctness, moral equivalence ect...leaving a depressive empty space in our human society that is filled up with consumption and addictions some of which are mostly virtual sexual/violent entertainment. Much has to be done to inculcate in our children a sense of self respect and belonging. It appears that with the GOOD G-D out of the equation we loose our humanity.

Posted by EE on 2009-07-05 11:07:05 GMT

Alcohol abuse is Aboriginal Australia\"s biggest scourge by far. Along with a raft of diseases, it was introduced to a people with no immunity - physiological or social - and has wreaked devastation ever since. That\"s just one problem that needs to be tackled. Another is the astounding ignorance of indigenous culture and history in mainstream Australia. Despising a people you don\"t understand is ...well, despicable.

Posted by Zelda Cawthorne on 2009-07-05 06:24:45 GMT

Until the massive problem of alcohol and substance abuse and the effects of long-term addiction are faced squarely, the abuse of kids will continue, generation after generation. Addiction gradually destroys any moral values -- even those natural values where parents instinctively protect children. With their minds destroyed by alcohol and/or petrol, addicts become like vampires, preying on the weak and defenceless around them. Sexual abuse is one of the commonest dysfunctions of addictions. Damaged children grow up and have more damaged children and so it goes on, until there is some sort of powerful intervention.

Posted by Gabrielle on 2009-07-05 02:28:13 GMT

To Zelda: 2 observations on your comments: First, reading between the lines, I think you assume that sexual abuse of Aboriginal children only began after 1788. This is deserving of some research. Secondly, although I understand that you lay the blame on European settlement, you still do not at all grapple with the critical issue, namely whether the depravity we see today is due to a lack of opportunity or a lack of values. You can be as poor as a church mouse and still lead an honourable and moral life.

Posted by Geoff B. on 2009-07-04 23:19:08 GMT

Bloch is to be thanked for taking a stand against political correctness. It is wrong to have sex with prepubescents in almost all cultures and it is the right of the majority to declare what is aceptable and what is forbidden in a society. That Aboriginal groups tend to violate social and legal norms has nothing to do with land rights, a white invasion or a stolen generation. What we have are groups of people many of whose members are still more like stone age people than the assimilated members of their group. We must not make a mistake of praising multi-culturalism, which is a process of society building through giving and sharing. What we have here andin Canada is a process of multiple culturalism and the ghettoisation of cultures some of them inferior and hostile to others and the mainstream. Lastly, we need to abandon the reomantic notions that pre-invasion all was rosy; archeologists have found many female skeletons with fractures that could only have been caused by clubs to the skull or to arms warding off those blows.

Posted by paul2 on 2009-07-04 14:51:29 GMT

The real indigenous disadvantage in this country began shortly after 1788. Since then, the world"s oldest culture has been almost obliterated, along with its myriad languages. Appropriately, hardly a word is spoken in Warwick Thornton"s extraordinary film Samson and Delilah. Its central characters, symbolic of Aboriginal Australia, have been rendered almost mute. When you destroy a culture, you destroy its people. When they have nothing left, they self-destruct. The tragedy of indigenous Australia is not unique. The Inuit people and many others could vouch for that.

Posted by Zelda Cawthorne on 2009-07-04 12:43:10 GMT

right on target about what is wrong with the report but fails to suggest what ought to be, must sum: needs more emphasis upon the positive rather than focus upon the negative in the issued report.

Posted by Fred Lapides on 2009-07-04 11:43:33 GMT

Dear "Dangerous to assume moral high ground:", There was a period in European history where it was a universal axiom that one religion (translate: culture) was superior to all the others: - see the Kuzari. Each religion of course, thought it was them. Yes, it IS dangerous to assume that my culture has the moral high ground. What is even more dangerous however, is to allow a culture which is not mine to assert that it has the moral high ground over my culture. So if my culture holds that is unacceptable for adults to have sexual relationships with children, then I have an immediate obligation to protect children who are vulnerable to this. Not a right, an Obligation. I don"t really need to assert that my culture is morally superior, I simply need to note that I am obliged under my culture"s laws to protect the innocent.

Posted by Ralph Zwier on 2009-07-04 11:37:21 GMT

It's quite dangerous for one culture to assume the moral high ground in relation to another but the idea is quite novel. A gut voch and all the best

Posted by Anon on 2009-07-04 10:13:38 GMT