10 September 2007

Speaking Ethically No. 14

By Rod Benson

August 2007

In June Prime Minister John Howard announced that Australia was in the grip of a “national emergency” – on the scale of Hurricane Katrina – brought to light by the release of a report, Little Children Are Sacred, arising from an Inquiry headed by two eminent Australians, Rex Wild and Pat Anderson.

Responding to the crisis, Mr Howard announced a raft of strong measures aimed at addressing violence and abuse in indigenous communities throughout the Northern Territory.

“The duty of care to the young of this country is paramount,” he said, “and nobody who has any acquaintance with that report could be other than appalled by … the cumulative neglect of many over a long period of time and frustrated in the extreme of the inability of governments to come to terms with an effective response to deal with this problem.”

“Without urgent action to restore social order, the nightmare will go on – more grog, more violence, more pornography and more sexual abuse – as the generation we are supposed to save sinks further into the abyss,” Mr Howard said.

Sadly, this is the latest in a series of reports documenting horrific and sickening violence and abuse in Australian indigenous communities. The federal government’s initiatives are welcome and desperately needed, but come too late for hundreds of children who have lost their innocence, and much more, through abuse and neglect.

Opponents have disingenuously accused Mr Howard of racism, paternalism and political opportunism. We do face a national emergency, and unprecedented steps are necessary to address the problem and its causes.

But what the Report uncovered is part of a wider malaise that reaches into every community, every family, every human heart. The Bible calls it sin, and calls for repentance and reconciliation.

Legislative and punitive measures to address social crises may be justified, but cannot change human nature. Only God can do that. A radical turn toward God is what this nation and its people need more than anything else.

Rev Rod Benson is Director of the Centre for Christian Ethics at Morling College, Sydney.

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