BORDERLANDS, VOLUME 6 NUMBER 2, 2007 A Nightmare of the Neocolonial Kind: Politics of Suffering in Howard's Northern Territory Intervention Rebecca

Stringer University of Otago This essay provides a critical discussion of the Howard government's 2007 intervention into 73 Aboriginal communities in Australia's Northern Territory. Contending that the official purpose of the intervention differs from its actual purpose, the paper argues that the federal government has mobilised issues of violence, abuse and neglect in these communities as a pretext for advancing an unrelated agenda. The paper characterises the intervention as neocolonial and its actual agenda as one of assimilatory neoliberation. It encompasses discussion of the privatising of Indigenous lands, the corporatising of Indigenous governance, the disciplining of Indigenous labour, and the violations of land, sovereignty and human rights the intervention entails. We have a long way to go before human conditions will be obtained by this highly gifted race. The facts are at present that they are being willed to death. The majority of Australians are still poisoned with a strong anti-native bias - the criminal cannot forgive the victim he has wronged ... Nobody could be more cruel, greedy, dishonourable and unjust in their dealings with native races than the British Australian. —Mary Montgomery Bennett 1936, cited in Paisley, 2006: 222. John Laws: But if you do that, Mal, you're going to be accused of discrimination against Aboriginals. Mal Brough: Yes, John, I don't care. I mean, I really don't care. —Mal Brough, 2006: 2. Leviathan Now 1. On 21 June 2007 John Howard's federal government initiated an intervention into 73 Aboriginal communities in Australia's Northern Territory. The intervention mobilises military force and involves a set of power moves granting the government direct control of the targeted communities, for a period of five years. In media reports the intervention has been described as a "revolution" and "takeover", but also a "crackdown" and "rescue plan." [1] The stated primary purpose of the intervention is to address the problem of "intra-racial child sexual abuse" in these communities, as attested by the report of a recent Northern Territory government inquiry into this issue, Ampa Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle, 'Little Children Are Sacred' (AAMMR, 2007: 234). The Prime Minister asked Australians to understand the problem of sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities as a "national emergency" akin to Hurricane Katrina (2007a: 2-3): a disaster situation in which a particular population of victims require urgent rescue and protection by a government strong and responsible enough to "grab control" and "stabilise the situation" (2007c: 2). As this image of abject suffering ameliorated by heroic government suggests, the intervention configures the relationship between morality and power in a very particular manner. Morality appears to lead power, with the suffering of Aboriginal children positioned as an immoral reality that directly compels the federal government to gather, enhance and deploy its various powers of intervention into the lives, communities and lands of Aboriginal Territorians in general. At the heart of the intervention lies a transaction by which the federal government extracts from disempowered children the power to act unilaterally upon and within their communities. The Prime Minister calls this transaction "exceptional measures to deal with an exceptionally tragic situation" (Howard 2007a: 12). Written as the early stages of the intervention unfold, this article provides a critical discussion of these exceptional measures as well as the government's representation of the exceptionally tragic situation it purports to address. 2. Howard's Northern Territory intervention is made possible by two legal manoeuvres: the exercise of certain constitutional powers, and contravention of Australia's obligations under international law. The intervention exercises the constitutional power conferred on federal governments to usurp the sovereignty of territory governments by overriding or remaking their law (known as the territories power, Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act [CACA], Section 122). In this case, the constitution enables the federal government to override the authority of the Northern Territory government, initially to place occupying forces in control of the targeted communities and subsequently to introduce new laws. The Howard government has invoked the territories power on two previous occasions: in 1997 to override the Northern Territory's euthanasia law and in 2006 to override the Australian Capital Territory's same-sex marriage law. What distinguishes the government's use of this power on this occasion is that it affords a greater scope and array of powers and extends to military occupation. The intervention involves a historically significant domestic

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