You are on page 1of 17

This article was downloaded by: [Griffith University] On: 24 October 2011, At: 03:50 Publisher: Routledge Informa

Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

Australian Journal of Political Science


Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cajp20

Aboriginality and the Northern Territory Intervention


Alissa Macoun
a a

University of Queensland

Available online: 23 Aug 2011

To cite this article: Alissa Macoun (2011): Aboriginality and the Northern Territory Intervention, Australian Journal of Political Science, 46:3, 519-534 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10361146.2011.595700

PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE Full terms and conditions of use: http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-andconditions This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contents will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae, and drug doses should be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings, demand, or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.

Australian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 46, No. 3, September 2011, pp. 519534

Aboriginality and the Northern Territory Intervention


ALISSA MACOUN
University of Queensland

Downloaded by [Griffith University] at 03:50 24 October 2011

Architects and supporters of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (the intervention) mobilised a range of ideas about Aboriginality to introduce and justify the policy program. These representations link Aboriginality to abuse of Aboriginal children, establishing a debate about the nature and future of Aboriginality in a context that limits the discursive authority of Aboriginal people. Aboriginality is represented as savage and in need of settler-imposed control, and also primitive and in need of development. These constructions understand Aboriginality temporally, situating it in the past but providing moral justication for coercing Indigenous people into the settler present. Aboriginality is also constructed spatially in this discourse, with prescribed communities framed as the location of both authentic Aboriginality and of threatening disorder. The intervention is framed as extending settler authority over this troubling terrain, containing and redeeming Aboriginality through inclusion in the settler nations moral order.

Prominent Aboriginal academic and activist Mick Dodson argued that representations of Aboriginality have operated as weapons and symptoms of the oppressive relationship that exists between Indigenous people and colonising states, authorising policies of management and control of Indigenous peoples:
Where there was a need to create a boundary between primitive and modern man, to legitimise progress, to justify particular economic and political developments, to promote a national identity for the colonial nation, or more specically to control, manage or assimilate Indigenous cultures, Aboriginality has been made to t the bill. In other words, Aboriginality became part of the ideology that legitimised and supported the policies and practices of the state (Dodson 1994, 7).

Indigenous people have also deployed and contested diverse conceptions of Aboriginality, forming a source of political struggle both within Aboriginal

Alissa Macoun is a PhD candidate in the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland. This article is drawn from her ongoing doctoral research.
ISSN 1036-1146 print; ISSN 1363-030X online/11/030519-16 2011 Australian Political Studies Association DOI: 10.1080/10361146.2011.595700

520

A. MACOUN

communities and between them and the Australian state (Stokes 1997, 169). The state has played a prominent role in generating constructions of Aboriginality, and ideas about the nature, culture and future of Aboriginal people have been created, embedded and operationalised through policy approaches (Attwood 1989; Beckett 1988a, 193; 1988b; Tyler 1993). This article examines the construction of Aboriginality in more recent public policy reasoning by identifying representations used by the architects and supporters of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (the intervention). It supplements the literature outlined above as well as a growing critical literature on the intervention (notable examples include Altman and Hinkson 2007; 2010; Manderson 2008; Moreton-Robinson 2009; Stringer 2007; I. Watson 2009) by considering the ways constructions of Aboriginality were mobilised during this recent articulation of policy. This analysis of ways in which Aboriginality was constructed and deployed by advocates of the Northern Territory intervention from its initiation through to its legislative passage in JuneAugust 2007 was conducted using methods outlined by Carabine (2001). Texts from the period were collected, including media reports, Hansards, speeches, public comments, position papers or statements on the issue, and key themes and objects of discourse about Aboriginality were identied. The subject positions, values and logics reected and reinforced by these constructions of Aboriginality were assessed and situated in their context, including discursive traditions and legacies drawn on and power relations generated, recreated and foreclosed. Central to this project is the contention that language is productive, and that representations do not just reect meanings and realities but also produce them. Following Foucault ([1978] 1990; [1975] 1991), this involves the claim that discourses and discursive practices are important sites of power relations, constituting objects, events, identities, subjects and truths in particular ways, with material political and other consequences. The primary objective here is not to evaluate the eectiveness of the policy or desirability of the measures involved, but to identify power relations implicit in and generated by the way in which particular settler knowledges and ideas about Aboriginality operate in this context. This is an important aspect of intervention, but by no means the only factor in evaluating the policy. Discourses deployed by advocates in political justication and legitimation of the intervention do not constitute the entire discursive eld.1 Similarly, and perhaps more importantly, they do not constitute the operating reality or reect how Indigenous people and communities experienced the program. This article argues that architects and supporters of the Northern Territory intervention construct Aboriginality in a range of ways in introducing and justifying the program. First, discussions of abuse of Aboriginal children function as a site for contestations about the nature and future of Aboriginality in which the discursive authority of Aboriginal people is limited through the construction of Aboriginality as implicated in abuse. Second, Aboriginality is
1 Indigenous people engage, survive, manage and resist settler colonialism in multiple ways; as a non-Indigenous researcher, I do not attempt to evaluate these strategies. This article is thus largely limited to an analysis of constructions of Aboriginality exercised by settlers and state actors.

Downloaded by [Griffith University] at 03:50 24 October 2011

ABORIGINALITY AND THE NORTHERN TERRITORY INTERVENTION

521

constructed temporally in the dominant discourse. It is represented as savage or threatening and in need of settler control and discipline, as well as primitive and in need of development or erasure in the face of (inevitable and inescapable) modernity. These constructions situate Aboriginality in the past, providing moral justication for coercion of Indigenous people into the settler present and thus colonisation as a political project. Finally, Aboriginality is also located spatially in this discourse, with prescribed communities framed as the location of both authentic Aboriginality and of threatening disorder. The intervention is understood as extending settler authority over this troubling terrain, containing and redeeming Aboriginality through its inclusion in the settler nations moral order, thus reinforcing the legitimacy and sovereignty of the settler state. Aboriginality and Child Saving
Downloaded by [Griffith University] at 03:50 24 October 2011

The intervention program was justied through an urgent need to save Indigenous children from widespread abuse and victimisation identied by the Little Children Are Sacred report (Anderson and Wild 2007). Aboriginal children were understood to be especially and inherently vulnerable (Anderson and Wild 2007, 14), representing the vulnerable children of our nation (Brough 2007a). This vulnerability provided the intervention with urgency as children deserve and need us to implement things today (Brough in House of Representatives 2007a, 76). It also ensured priority, as there is no greater obligation . . . than the obligation of caring for the young and vulnerable (Howard in House of Representatives 2007a, 73). The vulnerability of the Aboriginal child authorised government action through what Stringer (2007, 1) characterised as a transactional process by which the federal government extracts from disempowered children the power to act unilaterally upon and within their communities. Aboriginal children, as a group that was vulnerable and dont have a voice (Brough 2007a), authorised and justied the governments actions. The most authoritative speaking part that the dominant discourse allowed for Aboriginal adults was similarly to authorise and justify government action. The view of Aboriginal children as inherently vulnerable casts Aboriginal adults as (at minimum and by default) inadequate protectors, fellow victims, or complicit with abuse. Aboriginal people are thus generally tasked with identifying problems but not giving consent to, or developing, solutions. Cape York Institute Director Noel Pearson is possibly an exception: his intellectual inuence on the program is evident (see Cape York Institute 2007). Despite this, Pearsons qualications on his well-publicised support, which included the principle that Aboriginal law, properly understood, is not the problem, it is the solution (Pearson 2007), were deected by Howard (2007e), who instead emphasised Pearsons role in identifying the problem. Opponents of the program emphasised the governments failure to draw on the work of Indigenous experts such as Professor Judy Atkinson to develop policy solutions (Nettle in Senate 2007b, 104); advocates mentioned Professor Atkinsons research to emphasise her identication of problems and demonstrate the need for action (Fielding in Senate 2007b, 111; Causley in House of Representatives 2007c, 104). The interests of Indigenous women were understood in this context as a source of moral authority. This is evident in the Howard governments use of

522

A. MACOUN

anecdotes about women expressing anonymous support through informal channels (see Hinkson 2007, 7). This moral authority extended chiey to authorisation of settler action. Indigenous women contributed to the debate from this position (see for example, Langton 2008), but the range of available perspectives legitimated by the dominant discourse was limited, with the intervention framed as responding to a need to protect Indigenous women and their children through an act of heroic rescue (I. Watson 2009). In this process of rescue, children were designated as culturally and politically neutral. Their interests are not identied with claims arising from Aboriginality such as land rights or permits (Brough 2007a) or with political doctrines or philosophy (Howard 2007c), but in the restoration of childhood innocence (Howard 2007d; Macklin in Karvelas 2007b), along with the prospect of a better life (Brough 2007b) dened by being able to aspire to the same opportunities as other Australians (Northern Territory Emergency Response Taskforce [NTERT] 2007). This conception of the pure and innocent child, conceived outside of history and outside of politics (Baird 2008, 293) was signicant, as children also represent the future. The children the intervention would save represented this next generation and an opportunity for a better future (Brough 2007a). As such they were Australias children (Barnett in Senate 2007a, 149), their treatment reected the nations character (Brough 2007a; Ferguson in House of Representatives 2007a, 128). These ideas were interrelated, legitimising aspirations for a future where Aboriginality has been culturally and politically neutralised. The interventions advocates successfully and consistently argued that the need to save children from abuse justied the extensive policy program, but through this commentary the nature of the targeted abuse exed and shifted. The intervention uctuated in intent from an urgent intercession to protect children from sexual abuse (Brough 2007a), to a program designed to combat abuse, family violence and neglect (Brough in ABC Online News 2007a; Gordon in NTERT 2007), to a broader attempt to enhance child welfare and improve social outcomes (Brough 2007b; Glasson 2007). The specic objectives of state action blurred, but Aboriginal children remained constant as the imagined beneciaries. The policy measures employed to achieve these multiple ends were more concrete in their focus. Aboriginal adults and communities were the central target of government action; they were the problem to be resolved (Altman 2007a, 8; Manderson 2008, 258). The key policy measures of the intervention racially based welfare quarantining, alcohol and pornography bans, the imposition of compulsory leases over community land, administrative scrutiny and control of Aboriginal organisations and their assets, the abolition of Community Development Employment Projects and restrictions on consideration of customary law by Courts targeted Aboriginal adults and problematised Aboriginal authority. Stringer (2007, 7) argued that such measures essentially constructed Aboriginal communities as insuciently colonised zones. The program had a defective Aboriginality as its focus, and prescribed additional interaction with the state as the treatment required. The consistent problematisation of Aboriginality, combined with indeterminacy about the nature of the abuse to be addressed, conated Aboriginality with abuse; children who required saving were being rescued from Aboriginality.

Downloaded by [Griffith University] at 03:50 24 October 2011

ABORIGINALITY AND THE NORTHERN TERRITORY INTERVENTION

523

Aboriginality and Aboriginal culture were understood as defective, lacking or in need of modication or, in the language of the intervention, normalisation (Brown and Brown 2007; Marika 2007). Instead of removing children from their families and communities in order to assimilate them into white society, this program aspired to similar ends through forcible assimilation of those communities into the settler economy and society. This depiction of Aboriginal culture as the cause of abuse and consequently, what children needed rescuing from is jarring, not least because the Little Children Are Sacred report (Anderson and Wild 2007, 57) indicated that a signicant proportion of perpetrators of abuse of Aboriginal children were white (see also Behrendt and Watson 2008, 47). Aboriginality as a Problematic Past: The Savage and the Primitive
Downloaded by [Griffith University] at 03:50 24 October 2011

This problematisation of Aboriginality is a colonial practice, relying on an implied opposition between a problematised Aboriginality and an idealised civilised settler order. Prime Minister Howard (2007a, 1) famously invoked a Hobbesian nightmare of violence, abuse and neglect to describe the situation of Aboriginal children. This description of the realm of Aboriginality in the terms of the European philosophical tradition understands Aboriginal people through references to a state of nature, beset with savagery and lawlessness in an unsettled realm of violence and disorder. Aboriginal communities are understood dialectically, as primitive or savage and in opposition to ordered, civilised settler society:
What we have got to do is confront the fact that these communities have broken down. The basic elements of a civilised society dont exist. What civilised society would allow children from a tender age to become objects of sexual abuse? (Howard 2007b)

The Indigenous realm is constructed as either fundamentally without order, or as having lost a pre-existing order through deterioration. This construction is frequently deployed to justify colonial violence against Indigenous peoples (I. Watson 2005; 2007), and recurs persistently throughout intervention debates (see for example I. Watson 2009). Moreton-Robinson (2009, 635) argued that notions of social contract and sovereign agreement invoked by the state of nature construction mask violent struggles over race and sovereignty. Aboriginality when referenced through the state of nature is situated rmly as a prior stage of human development, belonging to an imagined European past and inherently in need of modication or erasure if Aboriginal people are to achieve modernity, and the apparently universal destination of assimilation into settler society. There are two diering but closely related permutations of this theme: the characterisation of Aboriginality as savage or violent and in need of suppression or control, and the characterisation of Aboriginality as primitive and in need of development or assimilation into the settler order. These twin conceptions recur throughout articulations of the interventions goals and purpose. The distinction between these understandings is not complete; interrelating and overlapping, they each reect key aspects of the broader logic of liberalism and colonialism that were compellingly outlined by Hindess

524

A. MACOUN

(2001; see also V. Watson 2004). It is useful, however, to evaluate these strategies separately in the context of the intervention in order to assess their diering functions, logics and policy consequences, as well as the similarities in the political frameworks and relationships that these conceptions both rely on and reinforce. Constructions of Aboriginality as savage or degraded and in need of externally imposed control or discipline circulate in discourse about the intervention, identifying Aboriginal people and communities as threats requiring constraint. Almost unpreventable violence is described as ever present, demanding state control (for example Karvelas 2007a), with communities characterised by a climate of fear and intimidation (Scullion in Senate 2007e, 154). Communities under intervention are routinely described as dysfunctional in their entirety (for example, Chalmers in ABC Online News 2007b; Brough in House of Representatives 2007b, 12; Allison in Senate 2007a, 61), and even as a post-apocalyptic vision (Kearney 2007). This is often linked to the contaminating eects of alcohol which in this state of nature ows in rivers of grog (Brough in House of Representatives 2007b, 13), creating grog cultures (Macklin in House of Representatives 2007b, 68) that have actually broken down Aboriginal social norms (Evans in Senate 2007d, 234). This construction frames the problem to be addressed as fundamentally a law and order issue, arising from the failure of Aboriginality to provide legitimate authority. Brough described the prescribed communities as a failed society, where basic standards of law and order and behaviour have broken down (House of Representatives 2007b, 10). The Little Children Are Sacred report found that the sexual abuse of children was symptomatic of a breakdown of Aboriginal culture and society requiring extensive support to communities so they can lead themselves out of the malaise (Anderson and Wild 2007, 12). Intervention advocates extended this argument, claiming that the imposition of settler authority was required to address this dangerous instability and impose order; to stabilise the situation . . . [and] bring law, order and protection (Howard 2007a). Settler authority was required to provide [l]aw and order, good governance, then you get normality, you cant have a community with a lot of grog (Brough in Howard 2007d). Policy proposals included mandating behaviours and the imposition of discipline and controls. Violence in this construction is related to, and results from, Aboriginality. Aboriginal men in particular are constructed as a threat to be suppressed; women and children are petried of violence and sexual molestation and the settler state must provide protective intervention because [f]reedoms and rights, especially for women and children, are little more than cruel ctions without the rule of law and some semblance of social order enforced by legitimate authority (Howard 2007a). This construction is widely accepted. For example, Langtons (2008, 160) theorisation of violence is more complex and nuanced than Howards, but she argued that it is the practices of Aboriginal people themselves that transform mere poverty into a living hell. In conjunction with the interventions blanket application to communities selected on a racial basis, this construction locates violence as arising from Aboriginality. Irene Watson (2009, 55) argues this discourse reinvigorates the stereotype of the barbaric violent bashing native, one that is in need of protection from ones own kind.

Downloaded by [Griffith University] at 03:50 24 October 2011

ABORIGINALITY AND THE NORTHERN TERRITORY INTERVENTION

525

Downloaded by [Griffith University] at 03:50 24 October 2011

These processes have signicant implications, reinforcing and reinscribing colonial structures and relationships, with depictions of interpersonal violence in Aboriginal communities used to justify or erase the violence of the settler order. As outlined above, violence or savagery is understood to result from either the practice or the failure of Aboriginality. This construction erases colonial violence perpetrated by the settler state, as well as violence occurring within and throughout the settler order. Several years prior to the intervention, Sheehan (2001, 301) noted that the reporting of violence in Aboriginal communities often operates through an imaginary white moral centre, inviting readers to identify Aboriginal culture as a cause of depraved acts and imagine this reects the moral superiority of the dominating group, rather than the depravity of their continuing dominance. This process is evident in arguments in support of the intervention that describe Aboriginal communities as violent dystopias and leverage this to justify increased settler dominance. Howards address to the Sydney Institute (2007a) and Broughs speeches on the interventions enabling legislation (House of Representatives 2007b, 117) both rely heavily on this formulation. Institutional or individual settler accountability for abuse is deferred and limited to the responsibility to respond. This responsibility is to civilise or constrain the savage; social violence is stripped from its context and settlers and their structures are not implicated. This construction reinforces a colonising logic; state action to control the violent savage is sanctioned, crisis rhetoric legitimises authoritarian approaches (Manderson 2008; t Hart 2008), and the political positions and perspectives of critics are framed as inherently dangerous. Discussions of Aboriginality that centre on violence and dysfunction, the contaminating nature of grog, and the need for externally imposed law and order, use a language of crisis to designate the situation as one demanding extensive change:
There is a national emergency confronting the welfare of Aboriginal children, and the well-meaning intentions of the past have become a trap rather than a solution. Values, virtues and societal norms have broken down in a slurry of alcohol, pornography, lawlessness and excuses. The time for self-serving excuses is over. Breaking the cycle requires dramatic action and drastic changes (Bernardi in Senate 2007e, 113).

Howard (2007a), for example, characterised the rst task and primary goal of the intervention program as the recovery phase, which is required to stabilise the situation and establish law, order and protection; what Brough (House of Representatives 2007a, 95) designated as the interventions normalising phase, Howard (2007a) characterised as the rebuilding phase. Aboriginality is thus framed as a cultural marker that must be surrendered through discipline or submission to controls so that development can occur and other claims (as an individual, subject or citizen) can legitimately be made. This conception is evident in arguments surrounding the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act; it is contended that suspension of the Act (by implication, discrimination on the basis of race) is required for the sole purpose of securing the advancement of Indigenous Australians so that they can advance and

526

A. MACOUN

Downloaded by [Griffith University] at 03:50 24 October 2011

enjoy the same human rights as other communities in Australia (Brough in House of Representatives 2007b, 22). This argument relies on the assertion that Aboriginal people as a group are required to progress in or from their group identity before they can access the protection of law; the eventual promise of the rule of settler law justies its own suspension (Manderson 2008). Constructions of Aboriginality as primitive operate in such intervention discourses. Aboriginality is constructed as a lack of development requiring elevation or advance (Brough in House of Representatives 2007b, 22; Barnett in Senate 2007b, 99); as an ancient relic out of step with the inevitable and universal destination of modernity embodied in the settler mainstream (Tollner in House of Representatives 2007b, 96; Eggleston in Senate 2007b, 106); and a more natural state requiring development to achieve civilisation (Moss in Wilson 2007). Aboriginality is understood here as inherently superseded. Settler colonialism in Australia is deeply invested in this construction of Aboriginality as primitive and belonging to the past:
In contrast to previous colonial contexts which tended to focus on constructing dierence based on inherent racial traits the antipodean designation as primitive denes this specic other as non-other. The antipodean aborigine is by denition from the origin of (all) mankind which positions this primitive as an earlier and therefore lesser version of European self (Sheehan 2008, 7).

This characterisation of the primitive as an early version of the settler self reinforces a logic of assimilation, situating Aboriginality in the past and settler society as the ultimate indication of progress. This logic is evident in intervention debates:
I believe that Indigenous culture has been used to throw a cloak over these problems and that, in this day and age, it is time for this cloak to be removed and for the Indigenous people of Australia as a whole to be brought into the world of contemporary Australia (Eggleston in Senate 2007b, 106).

Altman (2007b, 10) argued that the policy regime focuses on changing behaviour in prescribed communities with the clear aim of altering peoples values in the longer term to embrace those of mainstream Australia. This is an attempt to alter or remedy the problem of Aboriginality through assimilation. This tension between the imputation of wholesale incapacity to Aboriginality and the governments goals of building capacity among Aboriginal people reects colonising logics and processes. The assignation of priority needs through welfare quarantining is explicitly a normative process designed to align the spending priorities of Aboriginal welfare recipients with qualities that the state has designated important for market participation and integration in the settler mainstream. The elimination of Aboriginality or Aboriginal dierence understood as the primary marker of incapacity in this context (see Sutton 2008, 29) is the end-goal of this process. Capacity is understood as a developmental goal to be achieved by the primitive on the path to civilisation (rather than, for example, an inherent attribute of subjectivity) and is associated with assimilation into the settler colonial economic order. This economic order

ABORIGINALITY AND THE NORTHERN TERRITORY INTERVENTION

527

is naturalised and presupposed, but is understood to be articially suspended because of passive welfare provision:
[T]he provision of welfare has not had the desired outcome. It has become a trap instead of a pathway . . . . With no work and no hope of getting a job, many Aboriginal people in these communities rely on passive welfare. In an environment where there is no natural social order of production and distribution, grog, pornography and gambling often ll the void (Brough in House of Representatives 2007b, 6, 11).

Downloaded by [Griffith University] at 03:50 24 October 2011

Alternative possibilities, such as the ability of Aboriginal cultural or economic structures to provide meaning and social order, as alternative development trajectories, or as adversely aected by settler structures, are not canvassed (see Maddison 2008). The relational nature of settler colonial economic arrangements and, in particular, the relationship between economic structures based on resource exploitation, environmental damage and the dispossession of Aboriginal people are similarly unquestioned in the dominant discourse. Instead, the mainstream settler economy is posited as the ultimate end-goal of a development trajectory. The logic underpinning this process is both temporal and teleological. Recent Australian Indigenous policy reects colonising tendencies within liberalism, as Indigenous peoples and non-liberal cultures are associated with the past through technologies of temporality that operate teleologically (Povinelli 2010, 2530); if Aboriginality is the past, and settler modernity represents the certain political future, the eventual assimilation or elimination of Indigenous peoples and the legitimacy and nally uncontested sovereignty of the settler colonial project are always already assumed. In order to improve the state of the primitive through normalisation/ assimilation, it is apparently necessary to tame the violent and lawless savage to achieve stability:
The simple truth, however, is that you cannot make lasting change in areas like health, education and housing while ever women and children are petried of violence and sexual molestation. Without physical security no amount of extra resources will give these people a genuine future (Howard 2007a).

Aboriginal poverty and underdevelopment, however, are also seen as causes of violence and abuse:
In any event, as you would well know, Senator, there is a very clear connection between the abuse and violence in the communities and the level of amenity. If we have 22 people living in a house, then the stress and the tension as well as the general hygiene and a whole range of other issues within the house are obviously going to impact on the suite of issues that we are trying to ameliorate (Scullion in Senate 2007b, 62).

The complexities of the relationship between the twin conceptions of Aboriginality as both primitive and savage are evident here; the savage must

528

A. MACOUN

Downloaded by [Griffith University] at 03:50 24 October 2011

be constrained so that the primitive can be developed, but conversely the failure to develop the primitive may increase social tensions and release the barely suppressed savage. Separately, these constructions reect conceptions of Aboriginality that authorise increased settler authority over Indigenous people. Together, they form the discursive foundation of a colonial civilising mission; Aboriginality is inherently unstable and violent, as well as intrinsically underdeveloped and superseded, requiring a solution that combines imposed constraint and assimilation in the settler order. The discursive combination of primitivism and savagery locates Aboriginal people in the past and constructs that past as frightening and undesirable. This provides an impetus to compel Aboriginal people into the settler present, which is both inevitable and inherently superior. By representing the future, children are exempt from Aboriginalitys assignment to the past and are a means by which Aboriginal people can be pulled into the present. Children, as vulnerable victims of savagery, also provide additional moral justication for settler action; the savage and primitive of the past must be addressed because they threaten the future, refusing to be appropriately superseded. Aboriginality as Spatial: Locating the Frontier at the Heart of the Nation These constructions situate Aboriginality in time, but formulations of Aboriginality circulating through the intervention also discursively restrict Aboriginality to place, framing the intervention as an extension of settler territorial authority. Aboriginality is located spatially in this discourse, with prescribed communities understood as the domain of both authentic Aboriginality and of threatening disorder. The intervention is represented as extending settler authority over this troubling terrain, containing and redeeming Aboriginality through inclusion in the settler nations moral order, reinforcing the legitimacy and sovereignty of the settler state. Aboriginal communities are understood as operating as, and at, an exotic limit, and their remoteness and dierence is emphasised. Communities prescribed for intervention are described paradigmatically in media reports as remote Aboriginal societies, this other Australia, the remote world, and as a distinct domain (Rothwell 2007). There is a preoccupation with areas that are most remote and too far away to be easily serviced from settler communities (Kearney 2007). This focus is signicant, given that Indigenous communities are often represented in the settler imaginary as set apart from the body of the nation, and as the locus of unspeakable violence and abjection (Perera 2007, 13). Prescribed communities function in this discourse as the location of authentic Aboriginality. Real Aboriginal people live remotely in the NT, while Aboriginal people who live elsewhere are urban, invisible or not properly Aboriginal. Senator Fielding (in Senate 2007b, 109), for example, visited the territory to learn about Aboriginal people since [l]iving in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, we had not been confronted with Aboriginal poverty and disadvantage . . . we have not grown up with Aborigines in our community. Participating in, or being aected by, settler economic and political structures amounts to inauthenticity or a reduced claim to Aboriginality. Aboriginality is

ABORIGINALITY AND THE NORTHERN TERRITORY INTERVENTION

529

thus discursively constrained to place, to be dealt with through this limited number of communities. This framing is evident in the repeated descriptions of Aboriginal communities as independent cultural and political zones, requiring intervention because of a profound collapse of social and cultural systems. Brough (House of Representatives 2007b, 10) described Aboriginal communities as a failed society; Labor Senator Stephens (Senate 2007a, 57) referred to them as communities which in some cases, have been profoundly broken. There is an implied separation between Aboriginal communities and settler society more broadly as if communities are the discrete domains of Aboriginality, and Aboriginality itself is failing. Moreton-Robinson (2009) argued that Aboriginality is not just problematised but pathologised in this discourse. The denition and subsequent problematisation of an authentic remote Aboriginality has obvious political and other implications beyond prescribed communities for Aboriginal people, who must possess an identity that is both inauthentic and pathological. The intervention is framed as an extension of state authority in spatial terms into and over this separate, remote and inadequately governed Indigenous realm. Intervention advocates construct Aboriginal communities, framed in previous regimes as refuges for a dying race, transitional settlements pending assimilation and the locus of an Aboriginality that was to be a permanent presence in a multicultural Australia (Beckett 1988b, 1213), as dysfunctional or dangerous places troubling pockets of (dis)order. Brough characterised them as places of despair and tragedy, in desperate circumstances and suering from a breakdown in social norms (House of Representatives 2007b, 11, 14, 6). Communities are inscribed with a near total responsibility for abuse; they are both the most appropriate unit of analysis and the primary target of policy and redemptive attention, since Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory will never be safe and healthy without fundamental changes to the things that make communities dangerous and unhealthy places (Brough in House of Representatives 2007b, 11). The intervention program is seen as not just an intervention in the lives of particular groups of individuals or citizens, but as an extension of settler territory and authority over a particularly Aboriginal world. Discussions of the permit system, in particular, illustrate this frontier metaphor in operation. Aboriginal communities are repeatedly referred to as closed, presenting an unhealthy barrier to the mainstreams purifying gaze. In seeking to remain closed, these culturally and geographically delineated threats resist scrutiny and the imposition of order from the state, enabling and incubating dangerous and unhealthy elements (Brough in House of Representatives 2007b, 12, 201; Barnett in Senate 2007b, 100; Boyce in Senate 2007c, 69; Scullion in Senate 2007c, 74). These communities closed order is understood as an isolationist and distinctively Aboriginal order into which the state must intervene. Ongoing and existing settler state activities in Aboriginal communities are rarely considered, despite the extensive role of government in regulation and service provision (see Maddison 2008; V. Watson 2004). The role of the state or colonisation in causing, exacerbating or addressing child abuse, poverty and other social issues is erased, despite extensive evidence of this relationship (Atkinson in Altman and Hinkson 2007, 15162) and the observation that

Downloaded by [Griffith University] at 03:50 24 October 2011

530

A. MACOUN

many communities experiencing serious cases of child neglect and abuse are former missions (Sheehan 2008, 27). The state is instead positioned as the solution to a problematic Aboriginality; increasing settler control of Indigenous peoples daily lives is reframed as a morally legitimate assumption of authority rather than a colonial imposition. References to a crisis aecting Aboriginal communities that is particularly national in import and character further legitimise this extension of settler authority. The interventions advocates clearly frame the program as a platform for a (re)assertion of settler authority through the nation. Brough (2007a) formulated this most clearly in his address to the National Press Club:
We can talk about land rights, we can talk about permit systems or we can actually deal with the dicult core issues of children being raped, babies with gonorrhoea, children having their absolute hearts ripped out by people who are supposed to be people of authority, and we can say no more. If we do that, then we, as a nation, can look ourselves in the eye again . . . So many people have come up to me with a sense of relief. They have said, Ive seen this, Ive been a teacher, Ive seen this and Ive reported it and nothings happening. They felt powerless. We have no excuse as a nation to feel powerless anymore.

Downloaded by [Griffith University] at 03:50 24 October 2011

The nation depicted here is racialised. Broughs nation enacts its power on behalf of teachers, not parents; the people of authority who are implicated are not government personnel or settler authorities, but rather people of Aboriginal authority. The inversion is notable and striking: Aboriginal people are in a powerful position and abuse their authority and their children but the settler nation is shamed. The intervention provides a vehicle for the nation to realign the terms of engagement on behalf of previously powerless but now relieved settlers. This is a resolution of the problematic authority of Aboriginality by way of the nation. As a discursive project, the intervention attempts to contain Aboriginal people in the nation in order to limit the challenge of Aboriginality to settler sovereignty and assign more stable and benign meanings to Australianness. Broughs nal comments on the legislation in the House of Representatives emphasised the importance of the intervention to Australian history and in recuperating national identity:
Today is a momentous occasion. Today is an occasion where the nation stands up and says that as a nation not as a government it will answer the call for Aboriginal children in the Territory . . . . We as a nation have to take this opportunity to remove this blight from Australian society and that is what it is. For too long we have tried all sides of government, all ministers have tried for many years to do something about it in the traditional forms and normal ways that we attack these problems and it just has not worked. We have to accept that it has not worked (House of Representatives 2007b, 25).

Both the blight Brough referred to and the traditional forms and normal ways are carefully ill-dened; his comments can be easily read as referring to child sexual abuse specically, to poverty and disadvantage, or to Aboriginality

ABORIGINALITY AND THE NORTHERN TERRITORY INTERVENTION

531

Downloaded by [Griffith University] at 03:50 24 October 2011

more broadly. Sexual abuse and the spectre of the threatened Aboriginal child provide the settler state with an ethical basis for action, a morally legitimate platform from which to (re)assert sovereignty over Aboriginal peoples and resolve Aboriginal claims. Invocations of Australian nationalism are inherently linked to settlerIndigenous relations, constituting a performance of settler sovereignty that enacts possession of Australia in an ongoing fashion (Moran 2005, 171). The emphasis on the intervention as a crucial moment in Australian nationhood is part of this process of (re)formulating settler identity and (re)enacting sovereignty. This is achieved through a conation of the settler state with a benign and neutral Australian nation on whose behalf the state claims both the legitimacy and authority to resolve or address the threat of Aboriginality through incorporation. The inclusion of Aboriginality in the nation is understood as a redemptive, recuperative project for Aboriginal people, but primarily for the nation. It also has the eect of containing the threat Aboriginal dierence poses: Aboriginal people may look dierent and many may speak a dierent language, but they are Australian and the land which they occupy is part of Australia (Tollner in House of Representatives 2007b, 94). Inclusion within the nation is posited as the solution to Indigenous claims, resolving both Australias colonial past and troubling Aboriginal dierence through an inclusive citizenship:
I am not pretending this is easy; it is not. I am not pretending that Aboriginal people have not been dispossessed; they have been. I am not pretending that Europeans have not interfered in their culture; they have. But we are in Australia today, and there is no going back to the nomadic life that the Aboriginals led in the past. These are Australians who have the same rights as every other Australian, and they should be protected like every other Australian (Causley in House of Representatives 2007b, 104).

Moreton-Robinson (2009) has noted the ways that citizenship has operated as an enabling concept in Australian settler colonialism, representing equality but authorising and legitimising extensions of state control over and into the lives of Indigenous people. This concept is deployed in intervention discourse to situate the colonial relationship solidly in the past. Intervention advocates perceive the current generation of settlers as nally dealing with an uncomfortable anomaly, resolving a sad legacy through the hospitality of the nation, rather than as perpetrators and performers of ongoing colonial violence. As I. Watson (2009, 55) noted, this construction represents a continuing play for legitimacy and the act of legitimacy is the rescue of Aboriginal women and children from the violence of Aboriginal men. Settler nationalism and claims to sovereignty are reasserted, with the ethical basis on which those claims are made morally rehabilitated. Conclusion Constructions of Aboriginality deployed to justify the intervention are formulations that link Aboriginality to the abuse of Aboriginal children. This alignment establishes a political debate about the nature and future of

532

A. MACOUN

Downloaded by [Griffith University] at 03:50 24 October 2011

Aboriginality in a discursive terrain in which the authority and perspectives of Indigenous people are problematised. In deploying constructions that attempt to situate and contain Aboriginality temporally and spatially, the interventions settler advocates seek to resolve the problem of Aboriginality by subduing the savage and developing the primitive in spaces they designate an authentically Aboriginal domain. In so doing, they reassert the moral authority of the colonial project and emphasise the settler states claims to legitimacy through discursive strategies that reinvigorate the colonial civilising mission and obscure the violence of the settler order. This process involves resolving the troubling authority of Aboriginality by containing Aboriginal people in the nation in order to emphasise settler legitimacy and assign more stable and benign meanings to Australianness. This process involves a performance or enactment of settler sovereignty, a claim made over and through both the territory of Aboriginal people and the discursive terrain of nationhood. This performance of sovereignty is not cohesive, and the claims made are not necessarily made successfully. Indigenous people engage, survive, manage and resist settler colonialism in multiple ways. Discourses deployed by settlers to justify and legitimise the intervention do not encapsulate the entire discursive eld, and do not reect the experience of the program by those aected. Settler ideas about Aboriginality operating in this context are one aspect of the intervention program, but by no means the only factor in evaluating the policy. References
ABC Online News. 2007a. NT Govt Failing Indigenous Children: Brough. 9 July. Available from: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/07/09/1974021.htm Accessed 12 July 2007. ABC Online News. 2007b. Task Force Identies Policing, Housing Needs for NT Communities. 16 August. Available from: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/08/16/2006958.htm Accessed 19 August 2007. Altman, J. 2007a. The Howard Governments Northern Territory Intervention: Are NeoPaternalism and Indigenous Development Compatible? Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research Topical Issue paper 16. Altman, J. 2007b. Is This Going to Assist Vulnerable Australians? Impact (Winter): 1011. Altman, J. and Hinkson, M., eds. 2007. Coercive Reconciliation: Stabilise, Normalise, and Exit Aboriginal Australia. Melbourne: Arena. Altman, J. and Hinkson, M., eds. 2010. Culture Crisis: Anthropology and Politics in Aboriginal Australia. Sydney: UNSW Press. Anderson, P. and Wild, R. 2007. Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle (Little Children Are Sacred): Report of the Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse 2007. Department of the Chief Minister, Northern Territory Government. Attwood, B. 1989. The Making of the Aborigines. St Leonards: Allen and Unwin. Baird, B. 2008. Child Politics, Feminist Analyses. Australian Feminist Studies 23(57): 291305. Beckett, J. 1988a. The Past in the Present; the Present in the Past: Constructing a National Aboriginality. In: J. Beckett, ed. Past and Present: The Construction of Aboriginality. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press. Beckett, J. 1988b. Aboriginality, Citizenship and Nation State. Social Analysis 24: 318. Behrendt, L. and Watson, N. 2008. A Response to Louis Nowra. Alternative Law Journal 33: 457. Brough, M. 2007a. Commonwealths Intervention into Aboriginal Communities in the Northern Territory: Address to National Press Club 15 August 2007. Available from: http://www.former ministers.fahcsia.gov.au/malbrough/speeches/Pages/speech_nter_15aug07.aspx Accessed 16 May 2011. Brough, M. 2007b. Acting to Make a Safer, Better Life for Aboriginal Children: Message from the Minister for Aboriginal Aairs. Northern Territory Emergency Response FaCSIA 0635R. 18 August 2007. Australian Government. Brown, A. and Brown, N.J. 2007. The Northern Territory Intervention: Voices from the Centre of the Fringe. Medical Journal of Australia 187(11/12): 62123.

ABORIGINALITY AND THE NORTHERN TERRITORY INTERVENTION

533

Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership. 2007. From Hand Out to Hand Up: Cape York Welfare Reform Project Design Recommendations May 2007. Cairns: CYIPL. Carabine, J. 2001. Unmarried Motherhood 18301990: A Genealogical Analysis. In: M. Wetherell, S. Taylor and S.J. Yates, eds. Discourse as Data: A Guide for Analysis. London: Sage. Dodson, M. 1994. The Wentworth Lecture The End in the Beginning: (Re)dening Aboriginality. Australian Aboriginal Studies 1994(1): 213. Foucault, M. [1978] 1990. The History of Sexuality. Volume 1: An Introduction. London: Penguin. Foucault, M. [1975] 1991. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. London: Penguin. Glasson, W.J. 2007. The Northern Territory Emergency Response: A Chance to Heal Australias Worst Sore. Medical Journal of Australia 187(11/12): 61416. Hindess, B. 2001. The Liberal Government of Unfreedom. Alternatives 26: 93111. Hinkson, M. 2007. Introduction: In the Name of the Child. In Coercive Reconciliation, eds J. Altman and M. Hinkson. Melbourne: Arena. House of Representatives. 2007a. Debates House of Representatives, 21 June, 8. Available from: http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/reps/dailys/dr210607.pdf Accessed 13 August 2008. House of Representatives. 2007b. Debates House of Representatives, 7 August, 11. Available from: http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/reps/dailys/dr070807.pdf Accessed 13 August 2008. House of Representatives. 2007c. Debates House of Representatives, 8 August, 11. Available from: http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/reps/dailys/dr080807.pdf Accessed 13 August 2008. Howard, J. 2007a. To Stabilise and Protect: Prime Ministers Address to the Sydney Institute. Four Seasons Hotel, Sydney, 25 June. Howard, J. 2007b. Interview with David Koch and Melissa Doyle. Sunrise, Seven Network, 22 June. Available from: http://www.pm.gov.au/media/Interview/2007/Interview24381.html Accessed 9 September 2007. Howard, J. 2007c. Interview with Matt Conlan. Territory Today Program, Radio 8HA, 26 June. Available from: http://www.pm.gov.au/media/Interview/2007/Interview24386.html Accessed 9 September 2007. Howard, J. 2007d. Joint Press Conference with the Hon Mal Brough, Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Aairs. Canberra, 21 June. Available from: http:// www.pm.gov.au/media/Interview/2007/Interview24380.html Accessed 9 September 2007. Howard, J. 2007e. Doorstop Interview Fraser Shores, Hervey Bay. 26 June. Available from: http://www.pm.gov.au/media/Interview/2007/Interview24385.html Accessed 9 September 2007. Karvelas, P. 2007a. Kids Queuing for Checks. The Australian, 20 July. Karvelas, P. 2007b. Left Fights Rudd on PMs Intervention. The Australian, 4 August. Kearney, S. 2007. Police Forge Link with Distant Children. The Australian, 9 August. Langton, M. 2008. Trapped in the Aboriginal Reality Show. Grith Review 19: 14362. Maddison, S. 2008. Indigenous Autonomy Matters: Whats Wrong with the Australian Governments Intervention in Aboriginal Communities. Australian Journal of Human Rights 14: 4161. Manderson, D. 2008. Not Yet: Aboriginal People and the Deferral of the Rule of Law. Arena Journal 29/30: 21972. Marika, B. 2007. Lack of Respect Will Not Help Indigenous Children. Aboriginal & Islander Health Worker Journal 31(5): 22. Moran, A. 2005. White Australia, Settler Nationalism and Aboriginal Assimilation. Australian Journal of Politics and History 51: 16893. Moreton-Robinson, A. 2009. Imagining the Good Indigenous Citizen: Race War and the Pathology of Patriarchal White Sovereignty. Cultural Studies Review 15(2): 6179. Northern Territory Emergency Response Taskforce [NTERT]. 2007. Media Release, 30 June. Pearson, N. 2007. Politics Aside, an End to the Tears is Our Priority. The Australian. 23 June. Available from: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/politics-aside-an-end-to-thetears-is-our-priority/story-e6frg786-1111113806184 Accessed 16 May 2011. Perera, S., ed. 2007. Our Patch: Enacting Australian Sovereignty Post 2001. Symposia Series. Perth: Network Books. Povinelli, E. 2010. Indigenous Politics in Late Liberalism. In: J. Altman and M. Hinkman, eds. Culture Crisis. Sydney: UNSW Press. Rothwell, N. 2007. Desert Sweep. The Australian, 11 August. Senate. 2007a. Debates Senate, 8 August, 8. Available from: http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/ senate/dailys/ds080807.pdf Accessed 13 August 2008. Senate. 2007b. Debates Senate, 13 August, 9. Available from: http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/ senate/dailys/ds130807.pdf Accessed 13 August 2008. Senate. 2007c. Debates Senate, 14 August, 9. Available from: http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/ senate/dailys/ds140807.pdf Accessed 13 August 2008. Senate. 2007d. Debates Senate, 15 August, 9. Available from: http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/ senate/dailys/ds150807.pdf Accessed 13 August 2008.

Downloaded by [Griffith University] at 03:50 24 October 2011

534

A. MACOUN

Downloaded by [Griffith University] at 03:50 24 October 2011

Senate. 2007e. Debates Senate, 16 August, 9. Available from: http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/ senate/dailys/ds160807.pdf Accessed 13 August 2008. Sheehan, N. 2001. Some Call it Culture: Aboriginal Identity and the Imaginary Moral Centre. Social Alternatives 20(2): 2933. Sheehan, N. 2008. Clothing the Lesser Self: Settler Morality and the Erasure of the Primitive. Unpublished paper, forthcoming in revised form. Social Design. In: K. Arabena, ed. Giving an Account of Ourselves. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press. Stokes, G. 1997. Citizenship and Aboriginality: Two Conceptions of Identity in Australian Political Thought. In: G. Stokes, ed. Politics of Identity in Australia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Stringer, R. 2007. A Nightmare of the Neocolonial Kind: Politics of Suering in John Howards Northern Territory Intervention. Borderlands ejournal 6, Available from: http://www.border lands.net.au. Sutton, J. 2008. Emergency Welfare Reforms: A Mirror to the Past? Alternative Law Journal 33: 2730. t Hart, P. 2008. The Limits of Crisis Exploitation: The NT intervention as a Reform Boomerang. Arena Journal 29/30: 15774. Tyler, W. 1993. Postmodernity and the Aboriginal Condition: The Cultural Dilemmas of Contemporary Policy. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Statistics 29: 32242. Watson, I. 2005. Illusionists and Hunters: Being Aboriginal in this Occupied Space. Australian Feminist Law Journal 22: 1528. Watson, I. 2007. The Aboriginal State of Emergency Arrived with Cook and the First Fleet. Australian Feminist Law Journal 26: 38. Watson, I. 2009. In the Northern Territory Intervention: What is Saved or Rescued and at What Cost? Cultural Studies Review 15(2): 4560. Watson, V. 2004. Liberalism and Advanced Liberalism in Australian Indigenous Aairs. Alternatives 29: 57798. Wilson, L. 2007. Tax Breaks Urged to Spur Business. The Australian, 18 August.