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Aboriginal surprise

In June, the Australian government tore up 30 years of social and welfare policy towards Aborigines in the Northern Territory. The reaction exposed big divisions in Australian society—and among Aborigines themselves

By Nicolas Rothwell   December 2007

On 21st June 2007, the Australian government’s minister for indigenous affairs, Mal Brough, acting on reports of widespread child abuse in remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, declared a “national emergency response” and tore up a generation’s worth of social policies. The new programme unveiled by Brough and the long-serving conservative prime minister, John Howard, adopted a draconian approach to Australia’s most far-flung Aboriginal people and struck hard at a particular idealising vision of the indigenous world, unleashing a tide of moral indignation.

Brough’s programme was sprung as a surprise, without consultation with the affected communities, and without any…

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