Five years ago, when I was last in Australia, there was a crisis in Indigenous affairs. The release of the ‘Little Children Are Sacred’ report in June 2007 set off a firestorm of political fury and in the last days of the Howard government over 500 pages of legislation were passed which radically changed the treatment of Aboriginal people across the Northern Territory. In 2008 I wrote about these laws and tried to understand how the language of ‘human rights’ and ‘rule of law’ could be deployed while at the same time laws and policies were put in place in contradiction to them. The ‘Northern Territory Emergency Response’ undermined Aboriginal peoples’ hard-won rights over land, in their communities and before the courts, and established a paternalist and overbearing presence in every aspect of their lives. Unarguably, deep currents of shame, humiliation and resentment were unleashed by the federal government’s ‘intervention’ in the crisis. Unarguably, evidence of the good that any of these provisions have done to improve the dire condition in which these Australians live is hard to find.
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