Germaine Greer has written an article criticising John Howard’s plan for intervention in indigenous communities. I like the second half of the article better than the first. But, as far as I can judge, Greer’s article suffers from the “critic’s malaise”. She criticises, but doesn’t offer an alternative. Greer says:
The name of the game, as usual, is bad faith. Everything Howard does is calculated to win him votes. The suffering of Aboriginal women and children at the hands of their deranged menfolk has been going on all Howard’s life. For most of that time whitefellas made a joke of it. At this late hour, on the eve of a general election, he is suddenly taking it seriously. It is of no consequence that what he is doing is illegal. His treatment of asylum seekers and boat people is just as illegal, and it is widely admired by Australians and people who should know better.
As a lawyer, I must hone in on her claim that Howard’s action is “illegal”. What does she mean by this? What laws has the Federal government breached? They may have breached some international law norms…but I don’t like hyperbole like this which is not backed up with proper analysis.
My own experience is that, unfortunately, indigenous people do not get much joy out of the law. Its rhetoric is grand, but the reality is not so good. As I have argued before, native title as it is currently conceived is barely proprietary anyway, and the rights given to indigenous people are extraordinarily limited and fragile.
As for human rights law – I get depressed with it. It always shuts the door after the horse has bolted. How does it actually balance the competing rights of an indigenous women who have been abused with the rights of indigenous men who has committed the abuse? One has a right to protection, a right to safety, a right to be free of physical, verbal and sexual abuse. The other has a right to a defence, a right to a fair hearing, a right to a presumption of innocence. These are difficult questions to answer.
I think Greer’s point about insufficient policing of bootleg alcohol sales is well made. Her comment that the unintended consequence of banning alcohol in communities may be to drive people off the land is also important to take into consideration.
But at the end, I am still left with the question: what then would she do? What solutions does she have? How does she respond to Noel Pearson, Wesley Aird, Warren Mundine and John Moriarty, who are asking for radical intervention? Does she ignore them entirely? Does she concede that some sort of radical intervention may be desirable? Does she only take on board the opinions of indigenous leaders who agree with her particular point of view? In which case, isn’t that a bit patronising? (“I know what’s best for you, indigenous people, don’t worry yourselves about that, I don’t want to hear what you have to say”…)
It’s oh-so-easy to criticise, so much harder to come up with constructive criticism. I’d find her article more convincing if she had come up with real alternatives.