Jacinta Price: talking about Aboriginal people but not for them?

p2515 Jacinta Price rally wide

 

By KIERAN FINNANE

 

 

There was a significant cross-over of themes but almost no cross-over of people at two gatherings on the Town Council lawns last week: the first was a delayed celebration of International Women’s Day, the second was a rally called by Jacinta Price.

 

Protection of children was a strong theme of the first, while it was the sole focus of the second.

 

Neither gathering drew what you would call a crowd (although attendance at the IWD event grew over the lunch hour, after our photos were taken). But it is fair to say that numbers were greater and certainly many more Aboriginal people attended the first occasion than the second.

 

p2515 Jacinta Price rally Lockyer 420Apart from family members and local man Mark Lockyer (at left), who applauds Ms Price’s outspokenness, there were few Aboriginal people at her rally. Most others attending were associated with the CLP. Colleagues from the Town Council were also there – Damien Ryan, Marli Banks and Eli Melky – and so were some of Ms Price’s musical collaborators.

 

Why does this matter?  Because it adds to a picture of division between Ms Price and the Aboriginal people she is speaking about but apparently not for, or even with and to.

 

This division has been made explicit in recent months, with the circulation of a petition on change.org challenging Ms Price’s status as a leader of the Aboriginal community, and subsequently with a statement to the Alice Springs Town Council from the Arrernte and Central Australian Aboriginal Strong Women’s Group. While that statement did not name Ms Price specifically, it was clearly a challenge to assumptions about her leadership being made on the basis of her growing national profile.

 

Ms Price makes a strong argument about taking race out of the discussion of child safety, but her remarks, often on a national stage, are aimed squarely at Central Australian Aboriginal communities.

 

Her rally in Alice Springs was linked specifically to the alleged rape of a two-year-old girl in Tennant Creek and at what she says is silence around the event amongst Aboriginal people, including Aboriginal leaders and politicians.

 

Yet she would have to acknowledge that people in Tennant Creek, including family members and Aboriginal leaders in that town, have expressed their anguish publicly and have been self-critical, while at the same time angry over failings of government and agencies.

 

The Alice Springs News Online put this to her after the rally: “Absolutely!” Ms Price agreed. “They’ve said we need to take responsibility, yes, they have, and I hope the Tennant Creek community can inspire other communities to do the same thing.”

 

The News also put to her that her campaign on the issue seems to have divided her from the Aboriginal community, despite her own urging at the rally that this is an “issue that we have to come together on, not be divided on. Our children rely on us as adults to do that, to come together on this issue.

 

“I’ve got a lot of support from the Aboriginal community,” she told the News. “There are a lot of Aboriginal people who are still fearful of standing up [to speak on the issue].”

 

p2515 Jacinta Price rally Marian 420Ms Price wept at the rally when relating the ravages of alcohol within her own extended family and the impact it has had on her young relations, some of whom are being fostered by a white woman, Marian Shelley (at left with her foster children), who is obviously close to and immensely appreciated by Ms Price and her family.

 

Nobody would doubt Ms Price’s strength of feeling and concern about this situation but her speech and other speeches at the rally were often marked by generalisations.

 

An historical seven-month-old victim of rape who ended up dying from his or her injuries became the grounds for asserting that this “sort of thing” happens “on a regular basis” and is denied and covered up because the children are Aboriginal.

 

Both Ms Price and her father Dave Price argued this, drawing on communications they have had with a former paediatrician at the Alice Springs Hospital. There was no date given for the historical incident cited; no other specific incidents were described or numbers of incidents given.

 

One such incident is one too many, of course, and who could not be appalled, but it is a jump to say, without careful substantiation, that such incidents occur regularly.

 

The focus of the Little Children Are Sacred report, the subsequent Federal Intervention (whatever criticism might be levelled at it), the recent outcry over what occurred in Tennant Creek and the NT Government’s admission of its failings and promises to do better, suggest that Aboriginal and other Australians are willing to both talk about sexual abuse of children and to take action, however imperfect and in need of constant scrutiny and vigilance those intentions are.

 

Ms Price did not confine her comments to sexual abuse. She also spoke of children being on the streets at night, in particular when it is because they don’t have a safe home to go to. But the highly emotive issue of sexual abuse was the  small rally’s dominant theme.

 

SEXUALLY TRANSMISSIBLE INFECTIONS – AN INDICATION OF SEXUAL ABUSE ?

 

Holly-ann Martin (below), who runs child protection education programs, spoke about the high STI (sexually transmitted infection) rates in young people under 16 years in the NT, the subject of recent reporting and much commentary nationally.

 

“People say they’re consenting teenagers,” she said, “A, that is not true, B they’re teenagers. They’re not born with an STI, they have to get it from an adult.”

 

p2515 Jacinta Price rally Holly 420This followed immediately after a reference to “the situation in Tennant Creek”, raising the spectre of child rape.

 

However, medical authorities say that elevated STI rates, while a matter of serious concern, are not a reliable indication of sexual abuse.
The Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance –NT (AMSANT) recently issued a 10-page fact sheet, reporting and analysing the data.

 

There are ways other than active sexual relations for STIs to be transmitted. Notifications, based on laboratory tests, “do not distinguish between sexually and non-sexually acquired infections,” says the AMSANT explainer.

 

“STIs may be acquired during birth or via inadvertent non-sexual contact” such as lack of hand washing, it says.

 

AMSANT does not deny, obviously, that there may be sexual abuse or exploitation but this will not be indicated by “population level STI information”. It can only be established by careful enquiry into each young person’s circumstances. If “the likely explanation is abuse or exploitation” then it becomes a child protection issue: “Child safety is paramount.”

 

“For children under 12 there is no increasing trend over the last ten years,” says AMSANT, “and the numbers are very small” – five in 2016.

 

“For children and young people over 12 there is an increasing trend, concentrated mainly in the 13-19 year age group.

 

“This is concerning but, on its own, is not evidence of increasing levels of sexual abuse. It is more likely to be a reflection of teenage sexual activity which begins around the same median age for all Australians at 15 years. Obviously, this is a median age and some young people commence earlier.

 

“Explanations for the increase relate primarily to a broader public health challenge of high prevalence rates of STIs in Aboriginal communities,” says AMSANT.

 

They relate also to “the failure of Commonwealth and State health authorities to implement an adequate outbreak response in the early stage of the syphilis epidemic affecting northern Australia across Queensland, WA and the NT.”

 

What to do about the situation is where AMSANT  is on the same page as Ms Price and Ms Martin, urging prevention education programs for parents, children and young people.

 

Such programs are “critically important”, says AMSANT,  “in raising awareness and understanding of how to prevent child exploitation and harm and how to disclose or make a complaint if their child is harmed or at risk.”

 

Ms Martin, who operates under the banner Safe4Kids, told the rally that she is almost “a lone operator in this field”. Based in WA,  she has been coming to NT for 10 years – “always invited in”. She has run programs in 22 communities in the Central Desert, including more than 40 sessions with Aboriginal men.

 

She noted the public funding support for programs on cyber-bullying and the Safe Schools program, but asked where is the support for abuse prevention education and respectful relationships education.

 

If Ms Price’s agitation helps get more support for prevention programs that would certainly seem to be a good thing. Beyond that, whether her broadbrush blaming and shaming approach itself contributes to prevention is an open question.

 

p2515 Jacinta Price rally wide 2

 

 

 

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8 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Paul Parker
    Posted April 2, 2018 at 6:08 am

    When I was younger our struggle was to end exclusions, denials of equality, sort was equality in rights, responsibility and thus opportunity.
    Easter reminds us many can be Judas, betraying our principles for 30 pieces of silver …

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  2. Hal Duell
    Posted March 30, 2018 at 5:58 pm

    The high strung Aboriginal Mason family?
    White fellas?
    Hang in there, Jacinta, and paraphrase Tennyson with: “Tossers to the right of me, tossers to the left of me …”

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  3. Walter Shaw
    Posted March 28, 2018 at 10:24 pm

    The high strung Aboriginal Manson family; luckily not many takers.

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  4. Jones
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 10:48 am

    @ Melissa: “What are these kids (at risk) really getting from their communities anyway?”
    One of the major criticisms of Bess and Jacinta is that they can’t see the positives of Aboriginal society.
    They don’t acknowledge that while there are obvious problems the vast majority of Aboriginal children are growing up in a highly supportive kinship network.
    That’s why Bess and Jacinta are often described as white fellas.

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  5. Melissa
    Posted March 24, 2018 at 11:26 am

    @ Jones: But what are the solutions?
    They are removing children from harm to start with, breaking the pathetic response from deliberately blinded political advocates such as yourself.
    There are obviously emergency solutions for emergency situation. We are constantly taught this in OHandS. If high risks cannot be mitigated they need to be eliminated, such as removing these children from their communities and giving them hope into other families, black or white.
    Opening adoption laws and stopping this politically correct approach to culture.
    As Jacinta and Bess openly state, culture can still be attained by other means and what are these kids (at risk) really getting from their communities anyway?

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  6. Jones
    Posted March 23, 2018 at 7:13 pm

    @ Steve: “Jacinta’s message a cry for help for the lives of thousands of children.”
    Yep and Bess based her career on the same cry for help.
    It’s a worthy stance to take, it tugs at the heartstrings and you can’t argue with it. But what are the solutions?
    Bess didn’t have any and what are Jacinta’s?
    Well, none.
    After a while voters will get tired of having their heartstrings yanked and will demand a fix, at least some worthy ideas.
    Without them the cry for help is just manipulation.

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  7. Steve Brown
    Posted March 23, 2018 at 4:06 pm

    Jacinta is an elected representative by a huge majority, in a small population that is at least 30% Aboriginal.
    So unless you think all Aboriginal people look like each other and all vote one way it is safe to assume a good percentage of her vote comes from Aboriginal people. My own experience as a person in contact with many people across the community is that Jacinta certainly does enjoy the support of many locals of all political persuasions and racial backgrounds.
    Jacinta speaks for many like myself who voted for her and continue to support her.
    I didn’t I turn up at the rally. Yep, quite frankly I was busy and forgot it was on.
    Which brings me to the much lauded Arrernte Women Group, who as a born and bred Alicespringite, I feel inclined even obligated to support yet can’t quite get my head around this fact: After all this time, all the years of mayhem after all the calls to arms from the community re the abuse of children, yes, their very own relatives, they attack Jacinta Price! One of the very few who have had the guts to cop the hate and raise the issues around neglected and abused women and children.
    Right across the nation many recognise that strength, Jacinta’s compassion and the validity of her arguments, follow her online comments you will quickly become aware of the strength of her following including many many people who identify as Aboriginal.
    Jacinta’s message a cry for help for the lives of thousands of children, [yet] some appear willing to sacrifice everything, even the interests of the children to have a go at her, in a vile sickening often blatantly racist attack founded on envy and a self-serving parasitic need that thrives off keeping Aboriginal people in poverty.

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  8. Jones
    Posted March 23, 2018 at 1:16 pm

    Jacinta carries the legacy of her mother.
    That includes cutting off the water to the impoverished community of Whitegate.
    On these pages Jacinta supported this appalling action.
    At the time she was under the sway of Adam Giles and she took a side and many Aboriginal people have not forgiven her.
    I was working in Willowra just before the last NT election and the backlash against Bess was overwhelming.
    Nether Bess nor Jacinta work on the ground to win Aboriginal communities over and the more they claim to represent them the less they can legitimately make that claim.
    Aboriginal people have a long history of being represented by others without their approval.
    They don’t like it but rarely have the chance to speak out.
    Unfortunately for her the next election is a rare opportunity.
    Price to take on Snowden in Lingiari?
    Forget it Jacinta, for all his faults Warren knows his place, knows who he can speak for and who he can’t.

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