Sarah and Alice Springs Greens, what I dispute most about …

Comment on Pilger review: Greens strike back by Kieran Finnane.

Sarah and Alice Springs Greens, what I dispute most about Utopia is John Pilger’s approach to his subject, which completely compromises the film’s claim to be a credible work of journalism or documentary. I think this is clearly stated in my review.
Outrage might be fine for a preacher, but it’s not a good start, middle and end for journalistic enquiry.

Pilger does not treat us to many facts; all too often he proceeds by way of leading questions, inferences, insinuations, sweeping generalisations and unsubstantiated assertions. Here are an additional couple of offending examples not mentioned in the review:

1. In his broadbrush treatment of the early Intervention, Pilger describes the introduction of income quarantining thus: “Benefits and pensions were restricted. People could only buy essentials with a special Basics card. Only black citizens were treated this way. As people’s incomes were being quarantined, starvation was reported.”

For people who don’t know better, the first two sentences may well leave the impression that social security benefits were reduced by the Intervention. They certainly fail to mention the principle reason for quarantining, which was to restrict the amounts being spent on alcohol and tobacco, and redirect money towards food and household expenses. Further, they fail to mention the 50% of benefits still available to the recipient to spend as she or he pleased. The third sentence is also misleading: “black citizens” is way too broad a term when income quarantining applied only to welfare recipients residing in the “prescribed communities”, where non-Aboriginal welfare recipients were also caught in its net. The shocking suggestion of the fourth sentence is left unsubstantiated – what was the nature of these reports and were they substantiated? This is all the more mischievous when ‘starvation’ or at least malnutrition was the very matter the government was attempting to address with the measure and there is some evidence of its success.

2. Further along in his treatment of the Intervention, Pilger runs a grab from Trisha Morton Thomas in which she recalls, “watching huge heliopters fly over our homeland with these massive … antenna-like things. Then a few years later the government comes crashing into the Mutitjulu community … and amazingly they find these huge amounts of uranium and prescious soils in central Australia … People might think I’m being a bit paranoid …”

Not Pilger. He segues into a dramatically toned but ridiculously inconsequential tidbit about mining in the Northern Territory: “In 2007 a campaign called Top End Secret 2 was launched by the Northern Territory Government to explore for new mineral deposits. According to an industry survey the Northern Territory is the new frontier of Australian mining.” This is left hanging, there’s a bit of didgeridu music and then he changes the subject.

This would be laughable if it wasn’t so embarrassingly bad.

Pilger never tests his material with appropriate scepticism, only uses material to support his agenda and, at the risk of repeating what I’ve said in the review, never seeks dissenting points of view while also turning a blind eye to confounding aspects of the social picture he is supposed to be examining.

When I say the situation is complex, I don’t suggest that it is beyond understanding; I just don’t think Pilger’s simplistic approach contributes to that understanding.

Recent Comments by Kieran Finnane

NT closing borders to interstate arrivals
There are features we already know about the coronavirus that distinguish it from the flu.

The ABC’s Health and Wellbeing offers a clear explainer here.

Some of the salient points:

•The new coronavirus is about twice as contagious as influenza.

•It is about 10 times more deadly than seasonal flu, which is already estimated to kill between 290,000 and 650,000 people globally every year.

•Unlike the flu, for which we have anti-viral medicines and vaccines, there are currently no licensed vaccines or drugs for COVID-19.

This is why, if left uncontained, the new coronavirus would overwhelm our health system, which is what the social controls, imperfect as they may be, are seeking to avoid.

Kieran Finnane, senior writer, moderator

Town library, pool close; non-essential Council events cancelled
@Evelyne Roullet. According to the events calendar on the Council website, the Todd Mall markets have been SUSPENDED until further notice.

Dujuan’s moving story and its missing pieces
@ Elliat Rich: My review clearly accepts that Dujuan’s family love him. It gives space to his voice, both with direct quotes and an account of some of his experiences. He impressed me and touched me. And I feel strongly hopeful for him, given his many qualities and especially as his family seem to have found a way to help him stay safe and thrive.
However, the film asks more of its audience than empathetic and grateful witnessing. The campaign around it, which calls for specific ameliorating actions to some of the situations we see exposed in the film, makes that clear.
Even without it though, it would be a rather insouciant viewer, especially if they lived in Alice Springs, who would leave the cinema without wanting to think about what can be better done to support Dujuan and children like him. What changes might that require, in the schools, in the justice system, and more broadly, on the streets, in our neighbourhoods, in our families and our social relationships, in our politics?
My review argues that the film, for all its merits, avoids dealing with some parts of the picture that would be necessary to progress this thinking – important for the town right now, all of us, and most of all the children.

Dujuan’s moving story and its missing pieces
@Local1. The “televised violence” I refer to is indeed the scene described earlier in the article, occurring at Aranda House in December 2010, when Dylan Voller was 13 years old. The guard who physically restrained Voller in this scene was charged with aggravated assault and he was acquitted. That decision was appealed by the Director of Public Prosecutions and the appeal was dismissed. I reported in detail on this case in July 2016, ‘Actions of guard found to ensure “safety of Dylan Voller”’.

I stand by what I wrote at the time, that the acquittal “will not answer all of the questions the public have about this incident, including the non-legal question of whether this is any way to deal with a troubled youth no matter how provoking his behaviour”.

In the film review above, I use the term violence in its everyday meaning.

Cr Auricht: All the way with USA on fate of Assange
Some commenters are assuming that the Alice Springs Town Council has come to a decision to write to the Federal Government in support of repatriating Assange. The vote on a motion to do so will come at the end of the month meeting (February 24). The mood in the chamber on February 10, as reported, would not have delivered a majority in favour.

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