Saturday, February 09, 2008

Stolen Generations report attacked

Bringing Them Home, the landmark report that found indigenous children were systematically taken from their parents to "breed out" Aboriginality, was built on the "misrepresentations and misinterpretations" of professional historians, according to Keith Windschuttle. In a preliminary extract from his forthcoming book, Mr Windschuttle questions the existence of the Stolen Generations and claims the policies involved were largely benevolent and contained elements that should be revived today. His arguments have already been dismissed by some leading academic historians as absurd and blinkered.

Mr Windschuttle accuses University of Sydney history professor Peter Read of forming the NSW version of the Stolen Generations and says his own research has uncovered only one NSW file, among 800 examined, in which Aboriginality is cited as the reason for removal. The claim undermines one of Ronald Wilson's key findings in 'Bringing Them Home' in 1997, which was the basis for claiming the forced removal of Aboriginal children constituted "genocide".

Professor Read yesterday rejected Mr Windschuttle's interpretation of the files. "There are remarks made about the Aboriginality of the children, the way in which they were living or the number of brothers and sisters they had, where it is perfectly clear the children are being targeted because they are Aboriginal," Professor Read said.

Mr Windschuttle concedes there were "obnoxious" attempts to "breed out" Aboriginality in Western Australia and the Northern Territory but says those policies concentrated on intermarriage, not removal, and were undercut by the ineptitude of the bureaucrats involved. While he says his findings pull the rug out from under Kevin Rudd's planned apology, Mr Windschuttle insists the Prime Minister should accompany the symbolic gesture with $50 billion in compensation.

The conservative historian and incoming Quadrant editor, whose 2002 book The Fabrication of Aboriginal History questioned historians' claims of massacres of Aboriginal communities, estimates fewer than a third of the young Aborigines removed from their parents in NSW between 1915 and the late 1960s were aged under 12. Of these "almost all were welfare cases - orphans, neglected children (some severely malnourished), and children who were abandoned, deserted and homeless". In his new book, Mr Windschuttle says the vast majority of older Aboriginal minors were removed to be trained as apprentices, after which they returned to their families. "It is a policy that could well be revived today to rescue children from the sexual assault and substance abuse of the hellholes in the remote communities," he writes.

Mr Windschuttle said yesterday he anticipated a similarly strident reaction to The Fabrication of Australian History, Volume 2: The "Stolen Generations" as had greeted the earlier volume: "They will attempt to demonise me for my morals and they will make a lot of minor criticisms of my research and pretend that they are major."

Mr Windschuttle insisted he was not being mischievous by suggesting Mr Rudd's apology on Wednesday should be accompanied with $500,000 for every Aboriginal family in Australia. "Any apology in the parliament that is not backed by compensation will be a PR gesture in the best tradition of spin-doctoring in politics," he said.

Melbourne University history professor Stuart Macintyre, who is teaching at Harvard, dismissed Mr Windschuttle's claims against Professor Read as absurd. "He was involved in research on and for families that had been separated by the NSW government, under legislation that was racially discriminatory in its ambit and purpose," Professor Macintyre said. "It is refreshing to hear that Windschuttle thinks an apology ... should be accompanied by compensation, but disingenuous of him to suggest that this would involve the payment of $50 billion."

La Trobe University historian Robert Manne, who edited a collection of essays condemning Mr Windschuttle's earlier book, said he was "very pleased that Windschuttle has finally conceded that the chief protectors in both the Northern Territory and Western Australia during the 1930s supported a policy of 'breeding out the colour' of the Aborigines. Unfortunately, he does not understand the connection between this policy and systematic female 'half-caste' child removal". "The protectors believed the girls needed to be completely separated from the Aboriginal world to turn them into suitable wives for lower-class white males," Professor Manne said. "Windschuttle calls the policy 'obnoxious'. Why is he incapable of admitting that it was profoundly racist?"


NSW hospitals to knock back 'mildly ill' patients

Hospitals on the New South Wales north coast will begin turning away people with minor ailments, in a bid to make beds available for those who are more seriously ill. The North Coast Area Health Service says about 80 beds from 14 different public hospitals will be classified as "surge beds" which are mainly to be used during periods of high demand. It says if people with mild or chronic illnesses are treated in outpatient clinics or at home, then the "surge beds" will not be needed all the time.

Health Service chief executive Chris Crawford says the policy is not about cutting costs by reducing the number of beds that are available. "This means that rather than the beds being used for these mildly ill patients, we'll keep them and have them available for very seriously ill patients when you get high peaks in activity," he said.

The State Opposition says more hospital beds are needed across the state to help deal with the crisis. Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell is concerned about the policy. "Clearly a major contributing factor to the state's hospital crisis is a shortage of beds and the pressure that places upon our hospitals, particularly in being able to recruit and retain staff," he said. "Taking further beds out of the fastest-growing region in the state doesn't seem to make sense."


Tough TB strain 'could reach Australian shores'

A new study says urgent intervention is needed to stop the spread of tuberculosis (TB) from Papua New Guinea into Australia. The research, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, says strains of tuberculosis that are resistant to antibiotics are increasing in the western provinces of Papua New Guinea.

Dr Chris Coulter from Pathology Queensland says many people with the disease come to the Torres Strait Islands because a treaty allows free movement for traditional people between the islands and PNG He says because of this, there is a risk that the disease will spread into Queensland. "Multi-drug resistence is a major problem worldwide in the control of tuberculosis, and should spread of this organism occur in far north Queensland this would be a significant public health problem," he said.


West Australian health system cleansed of corrupt boss

The State of Corruption (and bad memories) once again. Maybe as bad as NYC

All links to former health chief Neale Fong [on right in pic above] are being systematically erased less than a week after his links to former premier Brian Burke were exposed. Health Minister Jim McGinty, who hand-picked Australia's highest-paid public servant, confirmed last night that Dr Fong's elite Subiaco offices - which were fitted out at a cost of $450,000 so he could move out of the Health Department building - would be the first thing to go. A string of lucrative external consultancies worth up to $4 million that Dr Fong awarded to a handful of fortunate firms will also be wound down if a review finds the work can be done in-house by public servants. And in a final purge, Dr Fong's $600,000 super salary package will not be seen again.

"All of these things were emblematic of the Fong era," Mr McGinty told The Australian yesterday. "They are associated with Neale Fong in the public mind, and it's time to move on."

Dr Fong was forced to resign when the Corruption and Crime Commission revealed he leaked restricted information to Mr Burke and lied about his relationship with the lobbyist to Mr McGinty and the CCC. The corruption watchdog is itself in hot water over some of its other recent findings. Premier Alan Carpenter yesterday admitted it might have dealt too harshly with some public servants.

The CCC has been under pressure for a week after a government investigator rejected misconduct findings it made against two senior planning officers, Paul Frewer and Mike Allen, over their dealings with Mr Burke. The internal review found they did nothing wrong. The pressure increased yesterday when former senior bureaucrat Wally Cox announced he was taking legal action against the CCC over a misconduct finding made against him.

Mr Carpenter said it was clear some people felt they had been dealt with harshly. "And it may be that in some circumstances, independent assessment of the CCC's judgment towards those individuals finds that they have been treated harshly," the Premier said. "That's very regrettable for those individuals. But at the same time the overall performance of the CCC, I believe, is going to deliver us a better system of government and politics in this state."

Opposition Leader Troy Buswell said the contradictory findings by the CCC and the internal government investigator about Mr Frewer and Mr Allen could not be allowed to stand. He said an investigation was needed into how two bodies could reach such contradictory conclusions from the same evidence.

Mr McGinty said Dr Fong had embedded a massive health reform agenda that would be continued but he conceded his legacy of costly external consultancies was a particular concern. Mr McGinty was full of praise for Dr Fong's replacement, acting director-general Peter Flett, who he said recognised the need to get past the Fong era.


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