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Australians let us all rejoice,
For we are young and free.
Not a bad way to start a national anthem, if you ask me. Australians have a long list of reasons to rejoice, when you think about it. Lately though, being young and free hasn't been one of the items on that list. Oh sure, Australia's a first-world democracy, quite wealthy with lovely things like a good education system and mostly public health care. So what am I on about, you might ask, when I say young and free isn't a fitting description?
Just so we're all on the same page, a bit of background information. (I'll try and keep this brief, I know you're all busy people.)
Australia was colonised in 1788 by the British. The day the first colonists arrived is known as Australia Day, celebrated as the beginning of a new and glorious nation, a country based on mateship and giving everyone a fair go. Australia as we know it today may have started then, but long before the colonists arrived (we're talking 40,000 to 60,000 years before) there were people here. People who, in the typical process of colonisation, were pushed off their land, separated from their families, and basically watched their societies and culture being systematically destroyed. (Google the “stolen generations” for more info if you're interested.)
Fast forward just over 200 years, and the situation is pretty grim. The life expectancy of an Aboriginal person is almost 20 years less than that of any other Australian. As a population, their health, employment rates, high school graduation rates and other statistics are astronomically worse than for the rest of the country. In 2007, the prime minister at the time decided something had to be done, based on a report called “Little Children Are Sacred” which outlined the problems of child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities, particularly in the Northern Territory. The laws put into action in response to this report were termed the Northern Territory Intervention, and restricted welfare payments, alcohol consumption, banned pornography, and returned Aboriginal land to the control of the Australian government. The Intervention also required that all Aboriginal children undergo “well child” check-ups, looking for, among other things, signs of sexual abuse. The fact that the racial discrimination law had to be repealed to put these things into action is pretty telling.
Two years on, and there's a new government in power, a new prime minister, and the same old Intervention. With additions. In April, the government decided that on top of requiring people in the Northern Territory to report to the police any signs of sexual abuse among young people under age 16, they were going to make it mandatory to report ANY signs of sexual activity, whether consensual or not. Doctors face fines for not reporting adolescents who request emergency contraception, birth control, condoms, STI screenings or pregnancy tests. After some protest, the age was lowered to 14, but the fact that this additional law exists at all is cause for still more protest.
This addition to the Intervention is in response to reports of widespread adolescent sexual activity in Aboriginal communitites, and like the rest of the Intervention, will hit hardest Aboriginal teenagers. Who would go to the doctor to get birth control, who would ask for an STI screening when there's a risk of being reported to the police? For a long list of reasons, Aboriginal people for the most part already massively distrust the medical profession – this is only going to make it worse. Young people will stop going to clinics entirely, young pregnant women who need prenatal care won't get it, and STI rates (already much higher in Aboriginal populations) will go through the roof.
Young and free? I don't think so.
If you want to do something about this (and I would encourage all of you, especially any Australians, to do so) there are a few options.
You can email the Minister for Indigenous Affairs (currently Jenny Macklin) using the form on her website.
You can also contact Nicola Roxon, the Minister for Health and Ageing, via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or, you can take it straight to the man at the top and email the Prime Minister himself, Kevin Rudd, via his website.
Contacting your local member of parliament is also an option. You've all got voices that deserve to be heard; use them!