SYDNEY – A U.N. expert's harsh criticism of Australia's Aboriginal policy reopened a national debate Friday on a decades-old issue: how best to help the country's original settlers and most disadvantaged minority.
The government defended its measures as necessary to bridge the gap between black and white Australians. At issue is whether in pushing hard for results, the government is violating the rights of the people it is trying to help.
At the heart of the debate is a program known as "the intervention," which has imposed tough rules on Aborigines in the Northern Territory — including bans on alcohol and hard-core pornography — in response to a report that found child sex abuse was rampant in remote indigenous communities.
"The most important human right that I feel as a minister I have to confront is the need to protect the rights of the most vulnerable, particularly children, and for them to have a safe and happy life," Jenny Macklin, the government's Indigenous Affairs Minister, told reporters in Melbourne. "These are the rights that I think need to be balanced against other human rights."