Aborigines fear police and troops will seize their children as part of a controversial clampdown aimed at preventing widespread sexual abuse, the Australian government admitted yesterday.
Amid reports that some Aborigines in the Northern Territory were preparing to flee their communities before authorities arrive, Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough sought to reassure them about the government's intentions.
Brough said troublemakers were whipping up fear.
"The reason people are scared there at the moment is because people are putting around that the army are coming to take their children away, that the army is coming in to shoot the dogs and the government is going to take away their money and make them sit there and do what they're told," he told reporters.
"It is the very typical scaremongering, standover bully-boy tactics and lies that some have perpetrated upon their people for too long to keep them scared of authority, to keep them in a state of desperation," he said.
Many Aborigines have a deep distrust of welfare authorities stemming from past policies that led to the so-called "stolen generation" of children who until the 1970s were taken from their parents and put into white foster homes.
But Brough said the anxiety was needless and Aboriginal communities would soon realize police, backed by logistical support from the military, were there to help.
"They're not rolling in there in tanks, they're not rolling in there with weapons, they're rolling in there with communications and assistance," he said.
Canberra began deploying police and soldiers to the Northern Territory this week under a controversial plan to combat widespread child sex abuse in Aboriginal communities.
The crackdown -- including bans on alcohol and pornography, as well as medical check-ups for all children under the age of 16 -- follows a damning report into child abuse in indigenous communities.
Vince Forrester, an elder at the Mutitjulu community which controls Uluru (Ayers Rock), said locals were terrified at the looming influx of police and military personnel.
"The community are bewildered why there's a military operation against the most poverty-stricken members of Australia," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
He said the Mutitjulu people were considering banning visitors from climbing Uluru in protest at the plan.
Indigenous leaders presented a letter bearing more than 90 signatures to Brough yesterday condemning the plan, which involves Canberra taking control of leases on Aboriginal land for five years.
Pat Turner, a former Aboriginal bureaucrat, said the government was trying to reverse hard-fought indigenous land rights.
"We believe that this government is using child sexual abuse as the Trojan horse to resume total control of our land," Turner said. "No compensation will ever, ever replace our land ownership rights."