Former Labor MP Gary Johns made the controversial comments on Channel Ten's Bolt Report on Sunday. Photo: Channel Ten
Earlier this year, I remember feeling heartbroken after reading the story of a puppy farm which had been raided west of Melbourne. Female dogs were kept in decrepit enclosures where they were non-stop breeding machines; their litters sold off to various pet shops for a tidy profit to the owner of the facility. Despite the horrific health condition of these dogs, many were shocked when the owner of the facility walked away from court with a mere $5000 fine and a slap on the wrist. No wonder animal rights activists were outraged.
Imagine then my absolute horror when I was informed by former Labor Party MP Gary Johns, who featured on the panel of Sunday's The Bolt Report, that Aboriginal women are being kept similarly endlessly impregnated so that people can rake in the hefty dollars in government benefits. How these women; who Johns branded as "cash cows"; are continuously impregnated is anyone's guess. Certainly, they have little agency in Johns's reckoning. If I am to judge correctly from Johns's odd segue on the show, it appears such a facility exists in Walgett, possibly with a sign above the door stating "procreate to accumulate". Immediately before this statement, the panel were talking about violence in a school in Walgett. Maybe this school is a front for such a farm?
While watching the segment, I was struck by how non-contextual this comment was. This was Johns's response to the release of data stating that Aboriginal women are victims of family violence at a rate 34 times higher than other women, and are 11 times more likely to die at the hands of a partner. Is Gary Johns suggesting that if we breed less Aborigines, we will have less victims of violence? He certainly didn't seem too interested in discussing the issue at hand.
Then again, the reproductive rights of impoverished women, and Aboriginal women in particular, seem to be a fixation of his. Back in December he wrote a column suggesting that taking contraceptive methods should be a prerequisite for receiving the dole. If he spent as much time thinking about community capacity-building exercises and arguing for the formation of real jobs instead of racially-targeted 25 hours per week "work for the dole" programmes, rather than the private reproductive functions of women, we might actually get somewhere.
It is despicable that discussion on the very real issue of the violence affecting Aboriginal women was dodged in such a ludicrous way. At this point in time, Aboriginal women are making up nearly 20 per cent of Destroy the Joint's "Counting Dead Women" toll despite only making up about 3 per cent of the female population. For every woman that ends up dead, there are many more victims of violence.
The fact that Aboriginal women are so reluctant to report violence should have been ringing alarm bells in that studio. The panel could have held a discussion about Aboriginal mistrust of police, legal systems and government agencies. They could have also talked about the dire financial straits services such as women's shelters are in and how this contributes to the perpetuation of violence. They could have drawn on these further statistics which show climbing suicide rates, exorbitant incarceration rates and the continuing deaths in custody and discussed how all this may contribute to Aboriginal weariness of "the system". Instead though, what we see is another attack on Aboriginal women and their reproductive capacities in a country which has quite a track record of doing this.
Last I checked, being impoverished and raising children while trying to exist on meagre government allowances doesn't lead to a comfortable existence. Yet instead of discussing what perpetuates the circumstances causing people to require pensions in the first place, Aboriginal women are continually demonised. They usually lack voice and are therefore easy targets for public figures dodging harder discussions about social ills like entrenched domestic violence. Sadly, at the end of the day, comments like Johns' will only serve to perpetuate ignorance regarding some of the most vulnerable women in this country.