In 2007, paedophilia in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory was a “national emergency” so grave the then Prime Minister John Howard sent in the troops.
His Indigenous Affairs Minister, Mal Brough talked of paedophile rings and told the ABC that 45 out of 45 communities mentioned in the “Little Children are Sacred” report “had child sexual abusers in them”.
Mal Brough and the prime minister committed to having all Aboriginal children in the Territory, under the age of sixteen, medically screened for signs of sexual abuse.
It was commendable resolve in a time of crisis.
In 2019, when confronted with the news that Cardinal George Pell had been convicted of orally raping a 13-year-old choirboy, John Howard sent him a character reference. No troops were sent to St Mary’s in Sydney and no mandatory tests for evidence of sexual abuse were conducted at the neighbouring cathedral school.
“I am aware he has been convicted of those charges; that an appeal against the conviction has been lodged and that he maintains his innocence in respect of these charges. None of these matters alter my opinion of the Cardinal,” said Howard.
Not surprising really. For 30 years, Howard and Pell were brothers in arms driving Australia dangerously to the right. For many, Pell was more culture warrior than cleric, more politician than priest. John Howard, and others, recognised that.
On the other side of the world, in Norway, mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik was preparing his 1,500 word manifesto for a white supremacist new world order.
His philosophy called for a new European bloc, including North America and Australia and the creation of a revitalised Western culture which isolated Muslims, rejected multi-culturalism, constrained China and promoted a conservative, traditional role for women.
Two prominent backers of that philosophy, according to Breivik, were John Howard and George Pell.
Of Pell, Breivik said, “Luckily, not all Christian leaders are appeasers of Islam. One of the intelligent ones comes from Australia, a country that has been fairly resistant to Political Correctness. They have taken serious steps towards actually enforcing their own borders, despite the predictable outcries from various NGOs and anti-racists, and Prime Minister John Howard has repeatedly proven to be one of the most sensible leaders in the Western world. George Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, tells of how September 11 was a wakeup call for him personally”
Interestingly, Breivik’s extremist document calling for Australian martyrs was emailed to contacts here, about an hour and a half before he started his killing spree which left 77 Norwegian Young Labour activists dead.
George Pell’s cultural touch stones ranged from a predictable opposition to same-sex marriage to the unexpected criticism of environmentalists and non-conservative politicians.
I remember George Pell saying good Christians should not vote for the Greens.
He railed against Global Warming, saying at a 2011 speech in London that global warming had “stopped”, that CO2 was “not a pollutant, but part of the stuff of life” and that if atmospheric carbon dioxide had doubled, then “plants would love it”.
It was an address described as “dreadful”, “utter rubbish” and “flawed” by leading climate scientists.
He even intervened on behalf of conservative Catholic, Kevin Andrews in a Liberal preselection battle in Victoria. No political fight was too insignificant.
If there was a lynch-mob mentality surrounding George Pell’s conviction and sentencing, then I feel it was in part because of his neo-liberal stance on so many secular matters.
George Pell is a, 'cast the first stone' Catholic and the judge’s sentencing remarks today laid bare Pell's hypocrisy and arrogance.
Incidentally, it's now been over a decade since the commencement of the NT Intervention. Not one paedophile has been convicted as a direct consequence of sending in the troops.
- Michael Carey is chief of staff at NITV News and Current Affairs