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August 30th 2014 print

Roger Franklin

Rotherham on the Yarra?

Could the massive, organised and prolonged sexual exploitation of children witnessed in Britain happen in Australia? The common threads in each nation's embrace of no-questions-asked multiculturalism, not to mention the shared bureaucratic impulse to "address" problems without actually remedying them, strongly suggests it could

ostrichWhen news broke of the outrage in Rotherham — 1,400 girls raped or abused while authorities looked the other way for fear of being of being branded “racist” — an immediate thought was entirely parochial: Could it happen here? The view of those who make their living in the social-welfare trade seems to be that Australians can breathe easy: what Britain has witnessed is an anomaly, a rare example of multiculturalism gone sadly and inexplicably wrong.

Others are less sanguine, noting that much the same characters bestride the stage of Australia’s multiculturalism, near-identical scripts and talking points in hand.

A growing and culturally isolated, male-dominated community?

Check.

A broader society’s acceptance — in the name of tolerance, no less — of a self-segregated minority community’s institutionalised and near-universal misogyny?

Check.

Prickly and easily offended community leaders, all with tame reporters on speed dial, who never hesitate to depict their communities as the imminent victims of “backlash” by intolerant members of their host society?

Check.

Add it all up, factor in the sheer size and empire-building of the Compassion-Industrial Complex, with its legions of caring professions and paper-pushers, panels and flow charts, and one need not be steeped in cynicism to see Rotterham Downunder as, at the very least, a distinct possibility. Those inclined to the bleak view would have been especially struck by the news that Dr Sonia Sharp, formerly “executive director for children, young people, families, lifelong learning” in Sheffield, has brought her skills from Rotherham to Victoria, where she now serves as a Deputy Secretary in the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.

sharpNo doubt the recruitment process found the best of all possible candidates to match the job’s advertised criteria. Still, one wonders if Ms Sharp’s (left) application mentioned as a reference a certain Julia Robinson, who was both one of her underlings and principal of Meersbrook Primary School in Sheffield. In 2008, Robinson objected to an indulgence granted by previous principals, who had acceded to Muslim parents’ demands and instituted separate school assemblies, one for Muslim kids and the other for everyone else. When Robinson attempted to re-introduce the old-style, all-under-the-same-roof assemblies, she was denounced as a racist, spent 12 months unable to do her job and, eventually, obliged to resign.

The chairwoman of the school’s board of governors also quit in protest, but it did no good and separate assemblies were restored, presumably in the name of multiculturalism, that perverse philosophy which aims to bring us closer together by emphasising our differences. Here is what Sonia Sharp told The Daily Express by way of explaining that the ugly scenes at Meersbrook Primary were nothing more than an unfortunate misunderstanding.

“It was not that she [Robinson] felt the separate meetings were a bad thing — but she wanted more community spirit and felt that the work going on in the gatherings could be brought into a wider arena. There was a difference of opinion and in the process, relationships broke down.”

Ms Sharp’s official biography says she is big on education, so we can assume she understands the meanings of words and chose them with care. Notice the words that are missing from the above quote. For example, she pointedly neglects to note that cultural apartheid is “a bad thing” in itself, depicting Robinson’s efforts to end it merely as an attempt, presumably misguided, to foster “more community spirit”. Then there is that “difference of opinion”. Really? A difference that manifested itself in charges of racism by Muslim activists and harassment so persistent and extreme Robinson was unable to set foot on the grounds of her own school

Finally, rather than acknowledge a vicious and unrelenting campaign of bullying, Ms Sharp’s quote in The Express suggests she preferred to see only how “relationships broke down.” Relationships often fracture, it is true — witness those between Poland and Germany in 1939, but the more widely accepted explanation for such eruptions of discord is one side’s unrelenting aggression.

Given that multi-culturalism is the secular faith of modern bureaucracy, it should come as no surprise that Ms Sharp enjoys the admiration of her superior, Education Secretary Richard Bolt. “Sonia has shared the lessons from Rotherham with me and my Department since she commenced in 2012,” he told The Age. “Her experience and advocacy has been critical in strengthening my department’s focus on educating and developing Victoria’s vulnerable children.

“I have no doubt that Sonia tackled the issue of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham with maximum commitment, professionalism and focus.”

Indeed, there are many references to official decisions during the period of Ms Sharp’s tenure — references laid out out in chronological order by investigator Alexis Jay, whose full report can be downloaded via this link. One of Jay’s observations relates to the bureaucratic machinery put in place during the period of Sharp’s leadership and re-organised soon after her departure:

‘…restructures have served to create a complex and excessive number of teams and panels, which can lead to confusion and increase risk. These require urgent rationalisation so that management lines and performance accountabilities are absolutely clear and understood. The number of panels relating to vulnerable children must be reviewed and rationalised to ensure clarity, simplicity and manageable structures for all staff.’

According to Richard Bolt, who may have missed the above paragraph, “the report [includes] numerous references to important changes made under Sonia’s management that led to sustained and systemic improvement.” If supervising “an excessive number of teams and panels” represents “systemic improvement”, one shudders to think which initiatives might be deemed  failures.

The most telling indictment of the failure of all whose responsibility it was to protect Rotherham’s children, even while knowing  that those vile outrages were being perpetrated in job lots on a daily basis, is in the parenthetic addition to the official title of Jay’s report.  “Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham“, it begins, followed by “1997-2013“.

That is 16 years of abuse, public expense and, most of all, conspicuous failure — failure, that is, if you are not inclined to regard the raising of a costly and impotent bureaucracy as “a success” in and of itself.

Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online