Northern Territory – Aboriginal Children VII

I’m in the Northern Territory throughout this week, meeting with as many groups as I can to get a sense of the views about the federal government’s intervention in the Territory. I’ll write some more at the end of the week, but as I noted recently, it is now more than a month since the intervention into Aboriginal communities was announced, so I am interested in what actions have occurred on the ground to implement the ‘national emergency’ that was declared at that time, and what engagement and consultation there has been with the people and groups who will deal with and in some cases carry out the long-term implementation.

I am told that legislation relating to the intervention will be tabled on the first day Parliament resumes, on Tuesday of next week. I don’t have any idea what will be in the legislation or what issues relating to child abuse it will seek to address – whether it will deal with welfare payments, alcohol, pornography, or some other matter. It is also possible that it will have nothing at all to do with addressing child abuse and improving social order, and simply deal with the unrelated issue of weakening Aboriginal land rights and abolishing the ability for Aboriginal communities to control who comes onto their land.

The Senate will sit for two weeks, followed by a three week break which will include the APEC summit, before the Senate resumes again. Hopefully the government will not prevent a Senate Committee from having some opportunity to examine and consult the community about the details and consequences of whatever is in the legislation, rather than try to railroad it through under the pretext of needing it for the ’emergency’. No one in Darwin who I met with was aware of what might be in the legislation, but I’m in Alice Springs from now until Friday, so perhaps I’ll get a different picture there.

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  1. I think it is clear from the government’s action on CDEP that it wants to dismantle the existing structure in indigenous communities. I think those who wish to defend it will have difficulty if they agree with the government’s premise that there is a child abuse crisis in the communities. It would be very hard to defend a system that has allowed that to happen to the extent being reported. I think some of those wishing to oppose the government on this have not woken up to how much their case has been undermined.

  2. I can’t think of a clever way to weave this into the topic.

    The Qld. Government has put the Palm Island store up for tender. There are 2 contenders. The Palm Island Community Store Aboriginal Corporation (PICSAC) – made up of Palm Islanders with aims of economic development and self determination – and a government appointed committee.

    Support the PICSAC bid and sign the open letter on this link…..

    more details

  3. I think there is probably a child sexual abuse problem in EVERY Australian community.

    There are other forms of abuse as well e.g. failure to guide, supervise and discipline children to a sufficient degree to protect them.

    When adults in communities are insufficiently disciplined, it both causes and compounds any and all of the problems.

  4. Coral you are absolutely right. 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys across Australia are molested and abused at some point before they reach 18.

    Most of it is in the homes of the children yet we don’t steal the homes.

    With the destruction of CDEP comes the destruction of the towns and villages and the people.

    WE just don’t learn in this country do we?

  5. The intervention is off the national radar now but it would be useful for someone to do a roundup of what has been achieved.

    May I suggest the following criteria;

    1. How many children have been checked and how many are deemed to be at risk of abuse.

    2. How many arrests or convictions have there been of child abusers.

    3. Has the intervention achieved its short term objectives.

    4. How is government measuring the success of its own intervention.

    5. When will a report from the federal government be made available about its intervention.

  6. CDEP isn’t being destroyed so much as altered.

    It was only earlier this year that the Govt was saying that changes to CDEP wouldn’t extend to remote communities, in recognition of the important role it plays in provision of services. So, the sudden change had me scratching my head. It’s going to be replaced by work-for-the-dole and a new program called STEP, which is essentially CDEP with a different name. So why the change?

    The mystery was solved for me yesterday by a friend who works for a remote Council. Apparantly the change is all about the Govts welfare ‘reform’, and its plan to quarrantine part of welfare payments. By a legislative quirk of CDEP, the Commonwealth had no power to hold back CDEP payments. This problem was encountered during the slightly longer than anticipated process of drafting the new legislation. The solution – eliminate CDEP everywhere and replace it with new arrangements, essentially CDEP with a new name, but ones that the Commonwealth will have the necessary power over.

  7. Well, that does make sense, unfortunately, but there has also been some collateral damge that I know of – just one example is a childcare centre being run in conjunction with CDEP that was denied funding by Brough. It’s closed down now, a lot of aboriginal woman who were working there have been denied jobs and the opportunity to gain training as childcare workers (badly needed) but also the spin-offs are being lost- aboriginal kids being cared for by experienced workers who know both them and their family backgrounds, who could keep an eye on kids for obvious signs of abuse, who could give teenage mums some advice on child care, and the opportunity for them and non-aboriginal familes who also used the centre to mix in a much more useful way than the sometimees artifical cultural harmony efforts that to their credit the local council sponsors. It’s such a shame – the state government were prepared to put in some funding but the Feds would not. Money speaks louder than words.

  8. Togret’s post sounds similar to situations described on recent 7.30 Reports, where other communities were being dismembered with great harm done to people who were developing the ability and self respect to run communities healthy for children.
    Coral, would love to know what you think on aspects of the federal goverment’s intervention of the sort discussed by togret.
    If I didn’t think you were sincere (although, to me often wrong or wrongheaded ) I wouldn’t waste time asking, but I want to “remove you from my inquiries”, as against cynical, worldly politicians who know consciously and full-well the harm they do and actually relish that .

  9. Michael – I agree this is the likely reason for the sudden abolition of CDEP. However, I’m not sure it’s so clear what will replace it yet. The announcement made by Ministers Brough and Hockey had some assertions, but no specific commitments about what would happen. I don’t think work for the dole or STEP programs are the same as CDEP but with a different name – they do not have the same scope for community organisations to make use of CDEP workers to ‘top up’ other expenditure to maintain a semi-permanent workforce. In effect the ‘CD’ part (this Community Development) of the CDEP is at risk of disappearing unless there is some extra funds put in to replace a fair number of these positions with fully paid jobs.

  10. Andrew,

    I’m not too upset by the demise of CDEP. As you say the real issue is fully paid real jobs. Often CDEP has been used to susbstitute for real wages, as in the cases of AHWs and teachers being on CDEP. One of the problems with this being that those workers accrued no super and other entitlements.

  11. I have been a critic of CDEP for a long time, just as I was of ATSIC. However the need for reform is totally different from the need to abolish them, or replace them in a totally different framework.

    The issue of CDEP is very similar to the issue of equal wages as applied to the Gurinji land struggle. Mainstream Australia supported the notion of equal wages for Aborigines in the pastoral industry and this became law. The real consequence of this was the mass sacking of Gurinji from jobs on their own land, many ending up on the dole in Alice Springs town camps.

    The abolition of CDEP, under the rhetoric of providing real training and jobs, will cause (apparently is allready causing) a social disaster of the intensity of the Gurindji disposesssion but spread accross the whole country.

    Small business development is about the only positive thing on option for remote communites and is being encouraged by all governments. However 2/3 of mainstream small businesses collapse in their early stages due to undercapitalisation. I suspect this will be a similar problem for the most undercapitalised sector of Australian society.

    Ah! this is how the Palm Island store fits in (post 2). It will only be the big, properly and privately funded enterprises that will make a difference in remote communities. Small business as an alternative to welfare is meaningless.
    Training traditional owners to be miners has limited benefit. Training traditional owners to be executive managers and share traders in the industries on their own land would have major benefit.

  12. While the chnages tp pay etc you describe as disasterous were probably true John – surely you wouldnt have argeud to keep them as second class citizens?

  13. Gee it gets me puzzled, a this on-going chattering stuff about welfare “reform”.
    Surely it must be be pointless making the poorest of the poor people even poorer by removing what litle security they have as to inadequate compensation for a cultural and race bar that hamstings access to employment opportunity. In effect taking something away rather than offering something worthwhile to compensate for the injuries inflicted over time ( Kummon, John, where IS that apology? ). Instead the rich who gained from the crime leave your defenceless victims with less or nothing?!
    No one would admit more than me that welfare is an inadequate response to social disadvantage, but surely the “cure” of removing income for survival is WORSE than the disease?
    What we really have here is another vile example of the “cost” of small government-spending ten bucks to save a dollar, in the process making those long-suffering victims of the system suffer even more, for gratuitous micro management from egregious and sadistic control-freaking pathologs like Brough.

  14. No Ken, of course not.

    What I am saying is that we have to be creative and think laterally to come up with something that has a chance of making things better.

    The answer for the Gurinji then, as with communities today is for people to own their own land and build enterprises on that land.

    By trying to force Aboriginal people into white pidgeon holes such as equal wages we just create well intentioned failures.

    This is why it is so important for local self management in designing as well as managing programs.

    It seems to me that equality is an illusion of white society that has little relevence to Aboriginal people. The 67 referendum, as with anti discrimination laws gives everyone the equal right to be white. Any rights or interests inherent in indigenous law and culture, such as land rights or customary law, are not recognised in such equality. They dissapear under the Terra Nullius carpet.

    But it is such things as land and customary law that are essential to the rebuilding of Aboriginal Australia.

    Unless we can get out of the “equality” box then the problems will only compound and the white solutions such as Brough’s stuff will continue to fail spectacularly.

  15. Johns right. At a miniumum we need to stop treating any gains in Indigenous Land Rights as a loss for everyone else. The recent Blue Mud Bay decision in the NT is a case in point. Extending land rights to the low water mark could be seen as an opportunity to strengthen Indigenous economic developement, instead its’ viewed as a threat to recreational anglers and is fought in Court.

  16. JT I see the perspective you are coming from, however I’m finding it hard to see how a retreat backwards is viable in a world that now and historically has developed by whether we like it or not movement to predominant values. Even PW”s screeching mania is still applying white values of social justice which are hard not to agree with.

  17. The Feds are making a land grab and what better way than to blame indigenous adults for abusing their children and having to step in and take over.

    Child abuse is nothing new in all communities dispossessed and poor. Blaming them, the victims of poverty, is nothing new. Australians are experts at this and use blaming the victims – the problem – for taking the children, taking the land, removing their self detrmination and imposing rule from outside. Outside their culture, outside their community and values.

    It’s all been done before in the name of helping them become white men.

  18. i do not think it is worth my time making comments on u web-site andrew.

    u do NOT listen.

    u do NOT assist me in getting justice, when u can.

    u think u KNOW.

    this is a common of gutless pollies that are a symbol of our times.

    i asked u for direct comments in a private or public HELP – since u have the capacity & do NOT ACT u act in an UNFAIR way.

    gutless tird.

  19. Ken,

    There is no need to think in terms of retreats or going back to some other reality. Aboriginal culture did not seize in time when British culture arrived, and nor did British culture.

    The basic fact, irrespective of analysis, is most Aboriginal families today operate within a psychological framework based on key elements (essences?) of the old law, in particular repect for elders, mens busiiness and womens business. The extent to which these elements exist – blatant such as in Arnham land or subtle such as in Brisbane, is not rally important. It is the fact that it exists as a sociological reality that is important.

    There is a strategic confluence in social work’s community development theory and ecology’s bushland regeneration practice. In both cases the strategy identifies the point of strength in the community or landscape, then foster and facilitate it to grow, then connect it to other viable points and so on until it is self perpetuating and expansive.

    e.g. Mobilise eldership, mens business and womens business – as it exists today, in the strategy to deal with child abuse. Connect this momentum to work and training programs through mens and womens industrial centres. Connect this to appropriate housing design to accomodate extended families. The cement that holds all this together and the motivation for expansion is pride in self identity, which is the most important capacity of Aboriginal cultural notions.

  20. We can’t have one set of laws for Aboriginal people and another set for ALL other Australians.

    Under Aboriginal customary law, adults can have sex with underage minors.

    The rest of us don’t have ANY land rights, no matter what our ethnic origin. Why should they?

    If oil or minerals were found in our backyards, we would be shafted out of our own homes very quickly, probably with minimal compensation.

  21. Ah Dr Vic back – we’ve missed you – has AB banned you?

    Well at least you have something to offer John as opposed to the wailing and focus excl;usively on the negatiev of others on other parts of this blog.

    Putting thsoe sort of principels into some concrete action is i expect a major difficulty, just as trasnlation of stratgey to aciton, or theory to proactice has alwasy been, but dont give up.

    The semi nomdaic liefstyle was obviously sustainable in those remote regions in the past, I dont think ther is any poitn of strenght in those remote locations now and trying to perpetuate them is just as disgraceful as ignoring them.

  22. ken said:

    I dont think ther is any poitn of strenght in those remote locations now and trying to perpetuate them is just as disgraceful as ignoring them.

    Broadly speaking, I’d prefer that people decide for themselves where they’d like to live. If someone wishes to live in an isolated area, well good luck to them, just as long as they are also willing to accept the constraints imposed by distance.

  23. At the beginning of this semester, a friend went to Normanton to teach a class of prep students (17 aboriginal, 4 white).

    She said the aboriginal children were clean, tidy and better behaved than the whites.

    Then one Monday morning she found herself looking into only 6 little faces. The rest had gone walkabout at the weekend and failed to return for school.

    Then a little girl was away for a whole week without parents contacting the school to explain her absence.

    When she finally returned, the aboriginal mother said she herself had injured her wrist and was unable to do the little girl’s hair up into a ponytail. So she kept her at home for a whole week!

    What’s the point in the government spending large sums of money trying to educate these kids when only 2 of the aboriginal children have parents who do the right thing?

  24. I wonder if the kids were were absent ‘on walkabout’ had travelled elsewhere for a funeral? It happens an awful lot to Aboriginal people.

    My (‘white’) nephews in Darwin will probably be absent from school in a month or so when my mother dies … because of what must be done, they’ll be away for at least a fortnight-it can’t be helped unfortunately. If my sister suddenly has to pack up the kids and travel to Sydney on a weekend, how is she to let the teacher know?

    I wonder why the parents are described as unwilling to ‘do the right thing’ when we have no idea of the underlying reasons. Strereotyping and quick judgements are something I’d have thought teachers would try to avoid.

  25. Ken,

    I am not really offering this (post 19). I have tried to condense and articulate what is the main strategy of Aboriginal Australia and a fundamental underpinning of most self managed Aboriginal community programs. This is the paradigm that is being promoted by Aboriginal Australia and it is this paradigm that has been smashed in the N.T. by Brough and Beattie in Qld. (dont know much about elsewhere).

    I find it curious that you can dismiss what I say as, at best, a well intentioned fringe idealistic notion, yet you have some faith in the present Brough N.T. intervention.

    You agree that the election is the motivation for this. But it is not as if the bottleneck of unanswered demands by Aboriginal people, social workers and others finally getting an oppourtunity to manifest. This action has come from nowhere with no history, even the sacred children report authors say the intervention has nothing to do with them. It contradicts all common sense and proffesional opinion to this point.

    There has been no plan offered as to what they are trying to do. There has been no review of the legislation by the parliament. It is widely condemned by those working in the area including the police.

    Where do you get your hope that this might be a good thing?

    Protectionist and interventionist policies have been in use by governments since 1900. They have never succeeded in the past, what is new about this intervention that will make it different from the other historical policies?

  26. p.s. Ken,

    The predicament of remote Aboriginal communities is the same as all remote communities. In Qld. at present this issue is playing out in the council amalgamations. It is simply an economic rationalist argument to say bush communities should be shut down.

    Like with all bush councils, if they are neglected they will collapse. If they are fostered they will become not just viable but expansive.

  27. Onlooker:

    As a matter of interest, would it be usual for that many kids to head off to the SAME funeral?

    The teacher in question wasn’t making a judgement – only interested in preparing her students for primary school – and thinking about offering to do ponytails herself to facilitate this.

    If lots of kids are missing, it isn’t fair to the other children when she has to repeat the same section of the curriculum.

    In the Queensland education system, we have far too many parents taking their kids out of school during the term, often without good reason.

    We have the same problem with teachers going on holidays and leaving their students in the lurch.

    Not long ago, there was a revolt by students in a high school in the UK who were tired of having a constant stream of relief teachers.

    I recently attended the Open Day at the high school. The Deputy Principal had to wait before giving his speech, because most of the parents were late. A lot didn’t bother to come at all.

    He was then constantly distracted by all of the “Brown’s cows” who continued to arrive when it suited them.

    He had to skip part of the information because his time had run out.

    If all adults had more responsible attitudes, the outcomes for students (and mutual respect) would improve out of sight.

  28. John

    I didn’t intend to imply your notions to be seen as fringe or simply idealistic, just hard to implement. Every organisation in the world has beautiful strategies and policy documents, they all don’t succeed – action is what’s difficult. The democrats and greens are the political example of this.

    I’m not sure if any good will come of this latest venture, did I say so? perhaps its more could anything be any worse – maybe not. What I do know is that simply bemoaning and protesting, like the singularly unimpressive effort of Andrew’s leader yesterday, certainly wont help – other than to maintain a protest mentality – which probably is the intent anyway.

    I completely agree with feral above, people can choose to live wherever they like, but part of that choice is surely the pragmatic as well as economic rationality.

    Do these communities really live their by choice? Or is it more they have been shoved out there by a combination of historical townsfolk ostracism and well intentioned but possibly unhelpful land grants, coupled with equally well intentioned but unsustainable service / welfare provision. Excuse my ignorance if it is obvious.

  29. Coral, you asked

    “As a matter of interest, would it be usual for that many kids to head off to the SAME funeral?”

    The answer is yes. This is the nature of extended families. In places like Normanton every Aboriginal person is related, so if an important elder passes away it is common for half the town to attend the funeral.

    When families go to funerals they use their dole/pension/cdep cheque to get from home to the funeral. They are usually stuck there at least 2 weeks until the next cheque to get home.

    Funerals are the most important cutural ceremonies that maintain Aboriginal identity and family connection. Families have an obligation to attend.

    Ken, I was responding to your comments on the “bulldozed” thread – sorry I thought they were on this one.

    You said

    “Listening to Brough today in the second reading speech as oppoesed to the above sort of rhetoric it is hard not to see HIM as being either weirdly genurine and beleiving in what he is doing or whacky or both.”


    “However its also patently obvious that this is seen and has been been energised becasue of the electoral cycle, so one could say be thankful for elections.”

    I agree with you that when the cards are in the air – when change is happening in the system, this is the time to push for real things on the ground, get in and define the situation before anyone else does.

    This is the challenge for the future as this has been sprung pretty unexpectedly.

    In the meantime I see no integrity in Brough or hope that the change at present has a hope of going in the right direction as a result of the election motivation.

    r.e. remote communities. You have to take into account peoples connection to land beyond notions of real estate – white and blackfellas.

    also, many cattle stations were handed back once they were emptied of cattle. It is not the land but lack of capital that made these enterprises fail.
    (not enough words left to explain further)

  30. Coral, I’m a white boy living in a big city far from kith & kin due to the nature of my work.

    Even though my extended family is not large, I find myself heading back home for funerals much too often: its important to me to maintain those connections, and I know how much it means to my elderly aunts and uncles that I make the effort.

    They’re losing the brothers & sisters that they grew up with; I cannot fathom how that must feel, but if my presence at funerals eases their pain even just a little, then to me its worth whatever inconvenience and expense is involved.

    I guess that what I’m saying is that I think this is a very human phenomenon, that its a matter of trying to overcome the effects of dispersal & distance. So I wouldn’t criticize parents who are taking their children out of school for major family events. Rather I’d commend them for leading by example, and for allowing their children to experience what relatedness is all about.

  31. Thanks for the info, John.


    I admire your commitment to family.

    We don’t really know where the Aboriginal kids went. Two didn’t go anywhere. I will have to find out from the teacher’s husband, who still lives here.

    It’s sad for people to be stuck somewhere waiting for the next Centrelink payday.

    At the nursing home, lots of people have died in recent weeks, but you do get used to it, at least to a certain degree.

    There aren’t a lot of visitors or volunteers – even less since John Howard made life hard for sole parents and the disabled.

    Some married women who used to be volunteers and visitors now have to look after grandchildren due a shortage of childcare places.

    I agree with what you have said about leading by example and showing loyalty to relatives. Lots of people don’t think like that any more.

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