Review of NT Intervention

There are lots of coverage and comment about the report by the independent group reviewing the Northern Territory intervention.  This is one of the more important amongst the many reviews set in train by the federal government. I hope the government is able to ignore the politics and focus on the substance of the report.

As I said many times in the various pieces I have written about the Intervention, this is a classic area where symbols and ideological combat seems to have been more important than examining the reality of what was happening on the ground. It is a sad indictment of the way some in government and the media have gone about this that universal agreement about the need to improve the situation for Aboriginal children and families in the Territory has become subsumed by the culture wars.

I have written a longer piece about it for Crikey. As I point out there, Noel Pearson, often used as a shield of credibility by the former government and their cheer-squad to justify every aspect of the Intervention, made very clear statements last year that the Intervention needed to “decisively improved”, including moving it more towards the model of welfare quarantining that has been adopted in Cape York. The report seems to have recommended this, so I don’t understand why it is being attacked quite so vehemently by the usual suspects.

I recommend reading this piece by Bob Gosford, who lives in Yuendumu, 300 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs.  It focuses mainly on a long piece written by Paul Toohey, the Territory based correspondent for The Australian newspaper, about the situation faced by Aboriginal people in the Territory.

I wrote here about Paul Toohey’s appearance before a Senate Committee back in April. His evidence was a mixture of fascinating insight and aggressive contempt. Some of his pieces for The Australian have a blend of the same.  This one for example is a balanced look at the mixed feelings among local Aboriginal people about the Intervention, but this one is more focused on political point scoring.

This piece in Crikey by Bob Gosford about one of the impacts from all the rhetoric around CDEP not being followed through with action is also very much worth reading.

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  1. Michael at Anonymous Lefty,left a report and a shot at what he called my drivel.Each to his own importance I say.Which took me to the National Indigenous Times,especially an opinion piece.Can you clone yourself Andrew! Seeing you are a tall person,and tall persons seem to dominate many Queenslanders lives!? Being a bit of a Lizard ,sort of dry witted when it comes to Banks and money and that sort of thing, and feeling sometimes Authority here and there tends to want to put up a didgeridoo up many Aboriginal backsides as a culture acceptance! I wonder if I can bid for a holiday away from the job,by standing on your clones toes! Guess ,I am speaking in code or tongues.Blue tongue no doubt.

  2. I don’t know how the federal government thinks it’s going to fix problems at the back of beyond, when it still can’t even get it right in central Brisbane.

    When I got off the train at Brunswick Street Station at 7.30 pm a couple of Friday nights ago, I saw a reasonably well dressed aboriginal man sitting at a bus stop with a couple of others. He had quite a nice cabin bag with him, so I assumed he was going on a little trip somewhere (bus-about?).

    When I came back at 11.00 pm, I found him sleeping in a doorway, using the cabin bag as a pillow.

  3. Andrew,
    One of the benefits of 50% quarantining is that it prevents humbugging of vulnerable people. On too many occasions those addicted to alcohol and other substances would humbug vulnerable people in order to obtain cash.
    A challenge of Pearsons model is achieving this end.
    On the other hand, a challenge of blanket quarantining is that policy-makers can’t utilise the model in relation to behavioural incentives. That is, Pearson’s model is effective in restoring norms of social resilience by quaranting on a selective basis. If a person does the wrong thing then their welfare is quarantined, this helps spread the message across social networks.
    This brings us to the first point, how does Pearson’s model protect vulnerable individuals? The obvious answer is ensuring direct and close personal engagement – a significant cost to administer.
    My view is that there is a balance.

  4. I’ve read some articles by people involved, and I also understand, that the medical profession, is not happy with the ‘boots & all’ approach to the whole issue. After 16 months, not one person from the most publicized community has been charged with sexual abuse, in fact, as recently as last week, people in the NT believe, that the so-called ‘abuse’ cases are teenagers (be they too young?) in consensual relationships perhaps older males(late teens, early 20’s) in fact, one young man & young women, who were recognised by their families as being in love, were harassed by the police. The man (27) was driven to suicide by this constant harassment, after police charged him with unlawful sexual contact with a minor – she was not quite 16.

    The opening paragraphs of the Little Children Are Sacred Report, clearly states, that the people in the communities must be involved in the whole process – this has sadly been ignored in too many cases.Another example of paternalism at its worst. I also notice, that during TV coverage, the same footage is often shown over and over – which reinforces the lie, that ‘all aboriginals are drunks and uselss lay abouts’. Of course, their colour makes them stand out, but the bias by the media (including, sadly, the ABC at times) reinforces wrong assumptions. In fact, 85% of whites drink alcohol, but only 15% of aboriginal people do. It just looks more! When will the intervention take place in my street, or your street, or those(non-indigenous) who end up in major hospitals each weekend?

    It’s also been asserted, that the interim report(recent)of those overseeing the Intervention was watered down, to fit in with ‘govt policy’? Also, that the protection of the Anti-Discrimination Act be restored. This removal made me feel very suspicious of the Howard govt, particularly when I read of the high number of applications in the NT by wealthy mining companies awaiting decisions etc? Call me cynical, but?

  5. Im watching the ABC doco on the intervention now & its totally racially based and needs to be scrapped. We seem to be treating Aboriginals like garbage and the Greens have got the right idea in relation to this issue.

  6. DANIEL – I agree with you. It wasn’t thought out properly either. People have to catch a taxi to the nearest big town at the cost of over $100 each way – (a sizable chunk out of the half amt of benefit that is cash) as only Coles or Woolies had the technology to process the govt ‘card’?The smaller stores close to the communities are going broke. People can’t buy in bulk at the major stores either. I’ve also read, that people used to pool cash for family/community functions even the cost of funerals, but having income split prevents that.So what happens when people die, as sadly they do in too high numbers?

    I feel ashamed that in 2008 the Rudd govt is still engaging in the same old oppressive, paternalistic and patronizing ways. I resent the attitude, that if I’m against the intervention, I’m supporting pedophiles? A certain person in the NSW DPP office didn’t lose his home, or his family have their income intercepted due to his crimes. There’s been less than half a dozen people charged, and as the lawyer stated, there’s no distinction between those in a consentual relationship, but the young woman is not 16 – hardly criminals in the normally perceived manner.

    It was also prety destructive to close down all CDEP funding, and remove those peoples’ (mostly males) jobs. The govt did this in order to quarantine money, as it can’t be done with CDEP money? So, let’s return people to doing nothing all day; getting bored etc.I saw where people growing vegetables for the community had their funding stopped overnight. The plants just died, and with all the talk about emphasis placed on good food, this was dumb! Fresh fruit & vegies are in short supply and very expensive. I don’t know why there aren’t more community gardens. They need Peter Cundall to start them up. It certainly worked in Tasmania – he’s great with kids too, as Gardening Aust.showed, many times. Too many politicians don’t have initiative or common sense? Or empathy?

  7. JOHN RAWNSLEY – How can there be “balance” when the very Centrelink ‘cards’ can only be used in the major cities or towns that waste so much money to get there? Hardly evidence of a well thought out procedure? What if that store is out of fresh fruit & veg when you get there, which is apparently happening a lot. What if you can get bulk flour etc closer to home, and share it with others? That can’t happen now, and with using over $200 for taxi fares each 2 weeks, that wastes a hell of a lot of money for clothes, bills etc. It’s plain dumb! In 6 months there’s a waste of over $2000? If the idea is to teach people how to handle money efficiently and prudently, this is a poor way of doing it. When I was raising my chn, $2000 would have purchased school clothes and some books etc.

    How is removing the positives of CDEP a ‘balanced’ view? People actively engaged in productivity pursuits, just stopped overnight? Makes no sense. There’s been no engagement with the elders, or with experienced women in the communities; dupliation of some medical practices, but no follow up with ear specialists for example – kids with painful ear problems are still waiting for surgery – hardly conducive to wanting to engage at school either. What about the prospect of permanent hearing loss through too much time wasted? I got the distinct impression while watching the Intervention program, that there’s not a lot of listening going on, just more patronising and paternalism – people are quite rightly sick to death of that.

    There’s been no real effort to even repair the homes either. An ABC program, The World Today, ran a story about the results of a 7 yr investigation into the housing crisis.Homes built with inferior materials and shoddy workmanship eg light fittings and switches in place, but no wiring between them? No adequate areas to prepare food in too many dwellings, no locks on internal doors to enable privacy – NOT ENOUGH TO HOUSE NUMBERS? Balanced??NO WAY!

  8. I was under the impression that one of the chief concealed aims of the NTER, as it has been designed and implemented, was simply to dispossess indigenous peoples of their lands in order to get uranium out more cheaply, and advertise large areas of vacant land to nuclear powered countries as an international nuclear waste dump. Hence we see pressure on indigenous peoples to leave their traditional lands and resettle near townships ‘in order for their kids to get a proper education’ and similar discourses of convenience. Similarly to trying to rip off the East Timorese for cheaper gas and oil in the Timor Sea trench by claiming it belongs to Australia, the Federal government simply wants to directly own the land again to get cheaper minerals, boost the BHP Billiton share price for its cronies, and so on. Colonialism is alive and well.

  9. Sean:

    Well yes, that does seem about right in most respects, but aren’t we all supposed to be equal Australians?

    The government expects people who come here from anywhere in the world to be treated equally. Surely the same should apply to the aboriginal peoples.

    We should be sharing all kinds of resources (not just minerals and gas) as a single nation of people.

    While ever there is division of any kind (race, religion, land ownership etc) we will all be living a lie.

    The term “colonialism” was worn out long ago, and won’t help us move into the future in peace.

    Living in a remote location where it is difficult to provide infrastructure isn’t particularly helpful to anyone.

    As far as I’m concerned, anyone born here is indigenous, regardless of their colour or family origin.

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