February 2011

Document date: 22.02.2011

1. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are the Indigenous Peoples and traditional custodians of the land now known as Australia. They are diverse Peoples with some 250 language groups and nations and are known as having the oldest living cultures in the world. However, their way of life, identity and wellbeing is under threat from the ongoing effects of colonization and attempts to assimilate them into non-Indigenous “Western” ways.

2. In light of these concerns, particularly those expressed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and the churches in Australia, the World Council of Churches (WCC) sent a “Living Letters” team to Australia in September 2010. The team visited several Aboriginal communities and heard stories and experiences of the “Intervention”. The “Living Letters” team expressed concern about the discrimination, oppression and racism they observed and which Aboriginal People experience on a daily basis. They also expressed dismay at the lack of consultation and negotiation by Governments at all levels.

3. Across Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are over represented in all areas of disadvantage. In many communities there are people living in extreme poverty without appropriate access to health services, education, employment, and housing. In some communities the effects of dispossession, forced removals from families, inter-generational trauma, racism and poverty manifest as social issues such as alcohol and drug addictions, violence and social breakdown.

4. While the situation is dire for many in all parts of Australia, in the Northern Territory (NT) of Australia there are particular challenges for many living in Aboriginal communities. For example, the life expectancy gap for all Indigenous Australians is less than for non-Indigenous Australians, but the gap in the Northern Territory is one of the highest at 14 years. Infant mortality rates are up to four times higher than for the non-Indigenous population. In many NT communities there is a lack of access to health care, housing, clean water, electricity, and education. The more remote the community the worse the situation gets.

5. In 2007, the Australian government introduced the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) which came to be known as the “Intervention”. This was introduced in response to a report on Aboriginal child sexual abuse called Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle “Little Children are Sacred”. The report made 97 recommendations to address the Aboriginal child sexual abuse highlighted in the report. Although this report was commissioned by the local NT government, the Australian government did not wait for their response. Rather, it claimed that this report identified a “national emergency” that required an immediate “Intervention” and announced a wide range of policies which were to be implemented in “prescribed areas”, all of which were Aboriginal communities in the NT.

6. The “Intervention” measures were broad in nature and addressed welfare reform and employment; law and order; education; family and child support; child and family health; housing; land tenure; and governance and management of the “Intervention”.

7. While there was no dispute that the NT needed a significant influx of resources and programs, and it was acknowledged that there had been many years of neglect by government, there were many concerning aspects of the “Intervention”. These concerns included the lack of consultation; the compulsory acquisition of five year leases over Aboriginal owned and operated land; compulsory alcohol and pornography bans; the cessation of an employment scheme called the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP); compulsory health checks for all children; and promises of increased resources for health and education. Also introduced was compulsory income quarantining. This meant that anybody in a prescribed area who was on a welfare payment was given a card to access their money, but they were only allowed to spend this half of their income on food, clothes and other essential items, in certain shops. This applied to all Aboriginal people on welfare whether they were parents or carers of children or not and whether they had problems managing their money and providing for their families or not. Notably the “Intervention” legislation did not address one single recommendation that came out of the Little Children are Sacred Report.

8. Additionally, many aspects of the “Intervention” were discriminatory and the government found it necessary to suspend aspects of the Racial Discrimination Act (1975) in order to pass the necessary legislation to implement the “Intervention”. This meant that nobody had any redress to complain about the discriminatory aspects of it.

9. The “Intervention” policies brought much shame to Aboriginal Peoples. The nature of the policies and much of the discussion at the time implied that they were the cause of their own disadvantage. At a practical level the “Intervention” had a severe impact on day to day life. For example, people were not able to spend their money how they wanted and felt shame at having storekeepers telling them they were not able to buy some items. They also felt embarrassed that much of the discourse implied all Aboriginal Peoples were alcoholics and paedophiles. In fact, one of the first actions the federal government took was to place a sign at the entrance to every Aboriginal community prohibiting alcohol and pornography in those communities. The government used claims of a paedophilia ring in the Northern Territory to justify the “Intervention”, but did not include a sufficient amount of consultation and negotiation with the Aboriginal community in the investigation of these allegations and resolution of the situation.

10. Many human rights advocates, church groups and communities themselves have spoken out against the “Intervention” but not all the criticism has been domestic. Australia has come under international scrutiny of the situation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Professor James Anaya, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples visited the Northern Territory and expressed concern about the discriminatory nature of many of the aspects of the intervention and the contravention of many international human rights standards to which Australia is a signatory.

11. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has also commented on the “Intervention” and said: “The Committee regrets the discriminatory impact this intervention has had on affected communities including restrictions on Aboriginal rights to land, property, social security, adequate standards of living, cultural development, work, and remedies.”

12. The “Living Letters” team reported that in every place they visited they were told that life had not improved under the “Intervention” and that it had in fact deteriorated. Their message to those who had so generously shared their lives and stories with the members of the “Living Letters” team was that they do not stand alone. They expressed a sense of responsibility to ensure that their voices do not go unheeded.

The WCC Central Committee, meeting in Geneva 16-22 February, 2011, therefore:    

1. Expresses solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of Australia, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, and their right to live in traditional lands; maintain and enrich culture and ensure traditions are strengthened and passed on for generations to come;

2. Urges the Australian government to end the “Intervention” and instead to engage in proper consultation and negotiation processes which are genuinely inclusive of Aboriginal Peoples, which will better empower and enable them to identify their own aspirations, issues of concern and which will involve their full participation in creating and implementing solutions;

3. Requests the Australian government to ensure that policies affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples comply with international conventions and, in particular, conform to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the International Labour Organization’s Covenant 169;

4. Calls on WCC member churches to continue to raise awareness about the specific issues facing Indigenous Peoples and to develop advocacy campaigns to support the rights, aspirations and needs of Indigenous Peoples;

5. Encourages WCC member churches to support the continued development of theological reflection by Indigenous Peoples which promote Indigenous visions of full, good and abundant life and strengthen their own spiritual and theological reflection.




Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health

16 February 2011 – 9:30am


The gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians remains one of the most compelling health problems confronting Australia today. The higher prevalence of a range of chronic and communicable diseases and social and emotional health problems among Indigenous peoples is unacceptable. There is a limited health and medical workforce providing culturally appropriate primary care services for Indigenous Australians, and a range of social, environmental and economic factors act to entrench health problems. A concerted effort is needed to improve the access of Indigenous Australians to high quality health care if the gap in life expectancy is to be closed within a generation.

Key issues for patients

The very poor health status of Australia’s Indigenous peoples is a disaster for them and an indictment of the nation as a whole. With the right support and access to appropriate health care, Indigenous people can develop practical solutions and preventive approaches to some of the health-related problems in their communities. It is important to engage Indigenous people in their own health care solutions.

Key issues for the Government

Australia’s health system is undergoing major reform, including the creation of regionalised primary health care organisations that have potential to promote best practice and continuity of care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. COAG’s agreement for the Federal Government to take 100 per cent funding responsibility for GP, primary care and aged care services provides an opportunity for one level of government to ensure that funding is channelled to where it is most needed.


The AMA welcomed and supported the 2008 COAG National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes, then funded at $805 million over four years. The AMA calls on the Government to develop and implement in partnership with Indigenous people a long-term national strategic plan to improve the health of Indigenous people, with tangible intermediate goals. In addition, the AMA calls for further funding to be included in the forthcoming Budget for the following immediate priorities:

  • expansion of the workforce for Indigenous health, through additional grants to enhance infrastructure and services, to allow Aboriginal Medical Services to offer mentoring and training in Indigenous health in Indigenous communities to Indigenous and non-Indigenous medical students and vocational trainees, and offer salary and conditions for doctors working in Aboriginal Medical Services that are comparable to those of State salaried doctors;
  • development of a network of Centres of Excellence in Indigenous Health across Australia to act as training and research hubs for medical professionals seeking high quality practical experience and accreditation in Indigenous health;
  • $10 million per annum over 10 years to fund grants to NGOs and community groups for healthrelated capacity building in Indigenous communities throughout Australia; and
  • measures to improve urgently all of the social determinants of health in Indigenous communities.

It is an imperative that the transfer of 100 per cent of primary health care funding responsibility to the Federal Government does not disadvantage community-based Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services, and that the Federal Government fully replaces funding that was provided to those services from other sources, such as State governments and local councils.


Sinem Saban and Damien Curtis’s documentary examining the state of indigenous rights in Australia offers an insight into years of neglect, ignorance and stereotyping. But it also offers the hope that things could change.

This past Sunday John Cleary did a very good show on the Northern Territory Intervention. He talked to Malcolm Fraser, Sir Alistair Nicholson, Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM from Galiwin’ku, Djapirri Mununggirritj from Nhulunbuy and Rosalie Kunoth-Monks OAM from Utopia. He was joined by Graeme Mundine and Jeff McMullen. If you missed the show you can listen to it from the website either by podcast, MP3 or windows media.


 From the ABC website.

This week Prime Minister Julia Gillard delivered the third Prime Ministerial Speech on ‘Closing the Gap’ on indigenous disadvantage. The tone was one of cautious optimism, but for many, government policy continues to be dominated by the shadow of the intervention, a return to paternalism that threatens the very foundations of indigenous recovery

Today marks the 3rd anniversary of our national apology to indigenous Australians, and this week the Gillard government presented the 3rd closing the gap report. Both events occur in the shadow of the continuing Intervention strategy implemented under the Howard government and continued by Labor. A Conversation with the Elders, brought together from both European and Indigenous Australia, to hear Elders from the Northern Territory and Central Australia, reflect on how government policies, particularly the intervention are affecting their communities. Tonight we pick up the threads of that conversation to share it with you and perhaps get some of your observations. In a few moments we will be hearing from both aboriginal and European Australian elders, including Rev Djiniyini Gondarra, Malcolm Fraser and Sir Alastair Nicholson.

In studio are Jeff McMullen, a distinguished former foreign correspondent and reporter for both 4 Corners and 60 minutes, who for many years has been actively engaged with indigenous issues, and acted as the facilitator at the recent Conversation with the Elders. Also in the studio we welcome back Graeme Mundine, who has recently taken up a role as indigenous advisor to the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.

An interesting blog from Jane Clark in the NT


The Prime Minster yesterday released the Closing the Gap report, 2011. The existence and release of this report early in the new parliamentary year is a positive development over the past three years and highlights a sustained effort on the part of Government to focus attention on Indigenous disadvantage.

There is certainly an impressive list of resources invested by the Government. More teachers, doctors, houses and so on. But the Prime Ministers’ speech also highlights many of the issues for which NATSIEC has criticised Governments of both persuasions over the years. For example, despite the Prime Minister’s claim of evidence based, accountable and transparent close the gap efforts there remains a distinct lack of benchmarks, goals and measurement of effectiveness.

The Prime Minster also said Close the Gap is a “call for changes in behaviour. A call to every person, to every family, to every community”.

What about Government? Does it not have to change its behaviour and challenge its own fundamental philosophy on development and change? Indigenous disadvantage has not only been caused by years of neglect. It is also a result of years of ineffective and failed policies, of structural racism, of inappropriate delivery of services and so on.

Take as an example the commitment to close the life expectancy gap within a generation. Yesterday, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda, released a media statement commenting on the Government’s report. He also commented that Minister Warren Snowdon and Minister Nicola Roxon have agreed to begin developing a long term national plan to close the gap in Indigenous life expectancy by 2030. As Gooda also points out the Government signed a Statement of Intent to close the Indigenous life expectancy gap in March 2008. It’s now almost March 2011 – three years later and the Government has only now committed to begin to develop a plan to increase the life expectancy of Indigenous peoples. 

How do we reconcile what we hear in this speech with a three year gap between a statement of intent and a commitment to begin planning? How many years will it be before action arises from the plan? How do we reconcile the Prime Ministers’ claims with what we heard this week from NT Elders about the lack of consultation, the disempowerment felt in their communities, the increasing depression that many are suffering from, the tragic suicides in communities?  The same issues that were raised with NATSIEC during the Living Letters visit last year.

Despite the talk of working together, the tone of many of the Prime Minster’s comments about individual responsibility suggest that if, after all these resources are thrown at the “problem”, goals haven’t been achieved then it’s because individuals have failed to take responsibility. There is no doubt that in some places, some things are changing for the better, but if these changes are to be sustainable; if these changes are to really close the gap, then there also needs to be more and urgent attention paid to proper negotiation, proper consultation, partnerships, respect, culturally appropriate programs, empowerment, human rights. All those concepts that can sound a bit airy fairy, but in fact are the bed rock of ending Indigenous disadvantage. Without paying attention to these vital aspects the work may go on, but so too will the failures.    

The Close the Gap report 2011 http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/about/news/2011/Pages/2011_ctg_pm_report.aspx

Julia Gillard’s speech – http://www.pm.gov.au/press-office/work-will-go-speech-house-representatives

Mick Gooda’s media release http://www.hreoc.gov.au/about/media/media_releases/2011/7_11.html

An excellent article from Eva Cox via Women for wik

Crikey Thursday, 10 February 2011 / Whatever happened to evidence-based policy making?
by Eva Cox

Prime Minister Gillard in parliament yesterday:

Because I believe in tackling the big challenges in the national
interest. I see Closing the Gap as a way of understanding the problems.

It is evidence-based, accountable and transparent. It tells us what
needs to be done first and fastest and builds a methodical approach. It
allows us to build consensus in support of specific progress, instead of
debating abstract ideas. To do what we can, with what we have, where we are.

Because I believe Australians judge Governments on delivery . I see
Closing the Gap as a way of working on the solutions.

It is a way of making specific, measurable progress. It is practical
and cumulative. It gives us new information which means we can invest where
investment will make the greatest difference. Information which means we can
be sure that the Government is meeting its responsibilities.

Worthy sentiments. If only they stacked up. Take the New Income
Management program. The federal government is adding another serious
question to its social and financial policy competence by informing the
public that it is proceeding with the promised evaluation of NIM. The
initial form of income management (IM) was a Howard initiative which was
justified as part of an “emergency” measure presumed to protect Aboriginal

The ALP government extended the IM program as a core part of the NT
Intervention, thereby quarantining 50% of the benefit and pension incomes of
all residents in 73 designated Aboriginal communities. However, when the UN
was highly critical of the program’s suspension of Racial Discrimination Act
as it breached Australia’s obligations under it, the government changed

To be able to withdraw the suspension, Macklin decided to de-racialise
the program by passing legislation in June 2010 that allowed the Australian
government to expand the program. Now they can compulsorily quarantine the
incomes of anyone on benefits in certain time or age based categories (but
not more respectable pensions) in any declared area.

This change was pursued despite much solid evidence and presentations
to a Senate Community Affairs Committee that the program had not proved its
value in its previous three year existence. The government’s case was that
this expansion was part of an evidence based broader welfare strategy to
address social exclusion.

Despite government claimed “evidence” being refuted by a wide range of
academic and welfare groups and the government’s proposal for extension
being supported by only three of nearly a hundred submissions, the
government majority (and the Abbott Opposition in Parliament) backed the
legislation. The Majority Report did suggest that the lack of evidence
needed to be addressed before any further extension of IM to other areas and
groups. Ergo the evaluation of the proposed NT extension that has finally

The participation categories that remain eligible totalled 11,564 in
June 2010, and another 9510 were on pension type payments not covered by
compulsory payments under the new Act.

Unfortunately for the disadvantaged population in the rest of
Australia this expansive and expensive evaluation is unlikely to protect
their current payments systems from changes, as evidence from the three-year
evaluation is unlikely to seriously affect or inform this government’s
policy actions.

While the media release may imply otherwise, the intentions of the
government are clear in its terms of reference on p3 of the executive
summary. The terms of reference for developing the evaluation framework are
that the evaluation:

a.. be completed by December 2014
b.. provide information on the implementation of the NIM in the
Northern Territory by the end of 2011 in order to inform decisions about an
expansion of the model beyond the Northern Territory
c.. result in data being collected that can be used to evaluate
short, medium and, where possible, longer-term impacts/outcomes of new
income management,
d.. include a set of ethics guidelines and an ethical clearance
strategy relevant to this evaluation project.

The above terms of reference clearly suggest that the government will
decide early in 2012 to extend the scope of the involuntary program to
beneficiaries outside the NT. The timeline means this will happen despite
little or no evidence by then of whether there are actual benefits from
program for recipients.

This change fits with the PM’s already stated intention of clamping
down on welfare and pressuring people into the paid work and a shift from
welfare rights to massively conditional welfare payments.

The change will happen despite serious questions on whether it worked
during the Intervention and a reluctance to wait and see whether evidence
from this evaluation will find indications of effectiveness and cost
benefits, in particular whether the substantial extra admin costs of around
$100M per annum could be better spent on other services for this group.

The evaluation document does illustrate both the difficulties of
finding evidence from any other examples of such programs and of evaluating
this particular program. These problems arise from the program’s diverse
origins and add-ons by government over the last three years. Given that the
initial form of income management was justified as part of an “emergency”
measure presumed to protect Aboriginal children, it was not opposed by the
then Rudd Opposition and most of the welfare sector, just some Aboriginal

All of which means no evidence of its value in this area has ever been
offered, in fact a recent report to the NT government on showed child
protection had deteriorated over the last three years, and failed to mention
the intervention.

This is now nearly nine months after the government declaring certain
benefit recipients in the whole NT as subject to the New Income Management,
as well as transferring most existing recipients to the ‘new’ scheme. This
version includes a few new bribes for those who voluntarily sign onto income
management and a complex, quite difficult exit system for those who may
consider they do not need to be managed.

This includes compulsory budgeting workshops and financial literacy
tests. There is also evidence that Centrelink is trying really hard to
retain those no longer covered as voluntary clients as outlined by Paddy
Gibson last year.

There had been no sign of the proposed evaluation till last week when
the Minister and FaHCSIA media release emerged and stated:

The Australian Government is today releasing the framework for the
independent evaluation of the new model of non-discriminatory income
management. The Government has now rolled out the new model of
non-discriminatory income management across the Northern Territory,
including child protection income management. A voluntary income management
and child protection income management pilot operates in Western Australia.

Future roll-out of the new model of income management beyond the
Northern Territory will be informed by evidence gained from the independent

The evaluation will include analysis of existing data on income
management, as well as surveys of child protection staff, financial literacy
service providers, and retailers. There will also be interviews and focus
groups with people on income management.

The rest of the first stages of this evaluation (2011) mainly cover
views on the processes of implementing the program by everyone but the
recipients. While the release covers an extensive evaluation to report
finally in 2014, as indicated above, the government will not wait for the

There are other questions on the value of the evaluation document. One
is whether much of the data from the NT would apply in the very different
locations and populations in the rest of the states and territories. However
a major difficulty is the structure of the various bits of the program which
create complications in any evaluation of this program. To sum up the
various difficulties as derived from the document:

a.. There is no baseline data because the program has already been
implemented but in different places, times and ways.
b.. There are multitude of “populations” within those on NIM that
have different entry points, needs and possible exits:
1.. These include the majority of compulsory recipients whose
criteria for entry have no basis in their income management deficits but
they just qualify because they are on certain benefits.
2.. Another group “volunteers” to sign up and there is current
pressure and bribes in WA and elsewhere to add to these.
3.. Some are included because they are deemed “vulnerable” by
Centrelink social workers because of certain very broad criteria and
compulsorily placed on IM.
4.. Some are referred as parents who are reported to child
protection authorities because they are neglecting their children or
appropriate care.
5.. There are unconfirmed reports that some refugee families are
being targeted because they are sending money to families overseas.
6.. There are also a limited number of Cape York families and
maybe a few others who are disciplined by being put on reduced payments
because of failure to send children to school
7.. The WA programs and many others are embedded with other
support services which are patchy and not available elsewhere
8.. There are massive language and cultural issues in NT and some
other isolated communities which make interviewing and informed consent
difficult and raise major ethical issues.
c.. The difficulties of defining common ‘problems’ in such diverse
groups, particularly as many issues do not relate clearly to their financial
d.. This means it is very difficult to set outputs and outcomes to
measure because the common problems may not exist (see below)
e.. The problems many would manifest in the compulsory category of
benefit groups may not relate to personal difficulties in managing
financially, but reflect the inadequacy of benefits that may not meet basic
costs in urban settings.
f.. There are indications that criteria for exemptions set
impossibly high standards which will discourage people from applying
g.. As most of these groups are also involved in other programs,
often as part of the above categorisations, can research tell what changes
are causal?
h.. As some have been on already for three years plus and some only
a few weeks, how and when can relative changes be measured?
i.. What culturally appropriate measures are there to assess
possible negative effects of shame and anger at being targeted in this way?
These show how the particularities of the NT and origins of the
program in the Intervention make it unlikely that any findings would be able
to be applied widely.

The evaluation document does recognise many of these problems, but
makes some comments about “triangulating” data to make up for the gaps.
However, the authors fail to critically question whether there is value in
undertaking such a complex project with such possible flaws. They do not
raise questions on the misuse of the evidence for the policy expansion
decision nor question whether this process is primarily a post hoc searching
for validating evidence.

It is not clear in the evaluation document whether there may be other
benefits in pursuing research on this type of welfare change. The question
is why has Macklin funded this complex and costly evaluation?

The answers only make sense if we connect this project to other
aspects of the current government archaic models of delivering current
social policy. The driving principles appear to be beliefs that “social
inclusion” can be achieved by fitting the excluded into the interstices of
current social systems. The basic assumption is that the excluded are flawed
not the society.

Ergo, those on welfare for a long time must have serious personal
issues, which inhibit their entry to paid work. The government then assumes
the right, or maybe the moral duty, to coerce their compliance to models of
better behaviour which will fix the problems.

In this case, the government (Macklin?) assumes regularising
recipients’ money practices will create some order in their lives, and
therefore result in better parenting, higher workforce participation and
other desirable ends. These beliefs are spelt out in the paper with examples
of ‘conditional welfare payments. These types of changes fail to answer the
question of causation and ignore entirely the caveat expressed by the
evaluation schema authors:

Many who have written about conditionality, whether in its favour or
not, conclude that conditionality can be philosophically and morally
justified provided that considerable care is taken to avoid burdening those
people who are already unjustly disadvantaged (Deacon 2004). P51.

Most of those on benefits, such as Aboriginal people are already
unjustly disadvantaged by systems and prejudice.

The evaluation paper academics have included a literature review with
presumably, a wide search for examples of similar schemes as exemplars for
the current process. Those reported on do not offer much in direct evidence
that there are similar schemes that have worked. The listed examples do not
offer any serious evidence that conditional welfare works well as a national
policy model in developed countries.

Many of the thirteen quoted examples are relatively small programs,
often not continuing and set up in very different circumstances.

There are three USA programs, two of which are Food Stamps and TANF,
which are the only national ones in developed countries. One a private NY
program that was short term, and there is another short term private
Canadian program. The other nine programs cited are all in developing
countries: Mexico, Malawi, and Brazil. India, Bangladesh, Columbia, Honduras
and Guatemala, dealing with very different problems and cultures, let alone
economic systems.

These are odd countries for Australia to search for examples. The
designs and problems faced, e.g. birthrates and malnutrition, are not
necessarily related to Australia. So, apart from some questionable benefits
from the named US programs, there are no developed comparable welfare states
that have adopted such massive welfare system changes.

Given these constraints and problems, I wonder why reputable academic
institutions such as SPRC, AIFS and the ANU would engage in this project and
risk legitimating bad decision making and further examples of evidence being
ignored? Could it just be the temptation of the money for a research
starved institution? Are there too many self-funded research units at
universities being government servants? I did originally write tarts but
many s-x workers may have better ethics.

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