NT Intervention

Delivering a better future for Indigenous people in the Northern Territory

WED 22 JUNE 2011

Prime Minister, Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Minister for Indigenous Health, Senator Crossin

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin today announced the Government’s next steps to improve the future of Indigenous Australians living in the Northern Territory.

Over the last four years we have made significant progress in improving people’s lives in the Northern Territory, but the situation for many Indigenous families remains critical.

The Gillard Government will now start consultation on future plans to tackle this unacceptable level of disadvantage with a particular focus on improved education for children, expanded employment opportunities and tackling alcohol abuse.

We know that a stronger future can only be built in partnership with Aboriginal people and communities, because the issues we want to tackle are the issues which many Indigenous people confront every single day.

The Government’s new discussion paper, Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory, will form the basis of this conversation over the coming months as the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) winds up in mid next year.

The paper looks at where the previous response worked, where it could be improved and what the future priorities are including:

  • ·                       School attendance and educational achievement
  • ·                       Economic development and employment
  • ·                       Tackling alcohol abuse
  • ·                       Community safety
  • ·                       Health
  • ·                       Food security
  • ·                       Housing
  • ·                       Governance

Our unprecedented investment in the Northern Territory is beginning to change the lives of thousands of Indigenous people living in over 70 remote communities, town camps and urban communities through improved services, better houses and safer and healthier communities.

Feedback from these communities to date is that people now feel safer, children are being better cared for, alcohol and gambling abuse is lessening and indigenous job opportunities are improving.

But there is no quick fix to overcoming entrenched disadvantage.  It will take time, investment and a commitment to work together to deliver lasting improvements.

It is our intention to ensure that consultation is genuine and involves the advice and experience of people on the ground.

The Government will now hold one-on-one and group meetings across remote communities, regional centres and in town camps in the Northern Territory.

To view a copy of the discussion paper, visit: http://www.indigenous.gov.au/index.php/stronger-futures-in-the-northern-territory






MEDIA RELEASE         20th May 2011   ‘concerned Australians’

 UN Human Rights High Commissioner Receives Letter signed by Thousands of Australians

Today Aboriginal Elders in Darwin will present to the UN Human Rights Commissioner a letter signed by almost six and a half thousand Australians from across the country, calling for her support in restoring the rights of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

 This follows repeated calls from visiting UN Special Rapporteurs, the World Council of Churches and last August, from her own Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination inGeneva.

Only a few months ago a statement was released by 33 eminent Australians calling for an end to the discriminatory Intervention with a repeal of discriminatory legislation.

Signatures from NT residents have come from some thirty-four different centres including those from future growth centres (hub towns) and from smaller remote homelands. They include: Marngarr, Ramingining, Bolkdjam Outstation, Oenpelli, Ngukurr,BickertonIsland, Utopia, Ampilatwatcha, Daguragu, Djarrakpi, Gan Gan,CrokerIsland, Wadeye, Barrika, Raymanggir, Dhamitaka, Gapuwiak, Mirrngatja, Maparu, Dondyji, Santa Theresa, Lajamanu,ElchoIsland,TiwiIsland, Yuendumu, Maningrida, Milingimbi, Galiwin’ku, Yirrkala,Darwin,Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Katherine and Nhulunbuy.

Today the Commissioner, at the start of her Australian visit, will hear directly from Aboriginal people living in the NT prescribed communities of the impact they experience on a daily basis, living under the discriminatory policies of the Intervention.

Aboriginal people have travelled long distances across theNorthern Territoryto take the opportunity to ask for the Commissioner’s support in calling for the restoration of their rights. If our government were as interested as the Commissioner in hearing the views of Aboriginal people, it is quite likely they would make the trip all over again.

But does the Government care? Are governments able to listen in this age of spin? The real support to Aboriginal people by Government involves actually listening so that together they will be able to genuinely search for a way forward.

The above statements can be found at

August 2009, Professor James Anaya, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous people http://www.un.org.au/files/files/Press%20Release%20-%20Australia%20JA%20final.pdf

December 2009, Mr Anand Grover, Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard available at


August 2010, The Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination of August 2010 concluding Observation available at www.concernedaustralians.com.au

 2010 The WCC Living Letters report is available at http://www.ncca.org.au/files/Natsiec/2495_LivingLettersReport_Beyond_Intervention_2010_f_lowres_r.pdf

2011 WCC statement is available at http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/central-committee/geneva-2011/report-on-public-issues/statement-on-the-situation-of-indigenous-peoples-of-australia.html

 Feb 2011 Elders Statement, available at www.concernedaustralians.com.au

 The 33 Eminent Australians Statement, available at www.concernedaustralians.com.au

 Lindsay Murdoch, The Age, Darwin May 23, 2011

THE federal indigenous intervention will come under international scrutiny this week, with a top United Nations official set to criticise a lack of rights for Aboriginal people. Northern Territory Aboriginal leaders have told UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay that things have got worse under the intervention imposed by the Howard government in 2007.

”There is greater discrimination against them,” Ms Pillay said they told her. ”Firstly, they said there’s been an intervention and it started off badly without them being consulted, and secondly, there is insufficient respect for their land,” she said.

Ms Pillay said the Aborigines told her they were under pressure from the Gillard government to sign 99-year leases over their land. ”They see that as a land grab,” she said. Ms Pillay told journalists she would reveal her views about the intervention at a news conference in Canberra on Wednesday, at the end of a six-day Australian visit. But the intervention has already been criticised by several UN agencies, including the UN Committee on the Convention to Eliminate Racial Discrimination.

 The committee says the intervention continues to discriminate on the basis of race, and reduces people’s rights to land, property, social security, adequate housing, cultural development, work and legal remedies.

The intervention has also been criticised by the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights. In Darwin, Ms Pillay was handed a petition signed by 6500 Australians calling for her support in restoring the rights of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. The petition, organised by a Melbourne-based group called Concerned Australians, calls for the Gillard government to end the intervention, which it says is discriminatory against Aborigines. Ms Pillay also visited the Yarrabah Aboriginal Community in far-north Queensland.

The contravention of the Racial Discrimination Act under the intervention has been a sensitive issue for federal Labor. The government passed legislation last year to reinstate the act after compulsory income management of welfare payments was broadened from 73 remote NT communities targeted under the intervention, to all welfare recipients in the NT. Ms Pillay, a former High Court judge in South Africa, is due to meet Prime Minister Julia Gillard and ministers dealing with indigenous issues this week. She has also signalled she is investigating Australia’s mandatory detention of asylum seekers, especially children.

Read more:


The following is a link to the recently released report on alcohol restrictions by Sara Hudson


Rebuilding trust with indigenous communities the first step

Larissa Behrendt

National Times, March 22, 2011

Lack of housing has also caused indigenous people to move from their communities to towns like Alice Springs. Photo: Angela Wylie

Alice Springs is a town unlike any other and to an outsider its racial tensions are noticeable. Walking through the shopping centre one sees security guards tell Aboriginal people to move on when they are window shopping. Poverty and homelessness are visible – and visibly black.

It has always been a town that has struggled dealing with this visible poverty – and the less visible disadvantage of the communities in the town camps.

Now it is in the spotlight again with a rise in social problems caused by an influx of Aboriginal people from other places. Tony Abbott has weighed in on the issue, acknowledging that a large number of problems have occurred because Aboriginal people from remote towns have moved into larger towns like Alice Springs wanting to get their hands on some grog.

To say this movement is caused by the need to access alcohol oversimplifies both the reasons for the population movement and the reasons why difficult social problems are occurring. Alcohol is a factor but it’s not the only one. Lack of housing and investment in services has also caused people to move from their communities. Lack of adequate housing and the failure of other services to meet the demands of new arrivals has exacerbated the situation in Alice Springs.

Yes, excessive alcohol consumption is making the issues associated with endemic poverty much worse, and its consumption is one of the key issues that need to be addressed. But the clear message for policy makers and politicians to come from this movement to Alice Springs is that alcohol bans have not stopped the drinking; they have only moved the problem.

The problem with these issues is that there is no robust policy analysis of whether these strategies are working. Labor opposition unquestioningly supported the intervention mechanisms, including income management and compulsory leasing, and the bipartisan approach has meant that neither party has played a true opposition role. Neither party is looking thoroughly at where policy failure is occurring and offering alternative policy approaches. Instead, the debate between the major parties becomes a match about who can be toughest with the current policies. This is unfortunate because if any area needed fresh thinking and robust analysis it is in the area of indigenous affairs.

Claims of success with the intervention are empty – and unhelpful – rhetoric. There is no evidence of improved outcomes in the governments figures. Anemia rates and malnutrition rates have increased; so too have suicide rates. The Indigenous Doctors Association have raised concerns about the psychological impact some of the policies are having on the Aboriginal people subjected to them. There have been increases in violence and school attendance rates are slightly less than what they were when the intervention was put in place.

The intervention was rushed into vulnerable communities with no consultation with indigenous people or the health, education and other experts working with them. Some of these mechanisms – like compulsory income management for anyone on a welfare payment whether their children went to school or not, whether they had children or not – were some of the harshest policies being trialled in the country. Robust analysis of the impact and consequences would seem like common sense. Any of the usual mechanisms of review of the impact of a government policy on an individual to ensure it is not unfair or illegal or discriminatory were taken away.

The shift of the problems around excessive drinking to Alice Springs gives rise to two lessons. And neither of them are new. Firstly there is a need to not just consider alcohol bans but to address the underlying causes of dysfunction that lead to alcohol abuse. Abbott’s call for better rehabilitation services needs to be emphasised rather than his calls for more police.

Abbott continues to call for tougher welfare measures on the parents of children not attending school. Apart from the fact that the current implementation of the policy has not led to increased attendance rates, he is overlooking research that shows that parental attitudes are only one reason, and not the main one, why Aboriginal children don’t attend school. Factors that contribute more to Aboriginal children skipping school include the culture of the school and the standard of teaching. Again Abbott’s call for more experienced teachers in these areas is overshadowed by his call for punitive measures against parents. This emphasis needs to be reversed.

The second lesson is the need to talk to the Aboriginal leadership within Alice Springs in order to ensure more effective action. Engaging the indigenous leadership in the Northern Territory, especially in the places subject to the intervention was not done when it was rolled out in 2007. Research continues to show that to improve their socio-economic circumstances, indigenous people need to be centrally involved in the policy making and design of services going into their communities. There needs to be partnership with government and trust. Neither the Howard or Rudd/Gillard governments have sought to give Aboriginal people a stronger, leading role in the solutions.

Discussions with people taking the lead in their communities would quickly reveal that they have a better understanding of the causes of the problems and much more effective solutions. Simple but effective ideas such as dry out shelters and breakfast or homework programs were not thought up in Canberra and imposed. They were the thoughtful initiatives of Aboriginal people facing problems in their communities that they wanted to solve.

Start rebuilding a relationship with the people in communities like Alice Springs who may be able to assert some moral authority and leadership amongst their community and more effective and innovative solutions may start to occur. Continue to intervene on the assumption that everyone is part of the problem and the big old mess will continue.

Larissa Behrendt holds the Chair of Indigenous Research at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Fred Chaney

The Australian April 2, 2011

 THE 1960s equal wage cases relating to Aboriginal pastoral workers unintentionally helped precipitate substantial movements of Aborigines away from their traditional lands on cattle stations to the fringes of desert towns. The results were socially catastrophic.

 The purchase of cattle stations in the 1970s to enable people to go back on to country was a response to the social and economic misery that resulted from that would-be step forward to wage equality.

 Discussion on serious social problems in Alice Springs seems to overlook that there is an interlocking debate about support for people on outstation and remote communities and substantial policy revisions based on normalisation of selected large centres and withdrawal of support from outstation communities.

 Part of this second debate involves assertions that remote settlements should be closed down so people will go to those parts of Australia where there are established economies.

 These are real issues for Australia and for policy-makers. Should we maintain a network of Aboriginal settlements across the continent where people can be close to their country and live lives still connected with their traditional culture, however altered that has been by the provision of goods and services that have no relation to traditional life and practice?

 Some argue the case from a purely economic perspective, some from a concern for the social wellbeing of remote dwellers. There are voices defending the rights of Aborigines to live on their country and preserve their culture and traditions.

 Behind the debate, what is actually happening?

 In the Northern Territory the combined effect of the Territory’s local government reforms and the intervention under the previous and present governments has been to diminish the agency of Aborigines, leading to demoralisation and alienation from what governments are trying to achieve. One senior Northern Territory public servant with decades of experience in Aboriginal communities described the communities he visited as being in a state of torpor.

 Successive government approaches have substantially ignored the identified success factors in advancing Aboriginal people and communities.

 The steering committee for the review of government service provision chaired by Gary Banks (who also chairs of the Productivity Commission) identified four success factors. These are co-operative approaches between Aborigines and government, community involvement in program design and decision-making, good governance including at the government level and ongoing government support.

 Unfortunately, the gap between acknowledged principles and actual practice is vast.

 If the present state of affairs continues, the exponents of emptying out the remote settlements will have their way. The problem is that the towns in which these refugees would settle are not equipped to handle thousands more fringe dwellers ill-prepared by education and life experience.

 There is not the housing, the educational facilities or any of the requisite government services for such an influx.

 Writing in this newspaper last year (Focus, December 18, 2010) Noel Pearson explained the importance of sequencing the changes needed on Cape York. First, alcohol abuse and consequent dysfunction had to be tackled, then welfare reform, then higher quality primary education with an emphasis on high school retention.

 It is this kind of practical and intelligent sequencing that is required of governments across remote Australia in their dealings with Aboriginal people and communities.

 The priority must be to stabilise the situation, to stop the drift of mostly unskilled and inadequately educated remote-living people to the misery and chaos of fringe-dwelling life.

 What this requires will differ from place to place as circumstances vary, but the move away from Community Development Employment Projects to unworkable Centrelink and job search arrangements must be reconsidered as a matter of urgency.

 It should not be government policy that any Aborigine should be encouraged to move off country unless that person has the education and training that enables them to live in dignity in new circumstances.

 A second priority is to ensure civil order in those communities, a requirement for any community in Australia.

 Third, we have to find ways of making the education system work so that remote Aborigines are literate, numerate and able to speak good English. These are the basics for economic and social mobility. Fourth, we need to continue to provide additional real jobs in remote communities and transitional jobs that will equip people to work in real jobs locally and across Australia.

 There are severe impediments to governments doing what is required well. The lack of trained personnel equipped to turn proven theory into practice needs to be tackled urgently. This has been drawn to the attention of relevant departments for a prolonged period with no sign of an active response.

 It also requires recognition that this is an important national priority that requires greater leadership and responsibility being vested in central agencies including the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and state and territory equivalents. Only they have the authority to keep agencies up to the mark.

 There will be no long-term solution unless underlying structural issues are also addressed, including reforming Grants Commission funding arrangements to add a remote area category that ensures sustained investment in remote townships.

 The provision of normal services, which in turn requires a robust and informed approach to township land reform, would also help arrest the present need to travel to towns to access services.

 Finally, we need the bipartisanship recently offered by Tony Abbott. These are not issues that can be dealt with in a parliamentary term. What is urgently required is agreement on shared objectives and approaches that will be maintained across election cycles. Anything less will result a continuance of the incoherence of government policies, ensuring we will continue to lurch from crisis to crisis

 Fred Chaney is a former minister for Aboriginal affairs in the Fraser government and is chairman of Desert Knowledge Australia and a director of Reconciliation Australia.

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