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

http://www.abc.net.au/news/video/2011/05/20/3222974.htm

Other:

http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/national/9487534/australias-human-rights-under-spotlight/

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/05/20/3223039.htm?section=justin

 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:

http://www.theage.com.au/national/intervention-facing-un-criticism-20110522-1eyvm.html#ixzz1N7aOlh2x

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

http://www.cis.org.au/images/stories/policy-monographs/pm-116.pdf

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.

 MEDIA RELEASE 24 March 2011                                       For Immediate Release
from the National Council of Churches in Australia

World Council of Churches voices its concern over the plight of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

 

The World Council of Churches (WCC) has voiced its concern about the plight of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples at its recent Central Committee meeting in Geneva.

The WCC statement follows on from a visit to the Northern Territory by a WCC “Living Letters” Team which 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 many Aboriginal people experience on a daily basis.

The WCC, in its statement, expresses solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of Australia and recognises the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to live in traditional lands; maintain and enrich culture and ensure traditions are strengthened and passed on for generations to come.

The WCC urges the Australian Government 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.

The statement also recognises that Australia has been criticised for Intervention measures by the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples as well as the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and requests the Australian Government ensures that policies affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples comply with international conventions.

The Reverend. Tara Curlewis, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA) and an advisor for the WCC Central Committee said “This statement is very significant as it is in response to the Living Letters visit to Northern Territory communities. Members of the WCC Central Committee were shocked to hear what has happened in Australia in recent years. One leader said ‘Surely this isn’t happening in Australia? I thought Australia was better than this!'”   

Last week the NCCA Executive welcomed the WCC report and statement, the churches hope that Australia will adhere to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and continue to urge the Australian Government to end the Intervention.

The full 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

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

 From crikey.com.au
Eva Cox writes:
Mal Brough, creator of the Northern Territory intervention, declared last Saturday that it was a failure, Jenny Macklin, not surprisingly, denies failure and claims it is both proceeding and succeeding.I agree with Brough that the intervention was a failure but not for the reasons he has stated. He claims the ALP government has gone soft and failed to follow up, which is odd because the enthusiastic Macklin has fairly faithfully followed his plan but adding even more prescriptive constraints.

Except for the income management re-design, to allow the reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act, the current policies retain the basic assumptions that Aboriginal communities need paternalistic controls over their lives and institutions. This top down approach of infantilising welfare recipients/communities is oddly assumed to create individualistic “responsibility”, despite no evidence from here or elsewhere that it works.

The intervention has failed because of what was done and the way it was done, and it did not consult or engage with local people or, in many cases, address their problems. More police were often useful, but not more Canberra bureaucrats and business managers. Lots of money went on managing incomes, not improving the services. Reform of the stores was useful but did not need to part of the other processes. Land grabs, embarrassing signs and many other offensive parts of the process cause other problems, some of which led
to people moving away.

Unemployment increased. Unwinding CDEP reduced local activities, adding to boredom and so on. The whole process was fatally flawed by the top down processes, the lack of effective consultation, either initially or in its more recent redesign.

So an argument in the media about whether Brough or Macklin got it right is not the point. One major error is the NT and Canberra support reducing housing and services to outstations and some smaller settlements to pressure their residents to move to urban hubs. This ignores evidence of better health and other benefits in these settlements and the current Alice experience of what happens when people are moved into hubs. The displaced drunks and disruptive footloose youth who have moved to Alice show how flawed that idea is.  

Nicholas Rothwell is responsible for putting the local problems that some claim are being addressed, into current national interest in his article in The Australian, which is more diatribe than journalism. He claims:

Alice Springs is a township fast spiralling out of control. All the elements for turmoil are present: deep, cold fury among the mainstream population, a reckless gloom among the young bush people loitering here, vast demand for marijuana and a limitless supply, bad, reactive politics, a lack of new ideas, a need for drastic measures and a refusal even to debate the reforms that might have a chance.

… The interesting question today is not whether the authorities charged with the town’s stewardship can manage or suppress the tensions so sharply in the air. It is rather this: will Alice Springs survive in its present form for another 10 years?

Does this type of exposure serve well the distressed victims, black and white? There are problems that need to be addressed but there this type of moral panic style of revelations does not serve to solve problems well. It leads to facile political acts or maybe encourages local vigilante actions and more divisions as people posture for a national audience.

Rothwell’s dramatic and dire warnings, scenes of despair, degradation and incompetence make it a major issue. Brough steps in and we have the basis for more knee-jerk politics. Do classic media based “moral panic” serve the needs of any of the affected groups? Rothwell almost acknowledges this, way down towards the end of his dramatic prose:

In many journalistic reports on the modern frontier, and the nation’s persisting remote area crisis, there’s a tendency to paint things dark: to reach for shock effects, the better to highlight the need for action. But he goes straight on the say In this case, exaggeration’s not even an option. The town is on the brink — of who knows what?

This dire tone may reflect his personal involvement in this, as his partner, not mentioned in the article, is a dissident member of the NT parliament and deeply involved politically. However, we need to learn from other experiences of moral media panics on the NT.

The current shock horror reminds us of what started the original Howard intervention. In an election year he used the media stories and an NT report on possible child s-xual abuse as triggers for action. There is limited evidence that child s-x abuse was the problem in 2007 and nearly four years later, no evidence that the intervention has reduced child s-xual abuse or protected the children in any significant way. The implicit conclusion of a recent report to the NT government on their child protection situation failed to mention the intervention either as a factor in alleviating problems or as a partner in future activities.

There is also no evidence from the various statistics that the NT government and AIHW produce about the NT that there has been any significant reductions in relevant crime statistics or health admissions relating to this areas. On Monday, The Australian continues its tirades by claiming child pr-stitution trade in Alice but ends its article with a quote from the mayor Damien Ryan. On Sunday, he was arguing that the intervention had been detrimental to the city — even though it is not one of the prescribed areas.

“You have to understand that Alice Springs is the centre for 260 remote communities,” Ryan said. “A lot of people living under the conditions of the intervention have decided to move into areas like Alice Springs — that puts immense stress on all of our services here.”

This statement does not suggest success for the intervention and supports the calls from many, including many Aboriginal elders and the UN, for serious change not gut reactions to bad media.