'End the intervention, restore community control'

June 24, 2011
Darwin rally against the intervention, June 22.

On June 22, the federal government announced a six-week consulting period before creating new laws to continue the Northern Territory intervention. Prime Minister Julia Gillard “left no doubt that abolishing the intervention was not on the agenda”, said the June 23 Australian.

The statement below, titled Rebuilding From the Ground Up — an Alternative to the Northern Territory Intervention, was officially launched at the Prescribed Area People’s Alliance conference in Darwin on June 21.

* * *

The NT intervention has been a disaster for Aboriginal communities.

Rather than “closing the gap”, government statistics show Indigenous incarceration rates have risen by almost 30%, school attendance is down in many places, suicide and self harm have increased and thousands of workers are being put onto Centrelink as Community Development Employment Projects close down.

There are growing crises in urban centres such as Alice Springs as large numbers of people move in from the bush.

The suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act to seize land, assets and authority has destroyed trust in government and many well-run programs. Much of the unprecedented investment of more than $1.5 billion has been wasted on government bureaucrats and contractors.

Alongside the intervention, the NT government has introduced policies guided by the same approach of paternalism and assimilation including dissolving Aboriginal community councils, effective cuts to homelands and smaller communities, and bans on
bilingual education.

There must be an urgent shift from punitive controls to measures that restore community control, rebuild Aboriginal initiative and capacity, and improve shocking living conditions.

This must start with the repeal of Northern Territory Emergency Response legislation and the clear application of the Racial Discrimination Act to all laws affecting Aboriginal communities.

The government must apologise for the pain and damage caused by the intervention.

Development must be based on commitment to land rights, self-determination and recognition of the unique strengths and circumstances of each community.

All policies relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must comply with the 46 Articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Australia now officially supports.

1. Restore community governance

Urgently rebuild Aboriginal community government councils. Restore decision-making power and administration of municipal services to these councils.

Transfer all assets seized by the shires to the Aboriginal councils and pay compensation for all other assets sold off by the shires.

Remove Government Business Managers installed by the intervention.

Repeal Business Management Area Powers, which grant the minister the capacity for total control over the budgets and direction of organisations receiving Commonwealth funding.

2. Increase government investment in ALL communities

Abandon the “hub towns” model.

Rapid improvements in education, housing, health and community services are required wherever Aboriginal people choose to live — in urban areas, remote communities and on homelands.

3. Jobs with justice

Create a new Aboriginal employment program to replace Community Development Employment Projects that have been gutted through recent reforms and are exploiting Aboriginal workers.

Jobs created must pay at least award wages, with rights to join unions and collectively bargain. The program must be administered by community-based organisations, with development needs and priorities set through broad community consultation.

All willing workers should be employed.

4. No to township leases

End compulsory 5-year leases over Aboriginal township land taken through the Intervention.

Stop pressuring communities to sign extensions on these leases.

Lift the requirement that 40-year leases are signed with the government before housing can be built.

Rescind all township leases signed since the Intervention began in 2007.

5. Housing for all

Return administration of housing stock from the NT Department of Housing to local Indigenous housing committees attached to the community councils.

Funds for housing construction and renovation currently going to the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program run by government and major construction firms must be redirected to the local committees.

Funds for new housing must be available to all communities and substandard SIHIP renovations reassessed for further needs. Employment on housing programs should involve 80% Aboriginal workers.

Train and employ a permanent housing maintenance team in every community.

6. Empowerment through education

Lift the ban on bilingual education and allow the expansion of bilingual programs in NT schools where requested.

Invest in training and employment of Aboriginal teachers and Aboriginal teachers’ aides and ensure they play a central role in curriculum development.

Provide resources and employment opportunities to enable schools to become important centres of culture and community life.

Invest in staff, infrastructure and equipment to ensure all remote Aboriginal schools have full time qualified teachers and enjoy the same resources per enrolled student as schools across Australia.

Stop punitive programs linking welfare payments to school attendance.

7. Abolish compulsory income management

Redirect funding from punitive welfare controls to community based programs. Lift incomes above the poverty line.

8. Community controlled social services

Fund early childhood programs, youth services, men’s programs and women's centres, with specific needs determined through the local councils.

9. Health

Implement the recommendations of the Health Impact Assessment by the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (2010), which recognises the importance of self-governance, housing, education and cultural respect in determining health outcomes.

Adequately fund health services in all communities. Consult with communities and health service providers to ensure programs are appropriate and not duplicated.

Support Aboriginal-managed health services. Fund and train Aboriginal health workers and Aboriginal liaison officers.

10. Non-discriminatory alcohol management

Repeal blanket alcohol bans in Aboriginal communities.

Provide resources to allow communities to develop local solutions to alcohol misuse that are driven by and appropriate to the needs of the community.

Resource culturally appropriate and accessible alcohol treatment programs in all communities.

Broader measures to empower communities, employ Aboriginal people in rewarding work and ensure delivery of basic services are crucial for dealing with problems associated with alcohol.

11. Justice not jail

End all discriminatory laws that have led to increased police harassment and incarceration of Aboriginal people. This includes race-based alcohol restrictions, the capacity to suspend the need for a warrant to enter premises on Aboriginal land, blanket pornography bans, stigmatising signage in Aboriginal communities, and local council by-laws in Alice Springs which target the homeless.

Repeal “star chamber” powers that suspend the right to silence for Australian Crime Commission investigations in Aboriginal communities.

Remove Northern Territory Emergency Response prohibitions on the consideration of Aboriginal customary law in bail and sentencing.

Recognise customary law as an important vehicle to empower communities to take responsibility for offending and improve community safety.

Endorsed by Aboriginal community leaders including: Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM (Galiwin’ku), Yananymul Mununggurr (Yirrkala), Barbara Shaw (Mt Nancy town camp), Bob Randall (Mutitjulu), Valerie Martin Napaljari (Warlpiri spokeswoman), Harry Nelson Jakamarra (Yuendumu), Peggy Brown Nampijimpa OAM (Yuendumu), John Leemans (Dagaragu), Geoffrey Barnes (Lajamanu), Imelda Palmer (Santa Teresa), Maxine Carlton and Donald Kunoth (Charles Creek), Warren H Williams (Ntaria/Hermannsburg), Gilbert Corbert (Murray Downs), June Mills (Darwin), Silverton family (Uruna Potara Homeland) and others from Yuendumu, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Kalkaringi and Lajamanu

Supported by organisations and supporters including: Intervention Rollback Action Group (Alice Springs), Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney, “concerned Australians”, the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), Tangentyere Council, Larrakia Nations, Lajamanu Progress Association, Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR national), National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission, Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning UTS (Research), Women’s Community Aid Association (Qld), Working Group for Aboriginal Rights (WGAR Canberra), Civil Liberties Australia, Walytja Indigenous community projects, Solidarity, Green Left Weekly, NT Greens, Hornsby Area Residents for Reconciliation, Lane Cove Residents for Reconciliation, Reconciliation Network: Northern Sydney, Indigenous Social Justice Association, Women’s House domestic violence service (Brisbane), Jeff McMullen, Ian Thorpe, Cr Irene Doutney (Sydney City Council), Bob and Helen White, Kerry McKenzie, Andrew Havas OAM, Frennie Beytagh.

[For information on how to support this statement visit http://rollbacktheintervention.wordpress.com and www.jumbunna.uts.edu.au ]


We really need this pretend...that things were really good before the intervention...how else could socialists whip up hysteria..
Rolling back reality. Rebuilding the Chaos, from the Ground Up: anti-Intervention groups call for a return to year zero in remote Aboriginal communities. (A version of this article also appears on, Alice online, The Drum, On Line Opinion, National Indigenous Times and Indymedia Australia.) By Bob Durnan. Winter is icumen in, here in central Australia; the car windows are filling with frost. The solstice is nigh. With the winter solstice, as in the three years just past, comes the anniversary  (1 ) of the announcement of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (2), and thus also the ritual gatherings of the anti-Intervention Shushers3 at street parades, and in other gatherings, endeavouring to defeat the NTER demons. Prominent amongst the Shushers – besides some Aboriginal leaders – are several sub-groups: some tediously dogmatic socialist fragments; the moralistic section of the greens, distinguishable by their emotive sloganeering about the Intervention; Foucauldian oppositionists (a determined band of anti-governmentalists, who recite obscure theoretical mantras); and the white rastafarians, who about this time of year are heading north on their annual pilgrimage to jamboree in the warm Arafura sun. Meanwhile, down at the Jumbunna House of Tweets (4), Shusher researchers are busy issuing new edicts. One such has come my way. It is titled Rebuilding from the Ground Up . It is a virtual manifesto of post-Intervention Shushism, and is bound to form the basis of much fervent shushing in the next few months. As proof of its status, Rebuilding’s demands “have been widely endorsed” by the Intervention Rollback Action Group (Alice Springs) (5), the Stop the Intervention Collective (Sydney) (6), ‘concerned Australians’ (7) (Melbourne), and unspecified “Aboriginal community leaders”. The content of the document signals a continuing commitment to naiveté about Aboriginal issues. It embodies the Shushers’ perennial romantic idealisation of Aboriginal society, but with freshly focussed anxiety about one of their central concerns: they must never contemplate or admit to any limitations or problems associated with slogans such as “community control”, “culturally appropriate” or “self-determination”. The first demand clearly illustrates the extent of the Shushers’ flight from reality: it advocates a return to the system of “community government councils” in the remote Aboriginal communities of the NT. It demands that we “Restore decision making power and administration of municipal services to these councils” – the same principle that three successive Aboriginal Ministers for Local Government under Clare Martin described as wholly dysfunctional. The present Shire system may be inadequate and needing reform, but a return to the bad old days of ever escalating social problems, chaos, corruption and waste in many communities does not readily recommend itself as a way forward for the residents of remote areas. The Shushers here display their incompetence as policy thinkers: they are amateurish in their response to this genuine crisis and its policy challenge. They clearly demonstrate this by their advocacy of a return to the very system that allowed twenty-five years or more of ruinous irresponsibility in many places, where non-accountability became the enabling mechanism for the creation of generations of grossly neglected children, dysfunctional families and early deaths. They also advocate the removal of the GBMs -General Business Managers (8) without any thought being given to ensuring an ongoing Federal Government presence. (One of the great benefits of the NTER has been its implementation of a new Australian Government commitment to guaranteeing the quality and co-ordinated delivery of government programs on the ground. The removal of this presence would be another giant leap backwards, comparable to the sudden, very premature withdrawal of Commonwealth public servants from remote NT communities in the late 1970s). The second major demand is that rivers of government money must flow to provide full services “wherever Aboriginal people choose to live”. This demand doesn’t broach the question of what equity principle might be operating here. Will other needy and vulnerable citizens (including Aboriginal workers, students and pensioners) support such an open-ended and costly policy? What evidence is there that the funding invested, in previous decades, in hundreds of now abandoned outstations was a wise investment? How does that investment compare to what might have been achieved if the money had been spent on other priorities, such as early childhood and parenting skills programs, and effective education? Would other impoverished citizens mind if their living standards suffer because a huge proportion of the Australian Government’s budget were to be absorbed providing a full range of services to single family outstations in extremely remote places? The enormous cost implications of this demand is compounded by demand number three, which wants good jobs created for everybody who wants one, wherever they want to live. This again is to be, presumably, via the government payroll, and regardless of the economic logic of the investment or productivity of the jobs, just so long as they are “under community control”. The approximate quantum of dollars needed to achieve this utopian ideal remains un-estimated here, as in all parts of this document. Demand number four goes further: it requires government to “Rescind all township leases signed since the Intervention began in 2007”. These township leases cover a tiny proportion of Aboriginal-owned land, way less than one per cent. Abolishing the leases would remove the township areas from any form of public ownership, and return the land to control by sectional interests, beyond the reach of the majority of residents, with its governance again not being subject to the principle of the “common good”. (In the process there would be a retreat from the possibility of creating some of those good jobs demanded in the previous demand). Demand number five requests another retrograde move: “Return administration of housing stock from the NT Department of Housing to local Indigenous housing committees attached to the community councils”. Large sums of money, great responsibilities, huge expectations, major risks, but, under this model, little accountability or capability, and no economy of scale, for the crucial task of managing, developing and maintaining social housing stock in the remote communities. Demand number six, concerning education, is not as silly as its precursors, and contains a number of sensible demands, but spoils the effect by finishing with a demand that the new pressure on parents to send their kids to school should be removed. Demand number seven mandates the removal of the widely popular and very useful compulsory Income Management program. This is to occur before many people become functional and strong enough to protect themselves and their vulnerable family members from the ubiquitous grog and cannabis fuelled humbugging, bullying, abuse and violence that necessitated the introduction of Income Management in the first place. Demand number eight is for greatly needed and easily justifiable services, such as “early childhood programs, youth services, men’s programs and women’s centres”, but advocates that they be placed under the direction of the dead hand of the departed, unlamented “local councils”. Demand number nine outlines sensible health services, and thankfully doesn’t require that they be subject to the wishes of “local councils”. Demand number ten effectively proposes that all questions relating to alcohol be left in the hands of “the community”, thus absolving governments of all responsibility for moderating the impact of this extremely serious problem that dominates daily life in many communities, and which destroys many people from most communities. It also includes the demand that the communities – no matter how small – have local alcohol treatment programs, regardless of the practicality, cost or need, for them. Last but not least, demand number eleven is for the government to “Recognise customary law as an important vehicle to empower communities to take responsibility for offending and improve community safety”. It fails to mention whether this recognition would include the sanctioning of the violent or deadly punishments which are common and integral parts of “customary law”. It may be more accurate for the Jumbunna House of Learning researchers and their supporters to consider renaming their document “Rolling back reality”. The proposals as they stand could never be funded. They fail to take into account individual community needs and desires. They demand full community control, but make no mention of financial realities, accountabilities and responsibilities. Most importantly, they overlook the everyday reality of very high levels of violence in many communities; violence being used casually in too many inter-personal relationships; extraordinarily excessive consumption of alcohol and cannabis by many people in many places; untenable levels of child neglect; and the implications for the weak and vulnerable if there is a return to control by the most powerful in some of these remote places. The real pity of this is that the more Jumbunna, IRAG, WGAR, STICS, GLW et al promote this “rights-driven” approach, the more confusing and debilitating it all becomes for Aboriginal people in remote communities. The modus operandi of many in these protest groups is to turn up wide eyed at meetings or communities, take at face value whatever they are told by whatever Aboriginal people are willing to talk to them, and then regurgitate whatever parts of it fit their own utopian ideals, as legitimate demands of the people. Seemingly on principle they refuse to factor in things like the possible good faith or policy logic of government programs. They also ignore such small considerations as past policy and program failures, very poor track records of some of those making the utopian demands, and the urgency of addressing issues such as endemic violence, child neglect and substance abuse, let alone the need to prioritise spending. They thus encourage Aboriginal people to make impossible demands on government, and enter into delusional assumptions about what is just, reasonable and logical. In the process, the chances of governments being able to engage in productive and realistic dialogue and negotiations with local Aboriginal populations are often greatly diminished. This means we all lose; but in particular, it is Aboriginal people who lose when policy development and advocacy are conducted in such a chaotic manner.   Footnotes: (1) Announced on 21st June 2007 (2 ) NTER, aka ‘the Intervention’ (3 ) Shushers: those who believe that all native peoples are ultimately innocents; refuse to admit seeing wrong doing when it occurs; decline to hold people responsible for any bad behaviours; avoid speaking critically to, and/or object to hearing criticism of, Indigenous people. (4 ) Jumbunna House of Tweets: The Shushers’ spiritual home at the University of Technology in Sydney (UTS) (5) Aka IRAG (6 ) Aka STICS (7)  Alastair Nicholson, George Newhouse, Jon Altman, Malcolm Fraser et al 8 Government Business Managers, employed by FaHCSIA and placed in many remote communities to ensure the implementation of Australian Government programs and policies to assist Indigenous people ( from "Alice online" 8/6/2011 with authors permission. Arthur Bell.)
Not being Australian, it interesting to be kept to to date with issues on issues such as the intervention. The ranting comments underline how deep rooted racism is Australia. White Australia gave us Murdoch, whose scurrilous activities and morality are being exposed in the UK at present, despite having the British PM, in his pocket, I suppose it should not be surprising.

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