The Intervention: An Anthology
Edited By Rosie Scott & Anita Heiss
Concerned Australians, 2015
“The Intervention to us was like Australia declaring war on us and in the process they demonised and dehumanised Aboriginal men, women and children,” says Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, Aboriginal elder and 2015 Northern Territory Australian of the Year.
June 21 marked eight years since the introduction by the Howard government of one of Australia's most racist policies — the Northern Territory National Emergency Response package — otherwise known as the NT Intervention.
In 2012, the Intervention was renamed "Stronger Futures" by the Gillard Labor government. It was redesigned to impinge further on the human rights of remote NT Aboriginal communities for another decade.
The Intervention: An Anthology is a devastating expose of the realities of the Intervention as it affects the Aboriginal people of the NT. Edited by award-winning authors Rosie Scott and Dr Anita Heiss, the anthology includes statements by Aboriginal elders, poetry, commentary, fiction and non-fiction contributions from a wide variety of writers.
Author Anna Funder describes the book as: “A powerful collection of views from Aboriginal Elders, experts, lawyers and some of the nation's finest writers. And an indispensable contribution to the urgent question of the wellbeing and dignity of Aboriginal Australians.”
At a book launch in Redfern in July, Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs, who had been vilified by the Abbott government for exposing cruelty to asylum seekers, praised the book.
In her introduction, Scott explains that in June 2007, little more than a week after the tabling of the Little Children Are Sacred report into alleged child sexual abuse in NT Aboriginal communities, “the Howard government staged a massive military and police Emergency Response costing $587 million, as outlined in the NT Emergency Response Act.
“This Act prescribed a number of drastic measures which appeared strangely irrelevant to their stated aim of combating child abuse. Some of these measures contravened the Racial Discrimination Act and several revolved around land use. Nowhere in this very extensive legislation was there any significant mention of a child or children.
"Since then there had been little or no change in the figures of child sexual offending in the Northern Territory.”
The practical consequences of the Intervention are revealed in a number of chapters by NT Aboriginal residents. For example, Rachel Willika, who lives in the Eva Valley community, explains: “The permit system [removed under the Intervention] made me feel safe. People could only enter the community with the permission of the traditional owners, so we knew who was coming in.
“Anybody can come in now. We don't like to have strangers come in. They might bring drugs and alcohol, and we don't want that.”
Yingiya Mark Guyulla, from East Arnhem Land, says: “Quarantining of Centrelink payments [an Intervention measure] should be optional and not compulsory ...
“Mapuru homeland has a co-op store which won a national award for selling healthy food. Centrelink won't approve it to accept quarantined money. This means an aircraft charter flight from the mainland homeland at Mapuru to the closest shop on Elcho Island costs $560 return. This means it's costing $560 return flight just to buy $150 worth of food. Where's the sense in that?”
The Intervention has related effects within NT government policies. Guyulla explains: “There are about forty children who willingly run to school every day at Mapuru homeland because it's their home and they feel secure. Yet the NT government wants to close down the homeland schools and bring everyone in to the major communities.”
Academic and writer Larissa Behrendt notes: “Heavy-handed, top-down interventions such as enforced prohibitions have never proved effective in the black or white community. Apart from the protocols and niceties, the research clearly shows that the most effective way to develop policies and implement programs in Indigenous communities is to have those communities integrally involved in them.
“In the lead-up to the  election, Access Economics estimated that Indigenous health needs were under-funded by $450 million. Aboriginal housing needs in the Northern Territory have been under-funded by approximately $2 billion. Yet nothing in the Intervention package seeks to address these underlying issues of disadvantage.”
Addressing the question of the alleged purpose of the Intervention in improving the lives of Aboriginal women in the NT, lawyer and academic Nicole Watson explains: “There is little evidence to suggest that Aboriginal women are any safer as a result of those measures. Yet they have been deprived of a myriad of rights, so that the state's longstanding imperative to control Aboriginal women is fulfilled.”
Journalist Jeff McMullen warns: “Visiting many of the remote communities now in danger, it is clear to us that as Intervention-style social engineering gathers momentum, traditional culture and attachment to country are facing a grave threat ...
“As the lands of the First Peoples and especially the smaller remote communities are endangered around the nation, only a renewed awakening and a unified, powerful resistance can halt this gouging of country.”
The final chapter, “Stronger Futures” by the Yolgnu Makart Dhuni, says: “We want self-determination. We want democracy. We want the power of the people in Arnhem Land and in all Aboriginal communities to be recognised and our rights respected.
“We want the Intervention to be thrown out and we want the Northern Territory government to lobby the federal government on our behalf.
“The federal government must start to listen to the voices on the ground. No more deception, no more lies, we want the Intervention out now and self-determination to be taken seriously.”
As Scott's introduction says, this anthology is “essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what lies behind this passionate opposition”.