Racist Intervention dismantled by anthology

'‬The Intervention was like Australia declaring war on us.'
Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Intervention:‭ ‬An Anthology
Edited By Rosie Scott‭ & ‬Anita Heiss
Concerned Australians,‭ ‬2015
$25

‭“‬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 [‬2013‭] ‬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”‬.

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