The NT Response

We finally have the NT Governments’ response to the ‘Little Children Are Sacred‘ (LCAS) report which was released on Monday. For speediness of response it comes a poor second to the Federal Government, but the NTG had always said it would release its’ detailed response in August. At a glance it has several things going for it. For one, it actually addresses the recommendations of the LCAS report. The NTG has addressed, on paper at least, each of the 97 recommendations. That’s 97 more than the Howard/Brough plan. The NTG also wins some points for the bench-marking it has undertaken and the source it used to do this. The benchmarks are taken from ‘Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage (2007)‘, produced 2 yearly by the Commonwealth’s own Productivity Commission. The Federal response has been noteworthy for completely ignoring this very useful source of information on disadvantage and its’ advice on how best to tackle the issue. The NTG response also sets goals for the long-term, setting targets within a realistic time frame of 20 years, forgoing the normal government routine of thinking little past the 3-4 year election cycle.

But it’s the detail that matters.

The biggest minus is the scale of the NT response. Chief minister Claire Martin has made much of the $280 million price-tag, but that is over 5 years and is overwhelmed by the scale of the issues it attempts to address. On housing, ‘Closing the Gap’ promises another $42 million on top of the $100 million pledged in the NT budget. But as the report acknowledges, the need is in the order of $1.5 billion, or roughly 200 new houses per year, for the next 20 years. Worse still, the $42 million is for housing for new NTG staff, not for Aboriginal people in remote communities. The report can only suggest that the NTG hopes for 50% of the $1.6 billion ARIA program (which is itself deeply problematic) that the Commonwealth has proposed.

On specific child protection measures, the NTG is proposing to increase both child protection worker, and family violence worker numbers, 10 and 26 respectively, 40 additional police and extra FACS staff of an indeterminate nature. This tallies up to $79 million. The Federal Govt. promised $14.1 million for extra child protection workers in the NT, but it isn’t clear if the NTG has included this in its’ response, or if that will be in addition to the $79 million. Policing of new alcohol regulations will be in the hands of another 8 “alcohol compliance inspectors“. There will be 4, yes four, “specialist alcohol rehabilitation workers “. They’ll be busy. While this is a better response than that offered by the Commonwealth, both are vastly undervaluing the role to be played by assisting chronic drinkers to deal with their addiction, as opposed to either locking them up or simply restricting access to alcohol (both which have some part to play).

Education gets 47 new teachers/teacher aids, 15 new classrooms, but nothing specific to address the chronic shortage of high schools in remote communities. There are 6 new “mobile preschools” and 21 teachers, which I suspect is nowhere near enough. I was just in Wadeye (Port Keats) where there is one preschool (2 teachers) for 80 enrolled pre-schoolers, out of a possible 150. Wadeye alone (one of 70 communities) could absorb a significant portion of the new positions.

Ten million has been allocated to transitioning some CDEP workers to proper paid positions within the NT Public Service. Thank God!, but it’s not enough. This is one of my pet peeves about CDEP. It was used to employ people to do real work (eg. teachers, AHWs), but only paid them what was essentially welfare money. Unfortunately, many other people doing work for which they should receive proper pay will be shifted over to work-for-the-dole and STEP. A pitiful $2 million is for “Indigenous economic development initiatives“. Who are they trying to kid?

There’s plenty more detail, but those are the basics.

Overall, it does well in actually addressing the LCAS report that prompted it, but fails to meet the scale of the problem. That is hardly surprising given the overall size of he NT economy, which is why Clare Martin had approached Mal Brough over a year ago asking for a combined Territory/ Federal Govt intensive response to the problems on remote communities. Which was completely rebuffed by the way. Given Broughs’ comments on ‘Closing the Gap’, the NTG shouldn’t be counting on too much Commonwealth support to achieve its long term aims of addressing Indigenous disadvantage.

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