Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Having Their Say.

August 21, 2008

It’s not often we get more than anecdotes  about what Indigenous people think of the intervention, so here’s a refreshing change from the Central Land Council, which shows some interesting results.

The review of the intervention has begun.  Remote Community Councils (now Shires) have had questionnaires distributed to them so that they can put in their 5 cents.  I don’t think that the CLC survey will stand out from them.

Sexual Abuse

June 23, 2008

After the initial claims of an “epidemic” of child sex abuse, the reality has been somewhat less dramatic. There have been 3 convictions, and on the high profile claims about Mutijulu,

“The Northern Territory’s police commissioner has revealed that no evidence has been found to substantiate allegations of sexual abuse in the communities of Mutijulu or Nhulunbuy.”

Another enlightening snippet that makes me wonder about the naivety of some people. We have the NT Police Commissioner wondering how 13 and 14 yr olds know about sex,

“But predominantly I’m talking around 12, 13, 14 years of age. Now they’ve learned that somehow. That seems to be a lot of the work of the child abuse task force and we probably see more of that than we see of adult-child sex abuse.”


“We know of instances where sexualised behaviour has occurred in young kids, under the age of 10 years,” he said.”

Here’s a hint – overcrowded living conditions, where a family to a bedroom is fairly common. The worst case I know of is 40+ people living in one Wadeye (Pt Keats) house. Anyway, when it’s a family to a bedroom, children at a very young age are exposed to sexual activity- that of their parents.

What Now?

November 28, 2007

The demise of the Coalition Government will have an impact on the nature of the NT intervention. For the better, in my, and many others, opinion.

Based on Labor’s public comments and commitments we can expect the following;

  • CDEP will continue and increase in scope much to the relief of many community organisations
  • the permit system will not be revoked for remote communities

What other alterations may occur are unknown, but here are my best guesses,

  • the compulsory acquisition of communities for 5 years will be abandoned
  • government business managers will be phased out
  • the quarantining of welfare payments will no longer apply to everyone but will be implemented on a case-by-case basis with a right to appeal.
  • SBS will not be banned in the NT.

Generally in Indigenous affairs, we can expect;

  • a new elected national Indigenous body (bye-bye to the Govt appointed and ineffectual NIC)
  • a more consultative and considered approachbut also an outcome orientated approach
  • a shake-up at the Office of Indigenous Policy Co-ordination (which can’t) and the Indigenous Co-ordination Centres (which don’t).


And what an appropriate place for the former Minister, Mal Brough. His time as Minister was meteoric – short and spectacular. While his loss in his own electorate of Longman almost certainly had nothing to do with the NTER, as Chris Graham (Editor of NIT) noted at Crikey (thanks Club Troppo ), there was a voter assessment of the intervention in the seat of Lingiari which covers all the affected communities. It seems that remote communities weren’t as enthusiastic for the intervention as Mr Brough was. There weren’t big changes, but most of the swings in remote polling booths were towards rather than away from Labor. One interesting result was from Oenpelli in Western Arnhem land, where the CLP managed an amazing 14 votes out of the 699 cast. The Greens beat them with 21.


August 17, 2007

I was chatting with a colleague the other day about the ’emergency’ .  Besides lamenting the craziness of the welfare ‘reforms’ (he is a long term child protection worker who understands the massive task Centrelink has been set), he raised the issue of the general conundrum posed by these measures: do you try to work with an obviously flawed and ill-conceived plan, or keep well away to avoid being tarred by association and lumbered with the Sisyphean task of trying to make it work? 

I tend towards the former, both in moments of bright optimism and despair.  Afterall, we have a responsibility to work with people to improve their lives.  Sitting back and watching the chaos doesn’t seem like a good option. But that is tempered by the Governments extreme reluctance to engage and consult meaningfully with the people who will be affected and its rejection of critical opinions.   

The Score-Card

July 1, 2007

The PM outlined a range of actions that had to be implemented in response to our “national emergency”. The full press conference is here, and it’s something I’ll be returning to frequently.

Let’s look at each of them and see how they are faring 8 days post-launch.

1. “Firstly in relation to alcohol the intention is to introduce widespread alcohol restrictions on Northern Territory Aboriginal land for six months. We’ll ban the sale, the possession, the transportation, the consumption and (introduce the) broader monitoring of take away sales across the Northern Territory.”

So far, nothing. Part of the problem is that the vast majority of Aboriginal communities in the NT already ban the sale and consumption of alcohol. Others have community ‘clubs’, that have strict constraints on opening hours and usually prohibit the sale of ‘takeaways’. So what are they proposing? The problem seems to be that they don’t actually know themselves. It just sounded like a good idea at the time.

Score: 0

2.” We will provide the resources and we’ll be appealing directly to the Australian Medical Association to assist. We will bear the cost of medical examinations of all indigenous children in the Northern Territory under the age of 16 and we’ll provide the resources to deal with any follow up medical treatment that will be needed”

As anyone how knows anything about the issues knew, this one was DOA (dead on announcement).

It was left to Tony Abbot to perform the public execution,

“They’re not going to be compulsory in the sense that a random breath test is compulsory”

Or, in other words, they are not going to be compulsory in the sense that they are compulsory.

Score: 0

3. ” We’re going to introduce a series of welfare reforms designed to stem the flow of cash going towards alcohol abuse and to ensure that the funds meant to be used for children’s welfare are actually used for that purpose. The principal approach here will be to quarantine as from now through Centrelink, to be supported by legislation, 50 per cent of welfare payments to parents of children in the affected areas”

This will require legislation, which is simple enough, and likely to be carried out. The efficacy of such measures in isolation, however, is highly dubious.

Score: 1

4. “We’re going to enforce school attendance by linking income support and family assistance payments to school attendance for all people living on Aboriginal land. We’ll be ensuring that meals are provided for children at school with parents paying for the meals”

The latter already happens at many remote schools. A practical problematic outcome might be that a child not attending school will not get the school meal, and as well, the parents will lose their family assistance payment, meaning their will also be less food at home for that child. A punative approach that is most likely to negatively impact on the child it is meant to help. Doable, if unwise, but let’s assume it will happen.

Score: 1

5. “The Commonwealth Government will take control of townships through five year leases to ensure that property and public housing can be improved and if that involves the payment of compensation on just terms as required by the Commonwealth Constitution then that compensation will be readily paid.”

A longstanding ideological goal, but entirely within the Commonwealths powers to implement. Will require amendments to the NT Aboriginal Land Rights act, which can be passed given the Governments’ control of the Senate.

Score: 1

6. “We will scrap the permit system for common areas and road corridors on Aboriginal lands.”

Another longstanding ideological goal. Certain elements of the conservation political sphere have long loathed the permit system. Totally irrelevant, therefore at the top of the agenda.

Score: 1

7. “We’re going to ban the possession of x-rated pornography in the proscribed areas and we’re going to check all publicly funded computers for evidence of the storage of pornography.”

Sounds great, again is doable, at least from the symbolic standpoint, but in practice probably of little consequence, unless house-to-house searches are to be conducted for these items of contraband.

Score: 1

8. “Law and order will be a central focus of the measures I’ve announced. There will be an immediate increase in policing levels, they’re manifestly inadequate. The existing laws even with their shortcomings are not being adequately enforced”

The Chairman appointed by the Govt doesn’t seem overly optimistic of the actual results of these moves, but it’s being done anyway.

“There’s very grave doubt by myself that you’ll get a lot of prosecutions up because that’s normal and that’s what I’ve found in Western Australia,” she said.

Score: 1

9. “And there are two other very important actions. Next Thursday there’ll be a meeting of the intergovernmental committee on the Australian Crime Commission to formally, and at that meeting, I’m sorry, our Minister will ask the ministerial council to formally refer this issue to the Australian Crime Commission to allow the crime commission to locate and identify perpetrators of sexual abuse of indigenous children in other areas of Australia”

Given the statement by Sue Gordan above, the ACC will have little to do.

Score: 1

So that’s a score of 7/9, on the very generous criteria that actions not yet implemented, but likely to be, are counted, and that those that will, but shouldn’t be, are also included.

Remove the generous criteria and it’s 2/7, which is a pretty fair grade for this piece of knee-jerk reactionism.

The real measure of the sheer incompetence of the response at this point, is that the report that led to these measures has 97 very clear and significant recommendations, most of which have been ignored so far, and many of which suggest an approach that is the direct opposite of the Commonwealths’ Emergency Taskforce .

How the Hell Did We Get Here? 1

June 30, 2007

A long time ago a ship set sail from……OK, I won’t go quite that far back. But it is a pertinent question. How the hell did we reach this point of a knee-jerk response to well-known, extensively detailed, chronic problems in remote Aboriginal communities?

As well as looking at Australia’s recent history in it’s relations with its Indigenous citizens, we’ll see if the Taskforce can take the great leap from ill-conceived, incoherent political opportunism to a rational long-term plan incorporating approaches that most experienced observers agree on.

The hope that I desperately cling to, is that the Federal Government has committed itself so strongly and publicly, that this will create a momentum that precludes a return to business-as-usual, when the dust settles.