The Review Report

October 15, 2008

It’s out.

I haven’t got anything to say, because I haven’t finished reading it yet.

The Review

October 4, 2008

The NTER Review Board  passed its report to the Federal Government on Tuesday.  Views were solicited rom all the communities affected by the intervention and an additional 218 submissions were received.  The full list is here and they will be made available over the next few weeks.  Here are a few samples,

Edmund rice Centre

NT Govt

Reconciliation Australia


Indigineous Doctors Association


Human Rights and Resource Law Centre


Tangentyere Council

There aren’t too many surprises in the submissions with a wealth of criticism over poor planning, poorly thought out goals and a focus on extraneous matters at the expense of widely acknowledged and crucial issues, such as housing.  What is less clear is what the Federal Govt’s response will be.

Watch this space.


September 25, 2008

I was having chat with someone involved in the dental therapy aspect of the intervention.  I was quite impressed at the numbers of kids that they have managed to see – around 2000.  I remarked that they must have pulled a lot of teeth.  I shouldn’t be surprised by anything at this stage, but nevertheless I was by the response.  Very few teeth have been pulled, not because my take on dental therapy was quite crude, but because they weren’t offering treatment, but were doing follow-up checks on the referrals from the child health checks.  Of the 2000 children seen, only 16 received treatment at that point.

Of course, many of these were to be referred on (again) to hospital for their dental treatment, but the sheer stupidity in not resourcing this to provide treatment at that point, is astounding.

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.

Safe Houses

June 18, 2008

In theory a fine idea and one of the many that sprang forth from the NTER. There are now 12 remote communities with safe houses that are to serve as either a shelter for women or a “cooling off” space for men. This ABC News report makes clear the kind of uncertainty surrounding what appears to be a fairly straight-forward plan,

Malcolm Wall, the chief executive of the Yuendumu community, says he does not think men will choose to go to the safe house voluntarily.

“I think that’s probably where there’s going to be an issue because night patrol isn’t going to be able to grab these people and restrain them, maybe police will be able to use these facilities, I really don’t know,” he said.

Not that the idea is anything new. And if past lessons were learned, a good deal more thought may have gone into it, than just throwing down a bunch of shipping containers.

Once upon a time, in a remote community of Arnhem Land there was a domestic violence problem (and still is). Surely a ‘safe house’ would be just the trick, just like they have down south? Safe House was made. Safe House was very safe – no one ever went in it.

Some bright spark thought that they should talk to the locals and find out why, despite a real domestic violence problem, no one ever used the safe house. What they found, was that people viewed their social and family contacts, supports and networks as an indicator of competence in daily life. If you had a problem, it was these networks that you leant on, making use of the obligations that others owe you. The only reason that someone would go to the safe house would be if they lacked these networks of ties and obligations. In would be an admission of social and familial destitution.

More Housing

May 22, 2008

The planned bipartisan Indigenous Housing Policy Commission is bipartisan no more. Federal Opposition leader Brendan Nelson has declined to be the co-chair of the Commission after one (only one) of his nominees for the Commission – Mal Brough – was rejected. The reason given was that the Govt. didn’t want politicians appointed to the Commission.

I’ve an even better reason for finding Brough entirely unsuitable – his conflict of interest. It’s wasn’t enough for him to walk out of his Indigenous Ministerial role straight into one of private business man looking to earn in a quid in indigenous housing projects, he now wants to simultaneously serve on what will be the pre-eminent policy making body for indigenous housing!

Clue meter reading – zero.


May 21, 2008

The Intervention hasn’t been front page news for some time (besides the odd hiccup), but things have been quietly ticking over behind the natural disasters and scandals of the headlines.

The Intervention is in 3 phases, and we are currently in all three. Phase 1, the child health checks, are still going on, for reasons which remain unclear to me. Phase 2, the health ‘blitzes’, particularly for ENT surgery, are happening, and the planning for Phase 3, the permanent enhancement of health services, is underway.

The abolition of permits to enter Aboriginal Land has itself been abolished.

Welfare Quarantining
Has hit it’s first, very much expected, hurdle, and is being revised. Having found that the store cards were being traded for cash, the Govt has announced that it will phase out the store cards and introduce debit cards.

Slow but steady progress in being made. As pat of the intervention, house ‘surveys’ are currently being conducted. The surveys are identifying urgent work that is needed to be done to ensure that houses are safe to live in.
The NT and Federal Govt’s have come to some basic understandings on funding and objectives for housing. There is a new program, the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) which has a $647 m budget for the next 3 years. He plan is to build 750 new homes, demolish and replace 250 and refurbish a further 2500. The stated aim is to reduce the average occupancy rate to 2 people per bedroom. Not 2 per house, 2 per bedroom. It’s currently a bit higher than that. This isn’t enough funding to achieve the stated aim, so one objective of the program is to achieve significant reductions in building costs. Other than through economies of scale it doesn’t say how it will achieve this. By my reckoning, the cost savings will need to be in the region of 50%, which is highly unlikely.

Health Services
Phase 2, providing the follow-up services identified as required in Phase 1, is facing workforce problems. Dentists are hard to come by. In one central Arnhem Land community where Phase 2 services are meant to begin in a few weeks, the doctor shortage is such that the doctors from the Clinic have been approached to help out. Kind of defeats the purpose.
Looking to Phase 3, the boosting of Primary Health Care services across the NT, the Federal Govt has just called for tenders to establish the Remote Health Corps Agency. This will be the organisation/group charged with the weighty responsibility of finding all the extra health staff required to expand services. The unwise idea of looking for short-term appointees (fancy a holiday in the desert?) still seems to be a core strategy. $100 million has been allocated for these services over the next 2 years and the NT Govt, DoHA and AMSANT are working on basic criteria to ensure a conssitent and workable approach to distributing these services across the NT.

The Intervention has certainly changed significantly since June last year. Some of the pointless aspects have been jettisoned though a combination of common sense and a change of government, while some significant funding commitments, that were originally excluded, are now coming front and centre.

Can You Believe This?

February 11, 2008

I was over on the Tiwi Islands a few weeks back and people told me that Mal Brough had been in town (Nguiu). I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, while I had no doubt that it was true, I had no idea what he was doing there.


However, today the ABC has confirmed the reports and revealed what the ex-Minister for Indigenous Affairs is up to these days.

I almost choked on this bit,

Mr Clancy [Tiwi Land Council] says Mal Brough is set to profit from the project [housing], but says Tiwi Islanders will also benefit.


Sure, an ex-pollie has gotta make a crust, but this is unethical. Some countries have business appointment laws that prevent ex-Govt ministers and officials moving from their publicly funded positions into private industry that is directly related to their areas of former responsibility.  How do we know that Mal wasn’t positioning himself (and Govt policy) for this as he saw defeat for the Coalition looming on the horizon?  He probably didn’t, but we don’t know.  What is clear is that he is about to profit from laws and policies that he, as the Minister, had a role in formulating and implementing only 3 months ago.  There has been plenty of opposition to the idea of David Hicks profiting from his recent past, but as a matter of ethics and public policy, this is a far more serious matter.


We need similar business appointment laws here, ones that cover former-Ministers as well as public servants.


January 18, 2008

Here’s very brief wrap-up of events over the Christmas – New Year period. 

As predicted, the ineffectual NIC was allowed to fade into history. 

COAG announced an extra $49.3 million for alcohol treatment and addiction services, which has been welcomed  by NACCHO , along with commitments to reduce the gap in live expectancy and educational outcomes. Some have noted that this will require significant funding to succeed.  

The Rudd Govt will apologise to the Stolen Generation but will not offer financial compensation. Indigenous Territory MLA, Marion Scrymgour, publicly backed this stance. 

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin, announced that the welfare quarantining would continue to roll out across the Territory, but that the abolition of the permit system on ALRA lands would be reversed.  Though it isn’t clear how this will be achieved as the legislative mechanisms but in place by the previous Federal Govt grind on towards the automatic abolition of the permit system, due to occur on February 19.  Marion Scrymgour has backed an elective system of permits, which is sensible.  This is what makes the intervention so bizarre.  Under the ARLA, as it was, communities always had the ability to waive the need for permits. 

The mostly useless child health checks will recommence in a few weeks time in Top End communities.  How the necessary follow up will be delivered remains the subject of much speculation.