Consultations whitewash Intervention’s failure

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin has used sham consultations with Aboriginal communities to announce an extension of the failed NT Intervention beyond the current legislation’s “sunset clause” of July 2012.

The entire process of consultations was designed to whitewash the deep pain and anger felt in NT communities ripped apart by the Intervention. They were based on a discussion paper, Stronger Futures, which made it clear the agenda of the Intervention was not up for negotiation.

Macklin wants more of the same punishment policy.

Results from the government’s own Closing the Gap in the NT Monitoring Report, released in October, show an 108 per cent surge in incidents of attempted suicide and self-harm since the Intervention began. In a clear echo of the paternalism of the past, child removal rates have increased 40 per cent. The NT Department of Justice has also reported a similar 40 per cent increase in Indigenous incarceration.

Communities are hurting because of the federal and NT government’s restriction of resources to a handful of “growth towns”. This policy has no Aboriginal support, but it was excluded from discussion in the consultations.

Amnesty International chief Salil Shetty visited homelands in the Utopia region in October. He condemned the “growth towns” policy and described the third world living conditions at Utopia as “devastating”.

Community leader Rosalie Kunoth Monks told Mr Shetty: “It’s not that they’re coming here with bulldozers or getting the army to move us, it’s that they’re trying to starve us out of our home… if it’s not ethnic cleansing please let me know what it is.”

The consultations report acknowledges that Aboriginal people want jobs in their own communities. But it fails to mention thousands of waged employment jobs have been lost as the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) close down. The government is committed to pushing 2000 people who remain on CDEP wages onto the dole from April next year.

Macklin also announced the expansion of the School Enrolment and Attendance Through Welfare Reform Measure (SEAM). Under SEAM, parents whose children do not attend school can be cut off Centrelink benefits for up to 13 weeks.

The consultation report claims that “most respondents” support cutting welfare payments as a way of improving school attendance. But many community representatives say they weren’t even asked about the policy. The report fails to acknowledge the deep community opposition to the bans on bilingual education imposed by the NT government in 2008.

When it was raised, government officials running the consultations presented welfare cuts as the only concrete policy available to improve school attendance.

There has been a decrease in school attendance and there are now less Aboriginal staff working in schools since the Intervention.

Remote schools badly need resources, funding for local staff and local control over curriculum and school policy.

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said even senior Education Department officials had acknowledged the failure of SEAM in six communities where it has been trialed since 2009, saying, “We were clearly told… that punitive programs such as the school enrolment and attendance through welfare reform measure cannot be linked to better education outcomes in communities”.

Paddy Gibson

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