The cracks in the NT Intervention project can be clearly seen in the pages of the Intervention’s urger—The Australian newspaper. The Weekend Australian August 15-16 devoted seven pages to exposing the plight of desperately poor Aboriginal people still waiting for a single house after two years under the Intervention.
The Australian hopes that by loudly condemning the bureaucratic failures of the Intervention, they can inject some credibility back into the project.
But they and Minister Jenny Macklin are on the back foot.
Firstly there is the mounting pressure on Aboriginal politicians and leaders from their constituents whose lives are wrecked by Intervention policies.
NT Aboriginal leader, Galarrwuy Yunupingu, used his speech at Arnhem Land’s Garma Festival to break from his previous support for the Intervention. A new regional council also declared its opposition to the Intervention.
Secondly, anti-Intervention campaigners have managed to turn Macklin’s threatened takeover of the Alice Springs town camps into a nightmare for the federal government.
Pro-Intervention forces splinter
On August 4 NT Indigenous Affairs Minister Alison Anderson brought the NT government to the brink of collapse. It was completely opportunistic, but Anderson, an ardent Intervention supporter and advocate of the neoliberal fantasy of Aboriginal home-ownership, was pushed to resign by the dramatic exposure that the $680 million Strategic Indigenous Housing Program (SIHIP) had not built even one house in two years.
Under SIHIP, funding is denied for any but the 20 government-nominated “viable” Aboriginal communities in remote Australia. Even then housing is only promised to communities which sign 40-80 year leases. It is straight out blackmail.
But, Tennant Creek residents discovered, signing a lease does not mean houses. The community has now been told that the most they will get is refurbishment of some existing houses.
The Australian is calling for new crack teams of bureaucrats from Canberra to “crash through” the red tape of the NT government. But the real solution is to immediately pay locally controlled organisations to build the kind of housing the communities need.
On the opening day of the ALP National Conference on July 30, the anti-Intervention campaign published a statement in The Australian opposing the takeover of the Alice Springs town camps and defending the Tangentyere Council.
The campaign raised $10,000 to publish the statement which was supported by a range of prominent individuals including Pat Dodson and Ian Thorpe, and organisations such as ANTaR, Unions SA and the CFMEU.
The statement coincided with a strident lobby held outside the ALP conference organised by the Stop the Intervention Collective.
The previous day, Macklin had tried to regain some initiative for the Intervention by (erroneously) claiming that Tangentyere Council had signed a 40-year lease. Rather than a media coup, however, her announcement led to an avalanche of media reports condemning the takeover as an act of government blackmail.
In another blow to Macklin, 13 town camp residents have gained a temporary Federal Court injunction to halt the takeover. The final court hearing, on August 28, may find that Macklin has not consulted adequately and must give residents another 60-days notice before takeover. This would be another blow to the credibility of the Intervention, but it will not be a knock out punch. Macklin could still try to gain control of the camps before her planned reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act.
However, the lies, the discrimination and racism at the heart of the Intervention are becoming more obvious.
Macklin may re-instate the Racial Discrimination Act, but the reality of the Intervention has already been exposed. And more legal wrangles will give the government more headaches.
Meanwhile the walk-off protest at Ampilatwatja (see box) has given a new focus for opposition to the Intervention.
By Jean Parker