The federal government’s “Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory” monitoring report, released quietly in October, provides damning evidence of the failure of the NT Intervention.
It compares statistics pre and post Intervention. As Jon Altman, Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the ANU summarised, “things have actually gotten worse.”
“Child health care referrals are down, reported child malnutrition is up despite the 85 licensed stores, the 15,000 BasicsCards and the $200 million income managed.”
School attendance rates have slightly dropped (to 62 per cent) since 2007.
Alcohol related offences are up 34 per cent and substance abuse incidents increased by 77 per cent. Domestic violence incidents and breaches of domestic violence orders have also increased.
Another government report, on Intervention consultations (see opposite page), confirmed that alcohol controls had led to, “dangerous drinking outside town boundaries, increased road accidents and personal injury due to unsafe drinking practices and deterioration in relations between community and the police.”
From November 1-2, at least 162 residents and visitors in the Alice Springs town camps were taken into custody for alcohol possession and related offences.
ABS data also released in November showed that the Indigenous imprisonment rate for women in the NT had jumped by a massive 49 per cent since 2006, and by 20 per cent for men.
Compulsory 5-year leases over Aboriginal land were supposed to, “cut through red tape and get housing and infrastructure built quickly.” But so far there is not a single new house for Aboriginal people anywhere in the NT.
The NT government announced last month that repairs and refurbishments under the SIHIP Intervention housing program would be slashed by two thirds. $60 million of the $672 million dollar program has already been squandered on administration costs.
The Weekend Australian also reported in November that more than $2 billion granted to the NT government for Indigenous services over the past five years had been redirected, or left unspent.
No new houses will be built until communities sign 40-year leases over their land. And despite chronic overcrowding everywhere, only 20 out of several hundred remote communities will receive any new housing.
Some communities coerced into signing long-term leases have been left in desperate need. The Julalikari Council in Tennant Creek says it needs 280 new houses to relieve overcrowding for town camp residents.
But after signing a 40-year lease in August 2007, residents were told none of the 20 new houses promised would be delivered.
Pushing forward with failure
Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Kahn, on a visit to prescribed communities in Central Australia declared, “such a level of poverty is inexcusable, unexpected and unacceptable.” But Macklin is determined to drive failure through to the bitter end.
$340 million will be put towards rolling the failed Income Management system out across the NT. But under the government’s new policy of concentrating funds into 20 “hub towns”, there are no increases in funding for basic services in remote communities.
The Intervention is in tatters. What is sorely missing is a co-ordinated response from supporters of Aboriginal rights. Turning around the shocking statistics across Australia—from Aboriginal health, housing, education to deaths in custody—requires political confrontation with the assimilationist agenda of the Intervention. We need to re-establish the rights agenda and the politics of self-determination.
Aboriginal community organisations need to be directly funded and empowered. We need employment programs to engage the thousands of workers made jobless under CDEP.
Aboriginal people continue to resist. Ampilatwatja, 300 kms north-east of Alice Springs, is one community the government wishes would rot. But local people have refused to accept this future. But in July, elders led a walk-out of the community and established a protest camp. They are refusing to return until the Intervention stops.
To highlight the government’s hypocrisy, campaign groups around the country have chosen February 13, 2010, two years since Rudd’s Apology, for a National Day of Action. The protests have been backed by broad range of groups including Reconciliation NSW, the CFMEU, the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and Liberty Victoria.
By Lauren Mellor