A Productivity Commission report into Indigenous disadvantage was released in July. Examining the period 2000 – 2008, it demonstrates the horrific human toll of Howard’s assault on Aboriginal self-determination. Across 80 per cent of 50 surveyed indicators, “the gap” has stayed the same or become wider.
Indigenous people are increasingly likely to commit self-harm, suffer mental health problems and die from preventable diseases. Indigenous children are 28 times more likely to be held in detention than non-Indigenous.
The Commission is clear that programs enforced on communities cannot improve social outcomes. It stresses the need for “community involvement in program design and decision making”.
This approach runs directly counter to the continuation of the NT Intervention by the Rudd government and the expansion of punitive regimes across the country.
Rudd is continuing to freeze funding and force migration from NT remote outstations into major urban centres, despite the Commission reporting that health statistics are significantly better on homelands.
Indigenous unemployment rates remain three times those of other Australians. But in the same week the report was released, the government closed down Community Development Employment Projects (CDEPs) across the country, putting more than 30,000 Aboriginal people onto the dole queue.
Minister Macklin seized upon figures that show reported cases of child abuse and neglect have doubled, calling for an expansion of Intervention style policies.
But the Australian Crime Commission (ACC), given extreme coercive powers through the Intervention, announced last month that there is “no evidence organised pedophilia exists in Indigenous communities”, demolishing a key justification for the Intervention.
Labor MP Steve Hutchins, who chaired a Senate inquiry into the use of the ACC said:
“The mix of social and economic problems that create crime and disadvantage in the NT should not be dealt with by an agency that deals with serious organised crime…You don’t see the Government sending the crime commission into Catholic churches where there has been organised pedophilia.”
Resetting the racism
Minister Macklin absolved herself of responsibility for the shocking statistics, “this is a report on the Howard years”. The Rudd government has perfected a strategy of symbolically breaking with Howard on Indigenous issues, while expanding his racist agenda. There has been the apology and the recognition of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The new sham is Macklin’s commitment to “resetting the relationship” with Aboriginal people, opening a process of “consultation” with prescribed NT communities.
Macklin is trying to establish that hated policies like compulsory Income Management and 5-year leases over Aboriginal land are “special measures” under the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA), which she has promised to reinstate in October. If policies are for the benefit of a particular racial group, and are developed in consultation with that group, they can be legal under the RDA.
But the “consultation” process is deeply insulting. Macklin has stated she will continue with punitive controls, regardless of what communities want. For example, people are being asked whether they would prefer the current system of Income Management, or a compulsory system that allows application for exemption (guilty until proven innocent). The restoration of full welfare rights is not an option.
Consulation meetings are being convened by the Government Business Managers, the powerful non-Aboriginal authority figures imposed by the Intervention. A patronising consultation slideshow tells people that the Intervention has brought many benefits and instructs them to get jobs and look after their children.
Imelda Palmer, a teacher and community leader at Santa Teresa, 90 kms from Alice Springs said of their consultation: “Not many people know about this meeting. I only found out when ABC journalists came to interview me. Why did (Macklin) send out a team when behind our back she’s on the media saying it’s going to keep being compulsory? We don’t want anything like this Intervention”.
Documents leaked from the Minister’s office demonstrate conscious tactics are being used to manipulate consultation processes.
One set of documents show Macklin’s belief that there is a “high likelihood” courts would find that compulsory 5-year leases breach the RDA. Another advised against initiating a “formal” consultation process with Alice Springs town camp residents, because residents would say no to compulsory acquisition of their land, weakening the government’s legal position under the RDA.
Barbara Shaw, from Mt Nancy town camp in Alice Springs, was outraged by the revelations:
“We have been lied to by Jenny Macklin. These leaked documents show that she considers ‘consultation’ to be a legal game, rigged to impose policy that we do not want. Macklin must resign, along with her advisers who are designing ways to deceive Aboriginal people”.
By Paddy Gibson