The Country Liberal Party (CLP) government in the Northern Territory (NT) have launched a series of devastating cuts to public services and Aboriginal organisations in their first mini-budget, handed down in December.
Six hundred public servants will lose their jobs. The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) say they will be joined by “hundreds of temporary contract staff already gone and more to follow”. And price rises of between 25-40 per cent are being introduced for power, water and sewage.
Working conditions are being stripped back. For example, social workers in child protection will now have to pay rent on their government accommodation, while members of a “Renewal Management Board”, old CLP cronies to mapping out cuts and restructures, are living rent free in $1 million apartments in Darwin on $7500 per week.
For Aboriginal people in the NT, the cuts have a particularly bitter edge. The CLP swept to power in August 2012, on the back of Aboriginal anger at the incumbent Labor government who had worked hand-in-glove with the racist NT Intervention to cut community councils and funding for homelands.
The CLP leader Terry Mills promised to end paternalistic policies, address the “underlying causes” of disadvantage and put Aboriginal people in control of their communities.
But even in the election campaign you could see the seeds of a “divide and rule” strategy on Aboriginal issues. A call for Aboriginal empowerment in bush electorates came alongside promises for “boot camps” and more police to “deal with the problems” in town centres. Aboriginal people deserved support—as long as they stayed out of sight.
Of course, the promises to bush communities have not been kept. Minister for local government Adam Giles has now categorically ruled out reinstating the Aboriginal councils which used to provide representation and services.
He has however found money in the mini-budget to fund 100 new police positions, despite the fact that spending on police is already at three times the rate of the rest of Australia.
Aboriginal incarceration has skyrocketed more than 70 per cent since the NT Intervention began in 2007. But the NT government is building a massive new prison in Darwin, along with promising to criminalise public drunkeness and build internment camps for “mandatory rehabilitation”.
All funding has been cut from Larrakia Nations in Darwin for Aboriginal controlled “night patrols” that try to resolve community conflicts and minimise contact between homeless people and the police.
The CLP also axed Larrakia’s “return to country” funding, which provides loans for residents of remote communities to get transport home.
Mass arrests by police over summer filled the Berimah prison and juvenile justice facilities so far beyond capacity that they have stopped accepting new people. Alice Springs police set up outside every bottle shop in town, using Intervention laws to confiscate alcohol from any black person and breaking up groups with or without grog.
SMART courts, which provided diversionary options for people facing charges who are drug or alcohol dependant, have been abolished. So has Balanu, a successful diversionary program for Aboriginal youth facing time inside.
New Aboriginal CLP MLA Bess Price is promoted by The Australian as a campaigner against domestic violence. But her mini-budget cut all positions for domestic violence workers in NT hospitals.
Strong Aboriginal Families Together, a new Aboriginal controlled organisation set up to address the horrific rates of child removal, has also been cut by 50 per cent.
Despite their posturing for the election, the Liberals have only intensified the racism of Labor’s continuing NT Intervention. Any real alternative will have to come from resistance on the streets.
Justice for Briscoe
The North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, who provide legal aid to Aboriginal clients, have said the CLP cuts “fly in the face” of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
An important spark of opposition to the new CLP government has come from the family of Kwementyaye Briscoe, an Aboriginal man who died in the Alice Springs police station in January 2012.
A petition calling on the CLP government to force the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to lay charges against the police who killed Kwementyaye has attracted more than 30,000 signatures online. Hundreds of people from remote communities have also signed the petition.
One hundred people attended a rally in Alice Springs on December 10 to push the demand for charges. Greg Barnes, a prominent barrister and president of the Australian Lawyers Alliance has written a legal opinion, outlining the possibility of charges for manslaughter and failure to rescue.
But just weeks before the anniversary of Kwementyaye’s death, the DPP wrote to the families’ lawyers saying no charges would be laid and the issues raised by Barnes would not be investigated.