Aboriginal people stand up to sham NTI consultations

Jenny Macklin
Macklin - 1st class Spin Doctor

Lauren Mellor solidarity.net.au July, 2011

The federal government is currently in the middle of a six week round of "consultations" with Aboriginal people on the future of the NT Intervention. This process is a sham.

A discussion paper released by government called Stronger Futures makes it clear that key Intervention measures are not up for negotiation. These include compulsory Income Management, the power of Government Business Managers, the abolition of Community Development Employment Projects and the push for long term leases over Aboriginal township land.

The government needs new legislation to replace Intervention laws, which expire in July 2012. This process is designed to fabricate consent for a second Intervention.

I have visited community consultations, seeing the overbearing involvement of Government Business Managers and local Shire bosses and consistent attempts to restrict discussion. Officials facilitating the meetings strongly emphasise the "achievements" of the intervention so far.

But where Aboriginal people are organised and assertive, the meetings have become important sites of protest.


Just five days after the launch of Stronger Futures, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin and a team of bureaucrats set off on a whirlwind tour. In Tennant Creek where the first session was held, no attempt was made to give notice to any towncamp residents. Astonishingly, Macklin's staff explained the lack of notice as a "security precaution" to protect the Minister.

But local activist Dianne Stokes, who has led a campaign to oppose a nuclear waste-dump on nearby Aboriginal land, quickly got the word out and 75 people attended the meeting.

Tennant Creek residents spoke passionately about the starvation of homelands and outstations since Commonwealth funding began to be withdrawn in 2009—part of an attempt to force people to migrate to urban centres, or one of the 20 "hub towns" earmarked for investment.

Stokes and others demanded resources to sustain a future for their communities—without having to accept destructive projects like the nuclear dump.

In Maningrida, residents forcefully rejected the government's push for a long-term leases over their township land. The meeting took place following disgraceful revelations that money from the Aboriginal Benefits Account, sourced from royalties from mining on Aboriginal land, is being used to pay rent to communities who agree to sign leases.

Reggie Wurrudjal, a traditional owner for Maningrida said: "The intervention over the last four years now, I haven't seen anything done. It should be scrapped altogether. People are putting a lot of concerns to the Minister here, it's not Closing the Gap."

"By signing a lease, I'll be handing over decision making to the government. I'll have no power whatsoever, no input into my community. I'm just losing my land."

At Amoonguna, there were demands for a return to community based employment and training programs with proper wages and conditions. Unemployment has skyrocketed and young men and women on CDEP complained of being paid through Centrelink and the BasicsCard. They were used as cheap labour for the government's $672 million Strategic Housing and Infrastructure Project (SIHIP) while receiving no ongoing qualifications or job.

In response the Government Business Manager facilitating the meeting simply urged young people to take up work outside the community.

The Gurindji people living at Kalkaringi and Daguragu held a strike against the Intervention in 2010 and have led protest meetings in Darwin.

Community spokesperson John Leemans told their consultation meeting on July 27:

"The NT Intervention must end immediately. It is a violation of our human rights, our integrity and liberty. The world is condemning it through the UN. The churches and unions are condemning it."

"We want control of our land back. We want to be able to practice our culture and speak our language. We want jobs created so we can work in our community. There is a big movement of people into Darwin and Katherine, because there are no jobs in the community any more. This is exactly what we don't want—people must be able to live and work on their homelands.

"We have a brain to think for ourselves on how to run our own communities. It's called self-determination. But since the Intervention everything has been taken away from us".

Leemans concluded, "We know Minister Jenny Macklin stayed away from Gurindji country because we are strong and organised against her Intervention. We are going to keep this battle going. We are organising a protest on Freedom Day, 45 years since our old people walked off Wave Hill station".

Aboriginal voices slam intervention at consultations

Peter Robson, Darwin Green Left Weekly July 30th 2011

About 80 people gathered on July 28 at the Holiday Inn on Darwin's Esplanade for one of the federal government's Stronger Futures "consultations".

One woman said: "It's a bit late, mate."

Stronger Futures is the government's discussion paper about the future of the Northern Territory intervention, which slashed the rights of Aboriginal people in 2007, many of which have yet to be restored.

This is the second round of consultations Labor has run about the intervention. Labor promised Stronger Futures would be different to the top-down, draconian and heavy-handed way the former Liberal/National government of John Howard rolled out the intervention.

For the June 2009 consultations, Aboriginal people mobilised in large numbers. Most called for an immediate end to the intervention and put forward a raft of concrete proposals to close the gap of disadvantage between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.

The government shelved the proposals and misrepresented the meetings, claiming they showed widespread support for the intervention. Independent recordings showed this was a lie: the government selectively quoted from the meetings.

It is this context that Mark Coffey, executive director of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, has organised the current consultation process across the NT.

At the public meeting in Darwin on July 28, he was roasted alive.

The consultations have been extensive — each of the 73 communities affected by the intervention in the NT had one as well as town camps in places such as Alice Springs and Darwin.

At Bagot and Kalkarindji, Aboriginal people mobilised to condemn the government in heated meetings.

At some of the Darwin town camps, locals did not show, either because they did not know about the meetings or thought they would be a waste of time like the last ones.

Stronger Futures lists the highly contested "successes" of the NT intervention and identifies eight areas for discussion. Coffey used a PowerPoint presentation to introduce the discussion points. In every case, Aboriginal people were cast as the "problem" the government was trying to address.

In the area of education, for example, Stronger Futures said school attendance was "non-negotiable" for the government.

The audience in Darwin was vocal in pointing out this implied Aboriginal parents did not believe education was important.

Under a bullet point about "encouraging school attendance", tying welfare payments to school attendance was the only concrete suggestion made to deal with the problem.

One woman countered that school attendance was a whole of society problem. She condemned the NT government's "First Four Hours policy", which limits teaching in Aboriginal language to the end of the school day.

She said this policy and the lack of resources in remote communities were the main cause of poor attendance by Aboriginal students.

The Darwin meeting attracted many workers from government and service agencies, many of whom were Aboriginal. Many said the intervention and the policies that followed had made service delivery in Aboriginal communities far more difficult.

Coffey invited constructive suggestions — "what could work?" — but participants pointed out the consultation process was simply reinventing the wheel: programs known to be working before 2007 had their funding cut as part of the rollout of the intervention.

"Government mistakes have generated a great deal of cynicism," one service worker said. "People have no evidence that things have changed."

Coffey said the last round of consultations had changed government policy. He said the government had restored the Racial Discrimination Act, which was suspended to allow the intervention to become law in 2007. The room howled in response.

Even if the RDA has been formally reinstated — and some contest this because laws that discriminate against Aboriginal land ownership are still in place — the realities of the intervention fly in the face of the legal niceties.

The "poster child" of the amended, "non-racist" intervention is the new income management scheme. Initially, Aboriginal residents in the 73 targeted communities and all the town camps had half their welfare replaced with a card that could be spent only on food, clothing and medical supplies.

In August last year, the legislation was changed, broadening income management to include the whole community in the NT and selected parts of Australia. In theory, this change also meant people on income management could apply for an exemption.

The Darwin Community Legal Service, however, has found that 94% of people on income management are Aboriginal.

"The damage was done in the first 12 months," an audience member at the meeting said. "Your role here is to listen to us, not justify [current policy]."

Others condemned the punitive measures directed against alcoholics in Aboriginal communities rather than the grog runners who break rules set up by the communities themselves. A call was made for an inquiry into the role of non-Aboriginal staff bringing alcohol into dry communities.

There was unanimous condemnation of the imposing signs set up outside each of the initially targeted communities and town camps.

"If you want to rebuild trust with these communities you've damaged so much," one woman said, "you can start by removing each of these signs and funding those communities to put up their own welcome signs and their signs banning grog.

"Aboriginal communities did that voluntarily for years before the intervention."

Coffey said all the recommendations would be taken to government and discussed. The ball is now in the government's court. Will it listen?

Intervention meeting hears of anger and frustration

Allyson Horn ABC News 3rd August 2011

NT Intervention

Life remains hard for people in town camps around Alice Springs. (Lateline)

Residents of Alice Springs have told a Federal Government group consulting about the Northern Territory intervention that education, alcohol and jobs are key priorities for the town.

The terms of the federal intervention are due to expire in August next year.

Town camp resident Barb Shaw told a public meeting last night that Aboriginal people often have trouble finding jobs because of low education levels.

She says programs like the Commonwealth Development Employment Projects (CDEP), in which people did community maintenance work, need to be reintroduced for Aboriginal people to get off welfare.

CDEP was phased out in the early days of the intervention.

"CDEP worked for a lot of communities," she said.

"Aboriginal people had a job, they had a proper income.

"Today, we go to a job network centre and we can't even find a job.

"They cannot cater for people who have been in jail, people who have got low numeracy and literacy skills.

"We are still stuck on the unemployment line."

Some Aboriginal leaders in Alice Springs have described the Territory Government alcohol reforms as weak.

Bess Price had strong words for the meeting last night.

"I'm disappointed in the Territory government and their alcohol policy," she said.

"I think it needed more guts to it."

She wants the Territory government to close "animal bars" and says until that happens, alcohol abuse won't improve.

Another, Betty Pearce, says she fears government is not prepared to stand up to alcohol companies.

"The governments would be afraid to do anything drastic simply because they will be going against what breweries want," she said.

She says there is a desperate need for rehabilitation services in remote communities.

Meanwhile, a town camp resident says alcohol problems in Central Australia will not be solved unless Aboriginal people have control over their affairs.

Robert Hoosan from Old Timers camp told last night's meeting that restrictions imposed under the intervention are not working.

He says keeping alcohol out of communities and camps would be more effective if Aboriginal people had more autonomy.

"I live at Old Timers and there are drunks there every night," he said.

" We do have ideas (what to do) but it always comes back to you people, the white people.

"You tell us, you tell us how to live.

"You are controlling our life."