NT Intervention: Sydney protests & Labor polly turnaround

pdfGillards discussion paper The Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory pdf file
Footage from a protest held outside the Melbourne office of FaHCSIA Melbourne Rally, 21 June 2011 - Stop the Intervention - 4 Years too Long - More
Labor MLA Marion Scrymgour does a turn-around over NT Intervention

ABCJune 25, 2011

A Northern Territory Labor politician has criticised her own party over aspects of the continuing federal intervention in NT communities.

The Commonwealth has released a discusison paper on the intervention and signalled a renewed focus on consultation before future policy is made for remote communities.

Labor MLA Marion Scrymgour says she has always had reservations about the policy and she does not think an intervention was needed to improve life in communities.

Ms Scrymgour has told 7.30 NT even though the Government has signalled a more cooperative future, she is concerned about other aspects of the Gillard administration's approach.

"What isn't happening is the Federal Government's not actually complying with the Racial Discrimination Act. There are several things that happen in relation to Aboriginal communities that doesn't happen anywhere else in mainstream Australia," she said.

Ms Scrymgour says the Government needs to stop being led by such a small group of commentators on Indigenous affairs.

"Both Jenny Macklin and also our present Prime Minister ... what they need to do is stop listening to one or two commentators who reflect that view and actually get into a few more communities and sit down with people and listen to what people are saying," she said.

AAP Sydney Morning Herald June 25, 2011
The federal government will "meet its Waterloo" in its attempt to introduce income management to a western Sydney community, protesters say.

A couple of hundred people took to the streets of Sydney on Saturday in protest at the government's Northern Territory intervention, introduced four years ago this week.

Chronic social breakdown had accelerated in the four years since the laws were introduced, Paddy Gibson, a researcher with the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), told the crowd gathered at Town Hall.

"They have ripped the guts out of remote communities and are trying to force people into the major town centres, into the major cities and to assimilate into mainstream Australia," Mr Gibson said, to cries of "shame".

"What person out there could actually turn around and say this policy is doing good, this policy is taking things forward, when people are being locked up, kids are starving and people are committing suicide at higher rates.

"It's just atrocious."

Mr Gibson said the Stop The Intervention Collective Sydney (STICS), which organised the rally, would fight the introduction of income management in western Sydney "every step of the way".

From July 1 next year, the federal government will introduce income management to five areas, including Bankstown.

Residents deemed by Centrelink to be financially vulnerable will have half their welfare payments quarantined on to a BasicsCard to buy priority items at selected stores.

Jack Johnson, CEO of the Gandangara Aboriginal Land Council, which covers the Bankstown region, said the federal government would fail in its attempt to introduce income management.

"Let them come, this is the place they will meet their Waterloo," he said.

Gandangara land council was the largest land council in Australia, he added.

"Why would you target our area when you have the most functional land council in the country providing services for Aboriginal people?" he said.

Incoming NSW Greens senator Lee Rhiannon said the introduction of the Northern Territory intervention was a "dark moment in our history".

"The human rights of a significant number of Australians are being abused on a daily basis because of intervention," she said.

Following the rally, the protesters marched to Belmore Park.

No retreat by Julia Gillard on Northern Territory intervention

Matthew Franklin and Milanda Rout From: The Australian June 23, 2011 12:00AM 15 comments

JULIA Gillard will reinforce alcohol restrictions in Northern Territory indigenous communities, declaring living conditions remain critical in many areas despite four years of intense government attention.

Defying demands she abolish the so-called NT intervention, the Prime Minister has also vowed its next stage will be based on the principle the world owes no one a living and citizens must show responsibility in return for taxpayer support.

While the Greens and some indigenous groups attacked the intervention yesterday, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin backed it as an effective way to protect women and children from alcohol-fuelled violence.

The Howard government instituted the intervention in 2007 after the "Little Children are Sacred" report highlighted shocking abuse of women and children in indigenous communities that were plagued by alcohol abuse.

The intervention, later continued by Labor in government, included alcohol and pornography bans in indigenous communities and quarantining of welfare payments so they could be spent on food rather than alcohol or gambling.

But it came with billions of dollars of new spending on housing, law and order and education.

With the legislation that established the intervention set to expire in August next year, the government yesterday announced a six-week consultation period ahead of creating new laws to continue the program.

Announcing the moves, Ms Gillard said she accepted indigenous people felt "hurt and shame" when the original intervention was imposed without consultation. But she left no doubt that abolishing the intervention was not on the agenda, with the consultation aimed at fine-tuning its elements deemed more effective.

"We are seeing women and children feeling safer, having more money to spend on the basics of life, on food and clothing for kids," the Prime Minister said.

"We are seeing kids being fed through schools - 7000 meals a day being provided for children in schools. We're seeing programs coming into effect to deal with alcohol and the pressures that that brings to indigenous communities. We are making progress on housing. A difference is being made."

The government is staring down demands from bodies opposed to the intervention to dilute the existing alcohol and drug restrictions.

Instead, a discussion paper released yesterday suggested a floor price for alcohol and extending a trial linking welfare payments to school attendance will be considered for the next stage of the intervention.

The report said that "current alcohol restrictions should remain" but proposed strengthening alcohol management plans - which restrict the sale of certain types of alcohol - in some remote communities and towns such as Alice Springs.

Ms Macklin, who joined Ms Gillard on a recent visit to indigenous town camps in Alice Springs, said most indigenous people she spoke to had embraced the intervention, particularly its crackdown on alcoholism.

"They know how critical it is to control alcohol but . . . they want to work with us to have more effective alcohol controls," Ms Macklin said.

She later told The Australian the redesigned intervention would comply with the Racial Discrimination Act but that she would "do everything in her power" to ensure that women and children had the right to live their lives free of violence.

"I feel very strongly about the human rights of children, the right for a child to grow up healthy and strong, not to be malnourished, to be properly cared for, to get a decent education, and the right for women to live a life free from violence," she said.

Howard government indigenous affairs minister Mal Brough, who put the policies in place, said he was glad Labor planned to continue them but believed not enough had been achieved.

"The intervention was not an end game," Mr Brough said. "It was to have been the first step along the road to normalisation. We need to move forward with a policy development process about how we are going to deliver indigenous people real economic independence in the long term."

Greens indigenous affairs spokeswoman Rachel Siewert said the intervention was "discriminatory" and ought to be scrapped. Calling for "a more genuine dialogue" with indigenous people, Senator Siewert said the Greens backed some features of the intervention, such as stocking community shops with fresh food, and more police.

But she attacked the income management as well as the general "poor design and implementation" of the intervention, arguing the government had wasted $1.5 billion and four years on ineffective outcomes.

Paddy Gibson, a Sydney-based activist with the Stop the NT Intervention organisation, criticised the discussion paper as glossing over the "failure" of the intervention.

"Despite the rhetoric about consultation, the government is refusing to grant any actual control (to indigenous Australians) over the areas where control has been stripped from them under the intervention," Mr Gibson said. While he acknowledged that the 73 targeted intervention communities needed the injection of funds the intervention brought, he argued the policy had driven indigenous Australians out of remote areas and into town centres and that the improved law and order outcomes could have been delivered without the punitive approach of the intervention.

"There has been a 30 per cent increase in indigenous incarceration under the intervention," he said. "All the statistics point to chronic social breakdown."

The discussion paper, titled Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory, prioritises tackling alcohol abuse, improving school attendance and creating more jobs as the keystones of the next phase of the intervention.

"The focus on improving community safety, child protection, health, food security, housing and governance will also need to continue," it says.

Ms Gillard said the guiding principle across her government was that the government had to provide opportunities for education and training but that people needed to be responsible for their own welfare. "The world doesn't owe Australians," she said. "They've got to get out there and earn that living themselves."

Rex Stuart, who took it upon himself to get a decent job, is the type of person the Gillard government is proud of. The 25-year-old apprentice mechanic said that, even when his workmates quit their jobs, he had no urge to join them and so many other unemployed indigenous people in the Northern Territory.

"I had to keep going," Mr Stuart said. "No one else was going to give me money."

But Mr Stuart, who has almost completed his apprenticeship at Peter Kittle Motors in Alice Springs, does not have much hope in the government's plans to change the way many indigenous people view work.

"There are individuals out there that I don't know if they are lazy or what," he said. "Some people start an apprenticeship and then they quit after six months."

The report says people "must also be encouraged to take responsibility for getting and keeping a job, with support from government agencies. This will help break the cycle of welfare dependency, which robs people of the meaning and purpose a job can bring."

Additional reporting: Lauren Wilson, Mark Schliebs