Leaked Docs Reveal Ministers Deceit

By Chris Graham | Mathaba | PLUS RELATED ARTICLES

Indigenous Affairs minister Jenny Macklin (pictured) was advised by her department against formally consulting with Aboriginal people over the compulsory acquisition of their land because it would be too expensive, tie up too many resources, and was unlikely to get the outcome the government wanted, leaked documents reveal.

The explosive revelations are contained in a suite of sensitive government documents, including private briefings from the Department of Families, Housing, Communities and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) to the minister, copies of which have been obtained by the National Indigenous Times.

They reveal the minister for Indigenous affairs has deceived Aboriginal people over the current Northern Territory intervention consultations and the government's moves to compulsorily acquire the Alice Springs town camps.

The advice was "read, agreed and noted" by Macklin on March 26, just one week before her government endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Some of the documents centre around the Northern Territory intervention legislation, and a much-publicised promise by Macklin to amend the controversial laws to make them comply with the Racial Discrimination Act. The NT intervention legislation remains the only Commonwealth law currently exempt from the RDA, allowing a host of racially discriminatory actions by the government including the compulsory acquisition of Aboriginal land for five years.

At the time, the federal government said it was compulsorily acquiring the land to prevent any delay in the provision of housing services to NT Aboriginal communities. But, ironically, two years on, the government has still not constructed a single home for an Aboriginal family.

Macklin's deceit also centres around the Tangentyere Council, which holds a lease over the 16 Alice Springs town camps.

The Rudd government had demanded a five-year lease over the town camps in exchange for $125 million worth of upgrades to homes and infrastructure. But Tangentyere Council rejected the proposal, saying it didn't trust government to properly deliver housing for Aboriginal people.

In response, Macklin announced last month that the government would simply compulsorily acquire the town camps, using the NT emergency intervention legislation.

The leaked documents reveal that:

• The minister was warned in March this year that if she reinstated the Racial Discrimination Act to the NT intervention legislation, there was a "significant risk" the compulsory acquisition of Aboriginal land for five years would not survive a court challenge.

• Macklin was warned by her department against creating any "formal consultative" process on compulsory land acquisition because it would be very expensive, might not "sufficiently strengthen" the government's legal position in the event of a court challenge, and was unlikely to get the outcome the government required - "informed consent". Instead, the official recommends an "informal consultative process on land use approvals which goes some way to providing a consultative mechanism".

• The government's current round of consultations with people affected by the NT intervention are aimed, at least in part, at building a better legal case if the government is challenged in court. Macklin's department warns: "[The Australian Government Solicitors] have advised that the addition of [some minor legislative amendments to the Northern Territory Emergency Response Act] will reduce the risk that a court will find the five-year leases not compliant with the RDA. They also note that depending upon the process of consultation during the RDA consultations, this risk may be further reduced."

• Even if it brings in a range of "legislative and administrative measures", the government still runs a "moderate to high risk" of losing a court challenge to the five-year leases.

• The minister is waiting until the eve of passing legislation reinstating the RDA (due by September or October 2009) to decide whether or not to axe the five-year leases, or go to court and try and make a case that they comply with the Racial Discrimination Act.

• Before she does, Macklin is planning to compulsorily acquire the Alice Springs town camps. That's despite the government promising earlier this year no further land would be compulsorily acquired, and despite signing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples just a week after receiving the departmental advice. It's also despite Australia being a signatory to the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racism, which expressly prohibits the forced acquisition of Aboriginal land without informed consent.

NIT asked the minister's office on July 3 whether it was expediting the compulsory acquisition of the town camps via the intervention legislation to take advantage of the RDA exemptions, and if so, how this fit with Labor's promises to Aboriginal people and the United Nations.

Macklin issued the following written response: "The possible acquisition of the town camps would occur under the NTER legislation and is aimed at benefiting the town camp residents.

"We are still hopeful that Tangentyere will accept our offer.

"The potential acquisition of the Alice Springs town camps follows a year of intense negotiation, major government concessions and the allocation of $100 million for infrastructure and housing and is still subject to a 60-day notice period in which all views are sought and will be considered.

"The proposed action in relation to the town camps is solely for the purposes of protecting vulnerable women and children, benefiting the residents and facilitating substantial upgrades to housing and infrastructure in the town camps."

Executive director of Tangentyere Council William Tilmouth told NIT his organisation would not accept the deal currently on offer from the federal government.

[Reprinted and slightly abridged from the July 6 National Indigenous Times. Visit www.nit.com.au.]
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NT intervention leak: a year on, it's a shambles

crikey.com.au | By Sophie Black
Crikey has been leaked a weekly progress report on the Northern Territory Intervention almost a year to the day that then Prime Minister John Howard and Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough called a press conference to announce a “National Emergency” in response to the Little Children Are Sacred report.

The document leaked to Crikey, entitled ‘Northern Territory Emergency Response Situation Report as at 1500 hrs Wed 14th May 08', paints a picture of an incomplete roll out of the Northern Territory Intervention, an emergency response that Mal Brough recently admitted to ABC Darwin radio was put together in 48 hours. ( listen here.)

According to the document, only 63% of children in remote communities have received health checks, and only roughly one third of indigenous adults in remote areas are under income management. And despite Howard's promise that all government funded computers would be audited for p-rnography, no computer audits have been carried out as yet.

The document details progress on areas such as Child Health Checks (CHC), Schools Nutrition Programmes, Financial Management, Work for the Dole, P-rnography, Community Clean Up and Government Business Managers.

As Saturday's anniversary of the Intervention looms, a Northern Territory insider has told Crikey that with the exception of the Northern Territory police and the Commonwealth's Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Health Services (who are working to a two year fully funded program), every other group that come under the intervention umbrella “have been playing it by ear.” Given that the Howard government only costed the intervention for one year, groups have been operating with no notion of a timeline for task completion or of when the funding will run out.

According to the document, dated mid May:

• CHCs had been undertaken in 70 of 73 prescribed communities. (note: Crikey understands these health checks were already underway by Aboriginal Medical Services before the intervention and have been in place for a two years…)
93% of communities have had CHCs undertaken.

• total coverage rate of children through Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) and Medical Benefits Service (MBS) CHCs is 63%.

• Income management (IM) is in place in 42 communities (of 73) and associated outstations in seven Town Camp regions as at 14 May

• Pornography?—?no computer audits have been undertaken so far, despite Howard's promise that all government funded computers would be checked.

• Centrelink have received approximately 40 Ombudsman's complaints, mostly around a lack of understanding concerning the IM (income management) process.

• 5 SA POL will complete their deployments and will be replaced by AFP officers on 28 May.

But while the intervention roll out is lagging in almost every area of implementation, the Northern Territory's economy is looking remarkably robust, partly due to the population influx as a result of the Intervention.

Access Economics predict that the Northern Territory is set to boast the highest economic growth rates over the next five years of any other jurisdiction in the country.

According to an NT News report in April, the Territory's economy is surging ahead of the national rate with an expected 7 per cent growth next year:

The Access Economics March quarter business outlook said much of this growth would come from the Federal Government's spending on the intervention.

NT growth will dwarf the national rate of 3.9 per cent.

The documents leaked to Crikey indicate that as of mid-May there were 810 federal public servants in 72 Aboriginal communities as part of the Intervention, not counting 52 Government Business Managers.

Conservatively, this would come to an annual wages bill of around $90 million if the public servants were in their home towns, but each of these 810 public servants is also being paid accommodation and travel allowance and quarterly airfares to their home base. These figures also exclude contractors and consultants ranging from Community Employment Brokers, cadastral surveyors and builders.

As a result, the local hotel industry is experiencing record hotel occupancy rates, as whole floors of rooms have been taken up on long term hiring for federal public servants. Restaurant, hire car companies and bottle shops are also enjoying the run off.

Meanwhile, Crikey understands that the federal Finance department has been raising concerns about many aspects of the Intervention that they inherited from the Howard government.

An NT source told Crikey that Lindsay Tanner was raising questions within weeks of his accession to the Finance ministry over the fact that virtually none of the Intervention had been forward funded in the federal budget beyond 30 June this year.

When asked about the cost of the Intervention, then Prime Minister John Howard said:”it will be some tens of millions of dollars. It's not huge but there could be some costs in relation to the extra police.”

The source told Crikey that the cost of income management alone is currently running at $3000 per person per annum — to manage average welfare payments of around $10,000 per recipient. The documents point out that there are around 10,500 people under income management.

Going by ABS figures, this suggest that approximately only 1/3 of indigenous adults in remote areas are under income management.

But as the NT economy flourishes from the side effects of the Intervention, Crikey understands the job prospects for Aboriginal people have — if anything — declined. According to the documents, over 1700 people have been “transitioned” off CDEP.

Only 667 have been able to be employed in Australian and Territory government funded jobs. The other 1000-odd people, and their dependents, have been moved on to welfare payments.

- Duration: 21m 17s
The NT Intervention, two years on
by Pat Anderson

June 2009 marks the second anniversary of the 'National emergency response to protect Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory', announced by the former Federal Government in 2007.

Pat Anderson, the co-author of the Little Children are Sacred report into abuse of Indigenous children in the Northern Territory, reflects on the Inquiry that led to the report; and the intervention that used it as a justification, but failed to implement its recommendations. She explores the differences between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal perceptions of the issue, and argues that effective action to protect and nurture Aboriginal children is undermined when Governments put their own agendas and priorities ahead of the evidence and the lived realities of Aboriginal life.

Social Justice Intiative, University of Melbourne, June 2009

Leaked documents reveal intervention concerns

July 6th 2009 | www.abc.net.au

Leaked documents have revealed the Federal Government was warned some of its intervention measures could become illegal with the reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Dozens of Northern Territory communities on Aboriginal land were exempted from the Act when the Howard government implemented the federal intervention in 2007.

Part of the intervention involved the Government compulsorily taking out five-year leases over the communities.

The Government has recently announced it wants to reinstate the Act while continuing intervention measures.

But a departmental minute obtained by the National Indigenous Times, and seen by the ABC, reveals the reinstatement of the Act and the continuation of the leases could be found to be illegal if tested in court.

The document was received by the Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin, on March 25.

Without exemptions recommended by the Australian Government Solicitor General, "there would be a significant risk that the five-year leases would be found to be inconsistent with the [Act]," the minute states.

The Act stipulates that everyone must be treated equally by law, either through laws that do not specifically discriminate or by "special measures".

The minute advises Ms Macklin that the leases should be considered as special measures.

In order to become special measures, the Act requires them to be consented to by all parties.

In this regard, the legal advice warns against a "formal consultative mechanism" with the communities.

"We do not recommend proceeding with a legislative amendment to establish such a mechanism in relation to the five-year leases as our legal advice indicates that a consultative mechanism which falls short of requiring consent might not strengthen the argument sufficiently to justify the considerable diversion of resources away from the central, long term aim of securing voluntary leasing arrangements."

A spokeswoman for the Minister says the Government is pushing ahead with its plans.

"In October 2007, the Minister committed to reinstating the Racial Discrimination Act as part of our commitment to moving the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) to a sustainable development phase," she said.

"The Government has said on many occasions that it will maintain core measures of the NTER, but we will strengthen them to ensure they are more clearly special measures or non-discriminatory.

"As part of our commitment to resetting the relationship with Indigenous people, the Government has embarked on extensive consultations with Indigenous Northern Territory communities on options for redesigning NTER measures.

"The revised measures will conform to the Racial Discrimination Act."

Racial Discrimination Act to be reinstated

May 21st 2009 | www.abc.net.au

Aboriginal people could soon be able to apply for an exemption from income quarantining, says Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin.

The Federal Government will introduce legislation in October to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act in the Northern Territory, but it will maintain income management and alcohol and pornography restrictions in Aboriginal communities.

The act was suspended in the Northern Territory in mid-2007 to allow for the federal intervention to take place.

Since then, Indigenous welfare recipients in the Northern Territory have had their payments quarantined, while alcohol and pornography have been banned in most Aboriginal communities.

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin, today announced the Government would begin a consultation process with Indigenous communities to design a compulsory income management policy which can operate without the need to suspend the Racial Discrimination Act.

She released a discussion paper outlining several possible changes to the way incomes are managed, including allowing Aboriginal people to apply to Centrelink for an exemption from income quarantining.

"Getting an exemption would require an assessment of the person's circumstances against set criteria," the discussion paper says.

Among the criteria are the person's family responsibilities, evidence of participation in antisocial behaviour and "vulnerability to violence, coercion or 'humbugging'".

Alcohol and pornography restrictions
The discussion paper says alcohol restrictions have led to a decrease in alcohol use in 24 per cent of Aboriginal communities.

The Government wants to continue the restrictions, but says a possible future model could allow communities to help determine the level of restrictions.

Meanwhile, a requirement for Northern Territory licensees to record the personal details of people purchasing more than $100 worth of alcohol or five litres of wine is likely to be scrapped.

With regards to pornography, the Government has suggested that community members in prescribed areas would be able to request that the current restrictions continue.

The Minister would then make the decision based on criteria, such as whether there have been sexual offences committed in the area during the previous 12 months.

Ms Macklin said the Government would introduce amendments to the legislation in October.

Tags: community-and-society, drugs-and-substance-abuse, indigenous, pornography, government-and-politics, federal-government, indigenous-policy, nt-intervention,