21st June 2009 is the second anniversary of the intervention of the Federal Government in the Northern Territory. Even though the intervention received widespread accreditation and media coverage, very little is known regarding the outcome of the Intervention itself. What actually is the nature of the intervention and why was it introduced by the Howard Government in 2007? Has it succeeded in its aim? Let us now enumerate the chronological beginning to the development and legitimization of the intervention and its after-effects.
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In August 2007, the Federal Government of Australia introduced five bills in the House of Representatives that was an emergency response to the increasing problem of sexual abuse of children, alcohol, and drug abuse among Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory. Mr. John Howard initiated the introduction of this act to tackle the social problems and implement law and welfare in response to the report by the Territorial Government Little Children are Scared. This came to be known as the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) or the Intervention. Along with the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act (NTNER), two companion appropriation bills totaling $587 million, and two amendments to NTNER: the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (or ‘Welfare Payment Reform’) and the Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment were passed.
This legislation introduced a number of radical welfare measures covering “health, education, welfare reforms, law and order” (Grossi 2009, p. 11).
The key measures included seizure of land lease of the local community by the Federal Government for a period of five years and removal of the permit that allowed Aboriginal people to have control and access to their land. The measures that were taken by the government were as follows:
- Additional police force was deployed in the region
- Restriction was levied on alcohol or kava
- Publicly funded computers were given pornography filters
- The permit system was suspended
- Quarantining the welfare benefits to those who neglected their children
- The Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) was abolished.
The legislation was met with widespread debate and criticism. One main point was that it failed to reduce the effect of child abuse among Aboriginal children in the region. Further, it can be arguably said that the intervention categorically increased racial discrimination, poverty, and chaos among the Aboriginal people in the region (Grossi 2009). Further, the intervention incorporated only 2 out of 97 recommendations of the report Little Children is Scared. This neglect of the Northern Territory Intervention of the recommendations made by the child abuse report of the territory government, especially when the intervention was born out of the Report, brought about rampant criticism.
Have the goals set by NTNER been achieved, especially the ones related to child abuse? I believe that the goals of the legislation have faced a major setback in face of poor cross-cultural communication and adaptation and the problem of aborigine disempowerment has been compounded.
The NTNER itself criticized the legislation regarding the unconcerned attitude of the legislation to control child abuse in the aboriginal community of the Northern Territory. Even though child abuse was one of the main problems that needed to be stopped, the report by Northern Territory Board Inquiry (2007) merely reported that child abuse in the region was high but no quantification of the information was provided. The report only reiterated the previous findings, which stated that child sexual abuse is symptomatic of colonial dispossession, resulting in the breakdown of Aborigine culture, and the vicious cycle of the disadvantaged. Indigenous families endure unemployment, dismal housing, low education standards, poor health, widespread alcohol and drug abuse.
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A Sydney-based activist group Stops the Intervention contends that none of the claims about pedophilia rings has been proven and there was no evidence to warrant bringing any charges of child abuse to arraignment (Stop the Intervention 2009). The incidence rate for sexual abuse alone doubled from 1.7 per 1,000 children in 2006-07 to 3.4 in 2007-08. Further posed was that the Federal Government posted only one permanent child worker in Northern Territory and 20 others as temporary workers. With so few social service workers, how could the Federal Government argue that social service lay at the heart of Operation Outreach? (Northern Territory Government 2009).
In SBS report, it has been unearthed that in 12 months since 600 soldiers poured into the NT in 2007, the number of uranium exploration licenses doubled and all of them in NT land (SBS 12 June 2009). This clearly indicates that the aboriginal land is being used as a burial ground for the uranium and re-imported spent nuclear fuel rods, which is a part of the protocol of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. (SBS 12 June 2009) Further, it can be argued that that the federal government was supporting the Commonwealth’s half-hearted initiative to secure the land ownership of Aboriginal people. (SBS, 2009).
The United Nations (UN) and Amnesty International have condemned both the suspension of Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) and the brazen dispossession of land. The UN expressed concern regarding RDA to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in March 2009. Amnesty International scorns NTNER as an explicit violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and hopes to embarrass government into withdrawing the unpalatable Act.
Has the NTNER achieved its aim? Has child abuse reduced among Aboriginal people in Northern Territory? Should we support such a discriminatory legislation, which increases discrimination in the name of reducing it? Well, it is for us to answer the question.
Grossi, R 2009, ‘The Northern Territory Intervention And The Racial Discrimination Act’, Legaldate Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 11-13.
Northern Territory Government 2009, Social Indicators, Web.
SBS 12 June 2009, What is the Northern Territory Intervention, Web.
Stop the Intervention 2009, Web.