Letter to the NT News – Aboriginal affairs

It won’t get published because it’s too long, but worth saying just the same:

Dear Sir,

Peter Murphy’s always entertaining pro-CLP spin doctoring column sometimes obscures issues that really warrant more serious reflection.

This week’s column (12 September) blaming Warren Snowdon and Jenny Macklin for all the accumulated ills of Aboriginal affairs is a case in point.  Murphy not only ignores the fact that the Howard government was in charge of the area until 3 short years ago, but also that Labor has largely continued the Howard government’s NT Intervention policies.  In fact many commentators assess that Labor’s embrace of the Intervention is a major reason why Snowdon experienced such large voting swings against him in remote communities.

However, should those electoral reverses now lead to a wholesale expedient abandonment of Intervention initiatives?  My own view is that they shouldn’t.  The Intervention was like the curate’s egg; good in parts.  More police and medical services and much greater (if botched) spending on housing were undeniable positives, as was the crackdown on alcohol, drugs and porn.

Income management is more problematic.  It would have a valuable role to play if applied only to welfare recipients persistently acting irresponsibly, but not when arbitrarily and indiscriminately imposed on everyone.

More generally, many Intervention initiatives have been imposed on communities with little or no involvement of Aboriginal people themselves. Long experience, not to mention unchallenged research by the Productivity Commission, shows that the only initiatives that work in remote communities are ones created by “partnerships” where communities have a genuine sense of “ownership” of the program or enterprise.

Community ownership needs to be matched by full accountability for the way programs are actually run , but without genuine partnership and mutual respect nothing sustainable is ever achieved.  Those lessons appear to have been forgotten in the panic to be seen to be doing something to attack child sexual abuse and endemic Indigenous disadvantage.

If Murphy was delivering a real evaluation rather than a partisan puff piece he would acknowledge that none of these problems are susceptible to a quick fix and neither political party has yet found a magical solution.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Rafe Champion
Rafe Champion(@rafe-champion)
11 years ago

Yes the problem took several decades to evolve and it could take as long to resolve. It can only be done with a degree of bipartisanship which is manifest in the continuation of the intervention. Partisan pointscoring will undermine the effort. At the same time helpful criticism is required to identify areas for improvement. That kind of commentary needs to be distinguishsed from point-scoring but politicians, especially the players in the interest groups that are involve don’t usually understand the difference.

From a long distance away, it looks like one of the big problems is to work out to what extent various representatives of the Aborigines are acting in the interest of their constituents and to what extent they are representing themselves.

Bob Durnan
Bob Durnan
11 years ago

I strongly disagree with Ken’s negativity about the policy of generalised application of Income Management (IM) to welfare recipients. In several communities which I deal with, and in which I have worked off and on over many years, IM is probably the most beneficial aspect of the NTER (NT Emergency Response). These are communities which have been ravaged by excessive consumption of alcohol and cannabis for three to four decades prior to the Intervention.

IM has reduced this epidemic to more manageable proportions by quarantining half of the disposable cash available to the partying crowd. It is an important factor that this quarantining has applied to all welfare recipients. If it had applied to only the identified abusers of substances and the neglecters of children, the responsible members of their families would still have been made to hand over much of their cash to finance the partying of the addicts.

As things stand, there is much less grog/drug produced mayhem occurring in the homes and streets of these communities compared to the period before the NTER.

The prospect of watering down the the IM so it applies only to clearly irresponsible people fills many people in these communities with dread.

In particular, the responsible people who work and study & hold down regular jobs are largely horrified by the prospects of the party crowd being subsidised once again on the previous scale by state welfare payments, whether they be direct or via the accounts of their close kin.

John B
John B
11 years ago

The Little Children Are Sacred report was excellent. Why its recommendations (110, from memory) were not supported is beyond reason. It would be a good place to start when reviewings actions and outcomes during the Intervention. It certainly recommends most strongly that consultation and cooperation on the ground, in the communities, are essential prerequisites for success.

observa
observa
11 years ago

It’s probably a case of when one mob’s sorrier than the other they’re expected to achieve more ‘practical reconciliation’. You make your bed and you lie in it with great moral imperatives is my guess.

Bob Durnan
Bob Durnan
11 years ago

Ken
You have removed my comment. May I ask why?
Bob D

observa
observa
11 years ago

“..none of these problems are susceptible to a quick fix and neither political party has yet found a magical solution”.

Not so sure about that last bit because it seems to me Labor has developed somewhat of a cargo cult mentality of late. Chuck the problem kids and disadvantaged all a computer and fast internet and that’ll fix em. They’re even handing out Ipads to struggletown kids in particular schools here in Adelaide.(you know, the schools they are furiously expunging the suburb names from). They seem to be kidding themselves that if they give the results of their decades of poor values and victimhood the trappings of the middle classes, somehow that will fix it all up. As for the thought processes behind a ‘laptop for every child’ at an international level, that certainly takes the cake for these new cargo cultists.