“In the Name of the Child”: An analysis and critique of The Northern Territory National Emergency Response (NTER) “…the starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians. It begins, I think, with the act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the disasters. The alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers.
We practised discrimination and exclusion”. Labor Prime Minister, (1991-1996), Paul Keating, Redfern Address, Sydney, 1992 “Mr Speaker, I move that this House… expresses its deep and sincere regret that indigenous Australians suffered injustices under the practices of past generations and for the hurt and trauma that many indigenous people continue to feel as a consequence of those practices… and believes that we, having achieved so much as a nation, can now move forward together for the benefit of all Australians”.
Liberal Prime Minister (1996-2007), John Howard, puts the Motion of Regret to Parliament,Thursday, 26 August, 1999 “We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians… And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry”. Labor Prime Minister (2007 – present), Kevin Rudd, National Apology address, Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Introduction: This paper looks at the social policies impacted on Aboriginal peoples of the Northern Territory with the passing of the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007, (NTER) and other Acts, along with requisite legislative amendments[i], to facilitate these policies. The object of the NTER Act is to improve the well? being of certain [Aboriginal] communities in the Northern Territory (NTER, 2007 – Section 5)[ii] .
It is argued in this paper that while the social policy measures were intended to improve the quality of life of the Aboriginal peoples affected, such measures are paternalistic in their imposition, have had limited measurable outcomes (positive or otherwise), and that there has been little actual improvement in the overall quality of life of the Indigenous peoples of the NT. This paper also briefly examines the history of Indigenous race relations within Australia, with a view to understanding how and why the “NT Intervention” came about. ** Under the John Howard Liberal government, The Northern Territory National Emergency Response — NTER — also known as The NT Intervention, came into being, principally with the passing of the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007. The Act was passed by the Federal Australian Parliament in August 2007 and received in principle bipartisan support from the then Leader of the Opposition, currently Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.
The stated social policy outcome (George and Wilding, 1984) enacted by this legislation, “is a set of measures designed to protect children, make communities safe and build a better future for people living in Indigenous communities and town camps in the Northern Territory” (FAHCSIA – Department of Families, Housing, Community Service and Indigenous Affairs, 2007). Such measures initially included: • Widespread restrictions on alcohol; Welfare reforms — to stem the flow of cash going to substance abuse and to ensure funds meant for children’s welfare would be used for that purpose; • Enforced school attendance through linking income support and family assistance payments to school attendance, and provision of school meals at parents’ cost; • Acquisition of townships prescribed by the government through five year leases, including payment of ‘just terms’ compensation; • Increases in policing levels, including secondment of officers from other urisdictions, including the Federal Police, to supplement NT resources; • Grounds clean up and repair of community infrastructure to make communities safer and healthier by utilizing local workforces through Work for the Dole (ie the implementation of neo-liberalist Workfare); • Improvements to housing and reform of community living arrangements, including market- based rents and standard tenancy arrangements; • Improved governance through the appointment of managers of all government business, Government Business Managers, in prescribed communities; • Banning the possession of X-rated material, and auditing of all publicly funded computers to identify illegal material; • Compulsory health checks for all Aboriginal children, to identify and treat health problems and any effects of abuse; and the • Scrapping of the Permit system for common areas, road corridors and airstrips for prescribed communities on Aboriginal land (FAHCSIA, 2007). These policy measures specifically targeted Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory (NT).
Being racially based, suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act, 1975, had to be invoked across the NT[iii], in order to implement the prescribed social policy measures. This contravenes basic human rights of equality under the law irrespective of race or religion. By the time the policy measures were actually implemented however, compulsory health checks for all Aboriginal children were not enforced as it was successfully argued by opponents of such measures that compulsory health checks of children were unlawful; and that the scrapping of the Permit system to enter and remain on Aboriginal Land would only have undesirable consequences (Yu, P. , Duncan, M. E. and Gray, B. , 2008, p. 63). The other measures however, as outlined above, remained.
The means to implement these measures, as per legislation[iv], include a total ban of alcohol in Aboriginal communities; compulsory quarantining of 50% of welfare payments; non-requirement of a search warrant for police to enter and search private properties; maintenance of records of usage for three years for publicly funded computers; and the employment of white ‘overlords’ — Government Business Managers — with the right to attend and address any public meeting, including those of constituted Aboriginal Corporations, and with the right to dismiss or overthrow community store managers. *** A ‘national emergency’ had been declared by then Prime Minister John Howard and his Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, on June 21 2007 when, in response to a situation that had been interpreted from the Little Children are Sacred Report, (Wild and Anderson, 2007), sexual abuse of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory was seen as rife and endemic.
By classifying the situation as a ‘national emergency’ under the Australian Constitution the armed forces were able to be utilized in its implementation. The declaration of an “emergency” divorced the current situation from any past policy failures or history of treatment of Aboriginal people, as the perceived ‘crisis’ was labeled as an unexpected and sudden event, that is, as an emergency[v]. While the Little Children are Sacred Report emphasised that “It is critical that both [NT and Federal] governments commit to genuine consultation with Aboriginal people in designing initiatives for Aboriginal communities” (Wild and Anderson, Recommendations, p. 22), there was no consultation, and with little warning the Army rolled in to Aboriginal communities.
In fact, as argued by Beherendt (2007), the intervention strategy made no reference to the Little Children are Sacred Report on which it purported to rely (Beherendt , 2007, p. 15) and certainly did not adopt any of its recommendations —The report was merely used as an enabling mechanism for the implementation of paternalistic and racist public social policy. “White Australia has a Black history”: It is estimated that at the time of settlement in 1788, the nation wide indigenous population was somewhere between 250,000 and 750,000. This was reduced to about a quarter, through disease and direct contact, by the nineteenth century. By the end of that century Aborigines probably constituted 5%, or less, of the Australian population (Altman and Sanders, 1995, p. 206).
With Federation of the coastal colonies of Australia in 1901, came the Australian Constitution. Specifically S. 57 and S. 126 of it excluded Aborigines, meaning that they were not included in the population count, not considered as citizens of Australia, and that they were excluded from Commonwealth legislative powers. By the 1950s, the Aboriginal population was officially estimated as between 70,000 and 80,000 or about 1% of the total Australian population (Altman and Sanders, 1995, p. 207). To say that the Aboriginal population had been decimated would be an incorrect usage of that term, which means reduced by 10%. Rather, in 150 years or so of occupation, the Indigenous population had been reduced to about 10% of its original.
At the beginning of the 20th century, government social policy about Indigenous peoples focussed on ‘protection’ and drew distinction between castes of the Aborigines, based on “blood lines” of full blood, half blood, quarteroons (sic) and octeroons (sic). Full-blood Aborigines (sic) were either excluded from mainstream policy or had particular social policies enacted over them. By the 1930’s the policy of protection had shifted to ‘assimilation’, but this regime excluded welfare rights to “nomadic and primitive natives” or full-blood Aborigines. As cogently argued by Paisley (2000), Australian feminists had a great deal of sway in effecting national social policy as applied to the Aboriginal population. As two oppressed groups within the Australian polity, the feminists took on indigenous issues, adding an edge to their already sharpened sword.
With this shift to assimilation, Aborigines were still generally excluded from mainstream Australian welfare provisions by their separate legal status — social security legislation, for example, contained explicit provisions for disqualifying Aborigines from income support payments and industrial awards for the regulation of wages and conditions of employment also had racially based exclusionary provisions (Altman and Sanders, 2005, p. 208). It wasn’t until 1966, with amendments to social security legislation, that Aborigines were largely included in the social security system on the same basis as other Australians (Altman and Sanders, 2005, p. 209).
While pensions and family allowances were being paid, the unemployment benefit, however, was still regarded by the Department of Social Security as inapplicable to Aborigines in remote areas (Altman and Sanders, 2005, p. 211), including most of the Northern Territory — the subject area of NTER. With the passing of the 1967 referendum to amend the Australian Constitution, the two exclusionary Aboriginal references were deleted. The Federal Government now had the power to enact legislation for Aboriginal people, as opposed to their general exclusion from it, and indigenous people were to be counted in the Census[vi] (Beherendt , 2007,p. p. 18-19).
By the 1970s indigenous social policy shifted to ‘self-determination’ with the election of the Whitlam Labor government in December 1972. Avowing that it would “restore to Aborigines their lost power to determine their own futures and way of life” (Whitlam, quoted in Altman and Sanders, 2005, p. 212) the Whitlam government opened doors for Indigenous policy reform. The Federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA) was established, and a National Aboriginal Consultative Council (NACC), comprised of elected Aborigines from around the country, was given the task of advising the Commonwealth government about issues of concern to Aboriginal people (Altman and Sanders, 2005, p. 212).
With across the board social reforms of the Whitlam government (1972-1975) Australia was at its peak as a welfare state, and Indigenous peoples were also reaping the benefits — initiatives by the Whitlam government laid the foundations for Aboriginal self-management — “… to see Aboriginal organizations as merely service-deliverers, as tools of government policy, greatly underestimates their cultural and political importance. They are the indispensable building blocks for future indigenous autonomy” (Reynolds, 2000, p. 105). By 1976, with residual impetus from the Whitlam government, the Aboriginal Councils and Associations Act was passed through Parliament and a Registrar of Aboriginal Corporations was established. Aboriginal people were thus able to incorporate legally to administer community governance, albeit at a tacit level, which gave rise to new and positive relations with both government and welfare agencies.
The Department of Social Security appointed Aboriginal liaison officers in 1977 and DAA was pushing for greater service provisions in the readily measured areas of housing, health and education (Altman and Sanders, 2005, p. 214). Further, the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (NT) was passed by the Fraser government in 1976, as another piece of residual legislation from the Whitlam years. This Act gave Indigenous peoples of prescribed areas in the NT inalienable freehold title to their lands. It is precisely these areas, and some others, that the current NT Intervention has a hold over. The Whitlam years however, were not to last. With vice-regal intervention, that is the overthrow of the government by the Governor General, in 1975 the Malcolm Fraser Liberal government (1975-1983) came into power.
The days of the Australian Welfare State were over as Fraser brought in his infamous ‘razor gang’ and Australia entered a period of ‘economic rationalism’ (Stilwell, 2000, p. 27-8) becoming a neo-liberalist post-welfare state, in which it remains, ever increasingly, to the present day. Neo-liberalism and its overarching effects on Indigenous policy: Self-determination, it appears, is still seen by government as the way forward for the Indigenous people of Australia. However, within the ideology of neo-liberalism there is not so much a society, with concomitant social groups or collectives, but rather millions of individual citizens who engage with the market to derive and create their own sense of well-being (Jamrozik, 2009).
This view denies the very essence of ‘kin and country’ that underpins Indigenous polity, especially in remote areas of the NT — the target of NTER. Jamrozik (2009) highlights the role of ethnicity in his two tier post-welfare state model, with Anglo-Australians being in the top tier and Indigenous Australians relegated to the bottom tier. Further, he notes, there has been development of an under-class, which is subjected to surveillance by the state and a loss of privacy (Jamrozik 2009, p. 315). This is precisely what the NTER has created for those within its ambit in the NT, being the vast majority of the Indigenous population: an under-class subjected to surveillance by the state, including authorised police search of private premises without warrant.
Indeed the NTER is race based social policy and is perhaps the most invidious case of such in Australian history. Enacted without consultation, it is also little wonder that in many remote communities across the NT that there was a perception, and great fear, that the government was coming to take the children away – again[vii]. ‘Many people said that they felt confused and that ‘the Intervention was ‘too big, too quick and not understood. ’ (Yu, P. , Duncan, M. E. and Gray, B. 2008, p. 85). Enter the NTER: Social impact on the ground On 6 June 2008 the Australian Government appointed the NTER Review Board to conduct an independent and transparent review of the NTER by 30 September 2008.
The Board was chaired by respected policy analyst, and Broome elder, Mr Peter Yu. Ms Marcia Ella Duncan, former Chair of the New South Wales Aboriginal Child Sexual Assault Taskforce, and Mr Bill Gray AM, former Australian Electoral Commissioner, were the other members of the Board (Yu, P. , Duncan, M. E. and Gray, B. 2008, p. 65). The Northern Territory Emergency Response Review Board (the Board) found that while considerable quantitative and qualitative data is available in the key [measurable] areas of health, housing, education, policing and employment in remote Territory communities, it was clear that little or no baseline data existed to specifically evaluate the [social] impacts of the NTER.
The Board also found that at the time of the Review a number of measures, such as education initiatives, safe houses, policing, night patrols and child services, were yet to be implemented in many communities. Apart from some initial scoping data, there was little evidence of baseline data being gathered in any formal or organised format that would permit an assessment of the [social] impact and progress of the NTER upon communities. The lack of empirical data proved to be a major problem for the Review and is an area that requires urgent attention. (Yu, P. , Duncan, M. E. and Gray, B. 2008, p. 14) With broad and wide consultation however, the Board was to establish Indigenous (and non-Indigenous) perceptions of the impact of NTER.
Among its key findings from community consultations, the Board found that while income management in some places was linked with a reduction in drinking in most communities, however, people opposed compulsory income management suggesting that it should be voluntary for people wanting to stay on it and targeted to people who abuse and neglect children. Incidents of negative unintended consequences (George and Wilding, 1984, p. ,3) included embarrassment in supermarkets, frustration in dealing with Centrelink and the impacts of reduced spending on mobility and daily life (Yu, P. , Duncan, M. E. and Gray, B. 2008, p. 85). In almost all communities the Board heard broad criticisms about the Work for the Dole program [Workfare].
The Board also found that while there was a general decrease in alcohol consumption (because it was blanketly banned across all communities — Pre-NTER the choice to be “dry” rested with the community. Many of the former ‘dry’ communities resented being seen to be ‘dry’ because of NTER and not due to the self-imposed ban by the community itself), there was a concomitant increase in cannabis consumption (Yu, P. , Duncan, M. E. and Gray, B. 2008, p. 85). “Many people highlighted the offensive nature of the NTER signs referring to alcohol and pornography prohibition on prescribed land and felt that it labelled ‘Aboriginal people as alcoholics and paedophiles’ and strongly urged that the wording of these signs be changed in consultation with communities” (Yu, P. , Duncan, M. E. and Gray, B. 2008, p. 85). Conclusion:
With the linear passage from protection to self-determination, the overarching social policy measures placed over Indigenous Australians have ranged from the purely paternal “we know what is good for you”, to the neo-paternal of “we want you to self-determine to live like the rest of us, and we will tell you how to do it. ” However, as stated by Board Government should not impose requirements concerning particular models of governance on communities, other than that the community must be capable of getting things done effectively and of holding decision makers accountable (Yu, P. , Duncan, M. E. and Gray, B. , p. 15). Recommendation 45 of the Little Children are Sacred report explicitly states ‘That, as soon as possible, the government, in consultation with Aboriginal ommunities and organisations, develop, implement and support programs and services that address the underlying effects of both recent and “intergenerational” trauma suffered in Aboriginal communities and enhance the general emotional and mental wellbeing of all members of those communities (Wild, R. , and Anderson P. , 2007 p. , 6, my emphasis). A neo-liberalist post-welfare state ‘blames the victims. ’ Whilst recognition and a national apology are good beginnings, saying ”sorry”, it seems, it not nearly enough. Rather, it seems that we need to learn to listen. Altman, J. , and Sanders, W. , 1995, From exclusion to dependence: Aborigines in the welfare state in Australia, in Social Welfare with Indigenous Peoples, Dixon, J, and Scheurell (eds), Routledge, London References:
Beherendt ,2007, The Emergency we had to have, in Altman, J. , and Hinkson, M. , (eds) Coercive Reconciliation: Stabilise, Normalise, Exit Aboriginal Australia, Arena Publications Association, North Carlton, Australia. George, V. , and Wilding,P, 1984, The Impact of Social Policy, Routledge and Kegan Paul FAHCSIA, 2007, Department of Families, Housing, Community Service and Indigenous Affairs, 2007 http://www. fahcsia. gov. au/sa/indigenous/progserv/ntresponse/Pages/default. aspx, retrieved 12. 05. 2010 Keating, P. , 1992, Redfern Address, for the introduction of the Year of Indigenous People; http://www. ourcommunity. com. au/leadership/leadership_article. jsp? rticleId=2838, retrieved 12. 05. 2010 Howard, J. , 1999, Motion of regret to Parliament, http://tizona. wordpress. com/2008/02/11/john-howards-motion-relating-to-reconciliation-as-put-to-parliament-august-1999/ retrieved 12. 05. 2010 Jamrozik, A. , 2009, Social Policy in the Post-Welfare State, 3rd ed. Pearson Education, pp. 312-315 Yu, P. , Duncan, M. E. and Gray, B. , 2008, Northern Territory Emergency Response Review Board Report, Commonwealth of Australia 2008 Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007 http://www. austlii. edu. au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/ntnera2007531/index. html#s3, retrieved 12. 05. 2010 Paisley, F. , 2000, Loving Protection?
Australian Feminism and Aboriginal Women’s Rights 1919 – 1939, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South Reynolds, H. , 2000, Indigenous Social Welfare, in Mc Mahon, A. , Thomson, J. , and Williams, C. , (eds), Understanding the Australian Welfare State: Key Documents and Themes, 2nd ed, Macmillan Education Australia, pp. 96-135 Rudd, K. , 2008, National Apology address, http://news. ninemsn. com. au/article. aspx? id=379056 retrieved 12. 05. 2010 Stilwell, F. , 2000, ‘Work, wages and welfare’ in Mc Mahon, A. , Thomson, J. , and Williams, C. , (eds), Understanding the Australian Welfare State: Key Documents and Themes, 2nd ed, Macmillan Education Australia, pp. 23-47 Wild, R. , and Anderson P. 2007, Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle: Little Children are Sacred, Northern Territory Board Of Inquiry Into The Protection Of Aboriginal Children From Sexual Abuse, Northern Territory Government. ———————– [i] Other legislative changes in 2007 to enable the NT Intervention include: Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Northern Territory National Emergency Response and Other Measures) Act 2007 Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Legislation Amendment (Child Support Reform Consolidation and Other Measures) Act 2007 C2007A00082 (No. 82, 2007) Northern Territory National Emergency Response Amendment (Alcohol) Act 2007 C2007A00141 (No. 141, 2007)
Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Northern Territory National Emergency Response and Other Measures) Act 2007 C2007A00128 (No. 128, 2007) Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Legislation Amendment (Child Care and Other 2007 Budget Measures) Act 2007 C2007A00113 (No. 113, 2007 Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Township Leasing) Act 2007 C2007A00121 (No. 121, 2007) Appropriation (Northern Territory National Emergency Response) Act (No. 1) 2007-2008 C2007A00126 (No. 126, 2007) Appropriation (Northern Territory National Emergency Response) Act (No. 2) 2007-2008 C2007A00127 (No. 127, 2007) Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Payment Reform) Act 2007 C2007A00130 (No. 130, 2007)
Native Title Amendment (Technical Amendments) Act 2007 C2007A00125 (No. 125, 2007) Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Management System and Other Measures) Act 2007 C2007A00118 (No. 118, 2007) Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Legislation Amendment (Child Disability Assistance) Act 2007 C2007A00182 (No. 182, 2007) Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Legislation Amendment (Further 2007 Budget Measures) Act 2007 C2007A00183 (No. 183, 2007) Further legislative changes have been made since 2007. [ii] Prescribed areas encompass more than 500 Aboriginal communities: 73 of the larger settlements were targeted for intense NTER application iii] Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Northern Territory National Emergency Response and Other Measures) Act 2007: Section 4: Racial Discrimination Act (1) Subject to subsection (3), the provisions of this Act, and any acts done under or for the purposes of those provisions, are, for the purposes of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, special measures. (2) Subject to subsection (3), the provisions of this Act, and any acts done under or for the purposes of those provisions, are excluded from the operation of Part II of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 . [iv] see Legislation list in Footnote i [v] In fact, then Chief Minister of the NT, Claire Martin, made an address to Federal Parliament at the end of May 2006.
Whilst she was arguing for greater financial resources to be provided to the NT by the Federal Budget for Indigenous issues, she did raise concerns about the state of Indigenous affairs in the NT. Martin noted that the state of Aboriginal communities across the NT is a national issue that requires urgent national attention. In August of 2006, Martin commissioned The Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse, which released its Little Children are Sacred Report, by Rex Wild and Patricia Anderson, on June 15, 2007. That is, there was foreshadowing of the ‘NT emergency’. [vi] Contrary to popular opinion, the Constitutional amendments did not onfer the right to vote for Aboriginal people. Voluntary franchise was extended in 1965. [vii] In the 1990s the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission started a national inquiry into the practice of removing children. The Bringing Them Home Report on the national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children was tabled in Parliament on 26 May 1997. The report told a story of welfare boards, of segregation, of so-called ‘assimilation’ policies which did not work. The report also told stories of mothers fleeing into the bush with their babies (http://reconciliaction. org. au/nsw/education-kit/stolen-generations/).