The government’s radical plan for Aboriginal Australia wasn’t news to Tricia Smith.

The ALP member, who’s taught in remote indigenous communities — at the coalface — since 1993, raised many of the issues as motions at the Northern Territory ALP conference at the end of 2005.

While contentious, all of them were passed unopposed — by all factions of the NT ALP conference, notes Smith, keen to emphasise that she’s “an issues lady and not a factional person”. The kids are “my priority”.

The situation in the Territory had “reached crisis point” which is why she proposed the fairly extreme action a year and a half ago. The proposals chime in with the federal government’s more recent plans for greater policing, compulsory school attendance and ensuring the safety and wellbeing of minors [emphasis added]:

  1. MOTION: POLICE PRESENCE IN REMOTE COMMUNITIES

    The Alice Springs Branch of the ALP calls upon the NT Government to ensure that all remote communities have an accessible police presence available when needed, including the provision of Police Posts for overnight stays in the larger communities where they don’t have Police Stations.

    Smith wrote: “During my six months at [X] I witnessed situations that, within any culture, would be deemed appalling. The [X] Police were often called in but, given the proximity being nearly an hour’s drive away, the perpetrators had often gone bush before the Police arrived… the victims under threat need IMMEDIATE and not delayed assistance.” 

    MOVED: Tricia Smith
    SECONDED: Des Rogers

  2. MOTION: COMPULSORY SCHOOL ATTENDANCE

    This Conference calls upon the NT Government to enforce compulsory education at school until age 15.

    Smith wrote: “Attendance is crucial if teachers are expected to raise the literacy and numeracy standards of students… Teachers and schools face a constant battle to get kids to attend school… I have witnessed Indigenous education go from bad to worse in spite of two decades of initiative and increased funding. Non-attendance and a lack of interest or priority for school education have reached a crisis point in the NT.”

    MOVED: Tricia Smith
    SECONDED: Member for Macdonnell, Alison Anderson in the absence of Des Rogers.

  3. MOTION: IMPROVED WELLBEING AND SAFETY OF MINORS

    The Conference of the NT ALP calls upon the NT Government to upgrade the staffing and resourcing of the Department of Health and Community Services’ Family and Children’s Services (FACS) Division so that it can adequately attend to the safety, social, emotional health and hygiene issues drastically affecting minors on remote communities and introduce a special FACS unit to closely monitor the performance [and] ensuring the wellbeing of these children and minors.

    Smith wrote: “Abuse is rife, particularly in remote communities where minors are isolated, locked in and lack access to “safe houses” and support networks … I implore the NT Government to lead the way and become a beacon for other states to follow … Health demands and financial costs … are enormous … The demands are mammoth. They are too big a responsibility for our current DHCS FACS to handle.”

    MOVED: Tricia Smith
    SECONDED: Des Rogers

  4. MOTION: YOUTH WILDERNESS CAMPS

    This Conference of the NT ALP requests the NT Government investigate the establishment of wilderness type camps, where “youth at risk” can be taken for long term rehabilitation programmes.

    Smith wrote: People are “doing a sterling job with petrol sniffers and youth at risk. However the demands are so great that these individuals cannot cope with the ever-increasing needs … There is an urgent need for wilderness-style camps … staffed with highly trained personnel … with IMMEDIATE access and no red tape attached.”

    MOVED: Tricia Smith
    SECONDED: Des Rogers

At the ALP conference, Smith also made the suggestion — verbally — that welfare payments be linked to school attendance. Originally part of the motion, but removed later, she wrote that “the strategy I strongly recommend is that school attendance for all welfare recipients be locked into Government welfare payments”.

This was apparently “howled down” by several of the conference delegates.

ALP members still haven’t received feedback on what the ALP government has or hasn’t actioned following conference recommendations, according to Smith who says she’s been “frustrated and angered” by the NT government’s slowness to act on motions its party members, and politicians, approved. 

She understands that Clare Martin’s government would struggle to “financially afford the policing required” to get the situation right, but wonders why they didn’t go to the federal government earlier, rather than wait to have the federal government come down on them.

“What ever happened to our motions?” wonders Smith.

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