Yesterday, Crikey attended a press conference in Alice Springs, where the Combined Aboriginal Organisations of the Northern Territory released a formal response to the Federal Government’s proposals for intervention in the NT. A panel of Indigenous leaders, chaired by former ATSIC CEO, Pat Turner, and including Central Land Council Director, David Ross, announced its own proposal for a two stage response to the problems of child abuse in the Northern Territory.

This plan is for an emergency response over the next 3-6 months which would include consultation with all local communities to establish the scope and nature of risks to children, as well as the recruitment and training of suitably skilled, culturally aware child protection staff and police. This phase would also see the introduction of tougher restrictions on alcohol sales in surrounding locations.

This crisis intervention would dovetail with a Long Term Development Plan, designed to address issues of community capacity and governance. Key planks in the second phase would include (i) the progressive roll-out of new housing, built mainly by workers from the communities, (ii) the development of more effective employment programs, and (iii) the expansion of school infrastructure – including better training and career development for teachers and Aboriginal Education Workers.

The response document points out that a government takeover of community administration risks undermining the local community leadership which must play a key role if these problems are to be solved. Consequently, it is highly critical of the government’s intention to take control of Aboriginal land through five year leases, and to dismantle the permit system which regulates visitors to these communities

The report identifies four crucial components which must be present to ensure that Aboriginal families and children will be safe: (i) long term investment, (ii) local control, (iii) trusting Aboriginal families and communities to look after their own children, and (iv) re-engaging men. It also calls for the NT government to enact legislation to establish an independent Aboriginal Child and Family Services Authority.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly cited the Little Children are Sacred report as providing the trigger for these unprecedented interventions. Given that the first recommendation of this report calls for governments to commit to “genuine consultation with Aboriginal people in designing initiatives for Aboriginal communities” the government must respond to this document promptly and thoughtfully.

* The full text of the Combined Aboriginal Organisation’s document is available from the National Indigenous Times website.