Oct 24, 2008

NT intervention: Macklin ignores review board in favour of anecdotes

Minister Macklin has responded very swiftly to reject the key recommendation of the NTER Review Board that she appointed, writes Jon Altman.

Minister Macklin has responded very swiftly to reject the key recommendation of the NTER Review Board that she appointed: "that the current application of compulsory income management in the Northern Territory cease" and that it should be available on a voluntary basis to community members who choose to have some of their income quarantined for specific purposes as determined by them.

The NTER Review Board, like everyone else, seems to prefer the term "income management" to "quarantining", but the bottom line is that this is the most contentious measure in the intervention because it contravenes the Racial Discrimination Act, is blanket and hence makes no distinction between responsible and irresponsible spenders of welfare, and is limited to only Aboriginal people residing in NT prescribed communities and not, for example, to those participating in the Cape York trials.

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17 thoughts on “NT intervention: Macklin ignores review board in favour of anecdotes

  1. jon altman

    As the person who wrote the original article I want to thank all who made comment. I only want to post a comment to GJL who seems to have some problem with the fact that I am a professor. So let me assure you GJL that I have not always been a professor and that I have resided for very long periods of time in the remotest Aboriginal communities in north Australia in the most difficult circumstances and learnt a great deal. But if I had not, would that disqualify me from having a considered view? Do I have to be homeless to make informed comment about homelessness; or to be unemployed to make comment about the problem of unemployment. At once GJL you seem to be saying that ministers of the crown should and should not take advice from specialists. My main point is that policy should not be based either on anecdote or on the Minister’s interpretation of the views of a privileged few, especially when significant public money and much time and effort has been spent by an appointed Board to review these issues.

  2. NT Roz

    There is no doubt that income quarantining is a blunt instrument, and a mixed blessing. In some places it has made economic prisoners of remote community people, hostage to the high prices and limited availabilities of some remote community stores. The measuring stick of money being spent on “fresh food” disregards the poor practices of some agencies providing “bush orders” – which include charging for goods that are missing once the boxes arrive at the (usually small) communities, meat that is too putrid to eat on arrival at teh community, and inedible fruit and veg. These orders are delivered only once a week, to people who have no capacity to safely store food,and who have to order off a list rather than being able to see what they are buying.
    Anything that reduces the amount of grog going into remote communities will reduce the appalling levels of violence against women and kids, and will make more money available for food, clothing, bedding etc. However, dare I suggest this would be best tackled by supply reduction at the outlets – selling less of the wretched stuff. This has not been mentioned as a strategy, as it is inconceivable to interfere with the rights of the liquor industry to sell as much of their product as they can. There is even some alarming discussion of “wet canteens” being placed back into remote communities in the Central Desert, despite the very strong evidence base that having a wet canteen increases the need for, and cost of providing health services, domestic violence services, kids services, and extra policing. It also guts the social life of communities, as everything revolves around the opening hours of the wet canteen. Macklin, (and NT politicians) – are you listening??? The Aboriginal women in this region DO NOT WANT INCREASED AVAILABILITY OF GROG! They’ve marched in the streets, they’ve written submissions, they’ve met with government and industry reps – and still have to keep fighting the same old battles.

  3. GJL

    Yes Professor – you obviously know all about how it is to live in the remote communities of the NT, with all the complexities and competing interests that exist in these poverty-stricken, mostly disfunctional communities. Peter Yu too – he would know well??
    But Minister Macklin would only be following the lead of her boss in making decisions and announcing policy without any of the benefit that might spring from getting specialist advice from people who say they know. Rudd and Swan have set wonderful precedents for their fellow ministers in receiving (or not receiving) and following (or not following) the advices of their learned bureaucrats.
    But make no mistake professor – women and children in these remote areas are generally speaking, currently far better of in terms of safety, nutrition, health and welfare since the effects of the intervention have kicked in.

  4. dermot

    claret sez ” I have worked in Aboriginal health for many years and can tell you that it is much better to rely on ‘anecdotes’ than ‘expert opinion'”

    funny that whenever the intervention is mentioned another string of anecdotes is put in from someone who claims to work in ‘aboriginal health’ and thereby claims expertise.

    Claret you work as what? an admistrator? a nuse? a doctor? you don’t say.

  5. Kevin Rennie

    Jenny Macklin referred on radio this morning to the views expressed by women in Wadeye. It seems that policy for the NT is often dictated by the situation there. It is probably one of the least functional communities in the Territory and should not be used as the yardstick for decision-making. Mal Brough always seemed to make the same mistake.

  6. dermot

    claret that is better. five years for a failed exercise in policy on the run to prove itself ridiculous

  7. Bev Kilsby

    I once lived in Mission Yirrakala , in the NT. it was 40 yrs ago, then the Methodist Church controlled the
    Mission I learnt alot from the Church about Aborigines, I believe now it is under Govt care.
    While i was their I saw Aboriginies, catch fish, and crabs, and go out hunting, i think now their was no grog
    on the mission, at the time the Church was in controll. I could be wrong, it could have been done in secret.
    Those who drink where their are families, they should be supervised by doctors or trained people. if
    their is any violence. I also did Aboriginal History for year 12,VCE. and that taught me alot about Govt work, and Church influence, I loved the Videos I watched about these people around Austalia, I would advice any one to read and learn more about Aborigines, because some of them I believe are very gifted

  8. Jon Hunt

    Hello, well I can sympathise with some comments. I do have a problem with the minister ignoring some recommendations and choosing whatever she feels is right. You could then argue what’s the point of a review if you are only going to ignore it. However, I can also see that the imposition of compulsory welfare on what may be the majority of well-behaved people is something that is not insignificant. As Claret has mentioned, the problem is that it is often the case that people are bullied out of their money which is then spent on grog, dope and pokies leaving an empty wallet and an empty fridge. However, I would have thought that the review board would have given this due consideration.

  9. Mirek

    It seems that Rudd`s Labour party is caught up in a bind: how to justify their enthusiastic support and endorsement for Howard`s July 2007 political intervention, and still appear before the punters as being somewhat different to the widely despised Liberal regime. We know how difficult it can be, but Jenny Macklin is trying her best!

  10. a concerned student of this difficult situation

    Prof Altman levels damaging criticism at Macklin’s disregard for the independent policy procedure she herself set up, which she appears to have countered by weak appeals to limited anecdotal evidence. And he is to be commended for his long running advocacy of the subaltern, his post-colonial defence of the self-determination of those marginalised and disaffected communities that populate our remote areas. But he also makes his case by way of denials of Macklin’s claims, and some of his counter claims simply aren’t true.

    ‘Demand-sharing’, where the gains of individual enterprise and labour become distributed under pressures of obligation to kin, is widely acknowledged to be a major impediment to sustained engagement in work. In regrettable cases, regrettably many in some communities, this turns into ‘humbugging’, where the demands that wealth be ‘shared’ are made by intimidation and violence, especially on older people and on women. This is one collateral reason why income management or quarantining might be a good idea. Prof Altman’s proposal that it should be voluntary only also ignores problems. In many communities it is considered shameful to request income management. You have to specifically go into an office, ask for forms and so on, word gets around, and so it never happens.

    The reality is different in every community. But it cannot be ignored, no matter how noble the intentions behind the advocacy. Consultation and advocacy is important but articulation and negotiation on the ground is paramount at present. The onus is precisely on those people with experience living and working intimately with those communities affected to help them understand why the policies have been put in place — even if they disagree with it. This is also important because people in these communities might think, or with open discussion come to think that, for example, mandatory income management is necessary for their community and others, even if not good for them personally.

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