Jul 7, 2009

The truth about the NT intervention and government consultation

The government's community consultation can never, will never stack up in court as resembling anything like "informed consultation" with Aboriginal people.

For the past few weeks, the Rudd government has been conducting consultations with Aboriginal communities across the Northern Territory about the future of the intervention and, in particular, the reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act. To growing howls of "rigged", brave government bureaucrats have shuffled into hostile towns throughout the Top End and Central Australia, armed with fact sheets, travel allowance dockets, and earnest facial expressions. And, as it turns out, a Power Point presentation. As we now know, courtesy of a juicy government leak, the consultations are being staged, at least in part, to strengthen the Rudd government’s case should it be dragged into court once it meets its promise to reinstate the RDA. There are more than a dozen slides in the presentation, covering all aspects of the NT intervention from the grog bans and community store reforms to land leasing and pornography. And while the slides are technically "publicly available" -- they are, after all, being shown at public meetings that the media are being prevented from entering -- attendees have told NIT that government bureaucrats have been rather cagey about allowing the slides to be copied or distributed. Fortunately, a set of them fell off the back of a truck. The slide show contains some important information and questions for communities to consider. But it’s perhaps most notable for what it doesn’t say… and for some silly pictures accompanying them. Firstly, the illustrations. One of the slides depicts an Aboriginal woman waving at a police car as it drives past. Strangely, the woman’s middle finger appears not to be raised in the drawing, and she has what looks suspiciously like a beaming smile on her face. The illustrator is apparently unfamiliar with police-Aboriginal relations in a jurisdiction where 83 percent of the prison population is black.

Another slide depicts a white man wearing a big coat and waving about some p-rnography. A young Aboriginal child cowers behind his mother’s leg. Viewers might expect the accompanying text to read like a World War II propaganda poster, warning of the evils of the Eros Foundation. Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near as interesting, simply warning that some children in some Aboriginal communities have seen some stuff they shouldn’t have. Hold the presses -- a kid somewhere got his hands on some p-rn. The slide neglects to mention that much of the material emanates from Fyshwick in Canberra, the ACT’s red light district which is situated just a stone’s throw from the very hall where the laws were made which now depict all Northern Territory Aboriginal people as so deviant that they can’t be trusted to shield their children from porn. The slide also neglects to mention that Fyshwick routinely experiences its busiest times of year when parliament is sitting.

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

4 thoughts on “The truth about the NT intervention and government consultation

  1. Bob Gosford

    So, can we ask Get Up – or someone with deepish pockets – to fund the legal actions Minister Macklin’s advisors are so fearful of? I’ve got a few spare pennies…

  2. Jenny McFarland

    I am currently writing my masters thesis on remote community Night Patrols in the NT, having worked with them for close to ten years. The Intervention and the new Shires local government system have between them removed the very things that made patrols work in the first place – community ownership. Patrols are now largely ineffective, as they are expected to run a corporate agenda (more akin to a security service than a genuine community patrol), are not allowed to perform the functions (such as looking for people who are lost or in broken down vehicles) that gave them the community credibility to moderate their family’s destructive behaviours. As one ex-patroller commented to me “the right people aren’t on patrols any more”. Employment models being used for patrols are not flexible enough to cope with the range of Aboriginal family and cultural obligations that people in remote communities have to negotiate every day, and that give the patrols their legitimacy, or to be able to respond appropriately to a situation that may be escalating towards violence. The women in remote communities have been particularly disenfranchised under the new patrol auspice arrangements. Aboriginal cultures in this region are highly gendered, and women’s issues (including safety) are not the legitimate business of men. Interference in the other gender’s disputes and jealousies can, (and has) led to long-running and increasingly complex family fights that can go on for years.
    More Police in communities has led to more prosecutions and incarcerations for relatively minor vehicle infringements – which has led to people using more back roads in dodgy vehicles (at greater risk to themselves and family) in order to avoid encountering Police. Police services that are not available in remote communities are license renewals and vehicle registrations.
    This round of “community consultations” is a transparent attempt to cover government arses – to torture a metaphor. Let’s hope that (ugly though the sight may be) that this unconscionable attempt to re-colonise Aboriginal land and lives, and to destroy any remaining vestiges of Aboriginality are seen for what they are.

  3. James Bennett

    WTF would be the purpose or the desired outcome of any legal action Bob ?

    Do you think the Government is not actually trying to help.

    If you remember it was complaints from aboriginal women which prompted the initial intervention. Now this goose is saying everything was ok before and the intervention is the cause of the problems.
    Could he be any more petty with his complaints?

    Aboriginal commentators ( and others ) have very flexible memories.

    No wonder normal people roll there eyes when this subject comes up.

  4. Bob the builder

    James (normal) Bennett,

    your very flexible memory seems to remember that it was Aboriginal women who prompted the Intervention. You may have got this strange idea from the corporate press, but if you had cared to read further (or had any knowledge of the NT), you would know that it was not Aboriginal women, but was largely white men, particularly Brough and Howard, who decided on the Intervention. True, the Little children are sacred report (or Little Children Are Scared as it appeared in a hastily-written internal government document), which you clearly haven’t read (it’s here, if you care to take the time – http://www.inquirysaac.nt.gov.au/ ) was used as a pretext, but it, and the later public comments of its authors, were heartily ignored.

    If you had more than an urban ideological barrow to push, you’d realise there was more nuance to the Intervention than “ra ra let’s civilise the natives, they’ll be ever so grateful”. It is not just unjust and unpopular, but counter-productive, even judged by its own tawdry standards. It is, however, paying off a lot of mortgages in Canberra, Sydney and Mebourne and helping make housing unaffordable in Darwin (“volunteer” doctors on $500/day + allowances, etc. etc. – the non-volunteers now in place are getting far more).

    No wonder “abnormal” people roll their ideas when these urban ideologues talk from a position of complete ignorance.

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details