“You’re seen as seagulls,” says the principal of a remote community school in Western Australia, who can’t hide his contempt from journalism student Clare Negus, writing about the sense of hopelessness in indigenous Australia in today’s Crikey.

“You fly into town, pick and pick and fly away again.”

As we hit the publish button, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin is announcing the passage of the welfare reform bill, extending the controversial practice of income management to non indigenous welfare recipients, thereby restoring the Racial Discrimination Act.

Yesterday Jon Altman detailed the latest Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory 100-page government progress report, a day that also happened to be the third anniversary of the  intervention:

On schooling, enrolments are up slightly, but attendance has declined very slightly (-0.3%) and remains at a reported 62.2% despite school nutrition programs at 65 schools and the employment of 200 people (161 local indigenous people) in school meals delivery.

On health, hospitalisation for children aged 0–5 years are down … as are audiological and dental follow ups.

For the second report in a row child malnutrition is up despite 88 licenced stores … and 16,695 income managed customers.

On crime, alcohol, substance abuse and drug related incidents … and domestic violence and assault reportage and convictions … are all up.

Former indigenous minister and architect of the intervention Mal Brough said today: “I felt that in a five-year window you should have been able to make the fundamental changes to the infrastructure and people’s aspirations on the ground. But three years in, that clearly hasn’t happened, so that’s of grave disappointment.”

On this, Altman agrees: “…this is unconscionable policy failure without any apparent policy risk assessment or contingency planning.”

Where to from here?

Peter Fray

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