Apr 29, 2011

NT Intervention: the divide between opinion and evidence

The over-publicised tweet by Larissa Behrendt needs to be seen as part of a wider issue.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott appeared on The 7.30 Report, interviewed by Chris Uhlmann against the backdrop of the NT:

CHRIS UHLMANN: I spoke with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott earlier today and asked if the intervention had achieved its primary aim, protecting children.

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57 thoughts on “NT Intervention: the divide between opinion and evidence

  1. Jon Hunt

    I worked as a doctor in Aboriginal health for seven years, mainly because of my concern for Aboriginal people, and partly because I wanted to know just what is going wrong.

    What I learned was that the problems I encountered were largely as a result of environmental pressures. In other words, I would try to fix their medical problems only to have this made ineffectual by the forces which caused these problems in the first place. Basically everyone came back with the same thing repetitively and nothing anyone did seemed to make a difference.

    The “forces” I describe have come about by colonisation, dispossession, disempowerment, displacement and so on. That’s where everything else stems from. I am not surprised that many have expressed their concern about the intervention, because the intervention is nothing more than more of the same. It can not possibly help, and to have anyone say it will help tells me they know nothing of the problems. I don’t think that ignorance should have place in discussions about the welfare of Aboriginal people but unfortunately as far as the government goes that seems to be all that is demonstrated. It has been more than 200 years since this all started, and I think it about time that someone treated them with the respect they are owed instead of dictating to them how to solve their problems when they know better than anyone else how to do this.

  2. Jim Reiher

    It is such a tragedy that some of the dwindling minority of voices supporting the intervention, are getting so much press.

    How can compulsory medical checks of all children in designated regions, be child care? To give vag_nal and an_l examinations to all children in 73 regions under the guise of “protecting them from child abuse” is a contradiction in terms.

    Are readers aware that of the first 7433 compulsory checks, only 4 cases of possible abuse were detected? (source: Courier Mail, 24 May 2008). That is outrageous! There would be more cases of possible abuse found if you took any middle class white suburb anywhere else in this country! But no, our previous government decided to pretend to care about children, by physically abusing thousands of them.

    I know my language is strong. But can you imagine what we would call it if a white suburb in Melbourne was deemed to have a lot of child abuse, so EVERY CHILD IN THE SUBURB would be forcibly checked in such a way as to traumatise the children? Without parental consent??!! Taken and checked even if there was no suspicion about any abuse of that child in particular? We would never allow such an outrage. it would never be done to white families.

    And yet we allowed it to happen to our indigenous kids in the Northern Territory. What a disgrace and what abuse! I am so appauled. I can never NEVER vote for a govt that implemented such actions, nor can I vote for one that went along with it, and continues to justify it. Both our major parties are racist, gutless and utterly disgraceful.

    The intervention needs to end, and some serious repair work with the indigenous communities must be … once again… attempted. It is unbelievable what we have NOT learned in over 200 years.

  3. Catching up

    Can someone enlighten me to what could not have been done for the Aboriginals if we did not have the intervention.

    Without the Intervention, we could still have had -:

    Increase police presence.

    Child Protection workers.

    Improved housing.

    Education motivation.

    Income management. (This does not have to be across the board, punishing those who do the right thing, as those who are wasteful. The present method is very expensive and does provide many jobs for the bureaucrats.) Income management can be done on a voluntary basis or where children are at risk, through Child Welfare agencies and the courts.

    Job training and increased employment opportunities.

    Health checks.

    Alcohol and drug counselling.

    What did the Intervention allow to happen that could not have been done without taking peoples rights away.

    How many more are going to school. Has abuse of children ceased. Are more employed. What happened to the alcoholics, as I refused to believe restricting alcohol would have solved their problems. My guess is that they have moved elsewhere.

    What has happened is the there has been more money spent. It did not need an Intervention for this to occur.

    It is my opinion that the Intervention was hasty created to assist the Howard government’s re-election. It would have been allowed to die, if Mr. Howard was successful in being re-elected.

    The Labor government should have re-assessed the situation when first elected and a more responsible programme put in place.

    Please do not insult me by insisting that money has been spent over the decades, it has not. The Aboriginals have had less per head spent on education, health and housing Etc. than that the rest of the community.

  4. Jon Altman

    One of the most worrying aspects of these debates on whether the Intervention in the NT (we seem to have yet again moved on from the term Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory which is actually a COAG National Partnership Agreement very quickly) or the Cape York welfare reform pilots or the voluntary income management trials are making a difference is that we have more and more reports and less and less analysis. A close reading of any of a plethora of reports [unfortunately as Eva Cox notes rarely with a quantitative baseline] by government departments on a six monthly basis in the NT coordinated by FaHCSIA, or the Commonwealth Coordinator General for Remote Services Delivery or the NT Coordinator General or by consultants like KPMG on the Families Responsibilities Commission or by the FRC on a quarterly basis or by the Productivity Commission or by the Prime Minister to Parliament annually or by the Australian Bureau of Statistics or the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (I could go on and on, we even have a dedicated Clearing House that cannot keep up with them all) show that at best outcomes are ambiguous and worst that peoples’ circumstances have either not changed or gone backwards.

    There is a lot of evidence out there but a reluctance that is often politically or ideologically based to address it seriously. And it shows considerable difference with some agencies looking to genuinely assess change, others more intent to defensively cover up failings. Opinion and spin seems to count for a great deal, but what is most concerning is that neither major party has done the serious hard policyt work to consider place based alternatives. So we get simplistic mantras like ‘get a job’, ‘get an education’, ‘get your kids to school’, ‘stop drinking’, ‘apply the law’ by some of the most powerful in Australian society as if the playing field is dead level!

    Closing the Gap rhetoric is about making the Australian public feel that something is being done, not about actually delivering sustainable benefit to Indigenous communities. The cosy Canberra consensus might quibble at the margins, but normalisation and the elimination of difference is the ultimate goal, one that is clearly not shared by all Indigenous Australians.

    Murray Edelman’s famous book about political language comes to mind: Words that Succeed and Policies that Fail! Succeed for whom and fail whom leaves little need for analysis although how we as a society let it happen is a worrying issue. Thanks for a stimulating article.

  5. David Hand

    “The over-publicised tweet by Larissa Behrendt”? Gimme a break – all I’ve read in Crikey over the past two weeks are rose tinted, beatifying, sycophantic PR releases on her behalf. Anyone would think there was an issue that needed defending (hmmmmmm………).

    So we have yet more hand-wringing from the left elites who opposed the intervention on reasons of principle from the start. We’ve had a change of government but no significant change of policy. Why this is? Two governments, from right and left of centre are persuing the same policy but if you read Crikey, the “invasion”, which it opposed from the start is an abject failure due to a lack of proof, or empiracle evidence.

    Come on, make a suggestion about what should be done. Spend more money? Relax controls over the distribution of welfare because they would not be tolerated in suburban Melbourne? These are the things that will fix it?

    It is telling that all this urban left elite huffing and puffing is having little influence over policy. You can all sit round your lattes and opine loudly about how evil the intervention is because we wouldn’t put up with it in Melbourne. Maybe it has failed. I haven’t been there so I am hostage to what I see and hear. But Bess Price has been there and has a story to tell, otherwise known as misinformation to all you who made your minds up about it in 2007.

    I await a coherent policy idea from the leftie urban elite that is taken seriously enough by this left wing government to make a difference. I’m not holding my breath.

  6. Jon Hunt

    Dear David,

    I think that I did actually mention what should be done. I’m not sure what you mean by “left elites”. The opposition to the intervention is valid on principle alone, in fact intuitively it’s a stupid thing to do. As I said many of the problems in Aboriginal communities stem from the interventions of the past 200 years, of which Howard’s one is only one of many. His contribution was designed to do nothing for Aboriginal people but was only intended to get him re-elected. It is disappointing that so few seem to recognise this for what it is. It is a pity that he used the abuse of children for this purpose.

    A policy idea from a “leftie urban elite” is obvious from the above. Support them in solving their problems, respect them, and don’t tell them what to do. It is as easy and as simple as that.

    If you don’t believe me, ask them. What a novel idea. Ask them what they would like to see done!

  7. kennethrobinson2

    This whole thing is not about helping Aboriginal people, its just a power grab, by a totally stupid political system.
    Any one who believes that it is working, should come up here and live with it for a while, these clowns in government, and opposition, dont really care about anything but the next election, neither party is winning friends in the top-end.

  8. Kerry Lovering

    If income maintenance can stop one murderous abuse of a woman then it is worthwhile.

    I note all the above focus on children but the plight of some aboriginal women is often appalling and appears to be ignored. Bess Price should be listened to.

  9. David Hand

    Hey Jon
    “Support them in solving their problems, respect them, and don’t tell them what to do. It is as easy and as simple as that.”

    Hmmmm, I know! Why don’t we establish an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Commission?
    Self empowerment! Run by Aborigines! A group we can ask, and not tell what to do!

    Is that what you are talking about?

  10. Liz45

    @DAVID HAND – Well, unlike you, I listen to aboriginal people. I’ve been to rallies/gatherings/information nights, where aboriginal people from the NT have been in attendance. It’s their LIVING EXPERIENCES that I’ve listened to, together with articles written by them or via others.

    Why do you assume, that the only people who stand up for human rights are lefties? Says a lot about you and your ‘lot’? I went to rallies in Wollongong & Sydney which were addressed by elders from Muckaty Station and workers in the NT. I’ve read the National Indigenous Times articles, and have before me the submissions of many groups in the NT who were not listened to by Jenny Macklin. I’ve also been on the web site of the people who walked off in disgust over both the raw sewerage they’d been forced to live with for over a week, and what was being demanded of them re signing away their land.

    It is a FACT that even the families of people convicted of committing horrific murders have not had the threat of having their land/homes taken, nor does the Justice System in NSW enable the autorities to quarantine their incomes, so what do you find difficult to understand about aboriginal people objecting to this abuse of their rights – aren’t they supposed to be citizens of the same country? Why is it OK to treat them differently? And why are you so sarcastic and dismissive of the anger by those who agree with aboriginal people being treated differently to the rest of us. This happens while Julia Gillard gives her ‘school marm lecture’ to indigenous people that they must ‘work harder’ etc. How offensive is that?

    Why does the Right think it OK, that an aboriginal worker works for the dole(50% of which is quarantined) while the non-aboriginal person working beside him gets the award wage and conditions? Why is an aboriginal worker threatened with the sack if he won’t work with his broken arm in plaster? Would you? Can you imagine or show me one incident in your state or area where this has been a reality for a non aboriginal person?

    What books, articles, programs or web sites do you visit to educate yourself re this or other related issues? Do you have a copy of the Native Title Legislation, or the Howard Ammendments? I do! Have you read any of the Reports I referred to?Read any Henry Reynolds books? Or perhaps, ‘Demons at Dusk’? Have you bothered to read anything other than the likes of Andrew Bolt and others of his ilk?

    No, didn’t think so, and it shows! You are part of the problem! You who can only show your ignorant and closed mind, without any positive input or discussion.
    The whole reason for the Intervention was land grab – and mining leases – over 400 of them in the pipeline – less than 200 prior to the Intervention. Why did Howard wait until 13 different inquiries had stated what was already known – that aboriginal people were living in squalor, that their health needs were not met, and that the educational facilities and teachers were a disgrace?

    How many people have been convicted of committing crimes of sexual assault against children?

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