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(1) Details of changes to 7,000 people's wages
On 1 July seven thousand Australian Indigenous participants in Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) are set to lose their wages. A few will have the CDEP positions converted into real jobs. But most will not.

There's a worrying lack of detail as to how the Federal Government proposes to manage the transition and the immediate problems caused by lack of money in communities in which CDEP may be the main income. This is highlighted in the Social Justice 2006 report by Tom Calma, the Social Justice Commissioner. The report which was sent to the Attorney-General on 5 April 2007 contains an alarming indictment of the Federal Government and the Federal bureaucracy's general ability to manage Indigenous affairs. It seems to have got buried in the publicity surrounding Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle “Little Children are Sacred”.

Backtracking, in Western Australia, police in Broome have already blamed changes in CDEP payments for drawing people into towns from the communities.

"Broome police officer in charge Darren Sievwright says the Commonwealth's changes to the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) program are believed to be responsible for more people from outlying Indigenous communities sleeping rough in the town. Historically the start of the tourist season has seen these transient people head back to their communities in the east," he said. "Unfortunately there has been a bit of fallout from the changes to the CDEP program which means that a lot of people have to remain in the business centres like Broome and Kununurra in order to gain their welfare payments."

(2) Details of the takeover of Northern Territory Aboriginal communities

The Federal Government's response in the Northern Territory is likely to cause similar movement. In South Australia, the mayor of Port Augusta says that the Federal Government's response in the Northern Territory will cause an influx of Indigenous people across the border and a consequent strain on their services.

Aboriginal organisations have written an open letter expressing their concerns about the longterm effects of this all. They write:

The proposals go well beyond an 'emergency response', and will have profound effects on people's incomes, land ownership, and their ability to decide the kind of medical treatment they receive. Some of the measures will weaken communities and families by taking from them the ability to make basic decisions about their lives, thus removing responsibility instead of empowering them.

In their present form the proposals miss the mark and are unlikely to be effective in their present form. There is an over-reliance on top-down and punitive measures, and insufficient indication that additional resources will be mobilised where they are urgently needed; to improve housing, child protection and domestic violence supports, schools, health services, alcohol and drug rehab programs. These issues have been raised by many Indigenous leaders over many years.

A shock and awe campaign relying on volunteers, and not backed up by adequate and sustained long-term planning and long-term implementation? So - what evidence do we have that the Federal Government can deliver adequate long-term implementation? Or the 3-4 BILLION dollars over 5 years that Jon Altman of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research reckons is needed for a long-term outcome.

Unfortunately - very little. Here's a small example. Paul Cockram points out that the grog ban on Thursdays in Tennant Creek was overturned by Centrelink's change to a pay-on-any-day system. Amanda Vanstone, the then Minister responsible for Indigenous Affairs, refused to make a special case for Tennant Creek’s welfare recipients to keep being paid on Thursdays. Bang went the Tennant Creek Aboriginal community's attempt to reduce grog consumption.

And here's a much bigger example. The Social Justice Commissioner's report highlights the failure of the Federal Government's changes to administration of Indigenous affairs to deliver what it promised . He says of the three year trial of the Shared Responsibility Agreement trial at Wadeye, Northern Territory (one of the troubled communities targeted by the Federal Government) reported in the Gray Report that:

in key aspects the trial has been a significant failure. There was no identified leadership of the trial. Contrary to the trial’s objective of a reduction in red tape, the burden of administering funds increased markedly. Flexible funding and streamlining did not eventuate. Experience of communications within and between governments was mixed with a reduction in effective communication as the trial progressed.

The government’s objective of improving engagement with Indigenous families and communities was not achieved. There was a significant breakdown in relations with Thamarrur. Other key structures or processes agreed under the SRA, such as Priority Working Groups, either never became operational or faltered.

Even the Secretary of the Department of Family and Community Services, Jeff Harmer, admitted they'd got it wrong.

"I don't believe that the Department of Family and Community Services did a fantastic job," Dr Harmer said.

The Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs admitted that he received the Northern Territory government's 20 year plan for Indigenous communities last year. How much of that has been implemented?

In the last few days, the Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma, has expressed concern about the long-term effects of the Federal Government's response to the sexual abuse of children.

".. it doesn't put in place the preventative measures that indigenous people need to stop the violence, and then prevent it from re-occurring," he said in a statement.

"Nor does it provide the measures or services to support indigenous people once these changes are made.

"How will people be assisted to safely come off their alcohol or substance addiction?"

He said some of the measures, such as scrapping the permit system, could do more harm.

"Permits have never prevented child care officers or police or any other government official from visiting indigenous communities," Mr Calma said.

"The free movement of non-indigenous people through these communities is likely to create a new raft of difficulties for indigenous people.

"Permits have been a major tool in regulating access to communities - something that will be a key issue in preventing grog running with alcohol restrictions in place."

He also wondered how Aborigines would be made aware of the changes coming.

If the Federal government doesn't want Aboriginal people to be needlessly scared, why don't they lay out in detail the plan for action, and tell people which communities will be visited and when, and say exactly what will happen to them - as Warren Snowdon asks? Refusing to name the communities and not saying what will happen to them is naturally going to frighten people, especially when it is coupled with measures like removing permits and taking control of Aboriginal land, which aren't self-evidently good things, and which aren't self-evidently connected with sexual abuse.

And why don't they seriously involve people with language and interpreting skills? Has any linguist specialising in Indigenous languages been approached? The police officers who are being sent are receiving no training in language. (See here). Let's pray that that the officers and soldiers are getting some training in different local cultural practices. And that the government is sending heaps of good Indigenous officers, and especially female officers.


Excellent post Jane.

This issue is so tough. I can see where Noel Pearson is coming from - he seems to be avoiding negativity in an attempt to keep the focus on the real issue, protecting children, but I just can't help but be concerned about the government's actions - especially the changes to the permit system - I cannot see a single good reason why the permit system needs to change in relation to the issue of child abuse.

Another "detail": the "emergency response" tends towards communities on Aboriginal Freehold land and overlooks other similar communities.

Well, which NT communities are being targeted in the "emergency response"? The number of them has been said to be 60 or about 70, but only Mutitjulu has been specified so far.

However, last night a map 'Major Communities on Aboriginal Land in the Northern Territory' (hereafter MCOAL) became available, linked from Brough's media release Government outlines Phase One of NT reform (though not explicitly referred to in it).
This map is the same as a map linked from OIPC's page on reform of the permit system also linking to the October 2006 Discussion Paper. In other words, it looks like the Major Communities implicated in the emergency measures are those identified as being in the current permit system.


The 'Major Communities on Aboriginal Land' map shows 56 communities across the NT. Of these 56, 22 are in the CLC's region. I've compared the southern part of the map with the CLC's land tenure map (linked from the CLC's permits page) (the NLC website doesn't seem to have a similar map for its region). Of these 22 MCOAL communities, 19 are ones requiring a permit. These are the differences between the two inventories:
(A) a MCOAL, but "Public" according to CLC (no permit):
Finke (Apatula)
(B) two MCOAL, but "Permission Required (private land not Aboriginal land)" according to CLC:
Santa Teresa, Wallace Rockhole
(C) not a MCOAL, but on Aboriginal Freehold and permit required:
(D) not MCOAL, but five communities where "Permission Required (private land not Aboriginal land)":
Epenarra (Wutunugurra), Imanpa, Lake Nash (Alpurrurulam), Laramba, Titjikala
(E) The CLC map also shows these three "Public" communities not on the MCOAL map:
Canteen Creek, Harts Range (Atitjere), Kalkarindji (as well as "Public" locations of Alice Springs, Kings Canyon, Tennant Creek, Ti Tree, Yulara)
In the CLC region, Alice Springs and Tennant Creek are where the term "town camps" usually applies, and "town camps in the major urban areas" were covered in the Minister's 21 June statement. But it seems that the other communities in (E), and the six sizeable communities in (C) and (D), are not in the sights of Phase One of NT reform. Why not?

Part of the answer could be that the eight communities in (D) and (E) were not among the "45 community visits" of the Northern Territory Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse (see 'Appendix 4: List of meetings held', pp.308-312 in Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle: "Little Children are Sacred"). But then the Inquiry did not hear from a number of MCOAL communities (such as Ampilatwatja, Mount Liebig, Nyirrpi, Willowra).

Hence my conclusion, that either the MCOAL map is not a good guide for locations of the emergency response (even though linked from the Minister's media release yesterday), or that the response tends towards communities on Aboriginal Freehold land and overlooks other similar communities.

Thanks for this post. Could you say where the open letter was published? Also, there are no signatures on the pdf link, is there a list somewhere of which organizations signed?--thanks.

Thanks for the detective work. That you had to connect all these dots yourself is pretty revealing in itself. I wonder if a) the government has settled on a full list yet but is just throwing out numbers from 60-100 or b) they have a list but don't want it out yet--this *may* keep communities from mobilizing against the threats, I mean plans, of the government. But it does seem hard to not make the connection between the government’s already well-established bid to revoke the permit system and this new "emergency."

Re Clare Martin's so-called 20 Year Plan: Clare did produce a very flimsy document in mid-2006, but it was completely inadequate - it may better be descibed as an embarrassment. It barely covered more than a call for the Commonwealth to fund a very simplistic 'housing program' with huge amounts of cash, and some token amounts for safety issues, and not much more. It was a propaganda piece in the skirmishing leading up to the Summit she was refusing to attend. At the following COAG meeting she claimed to have secured an agreement for COAG to work on a national 20 year plan, but neither she nor others seem to have pursued this proposal with any discernible alacrity. I can fully appreciate the impatience of people such as Brough for a sign of any real willingness for action on the part of the NT, as I very much share their impatience and scepticism.

Fair cop Kimberly - I should have looked harder -- here it is on the ACOSS site, and with a pretty impressive list of signatories from health, social welfare, alcohol services, politics, housing, legal services, shelters, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, NT organisations and lots of the big NGOs.

Update on locations:
Near the end of this 1pm ABC story we learn:

Teams are already assessing Mutitjulu, Finke and Santa Teresa, all south of Alice Springs.
Today they are arriving at Imanpa and Titjikala.
That is, after Mutitjulu, the next four are in my categories above (A), a (B), and two (D) — all four not on Aboriginal Freehold (thus not requiring a permit).

Great post Jane.

Hi Jane.

Where's the outrage, one might ask?

The answer is, as usual, that analysis of the government's motives has been thoroughly marginalized. Not fit to print apparently.

For a damning assessment of Noel Pearson's input to this discussion, you may like to check out Guy Rundle's piece 'Shhhh! Noel Pearson's just living the dream' in yesterday's edition of Crikey, if you haven't already.

As Rundle points out, Pearson's approach dismisses informed criticism as “negativity”, and pushes the slogan that "at least [the Howard/Brough intervention] is doing something." Think, “You’re either with us, or you’re with the child molesters.” Thanks for that, Noel.

Such a refusal to lay the government’s strategy open to critical public scrutiny, would be more understandable, though still not in any way justified, if the intervention were in fact benign, though ill-conceived and hastily executed, aimed at protecting young people from harm and improving the lives of people on communities.

The most cursory examination of the record of this government should, as I suggested in an earlier comment, quickly relegates such an assumption to the bounds of the wildly improbable. On the other hand, the assumption that it constitutes an opportunistic attack by the state on the basic human rights of its own citizenry, who happen to be sitting on, and exercising veto over, some billion dollar rocks, or a major tourist attraction, is much easier to support.

As you and others have pointed out, permit-scrapping and community-leases are part of a longstanding agenda. The fact they have now been arbitrarily associated with the emotive issue of child sexual abuse in order to sell them to the Australian people, would provoke outrage if the public were actually informed of it by a mainstream media which was doing its job.

As long as people continue to take the government’s statements at face value, assuming their motives to be benign, we prevent ourselves and others from experiencing the sense of outrage which could result in a grassroots-led rejection of this nightmare, and those who proposed it.

Today we learn that Kintore is another place visited by "Operation Outreach". Kintore is one of the 19 MCOAL communities in the CLC permit system.

Also today, Ian Anderson has a sober account of Unexplained differences between the the Anderson/Wild recommendations and the federal government's response.

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