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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 [JHS: link fixed] 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.

Comments

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.

Details:

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:
Utopia
(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.

Jane,
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.

David,
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.

Apologies for the broken link to the Gray report - now fixed: https://www.oipc.gov.au/publications/PDF/WadeyeCOAG_TrialEvaluationReport.pdf

Here're the preliminary findings by Bill Gray:


The preliminary findings put to the conference by the consultant included:
• That the SRA [Shared Responsibility Agreement] mechanisms and processes were not being implemented effectively;
• That the TSC [Tri-Partite Steering Committee] had lost focus and become largely an information sharing forum;
• That the PWGs [Priority Working Groups] were not operating as intended under the SRA;
• That there was confusion as to the current priorities and different interpretations of the key actions needed to address priorities;
• That there was an absence of flexible funding;
• Departmentalism and programme silos continued to dominate;
• Funding applications and Government responses were often ad hoc and outside the framework of the COAG [Council of Australian Governments]trial;
• The burden of administration for Thamarrurr was now greater than before the trial began with 90+ funding agreements;
• There was a loss of confidence at Wadeye in the COAG process;
• There was a lack of communication both vertically and horizontally within and across government jurisdictions;
• There was some confusion within the partnership as to the roles and responsibilities of some FACSIA [Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs] participants in the trial;
• There was a lack of focus on achievable deliverables;
• There was a need for policy and legislative action in relation to land tenure at Wadeye, homelands and local government; and
• There was a need for leadership as no one could identify who was in charge.
Although participants had there own views as to how the trial had come to this point, none argued against the validity of the findings as presented. Participants accepted that despite the good will and commitment that all stakeholders had demonstrated over the past three years, there had been a ‘loss of traction’. There was a need to review the situation, build on lessons learned and move forward.

The confusion in all our minds right now about the details of Operation Outreach, unfortunately, suggests that they are not building on the lessons learned.

We found out late today that the roadshow is due to hit Wallace Rockhole on Monday, Ntaria on Tuesday and Areyonga/Utju on Wednesday. Papunya, Liebig & Ikuntji too, via a separate team.

Kids at Ntaria have developed a street game of Army/ Welfare vs the people - the girls identify as the neglected but extremely self-reliant kids, who are out to defeat the boys' gang, representing the Army/welfare, who attack armed with broom handles, tree branches etc. We are talking about the 5 to 7 age group. They demand to know who's side you are on in this struggle.

Adults are more sanguine. Very interested to find out what it's all about. One Tjuwanpa leader has quite a sophisticated and wary assessment of what Brough is about. A prominent and very successful grog runner is keen to get confirmation that the target is actually just the young blokes who have sex with the young teenage girls (i.e. those who are usually regarded as the bulk of the pedophiles).

Women are generally more interested in other issues, such as safety and reliable policing. Some women at Utju have taken their axes, crow bars etc to hiding places in the nearby hills in case the army searches their houses and wants to confiscate them. The local dopers are suddenly relatively upright citizens. Interesting times. Yet to be seen how the local feudal elite & colonials will play it.

Bruce Birch asked "Where's the outrage, one might ask? "

Well Bruce, my outrage is still stuck on the 20 or 30 years of inaction, the deadbeats who occupied positions of power and influence and could have acted, the many blokes who have taken advantage of the situation, or who have not wanted to rock the brotherhood's boat.

I think a lot about the vendors of grog and drugs, and the collectors of grog taxes who didn't want to hear about change. I could name names.

I remember the comfortable middle class professionals who continually prescibed simple-minded harm minimisation, education, and endless faith in some future miraculous event in relation to 'underlying causes'. People who advocated lack of emotion in the face of massive male violence, and calm tolerance rather than action on the obviously deteriorating conditions of safety and security for the vulnerable. Who ignored obviously increasing addiction levels and evaporation of notions and practice of personal responsibility.

I can name hundreds of people younger than me who should still be here to see the tide turn, but unhappily and unjustifiably are not.

Hey, Shadow, in Stateline 29/6/07 the PM said


we will be sending more people to the communities next week. Some more police and other people to begin the process of establishing a more visible police presence and begin the process of establishing a greater level of law and order. Obviously we are going to choose communities were our advice is that the greatest problems exist but can I just say at the outset that this process is going to take time

Would you have classed all the communities they've been to and next week's lot as the communities with the greatest problems?

And the local feudals and colonials? I guess they may have problems when the senior public servants arrive to take charge (with their $37,000 sweeteners for absence of pets and spouses ...see the FACSIA ad for senior public servants reprinted in Crikey).

Jane
The investigating teams are visiting places to evaluate what may be needed. Then they decide where to deploy what police they may have available. At least that seems to be the story.

Nonetheless, four of the six communities visited so far (Muti, Imanpa, Apatula, Titjikala) have strong histories, over recent years, of demanding the permanent presence of fully qualified police, so I suspect the Feds have some idea about what they are doing. Kintore was successful in its endeavours to obtain a permanent presence of trained, empowered police. I was involved in helping each of them lobby politicians about the issue, over several years.

Of course many of us are cynical about the government's ulterior motives, but the situation is so urgent and has been so urgent for so long that inaction is not an option. If the conditions of gang warfare at Wadeye, or drug-&-alcohol fuelled mayhem and terror elsewhere were replicated on the Nightcliff Peninsula, for example, Clare Martin's failure to take urgent and effective action would not be tolerated.

Why is terrorizing, brutalizing & traumatizing Aboriginal women and children not urgent? Why should we take immediate action if this was happening to our own children, yet consign Aboriginal children to violence and trauma by our ideological inertia? If you were a child cowering in terror in a house where adults were rampaging out of control you might not give too much of a shit about the permit system at that point in time.

Traditional Aboriginal common law is not able to deal with modern conditions, and arguably never evolved to deal with societies outside of kinship parameters. If white law is ineffective on these communities, then the least powerful, women and children, are left, and have been left for at least the last 30 years, without effective legal protection of any kind. That we have all known this and, except for a few, have failed to speak out about it is to our unending shame.

Yes, of course the government's motives are likely to be impure; of course it's an election year, of course the logistics are uninformed and haphazard, etc., but if this action results in a better life even for only a few of our country's most vulnerable people, then it will be worth it.

I certainly empathize with “One’s” feeling of outrage over the last twenty or thirty years, which is echoed in Mark Clendon’s comment. And I don’t think many people with experience of living or working in indigenous communities would disagree with the notion that “something needs be done”. However, it’s misleading to suggest, as both of these writers do, that there are only two options – inaction, on the one hand, and the recently announced federal government plan, on the other.

Mark assumes the government’s motives to be “impure”, and assesses the logistics of the operation as “uninformed and haphazard”, but suggests these negatives can be ignored in the event that even “a few” children are spared from abuse. How then, may I ask, given his own assessment that the operation is so flawed from the outset, both in conception and execution, does he expect even such a meagre outcome to be achieved? By accident?

Does it really need to be pointed out that there are more than two possible paths of action? Some of which might involve actually taking on board the more intelligent recommendations of the Wild/Anderson Report?

For some constructive suggestions for an alternative approach, read Jane’s original response on this blog to Howard and Brough’s announcement, or the excellent article “What I Would Do” by Judy Atkinson (who believes there has been a “national emergency” for the last twenty years) at Australian Policy Online.

Thanks for the concession about the outrage, Bruce.

However I'm not sure where you hang out, but from where I sit there has been a seeming tsunami of critical analysis of the Howard/Brough initiative and the government's motives.

As for Guy's contribution ("a damning assessment of Noel Pearson's input"), to this discussion, I think it was ill-advised ad hominem stuff and based on poorly thought out historical analogies.

Pearson is brave, committed, serious, persistent and like all of us, he is sometimes mistaken. He is often prickly about criticism and extravagant with his criticism of his own opponents in debate, but this is relatively small price to pay to have an Aboriginal leader fully and aggressively involved in intelligent policy debate and criticism. You are right to criticise him where this is due, but we should rejoice that we have the chance to engage and argue with him at this crucial time, and encourage others with the talents and education to join in too. This probably won't happen much if the full force of left intellectual artillery and capacity for infighting & sectarian passion is wheeled out to shoot them down when they overstate things a bit.

Besides, if you are as concerned about 'basic human rights' as you would have us believe, you will have to acknowledge that the right to a degree of safety and security in your own home and community; the right to have your children get a decent education; the right to an environment for your kids free from violence, sexual abuse, extreme pornography and excessive alcohol and drug consumption; the right to decent health care - these are fairly basic rights, and currently in very short supply in many remote Indigenous communities. The Howard/Brough initiatives may help deal with some of these rights deficits, as the current bureaucratic jargon would probably phrase it.
Cheers
The Shad

In relation to the supposed threat to land rights presented by the Howard/Brough proposals, I think this is more apparent than real.

Although I think their opposition to the permit system is based more on ideological dogma and political opportunism than on rationality, the proposal to take control of leases over townships for 5 years does not strike me as a fundamental assault on the Act. There is a strong rationale for doing something like this (in order to facilitate a more equitable and less costly & time-consuming regime for achieving infrastructure development & governing housing and enterprises), although preferably with less of an immediate affront to the TOs.

Although it may gall those of us who desperately want to see the end of Howard for all manner of legitimate reasons, there is a strong probability that this Howard initiative is more in the mould of his restricting-fire-arms, defending-Timorese-autonomy, sorting-out-Bougainvillean-&-Solomons-thugs, dealing-with-Islaamah Jamiya persona than it is with his core promises- Tampa-GST-Workplace Relations-all-the-way-with-GWB lying rodent persona. I think at this stage he will be much more keen to leave the stage with some semblance of momentary integrity around him, than be wanting to throw a few more bones to the mining sector (who are already fairly content with their over-rewarded lot). Just my opinion, obviously, but I think it's worth considering during all this sturm und drang.
Sincerely
Your Shadow

Dear Mr Shadow,

It must have taken a rather creative reading of my comments about Noel Pearson to construe them as a personal attack, as your unwarranted defence of his character implies. Pearson’s comments were chosen to exemplify the “at least they’re doing something” attitude, which is a highly effective way to suspend criticism of the government’s move on the basis, as you have written, that it “may help deal with” the problem.

There are alternative views, of course, that it “may” not help deal with the problem, that in fact it may exacerbate the problem. To characterize these views and the people who hold them, such as Professor Judy Atkinson, who wrote a report, ignored by government, 18 years ago for the National Inquiry on Violence saying that sexual abuse in indigenous communities was endemic and epidemic, as unconstructive or negative, is inaccurate and misleading, whether intentionally so or not. To dismiss them as “infighting and sectarian passion”, as you have, is equally inaccurate and misleading, and stifling of debate.

The desperate situation in which too many people on indigenous communities find themselves today is largely the result of a refusal by government to respond to recommendations over the years by people like Judy Atkinson. They have waited until communities are so broken and dysfunctional, that people are willing to trade ownership and control of their land in the desperate hope that finally some improvement may come, however unlikely that may be.

On a minor point, I never suggested that informed criticism didn’t exist, rather that it has been “marginalized”, and that the branding of critics of the government’s plan as simply negative, or worse, as advocates of inaction, feeds into this marginalization process. By ‘marginalized’ I mean that you won’t find much of it on the TV networks or in the major daily newspapers, except perhaps buried in an opinion piece here and there, and then often within a highly restricted frame of reference. If you are experiencing a “tsunami” of criticism from where you stand, then presumably it is coming from non-mainstream sources, or personal communications.

Hear hear, Bruce.

There have been a few factors that suggest such a 'stiffling of debate' that you point out, such as the fact that the proposal was announced by Howard with only 45 minutes of the parliamentary session remaining, meaning that the only debate for the following 6 weeks will be through the media, which, as it turns out, appears to be running the 'any action is better than no action' line and marginalising dissenters. I suspect also that legitimate dissent isn't being voiced for fear of being tarred with a 'condemning children to abuse' brush.

This is all too consistent with the picture that David Marr paints of the nature of public debate in Australia over the last 15 years (that's right, pre-Howard). I'm still waiting for his Quarterly Essay to be internet-released, to save my $14.95.

I worry that the proposed measures, particularly those that the report doesn't mention, such as the land grab, the scrapping of the permit system and the outright prohibition on grog and porn, will actually have detrimental effects, which, if true, means that we have a solid basis on which to refute the 'any action is better than no action' argument, as long as we're willing to push it.

(PS, everyone should read Ramsey's opinion piece in yesterday's Herald)

Bruce
You haven't understood what I was saying: I was clearly referring to Guy Rundle's pieces and opinions, not yours, when I wrote that "I think it was ill-advised ad hominem stuff and based on poorly thought out historical analogies". I was having a go at defending Pearson from Guy's barbs, which you had brought up approvingly.

Also it is completely unfair and unwarranted for you to imply that I was in any way having a go at Judy Atkinson or any of the other people associated with the various reports and efforts. For god's sake - I wouldn't do this - I myself have been associated with a couple of them, and I generally applaud them and agree that the major political parties are culpable for ignoring them. I was clearly referring to critics like Guy, and others from the left whom I won't bother naming here - but a number are prominent on the left of the ALP and in leading NGOs.

Maybe the tsunami hasn't hit in Melbourne, but I can assure you it is all over the ABC radio and TV in the NT.

Your dutiful
Shadow

Dear Shadow,

Having shifted the argument from the merits and motives of the Government’s response, what to do about it, and what the alternatives might be, to the question of whether Guy Rundle, along with others unnamed, is a ranting sectarian radical with a dim understanding of history, whether or not Noel Pearson is a good bloke, and whether or not I’m really concerned about the rights of indigenous people (or have I misread again?), perhaps you may wish to address the issue I raised.

To summarize, in my view, the “something’s better than nothing”, “with us or against us” line of rhetoric, which you appear to support, or at least not to reject, directly and powerfully undermines the more considered views of people like Judy Atkinson, whom you also seem to support, and has the unhealthy effect, intended or not, of distorting and polarizing the argument before the relevant complex issues in their historical context can be discussed.

For this reason, I’m advocating that such rhetoric, no matter whose mouth it comes out of, be clearly exposed for what it is, and utterly rejected in favour of meaningful debate.


The debate between the Shad and Bruce comes down to where the best present hope for improvement in Indigenous people's lives lies - is it in blocking the Brough/Howard proposal, or in trying to divert it to an approach that is more likely to have lasting effect?

That is, is the Government's approach so irredeemably flawed that it will fail no matter what changes are made? Or can we map out a middle way between the gunboats blazing (as Rex Wild put it) and the awful present. Judging by ABC's Insiders this morning, much of Australia is convinced that Something Has to be Done. What they don't understand is that, unless the present approach is changed dramatically, it's doomed to fail.

How can we get the Government to do something sensible? How can we ensure that the health checks are followed up in the long-term with better housing and better preventative health-care - so that another generation doesn't die young of heart and kidney failure. How can we ensure that Indigenous people are involved in the process - so that they do a lot of the building of the houses, get trained as tradesmen, get trained as police officers, counsellors, medical workers, trauma counsellors, and get jobs going in the places where they want to live?

How can we ensure that Indigenous people are not pushed into ghettoes on the fringes of towns?

Thanks for the clarifying thoughts Jane.

I'm finding this whole debate difficult, intense and confusing which is just leaving me a bit depressed. Watching Insiders this morning didn't help.

So what do I do? Arguments are going round in circles. Maybe I just keep doing what I do as best I can and hope that the proof (of working collaboratively and valuing language and culture) is in the pudding.

But it seems like the collective despair at the lack of English proficiency out bush is getting louder and giving stern looks towards Aboriginal languages and Aboriginal language education.

I just feel for people in communities who have spent their lives trying so hard to do the right thing and keep their head above water... they seem to be getting painted with the broad strokes of the alcoholic-child abuser brush. Poor buggers.

A lot of questions, Jane, including the time-honoured classic ‘How To Get The Government To Do Something Sensible’.

Firstly we should at least admit the possibility that the government is neither blind, nor mad, nor stupid, and that it is indeed ‘acting sensibly’.

As I pointed out in my first comment in this thread, how ‘sensible’ the government’s actions appear, depends on our assumptions about its motives. Or conversely, the assumption that the government is ‘acting sensibly’, leads to the conclusion that its motives are not concerned with protecting children from dangerous pathological behaviour, and that the interests it represents are not those of indigenous people living on remote communities. For my own assessment as to what the alternative motives and interests may be, I refer you back to my first comment.

This is not intended to be nitpicking. Rather, our ability to correctly frame the question will have a major impact on the answers we come up with.

In answer to the question whether to reject the proposal, on the one hand, or accept it, but seek to subvert or modify it, on the other, my understanding is that the planned operation is neither misconceived nor haphazard, rather that is simply designed to achieve goals which are unrelated to the welfare of indigenous people (again, refer to my first comment in this stream), and on that basis I would advocate outright rejection.

In terms of what to do about the ongoing problems in indigenous communities, the issue it seems to me, is not to come up with good solutions (there have been so many over the years), but rather to somehow prevent governments from white-anting the more sensitive proposals, such as Judy Atkinson’s, which are often associated with increased indigenous autonomy, a concept which is, naturally enough, anathema to those responsible for state control.

A first step for the government, in my fantasy, having agreed to immediately halt the obscene intervention which is occurring even as we write, would be to apologize formally for the enormous damage already done through the stigmatization of indigenous citizens as alcoholic child abusers (to quote Wamut’s recent comment), and for their odious attempt to use this slur as a smokescreen to hide their true agenda.

It should then marshall the wealth of advice available to it in the form of older reports as well as more recent ones, and consult with people in communities, dealing with the problems faced by those communities on a case-by-case basis, offering support to, and helping to build on the positive local initiatives which are often already there if you look hard enough.

Meanwhile, and in the likely event that my fantasy may not be realized in the short term, we must find ways to try to stop this process as soon as as possible. An open letter letter signed by people associated with indigenous communities including some with a high public profile, couldn’t hurt could it? And may provoke some attention and follow up exposure in the mainstream media.

By the way, I’ve just received a report from a reliable source that all outstations and the land they stand on will be affected by this. So it’s not just communities. In addition, land councils have been told that if they take legal action to fight land acquisition by the government, their funding will be taken away from them.

Any confirmation or otherwise on that?

On the Land Councils - I've only read that in a piece by Henri Ivrey in Crikey 29/6/07);

The Aboriginal land councils -- established by federal law -- used to get a statutory share of mining royalty equivalents. The Feds changed that last year: land councils now have their budgets completely controlled by Minister Brough. The land councils have been told in no uncertain terms that, if they attempt to mount any legal challenges against, for example, moves to abolish the permit system or compulsory acquisition by the Commonwealth of leases over Aboriginal land they will be financially punished.

On the move to take over outstations, well, if that's the case, then they're going after a good deal more than the "major communities on Aboriginal land" mentioned on the website, or the 50/60/70 communities they have been talking about (they don't seem too clear on the numbers). They seem worried about where they'll get the police and medical workers for the 'major communities' as it is. What on earth would the teams do in the little clusters of 4 or 5 houses that make up lots of outstations?

On getting a cacophony of linguists to agree on the wording of an open letter, w-e-e-e-ll ..... by all means have another go....

UPDATE: I've just looked at the OIPC's 2006 Discussion Paper for abolishing permits here (mentioned above and by Steve at Larvatus Prodeo). This is the rationale:
The permit system on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory has not always operated effectively. It has not allowed Aboriginal people to fully exercise their rights, and has also absolved people of their responsibilities. For example, antisocial and criminal behaviour has not been checked by the normal openness of public scrutiny and accountability that would occur in
mainstream society.

2nd update on locations:
This week "the second round of communities to be surveyed" includes Amoonguna and Hermannsburg, both MCOALs and in the CLC permit system.

There is a good posting this morning by one David Coles (on one of the few NT-based blogs Club Troppo) concluding with his proposal of how The Brough/Howard plan can possibly be made to work.

Thanks to everyone for this very valuable discussion, and it's great to see some of the issues being aired in a passionate and engaged way without party political issues intruding too much. For more in the same vein, I recommend the post by David Coles, former NT bureaucrat, at Club Troppo (http://clubtroppo.com.au/2007/07/02/getting-positives-from-the-negative).

My two-cents' worth on the margins is that I watched Noel Pearson on Lateline and was moved by his passion but felt strongly and immediately that his attack on those asking question about the Howard/Brough policy was way too strong. The position Pearson put, which seems to be shared by quite a few commenters, is just logically false - the fact that someone doesn't agree with a proposed solution to problem X has no bearing on the whether or not that same person agrees with the proposition that X is a problem. Pearson's position seems to me to be grounded in politics: the current initiatives are, in terms of political reality, the best that is likely to be on offer and therefore we should all back them unreservedly. But as commenters here (and Coles and others) suggest there may also be the possibility of taking the momentum that now exists and using it as productively as possible. And if that possibility does genuinely exist, then it could be argued that there is an obligation to pursue the possibility. (If the possibility doesn't exist, then that's a serious indictment of our polity.)

More on 2nd update on locations:

Government officials are visiting a second round of communities this week to assess infrastructure and resourcing needs as part of the plan, starting with Docker River and Wallace Rockhole today. (last para of this noon ABC item)
Both are MCOALs, and Wallace Rockhole is the other community in my (B).

2nd update (v.3) on locations:

Communities including Papunya, Hermannsburg, Mt Liebig, Ikuntji, Areyonga, Kaltukatjara (Docker River) and Amoonguna will see the visiting teams this week for the first time.
The Government now says 73 communities will be surveyed overall, (today's Australian)
The 59 MCOALs plus the 9 other sizable communities in the CLC region (my C,D,E) would be 68 of the 73, with the balance of 5 presumably being non-MCOALs in the NLC region. And there are the town camps, which haven't been in the news in recent days.

The other communities being visited this week are Areyonga, Ntaria and Papunya (I think) on Wednesday, and Mt Liebig and Ikuntji (Tuesday). Press people at the Wallace meeting today told me Brough will be here Thursday to visit Muti & Apatula (& then the Alice Show on Friday!). The Wallace meeting, as with the others so far, was quite constructive, lots of interest & participation, and some high calibre local public servants seriously engaging (and hearing) the locals. Has anybody heard anything contrary from eyewitnesses at any of the other meetings?

We are being asked to prepare to expect to start work with the first health teams arriving here next week, following their orientation.

Thanks for the clear exposition of the logical fallacy, Simon, exemplified by Noel Pearson’s comments on Lateline, and swallowed and repeated by many others before and since. This can also be characterized as the ever-popular straw man fallacy, thus:

Person A has Position X: “The Howard/Brough ‘plan’ is unlikely to succeed in achieving its stated aims, which may not in fact be its actual aims”.

Person B presents Position Y, which is a distorted version of X: “You are advocating doing nothing.”

Person B attacks Position Y: “Don’t you care about the welfare and human rights of indigenous people on communities? We need to act now!”

Therefore Position X is false.

An exploration of the government’s proposals would no doubt result in a rich harvest of such fallacies, many involving the confusing of cause and effect, such as:

A: Permits are required for entry onto Aboriginal land.

B: Child sexual abuse occurs on Aboriginal land (as well as everywhere else in Australia and the rest of the world).

Therefore A is the cause of B.

The lack of evidence for a cause and effect relation between A and B, motivates the need to attempt to elaborate such a relation, such as that permits have been abused to prevent access to communities by traditional owners with ulterior motives, or something to hide.

Such abuse of the system, (Does anyone have any non-apocryphal knowledge about this?) however, has to be weighed against the negative effects of scrapping the permit system altogether, which have been discussed in some detail on this blog and elsewhere. It may be that some adjustments could be made to the system to curtail the abuse, or it may be that we accept, as we often must, that the system isn’t perfect, but that we’re better off with it than without it.

This seems to be a position with wide support, even from people who are not in outright opposition to the government’s plan, including David Coles (thanks for the link, David and Simon) who advocates a conditional adoption of the plan (one of the conditions appearing to be leaving the permit system intact).

Meanwhile, on the intrinsically racist nature of the proposal, I note that the government is attempting to avoid this accusation by suggesting that the quarantining of a percentage of welfare payments to parents whose children’s school attendance is below standard, will also apply to the non-indigenous community, though only in cases where the parents have already come under the scrutiny of Child Protection for neglect of various kinds.

Thus, instead of placing indigenous people in a category of their own, as the child abusers par excellence, they are now lumped together with ‘bad’ non-indigenous people. It’s difficult to pick the greater insult between the two.

By the way, I got that information from a link to an article in The Australian, of all places. This, together with the article, recommended by Jangari, written by Alan “excuse-me–while-I-vomit” Ramsey and published in the SMH, has given me cause to wind back the intensity of my condemnation of the mainstream media in Australia by, say, a fraction of one percent.

I'm a non-indigenous resident of Yuendumu. Have been here over three decades and have children and grandchildren that can speak Warlpiri. Have just skimmed through this massive correspondence/debate.
We can all discuss, opine, argue, rage until the cows come home.
In the final analysis it all boils down to empowerment. Local Aboriginal decision making power has been eroded to that prevalent during 'welfare' days (i.e.virtually none).
This Federal 'initiative' does nothing to empower Aboriginal Society, quite the contrary. Its a poll driven electoral stunt. No one can convince me otherwise.

On Frank's comparison to "'welfare' days", see also the reminder in Rod Hagen's piece at Crikey today of life at Amoonguna in the 1970s.

And Frank could have mentioned his splash in last Thursday's Alice Springs News (mainstream? well, on it's on newsprint as well as online) followed by Wendy Baarda's elaborations (scroll down to 'Brough’s revolution'). Language-related: Wendy says "literacy based hurdles" reduce local employment prospects. English literacy that is.

Frank implied it but it deserves emphasising;

It's a poll driven electoral stunt... that will do more harm than good!

If it was just a political stunt it would not be so bad. Unfortunately it is being used as justification for pushing through changes that will have long term damaging affects on Aboriginal communities.

I cannot see anything good for Aboriginal communities coming out of this that will last beyond the next election. After that the government will resume keeping Aboriginal communities out of the news and ignoring them so they can avoid spending money.

The only things that will last are the destructive changes being smoke-screened in under the guise of "protecting the children", but have nothing to do with it at all.

Donovan
I would be interested to see you outline the main harms that you think will eventuate from these initiatives.

I see various problems arising from the wholesale abolition of the permit system. The 5 year sub-leases of township areas will probably cause distress to some TOs (despite the promise of compensation) and some arguments between these TOs and governments.

The highly discriminatory one-size-fits-all (remote NT communities only) welfare reforms will depress responsible Aboriginal parents and create a lot of difficulties for those attempting to administer the inequitable system.

However these things are likely to be balanced by greatly improved safety and security, much improved school attendance, less neglect (and abuse) of children, improved health services, some infrastructure improvements, and greatly increased knowledge about remote communities by politicians, journalists, many bureaucrats and members of the public.

So it's not going to be all bad.

John Howard's 'Hurricane Katrina' has now been pushed off the front page. I wonder if, had the Federal Government known of the imminent terror threat (with an Australian connection, whats more), it would have pulled the Aboriginal children overboard rabbit out of the hat. I think it would have all the same, to push Mal Brough's assimilationist agenda. Compulsory English lessons indeed!
It was a great relief to people like myself (that live on Aboriginal settlements) that according to an opinion poll 58% of respondents thought the Federal initiative was politically motivated. The public at last is just not buying it. Instead of Howard the compassionate hero, they are seeing Howard the political manipulator.
There's a letter in the Age written by an Aboriginal teenager (on behalf of her Warlpiri grandfather). Without going into the detail of it, it demonstrates how thorough has been the dissempowerement and marginalisation of Aboriginal society even on its own settlements. From welfare dependency we have moved to attempts at self-determination, then self government, then governance and back to all decisions being made by whites, and now full-circle back to Canberra.
The politics of language has gone the same way: from missions forbidding children to talk in 'lingo' and beliefs held by some that Aboriginals spoke simple dialects, we moved on to the optimistic belief (as it turns out, Utopian) that teaching in the vernacular and holding Aboriginal languages in high esteem would solve everything. The watering down process then started: bilingual education for cultural maintenance, its main purpose subsequently changed to improving student's English. Then it became 'two-way learning' Then bilingualism got blamed for the failure of Education, and its funding was forever threatened. More and more ESL became the aim. I don't think Mal Brough has mentioned Language Maintenance once.
Meanwhile the Federal 'emergency' response to 'stabilise' Aboriginal communities and protect its children: the policemen, soldiers and doctors that would be mobilised immediately, and that couldn't wait a few more days to discuss it with the NT government (contrary to the report's first and foremost recommendation), turn out to be one or two teams that will take three months to 'survey' all the communities.
Like the citizens of Vienna in March 1938, we are waiting in anticipation for the Anschluss.

Things are starting to clarify.

The Feds have given the NTG 6 weeks to shape up or ship out, in relation to a number of important loose ends - including town camps reform, alcohol regulation, housing upgrades, safety and security, education and health. Either the NTG (& the land councils) come to the party, or the Feds take further control, presumably backed by their power to dock the NTG's (& land councils') cashflow by as much as they like via the 2008 budget.

Alice's town camps would be carved up between ownership of the five or six larger and more Arrernte-ish camps by the native title holders' Lhere Artipe Corp., and absorbtion of the remaining smaller leases into the NTG's public housing regime. Or a variation on this theme.

The deal is apparently to include a payout of between 600 and 800 million dollars (probably partly characterised as being in lieu of compensation to TOs for use of township lands), over 5 years, to upgrade/replace housing stock on the 70 or so identified remote Aboriginal communities.

In return, the NTG will have to forgo some of its playground improvements in the Darwin/Palmerston white enclave - aka the "Princess Clare Lalaland Themepark" - and pick up the recurrent costs of the extra cops, nurses and teachers in the bush.

If a lasting grog peace can be negotiated (i.e. bringing NT alcohol consumption levels down from twice the national average to something approaching safety levels), then the number of police needed to keep the new order functioning may be somewhat less than the current requirement, and the exponential growth of the health, justice and prison budgets could be gradually slowed.

This would leave open the possibility that the NT might be able to one day afford to pay the costs of delivering the kind of education services needed by the Aboriginal community in order to lift average outcomes (and later, incomes) to something above disastrous.

The grog peace is to be achieved by engineering a re-alignment of the average household budget away from disproportionate investments in cheap thrills, via the better (electronic) management of welfare dollars, and into healthier expenditure, thus reducing the amount of cash sloshing around and able to be spent on grog, ganja, fast fat and gambling; and also reducing concomitant opportunities for theft from the vulnerable, extortion from parents and gentle persuasion of all and sundry to hand over the scarce commodity.

The expectation is that this would all lead to a cascade of, on average, more responsible behaviour, and, one day, a happier Northern Territory filled with happy Territorians enjoying our great Territory lifestyle and our rich cultural heritage.

The Shadow: you outlined the harms yourself.

The benefits you outlined that would supposedly offset this harm are the bits that are transitory or will never happen. None of those benefits will last much beyond the media attention, and anything that takes longer than that to implement will not happen at all.

If any extra money actually does make it to Aboriginal communities, it will be paid to outside contractors to build buildings. No local Aboriginal people will get any employment or training out of this. These buildings will then be left to decay with little or no ongoing maintenance until the "next great Aboriginal media event", when the process will be repeated.

So the lame "action" and its fairytale outcome is; The federal government is going to provide some money to build houses and "force the NT government" to fix the rest or be "taken over by the feds". This will magically reduce alcohol related crime so much that the NT govenment will save enough money to actually pay for the additional health and education they are "forced" to pay for.

"Engineering a re-alignment of the average household budget" is a fancy way of saying "give Aboriginal people less money". The end result will just be less money available for Aboriginal communities... and you can be sure *that* will last beyond the media attention.

Donovan

You are probably right about outside contractors and other non-Aboriginal businesses benefiting the most from the infrastructure construction and repairs, and local Aboriginal people not gaining much employment or training out of this.

Unless this is addressed it will be a major flaw in the plan.

And you may also be accurate in saying that these buildings will then be left to decay with little or no ongoing maintenance.

That is, unless we are able to lobby that subsidies to underpin an ongoing program of training and maintenance (& other) activities are assured.

However the action will not be entirely lame if, as I believe, the moves against alcohol and ganja supplies are decisive in cutting back significantly on the substance abuse and serious related harms. I also believe that this set of reforms will facilitate the efforts to get more kids in school, more of the time, and doing some serious learning.

The federal government is NOT going to "force the NT government" to fix the rest of the houses or be "taken over by the feds". They are going to force the NTG to pay for the employment of more nurses, cops and teachers in bush communities, to do the things that nurses, cops and teachers do. The Feds are going to pay for the housing/infrastructure bit.

This will eventually reduce alcohol and ganja related crime and ill-health so much that the NT govenment will eventually save enough money to actually help pay for some of the additional health and education they are "forced" to pay for.

"Engineering a re-alignment of the average household budget" is NOT a fancy way of saying "give Aboriginal people less money".

It's an ironic way of saying that significant steps will be taken to prevent some people wasting much of their own and other peoples' money on dope, grog, gambling etc.

The total amount of money flowing into their lives (i.e.their 'entitlements') will not be reduced.

The end result will be better average standards of living in the communities ... and with luck *that* will last beyond the media attention.

Are people un-aware or just avoiding the fact that alcohol and other substance abuse is as much a symptom of the problems as a cause?

Denying people grog might stop them drinking, but it won't give them something else to do. It is not going to give people an education, a job, or a purpose.

Too true, Donovan, too true.

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