Northern Territory Emergency Intervention in Aboriginal Communities

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Our position

We believe the intervention designed by John Howard and Mal Brough was a cynical grab for votes and for Aboriginal land. The intervention flies in the face of the recommendations of the Little Children are Sacred Report, which argued for a response based on meaningful consultation and partnership with Aboriginal communities. We believe that the interventions are likely to further entrench problems and perpetuate racist stereotypes. We call for a bipartisan approach to developing long term solutions in partnership with Aboriginal communities (see below for our recommendations).

NEW: Report of the NTER Review Board and the Australian Government's response

Read the report of the Northern Territory Review Board released on 13th October 2008.

Media Release - Jenny Macklin, MP (Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) Compulsory income management to continue as key NTER measure (23/10/2008)

Opinion piece by Claire Smith in The Age, 27 October 2008

The Northern Territory Emergency Response

The The Northern Territory Emergency Response was the Howard Government’s response to the Wild and Anderson (2007) Board of Inquiry Report into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse (PDF file of the report).

The key elements of the intervention include:

  • Health checks (originally designated compulsory) for Aboriginal children;
  • Deployment of military and additional police to affected communities;
  • Restrictions on the sale of alcohol;
  • A ban on pornography;
  • Compulsory acquisition of townships through five year leases;
  • Suspension of the permit system to enter the indigenous communities;
  • Quarantining of 50% of welfare benefits;
  • Abolition of the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP);
  • Suspension of the right of Aboriginal people to make claims under the Native Title Act;
  • Exemption of the legislation from the Racial Discrimination Act; and
  • Loss of the right to appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Three bills were introduced to Parliament on 7th August and passed by the Senate without amendment on the 17th August.

  • Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Payment Reform) Bill 2007
  • Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007 (PDF file)
  • Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Northern Territory Emergency Response and Other Measures) Bill 2007

The bills are a response to the Little Children are Sacred Report but they bear no resemblance to the recommendations in the report. Anderson and Wild stressed the importance of genuine consultation with Aboriginal communities. Their report located child sexual abuse in the context of a suite of social problems arising from a history of colonisation, dispossession and handouts, and stressed that these underlying factors will need to be addressed in any real solutions to the problem. The Government’s response, however, is one of top-down intervention, which ignores the social context and assigns blame to Aboriginal communities.

Analysis and commentary

Read our initial response to the intervention which includes an analysis of the politics of the intervention and its historical roots, a comprehensive critique of the intervention and a critique from a public health perspective.

Read an analysis undertaken from a range of standpoints including law and order, economic, human rights, public health and Indigenous health practitioner points of view.

Read a commentary by PHM Oz activist Joe Thomas regarding the public health implications of the intervention.

PHM Oz Campaign

Health professionals and public health activists have an important role to play in holding the Australian Government accountable for the impact of the Emergency Response on Aboriginal people. We call on the public health community to lobby Members of Parliament, asking for the urgent review of the Emergency Response to bring it into line with principles of effective public health and primary health care.

Participate in our Northern Territory Emergency Intervention - Call to Action

The goal of the Northern Territory Emergency Response should be to improve the safety of Indigenous children. Whatever the motivations behind the intervention, there is no evidence to suggest that the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal children is likely to improve through these measures.

PHM Oz recognises the need for urgent and sustained action and welcomes the increased resources being allocated for addressing Aboriginal disadvantage. However there is a need for re-orientation of the intervention to bring it closer to principles of effective public health, community development and primary health care including equity, self-determination and community participation.

PHM Oz recommendations

PHM Oz advocates for the following changes to the NT Emergency Response:

  1. Consult and develop partnerships with communities through existing community structures to develop and implement local solutions for child safety and wellbeing
  2. Repeal the exemption from the Racial Discrimination Act
  3. Restore Aboriginal lands to Aboriginal control (including re-instating land permits)
  4. Recognise Indigenous disadvantage is nationwide and ensure equitable access to comprehensive primary health care (and “right to health”) for all Indigenous Australians
  5. Commit ongoing resources to ensure sustainable development of services
  6. Repeal the ability of the Government to seize community assets
  7. Re-establish democratic Indigenous representation (governance) to government at a national level to coordinate service provision
  8. Ensure adequate follow up and treatment for health problems identified through the child health checks through existing services where possible
  9. Ensure access to social determinants of health for all Indigenous Australians including education, training, housing, employment and transport
  10. Secure community based employment opportunities and capacity development by re-establishing and improving the Community Development Employment Program in consultation with local communities
  11. Ensure appropriate and independent accountability and evaluation is ongoing throughout the implementation. This needs to include a review of the Centrelink welfare payments and the processes used to implement the changes.

We welcome contributions and interested people. Please email us if you would like to be involved.

Further information

Read the Little Children are Sacred Report (PDF file) by Rex Wild and Pat Anderson (the Report of the Northern Territory Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse, 2007)

View the Northern Territory Emergency Response Bill 2007 (PDF file)

Recent commentary

Why a Charter of Rights is important to Indigenous Australians by Tom Calma who is a Commissioner with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and National Race Discrimination Commissioner.

2007 articles

Article in eMJA by John Boffa, Andrew I Bell, Tanya E Davies, John Paterson and David E Cooper The Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory: engaging with the intervention to improve primary health care MJA 2007; 187 (11/12): 617-618

Article in eMJA by Alex Brown and Ngiare J Brown The Northern Territory intervention: voices from the centre of the fringe MJA 2007; 187 (11/12): 621-623

Article in eMJA by Peter Tait Protecting little children’s health — or not? MJA 2007; 187 (11/12): 619-620

Article in eMJA by William J H Glasson The Northern Territory Emergency Response: a chance to heal Australia’s worst sore MJA 2007; 187 (11/12): 614-616

Earlier commentary

Alternative proposal by the Council of Aboriginal Organisations (PDF file) of the Northern Territory

Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) website

Article by Fran Baum in The Age, 7th August 2007

Article by Fiona Stanley on APO Online

Article on Crikey by Chris Graham, Editor of the National Indigenous Times

Article from World News Australia

Article by Judith Dwyer in the Adelaide Review

Related campaigns

Women for Wik

Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR)

Central Land Council

Back to People's Health Movement Australia

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