Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

NT Emergency Response Bill

Reading Time: 2 minutes

No solution to indigenous problems
Last month the Howard government rammed the Northern Territory Emergency Response Bill through parliament. The ’emergency legislation’ authorises the federal government’s intervention into Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. It was passed with the full support of the Labor Party.

By Kylie McGregor, Socialist Party

The reforms – which will cost close to $600 million for the first year – include welfare restrictions, alcohol and pornography bans, medical checks for children and the commonwealth takeover of 73 Aboriginal communities under five-year leases. Central to the measures is the land grab that cancels all Native Title holds.

In order to enforce these new racist and undemocratic laws, the Australian Army’s ‘Operation Outreach’ is in full swing deploying over 100 soldiers to accompany the squads of police and government officials to take control of camps and townships. While ‘Government Business Managers’ will implement the ‘free market measures’ and take sole control of all local services, such as community stores and housing, pushing aside local elected bodies.

Market- based policies and zero-tolerance approaches, are proven not to lead to positive health outcomes. Rather we need to increase access for youth, women and men to progressive drug and alcohol counselling, and women refuges and other community services that are ongoing and as required. In reality, the Federal Government has cut funding for women’s refuges in the NT, and this is continuing. One recent example is the safe house program in Yuendumu, 300 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs, funding will not be renewed next year.

The Labor Party are fully complicit in these interventions which will do nothing to assist the crisis of health and education in Indigenous communities, but will put up more barriers. Although Labor’s support is not surprising considering successive federal and territory governments, both Liberal-National and Labor, have failed to deliver even the most basic services to Indigenous communities.

A recent report by the Combined Aboriginal Organisations of the Northern Territory highlights the major problems with the new legislation. For instance, stripping families of social security payments if children fail to attend school, the report noted that 94 percent of Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory have no preschool, 56 percent have no secondary school and 27 percent have a primary school more than 50 kilometres away.

It’s not only the 73 communities in the North Territory that will be affected, the welfare cut-off measures are to be extended nationally to all families. Parents whose children miss school or are identified by state child protection agencies as being at risk will have half their welfare and family benefits ‘quarantined’.

These attacks on welfare are the next step towards forcing single parents, the disabled and those on unemployment benefits into low-paid and casual jobs. These latest measures are being delivered as part of a package of regressive market-based cuts on working people. The Howard government’s Work Choices legislation, which features forcing unorganised sectors on to AWAs combined with the vicious undemocratic attacks on unions go hand in hand with the attacks on indigenous communities and welfare recipients. The attacks on the Aboriginal communities are part of the broader attacks on working people.

The Socialist Party stands totally opposed to this new round of attacks on Aboriginal people. We will fight to strengthen the links between the workers movement and Aboriginal people as the best way to combat all of the neo-liberal attacks Howard is waging against indigenous and non-indigenous people.


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