Rallies and protests marked four years since the introduction of the Northern Territory Emergency Response Bill’, otherwise known as the ‘NT Intervention’. One banner read “NT intervention equals ongoing invasion” – an apt description of the process so far.
The Intervention has been continued by, and was introduced with the complete support of the ALP. Despite this policy being a complete failure, the Gillard government announced on the anniversary that the Intervention would continue. In fact the discriminatory alcohol restrictions would be maintained and a trial linking welfare payments to school attendance would be considered.
Indigenous incarceration rates have reportedly risen by almost 30%, as well as lower rates of school attendance and an increase in suicides. A damning report from last year detailed that almost all areas of social wellbeing such as child malnutrition, health and violence had gone backwards under the policy. “Nothing has improved” one Alice Springs demonstrator explained “We are still being discriminated against”.
The Intervention was introduced in response to the ‘Little Children Are Sacred’ report. However, the recommendations of the report were almost completely ignored. One of the authors of the report has called for an end to the Intervention, labelling it an ‘invasion’.
At the time both the Liberals and ALP claimed that child sex abuse was rife in the NT and that the Intervention was the only way to combat this. But as the report explained, child sex abuse was no more widespread than in other low socio-economic areas across Australia. Child abuse should be addressed; however, the Intervention has not improved the plight of children in the NT. It has only fostered racist prejudice. It is inequality that breeds social ills such as abuse and the Intervention has completely failed on this count.
The truth is that the Intervention had nothing to do with protecting children and everything to do with a naked land grab, to give big business access to land and cheap labour. Under the Intervention Aboriginal workers are legally being paid less than Award rates with some people receiving as little as $5 an hour! What kind of way is this to lift some of the most downtrodden sections of society out of poverty?
The main plank of the plan has been to coerce local Aboriginal communities to sign over their land on long term leases in exchange for the provision of basic services such as decent housing and infrastructure. These sorts of things should be provided in any case. The racist nature of the Intervention was even admitted by the federal government when it suspended the Racial Discrimination Act in order to enact the policy. That Act has since been reintroduced but there is now talk of extending these measures to other parts of Australia.
The real results have been the closing of important services such as women’s centres and other social services. The ALP has belatedly admitted that the Intervention has alienated Aboriginal people, announcing that more ‘consultations’ will now be held in a ‘new phase’. Local people are correctly sickened by the continued attack on what little control they still have over their lives.
The Socialist Party completely opposes the NT Intervention. We argue that instead Aboriginal communities should be afforded control over their own lives. Communities should be properly resourced and have the power to decide how those resources are allocated.
We argue for full land rights and for collective ownership and democratic control of Indigenous land. If resources were owned and controlled by the majority we could then plan to build housing and community services in a democratic way. This would create real jobs and drastically improve the living standards of all.
By David Suter