Key ‘welfare quarantining’ measures that are part of the Northern Territory (NT) Intervention have been extended to effect the non-indigenous population in the NT. The Government plans to extend this policy nationally in 2011. This is despite the fact that this policy has already left entire Indigenous communities starving and has made malnutrition, violence and school truancy rates worse, not better. The NT Intervention has thus far totally failed to improve the lives of indigenous people.
By Kirk Leonard, Socialist Party
The NT Intervention began in the lead up to the 2007 Federal Election under the Howard Government and has been continued by the Rudd Government under the guise of ‘protecting children from abuse’. However, there is no evidence to suggest that child abuse in Indigenous communities is any worse than in other low-income communities. In fact, not one of the recommendations from the report the Intervention is supposedly based on has been adopted.
Despite the spin of both major parties, and the $900 million that has been spent, nothing has been done to tackle the problems facing indigenous communities. No new houses, schools or anything useful has been built. In fact the only new infrastructure built has been housing for the 810 new ‘Intervention staff’. Community programs have been taken away; there are no more night patrols, community buses or women’s centres.
More than $200,000 has been spent building a fence around a rubbish tip, yet houses, schools and hospitals in desperate need of repair have received nothing. The reality is that the NT Intervention is not aimed at ‘protecting children from abuse’, but at forcing Indigenous people off their land and into low paid work in urban areas.
Currently 60% of Australian mineral operations occur adjacent to Indigenous land. If people are forced off their land and into urban slums, mining companies won’t have to negotiate if they want to mine the land that is held by Indigenous communities.
Welfare quarantining has already meant that people living in remote areas do not have access to fresh food. Interviews by the Intervention Rollback Action Group based in Alice Springs have found evidence of people starving because they are unable to access their quarantined money.
By restricting 50% of welfare payments to ‘basic’ items, Indigenous, and now all welfare recipients in the NT, have little choice but to accept jobs with low pay and poor conditions. This forces people into a ‘race to the bottom’ and is why the Government has plans to even further extend welfare quarantining.
While the Government has restored the ‘Racial Discrimination Act’, in reality Indigenous people still face extreme discrimination and persecution under the Intervention. The Intervention is clearly setting dangerous precedents against land rights, welfare rights and basic democratic freedoms.
If nothing else the extension of the Intervention shows the urgent need to develop links between Indigenous and non indigenous people and to wage a joint campaign against all attacks on workers and welfare rights. We call for the police and army to withdraw from Indigenous communities immediately and for an end to all ‘welfare quarantining’.
What is required is money for health, education and social services controlled and administered by the communities themselves. The implementation of full land rights and a democratically-planned strategy based on the interests of ordinary people is the only way to overcome the deep social problems of Indigenous Australia.
The Socialist Party also campaigns to take the main pillars of the economy into public ownership. If resources were owned and controlled by the majority we could then plan to put an end to the abject poverty we currently see in Indigenous and non-indigenous communities alike. At the same time we could guarantee decent jobs and services for all.