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The current state of the Northern Territory intervention

By Amanda Midlam - posted Tuesday, 31 January 2012

NTER, more commonly known as the Intervention, was introduced by the Howard Government, on 21st June 2007, claiming it was a response to the "Little Children are Sacred" report. No-one denies that Indigenous communities were living in dire conditions but as Larissa Behrendt stated it was the national emergency that was sitting neglected for over thirty years. The Howard government's plan was to "stabilise, normalise and exit remote NT Aboriginal communities". However since then NTER has continued under both the Rudd and Gillard governments. The current situation is that in November 2011 the Gillard government released the "Stronger Futures In The Northern Territory Policy Statement 2011" and announced NTER is being extended for another 10 years, an announcement that has attracted an amount of criticism from Indigenous people.

In order to introduce NTER the Howard government controversially suspended the Racial Discrimination Act. In November 2011 the Gillard government introduced legislation specifically targeting Indigenous people in order to enable the government to put in place its Stronger Futures policy. This is ideological racism, based on the belief that Indigenous people can't sort out problems for themselves and need government control. By suspending protecting laws and creating new ones this ideological racism becomes institutional racism operating through institutions such as police, health and education services.

On 23 November 2011the Bill, entitledStronger Futures in the Northern Territory Bill 2011,was introduced in the House of Representativeswith the stated aim of "building stronger futures for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, and for related purposes" (ComLaw 2011). The related purposes aren't stated. Part 1, consisting of 5 pages, is an introduction. Part 2, entitled "Tackling Alcohol Abuse", runs to almost 30 pages. Part 3 "Land Reform" is a scant 5 pages. Part 4, almost 20 pages, is called "Food Security" and finally Part 5 "Other Matters" is a single page.


With its focus on alcohol abuse, land reform and food security there is nothing on the Contents page to suggest this bill plans to create stronger futures in the areas of health, housing, education and employment. In fact it could be argued that the Stronger Futures are for the government, not Aboriginal people who are disempowered by this legislation. New racism is inherent here; no-one is suggesting Aboriginal people are biologically inferior but Stronger Futures works as an exclusionary construction affecting the status of Aboriginal people.

There is nothing in this document that says anything about maintaining Aboriginal culture, yet surely culture would have to be an important part of a stronger future, There's a statement that "the object of this Act is to support Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory to live strong, independent lives, where communities, families and children are safe and healthy" however despite the finely worded intention the legislation actually takes away independence. The original Intervention in 2007 was criticised for its lack of consultation as the Howard government sent the army into Indigenous communities, leading Guy Rundle to describe the event as a bizarre period of military humanitarianism claiming, "Australia has become the first member of the Coalition of the Willing to invade itself'".

According to Jenny Macklin the Gillard government claims that "there were more than 470 consultation meetings in over 100 hundred towns and communities".

However Indigenous leaders reject that claim. According to a Northern Territory elder, the Rev. Dr. Djiniyini David Gondarra OAM, "The recent consultations report shows that Government has failed to take seriously our concerns and feelings. This report is simply a reflection of pre-determined policy decisions.... The Stronger Futures report has created a lot of anger and frustration due to the lack of process and the ignorant way in which the views of the people have been reported. We therefore reject this report".

Amnesty International is also critical and "has called on the Gillard government to move on from the mistakes of the past, warning its Stronger Futures legislation is just a re-badged NT intervention… Amnesty International is concerned Labor hasn't done enough to remove the discriminatory aspects of the intervention in the new legislation."

The Stronger Futures legislation not only has as its base the supposition that Indigenous people cannot manage their own affairs but also gives the impression that the major problem identified is the behaviour of Indigenous people. There are communities in Australia that are predominantly white where alcohol abuse is a serious problem but white people have unacknowledged privileges. On the other hand whether individual Indigenous people or communities in the Northern Territory abuse alcohol or not is irrelevant to the legislation – all Indigenous people come under the new controls.


This legislation is extraordinary when you consider that the Northern Territory Emergency Response Evaluation Report 2011 states that in 2007 when NTER was first introduced "most communities were already dry or had alcohol management arrangements in place. The replacement of existing alcohol management arrangements without real community consultation has reduced 'ownership', and there is some feeling that the problem has simply been relocated." That statement comes from the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA).

The "Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Policy Statement" states that alcohol misuse is at the centre of dysfunction, violence and abuse in many communities . However it makes no attempt to identify or address any reasons for alcohol-abuse and makes the assumption that the government can control it.

In Part Two, "Land Reform", it states that the "measures are aimed at facilitating the granting of rights and interests, and promoting economic development, in those camps and areas" (ComLaw 2011). However in the detail it states that the regulations may modify any law of the Northern Territory relating to: the use of land; or dealings in land; or planning; or infrastructure; or any matter prescribed by the regulations to the extent that the law applies to a town camp and the same conditions apply to community living areas. This gives the Federal Government more power over the Northern Territory government; it doesn't empower Aboriginal people in the slightest.

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Submissions can be made to the Senate Inquiry on the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Bill 2011 and two related bills by clicking here.

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About the Author

Amanda Midlam has been a writer for over 30 years - books, TV, film, video and radio. Currently she is working towards a degree in Indigenous Stories and is writing a documentary about an Indigenous man in Eden.

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