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Intervention spinning out of control

By Graham Ring - posted Monday, 6 August 2007

There is still distinct unease in some communities around Alice Springs about how the massive changes announced by the Prime Minister will impact on the lives of ordinary people. Many of these concerns may be without foundation, but the paucity of clear information on offer - as distinct from PR fluff - has seen the rumour mill working overtime.

In my innocence, I had assumed that before too long the government would produce a froth-free 20-page document explaining in a level of detail exactly what was to happen.

To answer questions like: How will community councils operate alongside government business managers? What is the process for deciding that a town camp is in breach of its lease and who will make this decision? Who will decide whether a given absence from school constitutes one of the “three strikes” which will see a parent's welfare payments further quarantined? And a thousand others besides.


But rather than being given advice, communities are being offered spin. A four-page blurb headlined “Northern Territory Emergency Response” has started doing the rounds.

A message over the reassuring signature of Minister Brough meanders through the land of the bleedin' obvious - alcohol is destroying communities, school attendance rates are low etc - before winding up at the arms of the government's favourite girl ... Ms Laura Norder.

The document rightly observes that “protecting children must be the first priority” - but the scene is surveyed through the unforgiving prism of law and order, and the knee-jerk call is for “more police”.

However, the Combined Aboriginal Organisations of the Northern Territory released a thoughtful document recently pointing out that “the quality and effectiveness of policing is much more important than increased numbers of police on the ground”.

The Brough bluster also suggests that the government is going to “open up communities by easing the permit system”.

The incomprehensible decision to dismantle this simple and effective system will have exactly this effect: unfortunately communities will be “opened up” to sexual predators, grog-runners, drug and petrol traffickers, pornography peddlers and those who would disrespect sacred sites.


The government bulletin goes on to quote the first sentence of the first recommendation from the Little Children are Sacred report recommending that “Aboriginal child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory be designated as an issue of urgent national significance”.

I cannot verify that the government's thorough examination of the Little Children report extended all the way to the third sentence of the same recommendation, which states that “it is critical that both governments (federal and territory) commit to genuine consultation with Aboriginal people in designing initiatives for Aboriginal communities”.

This tendentious tract then quotes co-author of Little Children, Pat Anderson, as saying that “Alcohol is absolutely destroying our communities and our families”. No-one disputes this. But these “rivers of grog” have their sources in the larger towns like Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Katherine.

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First published in the National Indigenous Times, Issue 134 on July 26, 2007.

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About the Author

Graham Ring is an award-winning writer and a fortnightly National Indigenous Times columnist. He is based in Alice Springs.

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