Politics

Was the NT Intervention successful?

Various governments spent billions of dollars on the NT Intervention. But was it a success? Here's a periodic review.

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Evaluations over time: Did the intervention succeed?

The Intervention failed, and most politicians know this as fact. However, evaluating the Intervention is not an easy task. Impartial data is difficult to find and there is a mass of complex and conflicting information.

Evaluation by Monash University

In 2015, the Monash University evaluated the Closing the Gap targets that were set by the government and considered human rights concerns to score major features of the Intervention out of 10. [1] Here is a summary of their scores and findings:

  • Employment and Economic Participation – 3/10 Little progress has been made on improving employment outcomes in the Northern Territory, and the gap is, in fact, widening.
  • Education – 5/10 Some gains were achieved in certain education areas, but overall secondary school attendance rates have seen a considerable decrease and NAPLAN results indicate little change in literacy and only incremental improvements in numeracy at both primary and secondary levels.
  • Health and Life Expectancy – 4/10 While there have been some improvements to Aboriginal child mortality the rate of improvement is far too slow to close the gap. The situation is particularly bad for Aboriginal people living in the Northern Territory, whose life expectancy is nearly 15 years shorter than that of non-Aboriginal Australians.
  • Safer Communities – 4/10 This target aims to make Aboriginal communities safer through a focus on the prevention and reduction of crime rates, alcohol and drug abuse, family violence and child abuse. It takes a ‘tough stance’ on crime but couples this with community protection and education efforts.
  • Lowered Incarceration rates – 0/10 Not only has there been no improvement, the rate of Aboriginal Australian incarceration has continually risen. In 2015 there was not even a target concerning Aboriginal incarceration rates.
  • General compliance with human rights – 4/10 Despite the government’s insistence that the Intervention was upholding the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the 2007 Intervention legislation is widely regarded as incompatible with international human rights law standards and practices.
  • Special Measures – 3 /10 The measures implemented under the Intervention cannot be characterised as ‘special measures’ under international human rights law because they do not positively advance the human rights of Aboriginal Australians by creating more favourable conditions or conferring benefits.
  • Racial Discrimination – 3 /10 By suspending the operation of Section 10 of the Racial Discrimination Act in relation to the Intervention, the government effectively denied protection to Aboriginal communities affected by the legislation.
  • Right to Self-Determination – 2/10 The measures of the Intervention have acted to disempower Aboriginal communities. Governance has shifted from the responsibility of the community to centralised government agencies. Aboriginal people had 50% of their benefits controlled by government.
  • Right to Social and Cultural Rights – 3 /10 Legislative amendments allowed the government to compulsorily acquire Aboriginal land. It stripped Aboriginal owners of control over their property in order to acquire 65 Aboriginal communities. Income management through the BasicsCard restricted the right to social security and violated of the right to family and private life.
  • Right to be consulted – 3 /10 Every stage of the Intervention since its inception in 2007 has had issues surrounding the level of consultation with Aboriginal communities. The government conducted consultations for the 2012 Stronger Futures legislation on decisions that had already been made. It used a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach that failed to properly consult with Aboriginal communities.
  • Right to Social Security – 4/10 Because the government applied income management as a blanket rule and gave no case-by-case consideration for Aboriginal people living in ‘prescribed communities’, the conditions limit how Aboriginal people can enjoy their right to social security.
  • Rights of Children – 4/10 The Intervention quickly shifted focus from protecting children from sexual abuse to economic and infrastructure development. Intervention policies which were aimed at improving Aboriginal children’s lives did not address underlying and structural causes of maltreatment and abuse.

After 4 months

4 months after the intervention a survey of 5 communities [2] revealed that

  • no sexual abuse referrals had been made from any of the 5 communities,
  • no computers had been audited for pornography,
  • the alcohol management regime had not changed in 3 of the 5 communities,
  • alcohol consumption had not been reduced in three cases,
  • income had not been quarantined in 4 communities,
  • work for the dole schemes had not been abolished as mandated,
  • school attendance had improved in 3 locations,
  • voluntary health checks, appointment of a government business manager and new houses for intervention staff were completed in all 5 communities, but
  • new houses for Aboriginal residents had not been built in 4 communities.

After 6 months

6 months after the intervention began [3]

  • no new charges had been laid in connection with child sexual abuse,
  • no new community-based services to ensure the safety of children had been established,
  • $88 million had been spent on bureaucrats to control Aboriginal welfare payments.

According to Dr Djiniyini Gondarra, an Elder from the Djirrikaymirr people, the intervention has failed to improve health and had, in fact, intensified depression and loss of hope amongst Aboriginal people [4].

The doctors were on $5,000 a week. — Ali Cobby Eckermann, Aboriginal poet [5]

Aboriginal poet, Ali Cobby Eckermann, also mentioned that consultants were paid $300,000 to consult with 12 communities, but their results were not used in any way.

After 12 months

After one year [6][7],

  • key aspects of the intervention have not happened or are happening slowly,
  • convictions for child sex abuse were just a few cases higher than before the intervention,
  • referrals to child protection authorities were no different from any other year,
  • voluntary health checks replaced forensic medical examinations which were found to be intrusive and possibly unlawful,
  • reports of substance abuse were rising,
  • school attendance remained static,
  • sales of junk food and tobacco had rebounded strongly and returned to historic levels, a fact contrasting with official government reports of improved health food and drink purchases [8],
  • 18 communities got a police presence, however, Docker River has been pleading for one since 1990 [7],
  • the government struggles to determine what works as it didn't set up proper benchmarks [7].

As intervention measures last, people find alternative ways to access prohibited items. This challenges a central tenet of income management--that mandatory restrictions can modify people's spending habits.

It has proved to be far more complex and costly. — Jenny Macklin, former Indigenous Affairs Minister [7]

After 2 years

The Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs' report Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory reveals that [9]

  • convictions of child sexual abuse involving Aboriginal perpetrators have "barely changed",
  • school attendance stagnates with no more children going to school than before the intervention,
  • reports of domestic violence rose 61% (possibly due to higher police presence),
  • substance abuse is up 77%,
  • alcohol-related crime rose 34% (possibly because possession of alcohol became illegal in some communities),
  • no reduced tobacco consumption despite welfare quarantining.
Intervention statistics
Measure[10] 2007-08 2009-10 2010-11
Aggravated assaults +41% -23% slight fall
Convictions for assault +29% +29% -10%
Alcohol-related incidents +28% +28% -5%
Substance abuse-related incidents +47% +47% -7%

After 3 years

Read the analysis by Professor Jon Altman from the Australian National University, NT intervention three years on: government’s progress report is disturbing.

Journalist Jeff McMullen in a speech in September 2010 looked back on the intervention [11]. "I can only say to you that there is no doubt that the Northern Territory Intervention has been the most damaging policy inflicted on Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people since the policies of the Stolen Generations.

"The evidence is in the increase in suicide, violence and alcohol rage under the Intervention. The Menzies School of Health Research, the Rural Health Alliance and the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association, separately investigated the impact of the Intervention and concluded that whatever extra attention had been brought to these children was far outweighed by the additional trauma inflicted on them."

McMullen continues: "Under Article 5 [of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination], the former Chief Justice [of the Family Court, the Honourable Professor Alastair Nicholson] presented evidence that the Intervention had not improved the lives of Aboriginal people.

"A June 2010 survey of elders indicated that most people believed that there were now fewer jobs and Aboriginal unemployment appeared to be rising around the country...

"The Australian government's own reports show that for two years in a row child malnutrition is up despite millions of dollars spent on income management and the discriminatory practice of welfare quarantine cards."

After 4 years

A report finds that alcohol-related police “incidents” have risen from 3,239 incidents in 2007-2008 to 4,870 in 2011 [12].

In June 2011, the overall imprisonment rates of Aboriginal people in the NT had risen by 40% [12].

After 5 years

The rate of suicide among Aboriginal girls has "greatly increased" since the intervention was launched [13]. Girls accounted for 40% of all Aboriginal suicides of children under 17 years, a rate which is "the most in the Western world". Prior to the intervention the suicide rate was "significantly lower" and in 1980 it was zero [13].

Not one person has been prosecuted for child sex abuse.

Other statistics include [14]:

  • Reported suicide incidents have increased by almost 500%, from 57 incidents in 2007 to 261 in 2011.
  • There was a 69% increase of children getting taken into out of home care compared to 2007 figures.
  • School attendance rates have dropped from 62.3% just before the Intervention to 57.5% in 2011.
  • There has been a 40% increase in Aboriginal incarceration.
  • Prisoners are being held in 3rd world prison conditions, 12 to 14 in a cell in Alice Springs, mattresses on the floor and one hand basin and toilet between inmates.
  • Police reported incidents of domestic violence in “prescribed areas” have dramatically increased - from 939 in 2010 to 1,109 in 2011.

After 8 years

Paddy Gibson lived for 12 months in Alice Springs. At a special meeting of the Stop The Intervention Collective in April 2015 he gave a presentation looking at the continuing impacts of the NT Intervention, now known as 'Stronger Futures' on Aboriginal living conditions, incarceration and child removal rates.

After 10 years

Professor Jon Altman from Deakin University, and Senator and Greens politician Rachel Siewert reviewed the NT intervention after 10 years. Here is what they found [15][16]

  • Hurt and distress. Aboriginal people are deeply hurt and distressed from the sheer brutality of the intervention which reminded them of being treated like children during the time of assimilation.
  • No hope, no power. People feel a deep sense of hopelessness and disempowerment as they realise how Western norms count more and are expected to be adopted by Aboriginal people.
  • Feeling vulnerable. The fact that politicians could decide, without consultation, to intervene in their communities, has left many feeling vulnerable, dependent on the state, and susceptible to racism.
  • Poverty. There is "growing evidence" that people in communities are getting poorer. Adjusted for inflation, adult incomes have "dropped significantly" and fallen further behind non-Aboriginal wages. And because the Welfare Card quarantines a lot of their money, people are struggling to pay cash, for example at a garage sale or at a market
  • No progress. Despite the National Partnership Agreement for Remote Indigenous Housing in the NT spending $2 billion in 10 years to reduce overcrowding, rates of overcrowded houses needing one or more bedrooms in "community after community" have either remained unchanged or increased.
  • No jobs. The abolition of the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme has been "an unmitigated disaster" as it replaced part-time community-managed work with below award, externally monitored work- for-the-dole.
  • Welfare Card has failed. The card has failed in its objectives because health research suggests that control over one’s own life choices and autonomy are huge factors in good health outcomes. The government extended the card because half of the surveyed participants said they were worse off than before. A card trial area in South Australia has seen a large jump in robbery and related offences (up 111%), aggravated robbery (up 120%), non-aggravated robbery (up 400%) and serious criminal trespass (up 20%), all of which did not appear in a government report.

References

View article sources (16)

[1] 'The Northern Territory Intervention - An evaluation', Dr Stephen Gray, Faculty of Law, Monash University, July 2015, www.monash.edu/law/centres/castancentre/our-research-areas/indigenous-research/the-northern-territory-intervention/the-northern-territory-intervention-an-evaluation, retrieved 9/8/2016
[2] 'NT intervention: Study finds Govt is dragging its feet', Koori Mail 414 p.40
[3] 'Sea of black faces bound for Canberra', Koori Mail 417, p.7
[4] 'Legal action warning over NT intervention', Koori Mail 477 p.18
[5] 'Deadly Voices: An Intervention', Sydney Writers Festival, event 240, 23/5/2010
[6] 'Intervention protests as deadline missed', Koori Mail 463 p.7
[7] [7a] [7b] [7c] 'The intervention we had to have', SMH 21/6/2008
[8] 'Curbs not working - research', Koori Mail 477 p.18
[9] 'NT intervention failing to make a difference: report', SMH 31/10/2009
[10] 'NTER report shows falls in crimes', Koori Mail 512 p.16
[11] 'The Search for Common Ground', Jeff McMullen, address in Parramatta Town Hall, 8/9/2010
[12] [12a] 'NT government cuts services, reverses Aboriginal gains', GreenLeft 9/2/2013, greenleft.org.au/node/53272, retrieved 18/2/2013
[13] [13a] 'Girls at greater risk of suicide since intervention', SMH 11/2/2012
[14] 'The case against compulsory income management', The Stringer 6/5/2013
[15] 'Cashless Cards And Rising Crime: An Intervention That Keeps On Giving', New Matilda 21/3/2017
[16] 'The debilitating aftermath of 10 years of NT Intervention', Land Rights News, Northern Edition, July 2017, pp.18–19

Harvard citation

Korff, J 2019, Was the NT Intervention successful?, <https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/politics/was-the-nt-intervention-successful>, retrieved 23 July 2019

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