Thursday, June 24, 2010

Lack of progress in addressing Aboriginal disadvantage in the NT

Jon Altman and Eva Cox have written excellent articles presenting the case against the "non-evidence based" policies of the Federal Government with respect to the Northern Territory Intervention in 72 Aboriginal communities and the compulsory Income Quarantine Scheme which has just been extended to non-Aboriginal welfare recipients in the NT (and is being piloted in Western Australia).

Jon Altman's piece in Crikey reviews the third anniversary of the National Emergency Intervention in 73 prescribed Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. The intervention was an initiative of the Howard Government but has been expanded and extended by the Rudd/Gillard Government.

The intervention suspended the basic liberties of Aboriginal people in the prescribed communities and imposed a paternalistic "state" run program of "improvement", all in the name of assisting and protecting children. Altman argues that despite the attempts by the Federal Government and the responsible Government Departments to portray the impact of the NT intervention in an overly positive light, there is, on a range of indicators, no clear evidence that the Intervention has improved the circumstances of Aboriginal children and Aboriginal people. In some areas- housing, land tenure and employment- Altman argues that things have got worse.

Altman makes the critical point that non-Aboriginal interests are the ones really benefiting from the millions being spent on the NT Intervention and Income Management. This includes what he calls private sector intervention entrepreneurs, private business, public sector agencies and mainstream non-Aboriginal NGO's. Processes of "mainstreaming" and "normalization" of services and programs for Aboriginal people are leading to a high proportion of resources earmarked for Aboriginal services, programs and development being syphoned off to external non-Aboriginal interests.

The situation that Altman describes is very real here in WA. It's an issue that colleagues and I have highlighted in a number of consultancy reports undertaken to map human services provided to Aboriginal people in regional WA. This situation is of great concern to Aboriginal people and Aboriginal controlled agencies, but not an issue that government, the private sector and the mainstream non-Aboriginal NGO's want to acknowledge (or change).

Altman also argues that the to-down paternalistic approach of the Intervention is creating greater dependence on the state.

In the Crikey piece and another piece Altman, like Cox, argues that there is no evidence of the efficacy of income management.

Eva Cox argues in a piece in New Matilda that there is no evidence that income management actually works. She cites evidence from recent studies that shows no significant improvements of life after 2 years of income management and evidence that they cause harm. Cox cites a report from the Indigenous Doctors Association which found that:
" the Intervention would potentially lead to profound long term damage, and that any potential benefits to physical health were largely outweighed by negative impacts to psychological health, social health and wellbeing, as well as cultural integrity."

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