Cynicism reigns amid talk of new intervention


Originally published in Tracker Magazine.  

Aboriginal leader Rosalie Kunoth-Monks. (AAP IMAGE)

NORTHERN TERRITORY: It was a question whispered on the lips of many as the fourth anniversary of the NT intervention approached last month. What is going to happen when the policy, delivered by a government on the run in an election year, expires in 2012?

The NT Emergency Response has been the most controversial Aboriginal affairs policy in decades. Well over a billion dollars in, the same cynicism it inspired on its announcement by former Prime Minister John Howard, and then Indigenous affairs minister Mal Brough in 2007, has survived the past four years.

Debates over whether the key planks of the intervention have been successful rage on, as does discontent over the motives of the Coalition, and Labor’s blind continuation of the policy.

With the Opposition leader Tony Abbott advocating for a “second intervention” in Alice Springs, and as Prime Minister Julia Gillard made her first trip to an Aboriginal community since taking office, all eyes were on what Labor will do when the intervention concludes in August next year.

On June 22, Ms Gillard and Indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin fronted a press pack in Canberra to announce a series of consultations over the discussion paper – “Stronger futures for the Northern Territory”.

The discussion paper outlines eight proposed areas for future action: School attendance and educational achievement, economic development and employment, tackling alcohol abuse, community safety, health, food security, housing and governance.

Ms Gillard told reporters that her government wanted to move forward in a spirit of consultation with Aboriginal people.

“Broadly, on the start of the Northern Territory Emergency Response, we know that this was started without consultation with Aboriginal people and we know that starting it without that consultation did lead to feelings of hurt and feelings of shame,” Ms Gillard said.

“I saw that myself in the Northern Territory when I met with Aboriginal leaders with tears in their eyes as they recalled some of the emotions that they’d experienced at that time and, indeed, the Leader of the Opposition’s acknowledged this too.

“I think it’s now widely understood that there was that kind of reaction of hurt with the way that the Northern Territory Emergency Response first got going.

“But we’re at a different stage now, we’re on the ground, we’re there, things are working… and there’s more to do, so that gives an opportunity to work in a consultative way to shape what comes next and that’s what this discussion paper today is all about.”

Ms Macklin and Indigenous health minister Warren Snowdon have kicked off consultations throughout the Territory, which stretch until the end of July.

But two prominent Territory leaders, who claim that a “second intervention” would do little to eliminate Aboriginal disadvantage, have shrugged off the Gillard government’s claims on consultation.

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks is President of the Barkley Shire, which takes in Tennant Creek, the first community visited by Ms Macklin on her round of meetings.

She told Tracker that about 100 people turned up to the Tennant Creek meeting, but she says it was similar to last year’s consultations, which were widely criticised for a lack of dialogue with Aboriginal people.

“I thought it was set up in such a way that you are more or less locked into answers,” Ms Kunoth-Monks toldTracker.

“… It’s just another intervention. I have absolutely no trust, no relationship with the government and the government’s way of thinking. I am trying to be in tune with assessing what will make us sustainable, and help our culture, our identity.”

Ms Kunoth-Monks says she wasn’t given much notice about the meeting, and only received the discussion paper through her daughter.

“We don’t want another photo opportunity, or anything that simply makes the government look good.

“We want the offices of government to sit down and make decisions.

“How good will this be if you’ve got to do (consultations) in a rush? We can’t do it that way. We haven’t even started discussions on our own
rights, our own language and in our own communities.”

Ms Kunoth-Monks says one of the main priorities for her people is education.

“Education is vitally important for us. But it’s also got to be done from the safety of knowing who we are, our cultural background, and how we can access other knowledge whilst retaining our culture.”

Dhurili leader Reverend Djiniyini Gondarra spoke to Trackerfollowing the discussion paper’s release.

He is also cynical about the Gillard government’s plans and doesn’t believe the controversial planks under the current intervention will be relaxed if a new policy comes in.

He believes consultations began too soon, and should not have happened until the Gillard government acknowledged the failures of the intervention.

“My reaction is that the method designed to do the consultation will result in the same sort of policy. A second intervention,” Rev Gondarra told Tracker.

“It’s the same criteria, it’s not a new thing. I’m not welcoming this new second intervention, and my people will not welcome it.

“My reaction is that the government should go back and fix the damage that they have done.”

Reverend Gondarra does not believe this is proper consultation, saying the government is not consulting with the right people under traditional lore.

“You can’t just go around using our own methodology, using your own system of government going and talking to individuals. We don’t do that. You don’t go and talk to the village when you talk to the Indonesian government, you go and talk to the government.

“You must do the same thing, you must go and talk to the lore men…..”

Rev Gondarra has also released a public response, with a number of recommendations for the federal government to heed.
He wants the words “intervention” and “emergency response” to be removed from any future policy, wants the Government Business Managers replaced with mentors, and advocates for policies that support Aboriginal people to live and work on their traditional country.


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