Intervention not perfect, but it’s better than nothing
The prominence of the story about AFL player Liam Jurrah in the national media was interesting. Yes, here is a man who many in central Australia hold up as a vision of hope and this dream has for the time being been destroyed.
But Jurrah, as many have noted, is a man with feet in both worlds. These worlds do not often cross paths in a way that is palatable to white people on the East Coast.
One very un-sexy story that doesn’t involve football stars or machetes but is going to have more impact on Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory is the extension of the Intervention.
Renamed Stronger Futures by the Gillard government, the Intervention is about to continue for another ten years. Amendments to the legislation recommended by a Senate Inquiry will be debated in Parliament today.
I have grappled with the Intervention policy since I attempted to write a (short) thesis about it two years ago. But when I listen to Aboriginal people, there are mixed views about the Intervention. Not everyone sees it as all bad.
Yes, I understand the new Intervention policy has extreme flaws. Implemented from the top-down and underpinned by colonial narratives, the policies most probably contravene international human rights standards.
One particular aspect of the new Intervention that has come under intense media scrutiny recently is the consultation process the government did as part of the policy development.
Last year, the government did attempt to consult with Aboriginal people about what they needed and wanted. I was fortunate to attend two of these consultations. One at Docker River, a community on the NT/WA border, and one in Alice Springs.
Why the government did not arrange these consultations through the Lands Councils and organisations that already have strong relationships with the communities completely baffles me. For people in Alice Springs this was definitely a sore point, and the atmosphere at this consultation can best be described as tense.
But Aboriginal people have been over-consulted with little tangible result. On communities, there is consultation fatigue. The problem is, and this is not a new or profound insight, policies affecting Aboriginal people need to be devised by Aboriginal people.
What we do know is that top-down policies fail. It’s not rocket science. But as often and as loudly as this is said, governments either don’t listen, understand the concept, or don’t know what this might look like.
And, while the new Intervention policies can be likened to a parent tightening the grip on the arm of a small child, there have been some benefits. Well, one benefit. Increased resourcing. This is a small win, and patchy at best, but it is still a win.
Last week I spoke with an employee of an Aboriginal Health organisation. She told me her organisation were broadly pleased the Intervention would continue because additional health programs were created thanks to Intervention funding.
I worked for an Aboriginal women’s council and the directors were strong supporters of the Intervention. The women said income management, a controversial measure, helped women protect their income from being taken by other family members.
Yes, granted, there is significant evidence this is not the view of many women who will be subject to income management. Personally, I can’t understand why the government won’t just make it voluntary.
There has also been an increased police presence on remote communities because of Intervention funding. Resourcing of youth programs in the NT benefitted significantly. Youth programs are an essential service for young people on community.
Even the Mt Theo Program youth program at Yuendumu played a key role in Liam Jurrah’s life as a young man on community. Without it, he may have never made it to the MCG.
In the end, there is no clear cut “solution” or a silver bullet approach for the challenges Aboriginal people face. If only increased resourcing could be informed by a grass-roots community developed approach.
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