I wish I could say a few more positive things about the NT Intervention. But I can’t. All the Intervention seems to be doing is employing a hell of a lot of Canberra public servants with absolutely no idea about Aboriginal communities in Central Australia. Unlike other critics (to whom I shall not link) I don’t think the Intervention is ‘biowar’, ‘genocide’, comparable to the occupation of Iraq, or even a land grab. Rather, I think it’s an ill-thought out, but well-meaning, hodge-podge of random ideas put together by senior public servants with no bloody idea!
Here, for the record are a few things that seem to be working which have emerged from the Intervention:
1. The MASSIVE injection of funding into housing and infrastructure. I can see it’s finally happening -slowly, slowly. New housing, new facilities. I know, because I’ve been involved in the discussions. It’s been over a year since the Intervention began, and at last new housing is going to be built. To explain further, the NT has virtually no tax base and, unlike Western Australia where they just let the mining companies do what they like, is economically dependent on the Commonwealth Government. Basically, we needed something like the Intervention to give us the cash we needed to build the desperately needed houses and infrastructure in communities.
2. Income management (in many cases). Yes, there are some people who don’t need their incomes managed, but there are many others who do. I have seen the results of income management firsthand: people have food in their bellies a week after payday, instead of being starving and broke two days after they’ve been paid.
3. Exposing the lies about the effectiveness of the permit system. Permits do not stop grog runners or drug dealers. Why? Most grog runners are Aboriginal people who don’t need permits to enter their own land. Likewise, most Ganja (weed) brought onto communities is brought in by young Aboriginal guys. Go figure, but that’s the way it is. What the suspension of the permit system means is easier access for people like builders and carpenters* and other desperately needed tradespeople.
4. Outback Stores. This is a group who come in and take over existing community stores and guess what: they supply proper food to Aboriginal people at decent prices and make only enough to cover wages and oncosts. For example, at Nyirripi, I went into the recently established Outback Store and bought a packet of Chicos and two AAA batteries. Normally, such a purchase would cost me around $15 in an Aboriginal community. But no, the cost was only $6. Goodbye single apples at $3 each, loaves of $6.50 bread and UFOs (unidentified fried objects) and hello lean meat, veges, fruit and accountability. This has been needed for decades.
5. Putting Aboriginal welfare and social justice back on the political map – and giving people the guts to challenge the old-guard status quo (such as the land councils, legal aid and other 1960s ideologues) about Aboriginal issues. The Howard government had wiped the Aboriginal issues slate clean, thus letting bad situations get worse in the hands of the ideologues. The Intervention forced the government to give Aboriginal people in remote areas the priority they deserve.
*The socalled ‘abolition’ of the permit system is a furphy. What the changes to the permit system really mean is that certain people can go into the common areas of communities. Just who these people are was defined in amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act last year. Contrary to what’s been put out there, it isn’t just anyone – you have to be a public servant, a journalist, or a contractor working on a community. What are common areas? The shop(s), the police station, the clinic, the airstrip and public roads in communities may be used without a permit. A permit is still required to access other areas of Aboriginal land, including sacred sites (in fact there is a special NT piece of legislation, the NT Sacred Sites Act which protects every sacred site in the NT, no matter what kind of land tenure it’s on and makes access to these areas illegal without permission … even if they’re on a pastoral property). Given that the land where most communities is located is Aboriginal Freehold (a communal title) Aboriginal people have every right -just like any other property owner- to kick you off.