Tracking The Intervention: Discarding and devaluing Aboriginal work

Guest Post from Lauredhel

Crossposted from Hoyden About Town.

Jangari’s “Four Corners on the Intervention” pulls out a few key points from the other night’s Tracking The Intervention show.You can watch the show for yourself here at the ABC.

Jangari details the ways in which Aboriginal communities are being undermined, not assisted, by the invasion and recolonisation process. I’m just pulling out a couple of points:

Discarding successful women-run community-based child safety programmes:

In Maningrida, the community women operate a night-watch called the Child Safety Service. The women ensure that children are safe at night while playing, and that they go home at a reasonable hour on school-nights. The service was praised in the Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle report [PDF]:

” The Inquiry regards the [Maningrida Community Action Plan Project, including the Child Safety Service] as an extremely valuable project and one that can be utilised to both establish a Community Justice Group and help guide reform in relation to the mainstream response to child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities.”

However, the funding is about to cease, and none of the $1.3 billion spent so far on the intervention (a lot of which is going towards the extra Centrelink bureaucrats) is finding its way to helping out this group of 15 Maningrida women who are undertaking this ‘extremely valuable project’.

This is particularly hard to understand, since the purpose of the entire intervention is the protection of children, presumably, and not the scrapping of CDEP nor the quarantining of welfare payments, which are mere means to achieve this end, supposedly. It beggared our collective belief that something as closely related to the issue at the heart of the intervention as this project is, could be allowed to suffer, especially with all the investment the government is putting in.

“Transitional” slave labour:

There were however, a number of Aputula residents, mostly men, who were employed under CDEP to tend to the community-owned fruit orchard. While they provided food for the community, there was no commercial viability in the venture as they couldn’t grow enough surplus to sell, so the project was funded by CDEP. Its cessation meant that the former workers will be moved on to something else. In the meantime they receive ‘CDEP transitional’ payments of $8.24 (that’s not a typo: eight dollars and twenty-four cents) per fortnight, for 50 hours work! That’s less than 20 cents an hour!

Since the men’s wives often work in the aged and child care centre and get a steady wage, the men feel justifiably disinclined to work 25 hours a week for an extra four bucks. This is how the government apparently gets people into jobs.

The worst part for the men though, is that whereas before they were performing important community-oriented tasks and were widely regarded as good workers, they now feel completely undervalued.

This is a fruit orchard. Providing fresh produce for Aboriginal communities, which are typically sorely lacking in it. So the colonisation produces these triple whammies – workers devalued, more people on the dole, and less fresh food in communities with severe malnutrition-related health issues. What are they thinking? Where is the logic, let alone the humanity?

Jangari’s summary:

I’d like to finish off this post by pointing out that I really haven’t spoken much about child sexual abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, violence, incarceration rates and all those other issues that are central to this debate and central to (the most recent incarnation of) the report that started it all. There’s a good reason for this, and that is that the response from the government to these issues – this very intervention – doesn’t address them either. Instead they’ve gone after community assets, land rights, the permit system, and everything there is that makes living in remote communities possible. In this respect, and I say this (repeatedly) without delving too far into the realm of politicking, it looks as though the real motivation is to free up that resource-rich land.

For more background on this, check out the potted history at Savage Minds, and the Central Land Council’s factsheet.

Edited to add: This post at Health and Nursing Issues in Australia picked out issues on the show that particularly struck me. Emphases are mine:

A doctor at a health care clinic in the remote Northern Territory community of Maningrida thinks money going towards the Federal Government’s Indigenous intervention could be better spent.

In Maningrida, the taskforce’s demountable clinic is operating in the backyard of the community’s permanent medical centre.

Doctor Geoff Stewart says the $83 million already spent on health checks would be enough money to correct the underfunding of all existing health services in the Territory.

“It’s more than what would be estimated to be required to bring all health services across the Northern Territory up to a level of funding where we’d all be expected to provide a comprehensive range of primary health care services.”

The taskforce’s doctor in Maningrida Chris Henderson says it’s important to seize the window available to help Indigenous children.

“I can understand the Northern Territory doctors feeling somewhat defensive about people like me coming in and taking over their patch. But politics works in different ways to medicine. And right now we have a political window where the kids are being concentrated upon.”

Meanwhile, the chairwoman of the taskforce Sue Gordon says it’s up to the Territory Government, not her body, to fund child safety programs.

“Sometimes it’s easy to think ‘Well, this is the special one’, but there are so many Aboriginal organisations within the Aboriginal communities in the Territory who are doing a fantastic job across the board, but you have to look at them as a total picture.”


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Posted in elections, health, indigenous, politics
7 comments on “Tracking The Intervention: Discarding and devaluing Aboriginal work
  1. mbahnisch says:

    I’d like to see something firmer from Jenny Macklin and Rudd on how exactly Labor would manage “the intervention”. I did notice that Macklin came out yesterday and promised funding for health, teachers and childrens workers, which of course Brough condemned. It was extraordinary to watch how the narrow imposition of a ludicrous ideology destroyed enterprises, jobs and failed to fund actual services designed to protect children. It’s a very sad joke.

  2. jinmaro says:

    Thanks for this post, and the links, Lauredhel.

    A lot of people who wouldn’t normally watch the ABC watched that 4Corners program and are talking about it. Excellent stuff. The ABC at its best.

  3. Su says:

    I find it distressing that even on this issue, the ALP refuses to stand in opposition to the government. It is so clearly an inherently racist and paternalistic Act.

    From Land Council site Lauredhel linked to above;
    “For example, the Minister appears to be able to direct bodies that do not receive government funding or assets not purchased with government funding.”

    The whole act needs to be repealed.

  4. mbahnisch says:

    I agree with you, Su.

    I wonder if the ALP are holding fire til some of this stuff is tested in court. I’m no lawyer, but on the face of it, a lot of it sounds pretty dodgy.

    It was disappointing to hear Macklin equivocate on the promises to restore CDEP and the permits system.

    On this issue, Rudd is under Pearson’s spell and it’s not a good sign that Macklin, if she becomes Minister, appears so weak.

  5. Mike says:

    I found Sue Gordon’s response confusing. Was she suggesting that yes, this case is a special one, and an effective one, but that she was more interested in finding a one-size-fits-all solution to the problems of every remote community? Or was she implying that she didn’t think that particular case warranted funding under the intervention because it wasn’t useful enough?

    It seems to me that extra federal funding for programs like that could help improve safety in the communities, create employment, establish some role models that promote discipline and – more importantly – reward a community that is showing some real initiative in trying to deal with its own problems. If such programs go unfunded because of a territory/federal dispute, or because of the parameters of the intervention, that would be a shame.

  6. Paul Burns says:

    Sue Gordon is an absolute coconut. Not to be trusted.

  7. John Rawnsley says:

    Here in Alice Springs the concerns about aspects of the intervention are certainly being raised, but they don’t account for a rejection of the intervention in its entirety.

    In far-reaching policy such as this there are bound to be problematic aspects, and the success of implementation will depend on the judgement of government in terms of how flexible and resolute it is.

    The ABC program received attention in the local media here, but it was couched as a dispute as to whether the program was ‘too’ biased. Brough’s quoted statements ran along these lines.

    Boyd Hunter offers an interesting analysis of the intervention in a policy sense – a brief overview can be found here…

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