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Rebuilding from the Ground up - An alternative to the NT Intervention





The NT Intervention has been a disaster for Aboriginal communities.

Rather than 'closing the gap', government statistics show Indigenous incarceration rates have risen by almost 30 per cent,i school attendance is down in many places,ii suicide and self harm have increasediii and thousands of workers are being put onto Centrelink as CDEP closes down. There are growing crises in urban centres such as Alice Springs as large numbers of people move in from the bush.iv

The suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act to seize land, assets and authority has destroyed trust in government and many well run programs. Much of the unprecedented investment of more $1.5 billion has been wasted on government bureaucrats and contractors.

Alongside the Intervention, the NT government has introduced policies guided by the same approach of paternalism and assimilation including dissolving Aboriginal community councils, effective cuts to homelands and smaller communities, and bans on bilingual education.

There must be an urgent shift from punitive controls to measures which restore community control, rebuild Aboriginal initiative and capacity, and improve shocking living conditions. This must start with repeal of NTER legislation and the clear application of the Racial Discrimination Act to all laws affecting Aboriginal communities.v

The government must apologise for the pain and damage caused by the Intervention.

Development must be based on commitment to land rights, self-determination and recognition of the unique strengths and circumstances of each community.

All policies relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must comply with the 46 Articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which Australia now officially

1. Restore Community Governance:

Urgently rebuild Aboriginal community government councils. Restore decision making power and administration of municipal services to these councils. Transfer all assets seized by the shires to the Aboriginal councils and pay compensation for all other assets sold off by the shires.

Remove Government Business Managers installed by the Intervention.

Repeal Business Management Area Powers which grant the Minister the capacity for total control over the budgets and direction of organisations receiving Commonwealth funding.

2. Increase government investment in ALL communities:

Abandon the 'hub towns' model. Rapid improvements in education, housing, health and community services are required wherever Aboriginal people choose to live - in urban areas, remote communities and on homelands.

3. Jobs with Justice:

Create a new Aboriginal employment program to replace Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) that have been gutted through recent reforms and are exploiting Aboriginal workers. Jobs created must pay at least award wages, with rights to join unions and collectively bargain. The program must be administered by community based organisations, with development needs and priorities set through broad community consultation. All willing workers should be employed.

4. No to Township Leases:

End compulsory 5-year leases over Aboriginal township land taken through the Intervention. Stop pressuring communities to sign extensions on these leases. Lift the requirement that 40-year leases are signed with the government before housing can be built. Rescind all township leases signed since the Intervention began in 2007.

5. Housing for All:

Return administration of housing stock from the NT Department of Housing to local Indigenous housing committees attached to the community councils. Funds for housing construction and renovation currently going to the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) run by government and major constructions firms must be redirected to the local committees.

Funds for new housing must be available to all communities and substandard SIHIP renovations reassessed for further needs. Employment on housing programs should involve 80 per cent Aboriginal workers.vii Train and employ a permanent housing maintenance team in every community.

6. Empowerment through Education:

Lift the ban on bilingual education and allow the expansion of bilingual programs in NT schools where requested. Invest in training and employment of Aboriginal teachers and Aboriginal teachers' aides and ensure they play a central role in curriculum development. Provide resources and employment opportunities to enable schools to become important centres of culture and community life. Invest in staff, infrastructure and equipment to ensure all remote Aboriginal schools have full time qualified teachers and enjoy the same resources per enrolled student as schools across Australia. Stop punitive programs linking welfare payments to school attendance.

7. Abolish Compulsory Income Management:

Redirect funding from punitive welfare controls to community based programs. Lift incomes above the poverty line.viii

8. Community Controlled Social Services:

Fund early childhood programs, youth services, men's programs and women's centres, with specific needs determined through the local councils.

9. Health:

Implement the recommendations of the Health Impact Assessment by the Australian Indigenous Doctors' Association (2010), which recognises the importance of self-governance, housing, education and cultural respect in determining health outcomes.ix

Adequately fund health services in all communities. Consult with communities and health service providers to ensure programmes are appropriate and not duplicated. Support Aboriginal-managed health services. Fund and train Aboriginal health workers and Aboriginal liaison officers.

10. Non-Discriminatory Alcohol Management:

Repeal blanket alcohol bans in Aboriginal communities. Provide resources to allow communities to develop local solutions to alcohol misuse that are driven by and appropriate to the needs of the community. Resource culturally appropriate and accessible alcohol treatment programs in all communities. Broader measures to empower communities, employ Aboriginal people in rewarding work and ensure delivery of basic services are crucial for dealing with problems associated with alcohol.

11. Justice not Jail:

End all discriminatory laws that have led to increased police harassment and incarceration of Aboriginal people. This includes race-based alcohol restrictions, the capacity to suspend the need for a warrant to enter premises on Aboriginal land, blanket pornography bans, stigmatising signage in Aboriginal communities, and local council by-laws in Alice Springs which target the homeless. Repeal 'star chamber' powers that suspend the right to silence for Australian Crime Commission investigations in Aboriginal communities.

Remove NTER prohibitions on the consideration of Aboriginal customary law in bail and sentencing. Recognise customary law as an important vehicle to empower communities to take responsibility for offending and improve community safety.



i From 699 Indigenous inmates in Sept 2007 to 908 in June 2010, Northern Territory Quarterly Crime and Justice Statistics, Issue 21: Sept Quarter 2007 and Issue 32: June Quarter 2010

ii Attendance rates in NTER communities down from 62.3 per cent in June 2007 to 60.7 per cent in June 2010, Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory Monitoring Report June 2009 and June 2010. NT government figures from December 2010 show some significant drops in school attendance, including 23 per cent at Lajamanu­-stick-to-english-despite-attendance-falls-20110117-19u5d.html

iii Confirmed instances of suicide and self harm up from 105 in 2006-7 to 162 in 2009-10 Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory Monitoring Report June 2010

iv Walter Shaw, CEO of Tangentyere Council detailed the crisis and its impact on town camp residents in a press release published at

v Despite amendments made by the Labor government in 2009, the RDA still does not apply in full to Intervention laws. See Human Rights Law Resource Centre fact sheet

vi The full text of the UNDRIP can be found at

vii Health Habitat, an NGO with extensive experience on housing projects in Aboriginal communities, have maintained a successful commitment to 80 per cent local Indigenous workers for the past decade. See or an interview with director Paul Pholeros at

viii A report Impact of Income Management on store sales in the Northern Territory by the Menzies School of Health found that Income Management did not lead to increase in sales of fruit and vegetables. However, these sales did increase, along with sales of all other items, through the three month period following the government's stimulus package. The report is available at

ix The full AIDA report is available at


For further background info, please see Additional References:
(these are not part of the original statement for which endorsements are being sought)

1. Restore Community Governance:
from the Open letter from PAPA to Jenny Macklin MP:
Immediately remove all Government Business Managers and resource properly funded Aboriginal community councils
AMSANT = Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the Northern Territory
Recommendation 18: AMSANT strongly recommends that, if GBMs are to be retained, that the relevant legislation is amended to remove the current delegable powers in relation to ‘government business areas' and that these be replaced with the requirement for GBMs to undertake appropriate consultation and provide for genuine participation of communities and community-based service organisations in the planning and development of services and infrastructure.
CLC = Central Land Council (NT)
CLC position:
The business management powers mean that arbitrary interventions in the lives of Aboriginal people are now possible. The business management powers are harsh and inappropriate and should be abolished.
Immediate: The CLC recommends that no delegations be given to GBMs to use business management powers and that the role of the GBMs be modified to be accountable to the community and be a positive face of the intervention and facilitator of community engagement and development, rather than a punitive overseer.

2. Increase government investment in ALL communites:
Social Justice Report 2009
Chapter 4: Sustaining Aboriginal homeland communities
Provide funding and support for homeland communities in all states and territories through the COAG National Indigenous Reform Agreement and associated National Partnership Agreements.
World Council of Churches listen in Mapuru
One person summarized the situation like this:
"The Government is saying there is no money for homelands (small Indigenous townships) but we want to live here and we are saying bring the same essential services to us that you take to white towns across Australia. Don't try and make us go to the mission".
Expert Commentary: Policy Failure: Legal and Program Implications
Making Sense of the Policy Context

The possibility of Commonwealth funding for housing on the 500 or so outstations and homelands communities of the Territory has been ruled out explicitly by the Memorandum of Understanding Between the Australian Government and the Northern Territory Government on Indigenous Housing, Accommodation and Related Services September 2007.[17]
This is a document that Government tried to keep secret.
[17] ‘Memorandum of Understanding Between the Australian Government and the Northern Territory Government on Indigenous Housing, Accommodation and Related Services September 2007' at

3. Jobs with Justice:
CLC = Central Land Council
"The Aboriginal Peak Organisations of the NT, with the assistance of Professor Jon Altman, have joined together to call for a new Community Employment and Enterprise Development scheme for remote Indigenous Australia. ...
"A central feature of this new program and locating it with community organisations is that it will re-empower community organisations and thus provide a means to build the state/community partnership that has been so undermined in the NT and is so essential for sustainable development,"
he [Mr. Ross] said.

4. No to Township Leases:
Native Title report 2009

4.1 That the Australian Government amend the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007 (Cth) to end the compulsory five-year leases, and instead commit to obtaining the free, prior and informed consent of traditional owners to voluntary lease arrangements. ...
Indigenous communities are in desperate need of housing. As the provision of housing is conditional upon agreeing to a lease, Indigenous land owners may be negotiating at a disadvantage and under duress. ...
The NTNER Act excludes the Lands Acquisition Act in relation to the five-year leases, meaning that land owners are denied the usual rights in relation to how land is acquired and compensated and must instead rely on the NTNER Act itself. ...
The NTNER Act gives land owners almost no procedural rights. ...
The five-year leases represent a low point in the Government's treatment of Aboriginal land. They are a most direct expression of the Australian Government's focus on gaining control over Aboriginal land, rather than reforming tenure to assist Aboriginal people to better use their land. ...
I have previously expressed my concern about the link made between the provision of much-needed community services, human rights and entitlements and the grant of a township lease to a government entity. Services should be provided to communities on the basis of need and effectiveness rather than compliance with a request for a lease. ...
All people in Australia have a right to adequate housing and to essential services. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should not have to give up other rights, including our rights to our lands, territories and resources, to be able to access such basic services.

Book "This Is What We Said" (and report "Will they be heard?")
p. 59, David Ross, Director, Central Land Council:
"The government has used the five year leases to further its own and the Northern Territory Government's interests without any benefits to the residents of these communities"
While communities, traditional Aboriginal owners and land councils have demonstrated that they are not opposed to community leasing per se, they are concerned about the governance impact of township leasing. Despite this, the Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments remain focussed on obtaining township leases in all major Aboriginal communities to the exclusion of other leasing models. The coercive means that governments have available to them to obtain township leases include continuing (or increasing) the use of incentives, connecting township leases to ongoing service provision or introducing the threat of extending the compulsory five-year leases. An alternative is to engage in a more open approach to community leasing negotiations where concerns about governance are acknowledged and a discussion about appropriate governance arrangements forms the basis for developing the most appropriate community leasing model.
Twilight seminar: Race Discrimination, the Intervention and Indigenous Australians
To many observers the weakening of the rights of traditional owners through the 5 year township leases, 99 year and 40 plus 40 year leases appears arbitrary, unfair and unnecessarily cautious in terms of securing government assets including housing.

5. Housing for All:
Recommendation 1:

Policy and strategic development for the affordable housing sector should not be the responsibility of the Department of Housing, and should reside elsewhere to remove the inherent conflict of interest that exists with Department being regulator, funder and service delivery competitor, as well as determining the strategic policy environment.

6. Empowerment trough Education:
All Australians should learn an Aboriginal Language
"The use of Aboriginal language in schools brings Aboriginal parents and grandparents into the school and so brings the community and the school together," Prof Christie said.
He said it was important for Aboriginal children to start learning English when they reach the age of 11 or 12 to enable them to contribute to the Australian workforce later in life.
"But I think it's even more important that little Aboriginal kids grow up knowing who they are and knowing their language and their land and their family before they get hammered by a foreign language and foreign teachers in a foreign classroom setting," Prof Christie said. ...
Bilingual children have an edge, research shows
The research appears to confirm what bilingualism supporters have long argued:
that learning two languages -rather than "stuffing" the brains of children with too many words -actually gives them an edge over kids who speak only English or French.
2009 Juanita Nielsen Memorial Lecture
Speech by Professor Larissa Behrendt

There is no evidence that shows that linking welfare to behaviour reforms is effective. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that the imposition of such punitive measures in an already dysfunctional situation will exacerbate the stress in a household.
And what the evidence does show works in getting Aboriginal children into schools are the following:
- breakfast and lunch programs;
- programs that bring the Aboriginal community, especially Elders, into the schools;
- Aboriginal teachers aides and Aboriginal teachers;
- Curriculum that engages Aboriginal children; and
- Programs that marry programs that promote self-esteem and confidence through engaging with culture with programs that focus on academic excellence.
These effective programs and strategies show the importance of building a relationship between Aboriginal families and the school in order to target issues like school attendance. It also shows that there is much that the schools can also do to engage children with schooling. It suggests that, rather than simply punishing parents for their children's non-attendance, the government should be providing schools and teachers that meet the needs of the Aboriginal community.
All this in communities where only 47c is spent to the $1 spent on non-Aboriginal student; in communities where there are not enough teachers and classrooms. A punitive measure placed on families to ensure their children come to school is hypocritical from any government that neglects the same children by failing to provide adequate funding for a teacher and a classroom. Even if it did work to physically bring more children into a classroom, what is the quality of the education they will receive when there has been underinvestment in teachers and educational infrastructure.
'Four hours of English' strategy doomed to fail, say academics
Buckskin is dean of the David Unaipon College of Indigenous Education and Research at the university and says he was unable to find any evidence to support the NT's approach to bilingual education.
''I don't understand why the minister made that determination and why the current minister is continuing to push it. There was more evidence to support bilingual education than there was against it. There is a national trend around the world to retain indigenous languages. This is a real step backwards.'' ...
Bilingual education is based on helping children become proficient in their first tongue before learning English. ''There is no proof that English only will result in better literacy results,'' Buckskin said. ... Patrick McConvell, an expert on Aboriginal languages who has spent five years living in remote Aboriginal communities, co-wrote a discussion paper for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies that reviews the NT's approach to dismantling bilingual education. He said children in communities like Yirrkala needed to be taught literacy in a language they could understand before it was taught to them in English. ''I don't think saying 'teach them English from day one' will make things better. My prediction is that it will make them worse,'' he said

7. Abolish Compulsary Income Management:
Income Management, overcoming indigenous disadvantage by Eva Cox
Assuming that the recipients of welfare payments need and benefit from income management is not clearly shown, either in this study or any other done by FaHCSIA so far.
Children still at risk despite income management by Eva Cox
Does income management work to make children safer? The evidence is not clearly there in the various evaluation studies that have been done, but now the statistics from the Northern Territory suggest that reality testing is not working either.
ANU National Centre for Indigenous Studies
Recommendation (xx) All mandatory or compulsory income management provisions which were introduced for the ‘emergency response' or ‘intervention' in the Northern Territory should be repealed in favour of inserting provisions allowing income management to only be adopted on an ‘opt-in' or voluntary basis.
Bishop warns against compulsory income management
"Compulsory income management alone will not address the underlying causes of poverty and disadvantage," Australian Catholic Social Justice Council chairman Bishop Christopher Saunders said.
"A rigid focus on compliance or a policy that implies that 'we know what is best' or 'it is all for their own good' risks adopting the kind of attitude that gave rise to policies behind the Stolen Generations," he said in a statement that was reported in today's Sydney Morning Herald.
Universal Periodic Review of Australia - Joint NGO Coalition
Proposed Recommendation That Australia abolish compulsory income quarantining in all communities.
Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service Co-operative Limited's Submission to the Welfare Payments Reform Branch - Commonwealth Government in response to the policy outlines for new model of income management
The HIA found the following evidence regarding compulsory income management:
- There were substantial practical problems in using the cards and the costs of these were borne by the recipient rather than Centrelink.
- Rather than enabling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families to better manage their money, the process of compulsory quarantining of welfare payments was seen as reinforcing beliefs that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were unable to manage their lives.
- The loss of autonomy about where to shop and what to buy was seen as degrading and shameful.
- The focus is not on whether people received enough money to be able to budget appropriately or provide skills in budget management.
- No evidence was found to suggest that the blanket quarantining of income was an effective strategy in improving child health and wellbeing (which was the Government claimed to be the purpose. In fact there was local evidence that was not effective in achieving its other stated aims.
- ‘The blanket application of the management to all residents in the prescribed communities and continued compulsory income management after people have left the communities have had serious impacts on the sense of cultural integrity within these communities. Most importantly the use of this measure is seen by those affected as humiliating, discriminatory and racist. For many people it forces them to re-live past experiences in mission times and reinforces feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. It has undermined their pride and identity in being an Aboriginal person'.7
Based on the evidence above, the HIA recommended the compulsory income management program be immediately abandoned. This recommendation has not only been ignored, but the Government has decided to apply elements of the income management program to all States and Territories. This flies in the face of evidence-based policy practices. ...
VALS recommends that the Government: Abolish compulsory welfare quarantining, or where quarantining continues, that it be available on a voluntary basis, or employed only as a measure of last resort, applied on an evidence-based, case-by-case basis, that maintains full recourse to administrative and judicial review.

8. Community Controlled Social Services:
Community Guide to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
To meet human rights standards we should be involved in all major decisions affecting us, including on issues around land, development, culture, housing, health, education, employment, child welfare, social services and criminal justice.

9. Health:
Profound change in Aboriginal health outcomes will only be achieved through ensuring services meet the needs of those who need it, and in improving access for Aboriginal people through the culturally appropriate, community controlled health sector.

10. Non-Discriminatory Alcohol Management:
Central Land Council:
I guess what we are trying to say, and the same applies for our approach to the restrictions on prohibited material, is that you had a system where communities were empowered to make a decision around alcohol and they had made a decision. Now that decision may change over time, who knows, but the NTER effectively took that decision-making power away and gave it back to the government. What we are suggesting, and all the evidence shows in relation to substance issues that you need to engage the community that has the problem, is that we would welcome moves that allow that decision-making power to come back to a community level.
Northern Territory Emergency Response Review
The alcohol measures introduced as part of the NTER were not based, as they should have been, on available evidence of what works and on the need to coordinate with existing alcohol arrangements in the NT. In the NT, many Aboriginal communities, particularly remote communities, had already voluntarily put in place alcohol bans, although the effectiveness of these bans has been undermined by a lack of support from governments in providing sufficient policing resources and restricting alcohol supply. ...
The blanket bans on alcohol in prescribed communities introduced under the NTER ran over the top of existing arrangements without consideration of the impact on them and did so in a manner that was racially discriminatory. The NTER measures precluded community participation or consent and introduced extraordinary police powers allowing, for example, entry to any house in a prescribed community without a warrant if police suspect alcohol is being consumed.
Social Justice report 2007:
Recommendation 12:
Supporting community based initiatives for alcohol management That the alcohol management scheme established in the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007 (Cth) be reviewed to establish its workability as well as whether it adds value beyond the measures relating to dry community restrictions and permits adopted by the Northern Territory Liquor Commission.
That all alcohol management processes should occur consistent with the RDA. Central to this is ensuring the participation of Indigenous peoples in developing, implementing and monitoring alcohol management plans. ...
The reality of the approach adopted by the federal government is, however, that it is misconceived and has threatened undoing more than two decades of achievements in Territory communities in dealing with alcohol. ...
Maggie Brady notes that this approach adopted by the NT intervention legislation goes against international best practice and evidence about what works. She notes that the World Health Organisation has identified six policies to guide reducing alcohol related harm in measurable terms ...
She notes, ‘the Emergency Intervention (in the NT) has not addressed any of these'.[136] In order for alcohol bans to be effective in a long-term sense, they must be accompanied by significant investment in programs and infrastructure in the health sector. The necessity of these measures is underscored by the very real medical dangers that exist for Aboriginal people if bans are introduced without necessary services and expertise to help people safely withdraw from alcohol addiction.

11. Justice not Jail: Broad support for Call to Action to reduce Indigenous imprisonment
A wide range of community organisations have endorsed a Call to Action aimed at dramatically reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our jails.

Arena article "Iniquitous Intervention" by Alastair Nicholson
"The Act is also absurd. A judge held recently that s.91 required him to ignore that a sacred site had been desecrated by white contractors, because he was not able to take into account customary law or practice as aggravating the criminal behaviour in question."


Support the Alternative to the Intervention

The statement ‘Rebuilding from the Ground Up: An Alternative to the NT Intervention' will be launched at a rally in Darwin on June 21, four years since the announcement of the Intervention. Rallies to protest four years of Intervention and support ‘Rebuilding from the Ground Up' will also be held in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.

If you or your organisation would like to endorse the document, please email [email protected] or contact Barbara Shaw 0401 291 166, Paddy Gibson 0415800586 or Marlene Hodder 08 8952 5032



Aboriginal community leaders including:

Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM (Galiwin'ku), Yananymul Mununggurr (Yirrkala), Barbara Shaw (Mt Nancy town camp), Bob Randall (Mutitjulu), Valerie Martin Napaljari (Warlpiri spokeswoman), Harry Nelson Jakamarra (Yuendumu), Peggy Brown Nampijimpa OAM (Yuendumu), John Leemans (Dagaragu), Geoffrey Barnes (Lajamanu), Imelda Palmer (Santa Teresa), Maxine Carlton and Donald Kunoth (Charles Creek), Warren H Williams (Ntaria/Hermannsburg), Gilbert Corbert (Murray Downs), June Mills (Darwin), Silverton family (Uruna Potara Homeland) and others from Yuendumu, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Kalkaringi and Lajamanu.


Organisations and supporters including:

Intervention Rollback Action Group (Alice Springs), Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney, ‘concerned Australians', the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), Tangentyere Council, Larrakia Nations, Lajamanu Progress Association, Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR national), National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission, Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning UTS (Research), Women's Community Aid Association (Qld), Working Group for Aboriginal Rights (WGAR Canberra), Civil Liberties Australia, Walytja Indigenous community projects, Solidarity, Green Left Weekly, NT Greens, Hornsby Area Residents for Reconciliation, Lane Cove Residents for Reconciliation, Reconciliation Network: Northern Sydney, Indigenous Social Justice Association, Women's House domestic violence service (Brisbane),Jeff McMullen, Ian Thorpe, Cr Irene Doutney (Sydney City Council), Bob and Helen White, Kerry McKenzie, Andrew Havas OAM, Frennie Beytagh