Land Rights News Central Australia: Land Rights News (October 2011)

Published: November, 2011

Indigenous Affairs Minister attended the Lajamanu consultations earlier this year

Intervention 2.0: Welfare cuts for truants' families

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin used her visit to Alice Springs this month to launch the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory report in which the Government sets out the results of the consultations it did in communities this year about the future of the Intervention.

The Government has used the report to mark out school attendance and educational achievement, economic development and employment and tackling alcohol abuse as the three main areas to shape NTER 2.

While the Minister says the “discussion paper will be the start of wide-ranging consultations”,  Ms Macklin told the press that the Government will put legislation in place before the end of the year to suspend welfare payments to parents who allow their children to become truants.

Known as SEAM,  this program has existed since 2009 as a trial in six communities in the Northern Territory: Katherine, Katherine town camps, Hermannsburg, Wallace Rockhole, the Tiwi Islands and Wadeye.

Little is known about its effectiveness but the Australian Government told the CLC it was doing an evaluation on the trial.

CLC director David Ross said both governments have focused too heavily on coercive measures — such as the SEAM trial and recent NT legislative changes that provide for fines and other coercive measures on parents — while at the same time signalling a withdrawal of support for the inclusion of cultural aspects into schooling, including support for bilingual education and other language and culture programs.

“It is difficult to see how such a situation can possibly result in the effective partnerships between schools, parents and communities that the government has committed to.

Australian Greens spokesperson on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Issues Senator Rachel Siewert said collaboration and not punishment is the key to getting positive results when it comes to school attendance in the Northern Territory.

Senator Siewert  described it as “a sanctions-based approach which causes further harm to families and doesn't address the underlying causes of alienation from the education system.”

The other area the Minister prioritized was tackling alcohol abuse although she ruled out a floor price on alcohol which some Aboriginal lobby groups in Alice Springs say would be the most effective way to decrease the amount of alcohol consumed.

The Government says it believes the current alcohol restrictions should remain and that it will consult with communities to strengthen alcohol management plans (AMPs).

“Services put in place to help problem drinkers should be strengthened.

This includes more qualified alcohol and drug workers and more treatment and rehabilitation services,” the Stronger Futures website says.

The third area prioritized by the Government was economic development and employment and it says further reform of remote employment programs such as CDEP will be critical.

“The most frequently recorded comments about economic development and employment were that people wanted jobs in the community and didn’t want to have to leave their community,” the report said.

People also said that “since the creation of the shire councils, local government job opportunities appeared to have declined for Aboriginal people, and that jobs had gone to non-Indigenous employees or contractors”.

CLC director David Ross said that the consultations did not ask people about outstations or the permit system. 

“Besides the imposition of shires,  the changes to the permit system and the lack of support for outstations   are commonly raised at Council meetings.

As for the other issues raised in the consultations I sincerely hope the Government takes on board the many positive and useful suggestions from Aboriginal people in the bush and doesn’t pursue a punitive path,” he said.