Term of Reference (a)
the effectiveness of Australian Government policies following the Northern
Territory Emergency Response, specifically on the state of health, welfare,
education and law and order in regional and remote Indigenous communities
Northern Territory Emergency Response
On 21 June 2007 the previous Commonwealth government announced a set of
measures known as the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER). These
measures were stated to be in response to Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle
"Little Children are Sacred", the Report of the Northern
Territory Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from
This inquiry was co-chaired by Ms Patricia Anderson and Rex Wild QC and was
conducted in order to find better ways of protecting Aboriginal children in the
Northern Territory from sexual abuse. The report was publicly released by the
Northern Territory government on 15 June 2007.
The NTER is often referred to as 'the intervention' and at the time of
being announced was stated as being 'all about the safety and wellbeing of
The legislative package for the NTER comprised of five acts:
- Appropriation (Northern Territory National
Emergency Response) Act (No. 1) 2007-2008;
- Appropriation (Northern Territory National
Emergency Response) Act (No. 2) 2007-2008;
- Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007;
- Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare
Payment Reform) Act 2007; and
- Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other
Legislation Amendment (Northern Territory National Emergency Response
and Other Measures) Act 2007.
A key plank of the NTER legislation is the creation of 'prescribed
areas', defined in section 4 of the Northern Territory National
Emergency Response Act 2007. This definition is also referred to in other
accompanying legislation. In summary, the NTER legislation provides the
legislative basis for many of the measures in the NTER to operate within these
Prescribed areas include all freehold land held by a Land Trust under
the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, other
Aboriginal communities described as Northern Territory Community Living Areas,
town camps declared by the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services
and Indigenous Affairs under the Northern Territory National Emergency
Response Act 2007 and any other area declared by the Minister to be a
Pornography and alcohol are restricted in prescribed areas. Pornography
is classified under two levels of 'prohibited material' and offences are
created for possessing and supplying prohibited material in prescribed areas.
Possessing level 1 prohibited material attracts a penalty of 50 penalty units
($5 500) while possessing level 2 prohibited material attracts a penalty of 100
penalty units ($11 000). Supplying prohibited material attracts a penalty of
100 penalty units although supplying more than five items of prohibited
material can lead to a penalty of 200 penalty units and up to two years imprisonment
People receiving Centrelink payments who live in prescribed areas are
subject to compulsory income management of half their Centrelink payments. A
number of the measures, such as school nutrition and community clean up
programs, did not require legislation.
The NTER legislation states that the provisions are to be defined as
'special measures' and excludes the legislation from the operation of Part II
of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA) which prohibits racial
Special measures are those that provide a benefit to a particular group so that
the group will enjoy human rights on the same basis as other members of the
community. A 'special measure' is defined under the International Convention on
the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
In the 2008-09 financial year the Commonwealth government committed
$323.8 million for the NTER.
This followed on from an allocation of up to $580 million
in the 2007-08 financial year, of which $467 million was spent.
The NTER, its associated legislation and the resulting government policy
and programs, have generated considerable debate and criticism since their
implementation. While these measures were commenced by the previous Commonwealth
government, they were supported by the current Commonwealth government while in
opposition and continue to form part of the government's policy although the
committee notes that some amendments have been made to the NTER and its
implementation. These include a moratorium on the dismantling of the Community
Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme in the Northern Territory and changes to the
income management scheme.
The committee notes that the Families, Housing, Community Services
and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Emergency
Response Consolidation) Bill 2008 is currently being considered by the
Senate. Proposed amendments, which if passed, would require pay television
licensees not to provide channels that contain more than 35 per cent of their
total broadcast hours to programs rated R 18+, reinstate the permit system that
gave public access to certain Aboriginal land and allow roadhouses in areas
where a community is dependent on that roadhouse for the provision of groceries
and drinks, to be licensed as a community store.
Independent review of the Northern Territory Emergency Response
On 6 June 2008 the Commonwealth government announced a three member
independent review board to review the effectiveness and impact of the measures
contained in the NTER. The NTER Review Board consists of Mr Peter Yu as Chair, Ms
Marcia Ella Duncan and Mr Bill Gray AM. The Review Board is supported by an
independent expert group and secretariat support is provided by the Department
of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.
The terms of reference for the independent review are as follows:
- examine evidence and assess the overall progress of the NTER in
improving the safety and wellbeing of children and laying the basis for a
sustainable and better future for residents of remote communities in the NT,
and in particular, in improving the education, health, community safety and
employment outcomes for citizens, and particularly women and children, resident
in remote communities and town camps in the NT;
- consider what is and isn’t working and whether the current suite
of NTER measures will deliver the intended results, whether any unintended
consequences have emerged and whether other measures should be developed or
ways of working applied to better address circumstances facing remote
communities in the NT; and
- in relation to each NTER measure, make an assessment of its
effects to date, and recommend any required changes to improve each measure and
The NTER Review Board's website states that in making their assessments
and recommendations, the Review Board should have regard to the government’s
intention that Indigenous interests be engaged to ensure effective policy
development and implementation processes, and that policy and program measures
to be adopted or endorsed by the Government give primacy to the interests of
families and children and have regard to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.
The Review Board should also have regard to any relevant evaluation and review
processes that may have already been undertaken in relation to the NTER.
As of 29 September 2008, the NTER Review Board had received 222
The Review Board was due to report its findings to the Commonwealth government
on 30 September 2008, however the committee notes that the report has been
delayed until mid-October. The Commonwealth has committed to the public release
of the NTER Review Board's report by the end of 2008.
Committee's approach to term of reference (a)—the NTER
As the NTER is being independently reviewed, with that report due to be
publicly released by the end of 2008, the committee has decided to defer a more
detailed consideration of this term of reference until 2009. This will provide
the committee with the benefit of the NTER Review Board's findings and will
allow the committee to consider these findings more fully as well as seek
community and stakeholder views on both the findings and the government's
The NTER, since announced in June 2007 has generated considerable media
attention and community concern. This level of concern is reflected in the
Out of 37 submissions received as of 10 September 2008, 15 of these are focused exclusively on the NTER. Most submissions about the NTER question
why the legislative package of measures needs to exclude the RDA in order to
protect children. The Darwin Aboriginal Rights Coalition describes the
suspension of the RDA as a '...very significant concern for individuals, leaders
and organizations alike'.
Some submitters are also concerned that the suspension of the RDA has led to
what Marlene Holder describes as 'an upsurge of blatant racism'
and are urging the government to reinstate the RDA.
Several submitters quoted the first recommendation of the Little Children
are Sacred report which recommended that governments commit to genuine
consultation with Aboriginal people when designing initiatives for Aboriginal
and noted that the NTER seemed to be in direct contradiction with this recommendation.
There were no submissions that were expressly in support of the NTER
although several welcome the additional resources that the NTER provided to
Indigenous people and communities in the Northern Territory, as well as raising
the profile of the importance of services and support to families and children.
As the National Rural Health Alliance states:
the positive side, the work in the Northern
Territory has stimulated valuable
public attention and bipartisan political support for work to improve the
health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Provision of adequate
services and policies to achieve equal health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people throughout the nation within a generation will require
whole-of-government and national support. It will mean working on the social
and economic determinants of poor health, as well as on putting in place a
comprehensive primary health care system for Indigenous people. Response
measures should be coordinated and aligned with existing services; programs
should be complementary not competitive. Governments should be prepared to make
the substantial investment that will be required to bring about equity.
view is taken of the detail of the Northern
Territory intervention to date, it can
certainly provide useful information for guiding decisions about how a
long-term national program should be implemented.
Much of the criticism in submissions about the NTER focused on the way that
the measures had been created and implemented, without consultation with
Indigenous people and communities that were going to be affected. A majority of
the submissions proposed that dealing with disadvantage faced by Indigenous
communities was best done in consultation with people affected and by building
on the strengths of the community.
Many people making submissions about the NTER were keen to bring
successful community driven initiatives to the committee's attention, such as
community and night patrols operating in remote communities in central
and the substance abuse programs run by Indigenous organisations at Mount Theo
and Ilpurla in Central Australia.
One submission referred to the NTER as 'a bureaucracy building exercise'
leading to little more than the employment of additional public servants.
There was considerable concern that implementation of the NTER would simply
lead to more examples of failed government policy. The submission from the
Central Australian Youth Link Up Service puts it in the following way:
strange how often this issue arises in this region: successive waves of government
bureaucrats implementing policies that have already proved to be ineffective.
The inevitable roadcrash is then blamed on the Indigenous people who the flawed
policy was applied to and the bureaucrats move on, to be replaced by another
wave of people who follow the same tragic pattern. It seems this is a product
of the top down approach, and reflects the fact that in federal bureaucracies
the players are constantly changing while the problems on the ground continue.
Many were concerned that there was no evidence that the measures of the
NTER were going to improve the lives of children, with the Northern Territory
Council of Government School Organisations suggesting that the NTER was having
a negative impact because 'children are being taken out of home communities to
areas where parents can drink and often are not returning to school until
several months later'.
Several submissions detail problems with store cards and income
quarantining, and advocate voluntary systems of income management. Tangentyere
Council has provided the committee with an example of a voluntary food voucher
system used by 840 people before the NTER commenced. This system allows people
to allocate some of their Centrelink payments to food vouchers.
Tangentyere Council also details examples of how the compulsory income
management system of the NTER is creating an administrative burden on community
organisations and stores.
Future direction for the committee's inquiry
The committee notes the level of concern expressed in submissions about
the measures of the NTER and the way in which they have been implemented. The
committee will consider the independent review of the NTER and gather further
evidence in relation to the NTER and its impact over the course of its inquiry.
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