February 21, 2012

Aboriginals Of Australia: Leaders Reject Intervention Policy

As the federal government plan on extending the Northern Territory intervention policy, Aboriginal leaders criticize the project over its inefficiency and the absence of consultation.

Below is an article published by The Sydney Morning Herald:

Aboriginal community leaders and advocates have rejected federal government plans to extend the Howard-era Northern Territory intervention policy, saying they haven't been properly consulted.

The leaders were on Tuesday addressing a Senate committee scrutinising the government's Stronger Futures legislation, which would usher in a second phase of the intervention aimed at preventing violence and alcohol abuse in the Red Centre and Top End of Australia.

But Aboriginal leader Barbara Shaw told the committee, sitting in Alice Springs, the intervention program had not changed lives for the better.

She said people were not confident the next phase will be effective because government consultations with communities had been a "farce".

"Policies are being imposed on people without them knowing," Ms Shaw said.

She called for the draft laws, currently before the lower house, to be withdrawn.

The Labor government plans to continue alcohol restrictions and introduce 18-month jail terms for Aboriginal people caught carrying more than 1.35 litres of alcohol and six-month sentences for possessing alcohol in certain areas.

Elaine Peckham, founder of Central Australian Aboriginal Strong Women's Alliance, said indigenous people wanted their basic human rights back.

"What the intervention has done in the past and will continue to do to us is stop us believing in ourselves," she told the hearing.

"The government is not listening. They believe that they know what is best for Aboriginal people but we know otherwise."

Under the government's plan, there will also be a NT-wide extension of a controversial pilot scheme, known as the Student Enrolment and Attendance Measure (SEAM), that links school truancy with cuts to parents' welfare payments.

A federal departmental evaluation released in February found the trial in 14 NT schools and 30 Queensland schools did not improve school attendance.

Northern Territory Council of Social Services spokeswoman Pru Gell said there was a real danger the SEAM scheme would be an expensive failure.

"It's a punitive measure. The goal of better school attendance would be better achieved by the introduction of programs that bring elders into schools," she said.

Tangentyere Council chief executive Walter Shaw raised similar concerns and said government's focus should be on bicultural education - language, bush foods, art and story telling.

Meanwhile, health expert Dr John Boffa called for the introduction of a minimum floor price on alcohol to curb drunkenness.

"It is well established that price is the most critical determinant of behaviour amongst problem drinkers, who move towards cheaper products in order to get more value for their money, that is, the most pure alcohol per dollar spent," Dr Boffa told the committee.

"As prices go up consumption goes down," he said.

"There will be less violence, more time to spend with children, to create a healthy society."

The Howard government introduced the NT National Emergency Response in 2007 to address claims of child sex abuse and neglect in the territory.

On Wednesday, the Senate committee will visit the Aboriginal community of Maningrida.