NACCHO Aboriginal Health : The #NTIntervention 10 years on – history and evaluations

 ” And when the government announced the Intervention and commenced it, they sent in what they called ‘government business managers’ who were, in effect, the old, you know, ‘protectors’ of Aboriginals, the, you know, the old superintendents, the mission managers.

I mean, this is 10 years ago, this is not a hundred years ago, and Aboriginal people were being treated like this. It was almost a violation of every possible human right you could think of.”

Pat Turner AM CEO NACCHO speaking to Nick Grimm ABC (see full Interview Below


 Picture above : Powerhouse panel at UTS Sydney last night talking about the 10th anniversary of the #NTIntervention: @KylieSambo @Bunbajee Pat Turner & @LarissaBehrendt #IndigenousX

  ” In August 2007 the Howard Liberal Government enacted the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act, or, “the Intervention”. Liberal politicians marketed it as a solution to problems within Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

These problems include health, housing, employment and justice.  When Labor was in power it continued the Intervention’s major initiatives.

See 10 Years history of the NT Intervention Below Part 2 after the Interview

 Major General David Chalmers, of the Inter-Agency Northern Territory Emergency Response Task Force, and Mal Brough, indigenous affairs minister, are greeted by David Wongway, a member of the Imanpa Local Community Council

 ” In 2008, following the change of government after the 2007 Federal Election, the Rudd Labor Government re-framed the intervention through a new national policy focus on “Closing the Gap”. Rudds’ intention to re-work the Intervention to focus more closely on reforming the welfare system linked closely with the already existing targets of the Close the Gap Campaign.

The aims of the campaign are set out in the 2012 National Indigenous Reform Agreement ”

 The Intervention and the Closing the Gap Campaign see part 3

 ” Evaluating the Intervention is not an easy task. Impartial data is difficult to find and there is a mass of complex and conflicting information. However, by looking at the Closing the Gap targets that were set by the Government and considering human rights concerns, we have provided our assessment. Below we give major features of the Intervention a score out of 10.  We also score it for compliance with human rights.”

Issues with Evaluating the Interventionhow did we work out our grades? Part 4

NT Intervention – nothing has changed for the better: Pat Turner

Hear Interview HERE

NICK GRIMM: Ten years ago this week, one of the defining moments in Australian national life began unfolding in remote communities in the outback.

The Northern Territory intervention was launched by the then Howard government in response to reports of social dysfunction and allegations of endemic abuse of women and children in remote communities.

Since then, the policy has continued under governments of both persuasions.

But 10 years on critics of the Intervention say it’s fixed nothing.

Pat Turner is currently CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation.

She was previously a CEO of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, ATSIC, and had a long career as a senior Commonwealth public servant.

I spoke to Pat Turner a little earlier.

Pat Turner, can I start by asking you this: Ten years on, what’s the best thing you have to say about the Northern Territory Intervention?

PAT TURNER: (Laughs) Nothing, really, I’m afraid.

It was a complete violation of the human rights of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

It came out of the blue, following the Commonwealth Government’s reading and response to The Little Children Are Sacred report.

NICK GRIMM: So how would you describe the legacy of the process that began 10 years ago?

PAT TURNER: Well, I think it’s still a shambles.

You know, both sides of politics were responsible.

While it was introduced by the Liberal government, the Coalition under John Howard and Mal Brough, it was carried on also by Jenny Macklin and Kevin Rudd and Gillard and so on.

So the legacy is that Aboriginal people were completely disempowered.

They had the Army going into communities in their uniforms. They had no idea why the Army was there.

You know, to send the Army in at a time like that was just totally confusing. People were terrified that they’d come to take the kids away. There would be no explanation as to why they were going in.

And it wasn’t their fault; it was the way the Government handled it.

The government also, at the time, insisted that every child under 16 have a full medical check. Now, actually what they were looking for, I think, was whether a child had been sexually abused.

And we said, at the time, those of us who were opposed to the way the Government was handling this, “You cannot do that without parental permission. You must have parental permission. You would not do a medical check on any other child in Australia and you should not do that with our children without their parents’ say-so”.

And what’s more, fine, go ahead, do a full medical check, but what are you going to do when you find the otitis media, when you find the trachoma, when you find the upper respiratory diseases, when you find rheumatic heart disease? Where…

NICK GRIMM: All those common medical conditions in those areas.

PAT TURNER: Absolutely, absolutely. And what are you going to do to treat these people?

Because you don’t have the health services that Aboriginal people should have. You don’t have those in place.

And they were paying doctors a phenomenal salary.

They also, of course, introduced the infamous cashless welfare card, called it ‘income management’, where 60 per cent of the income was quarantined for food and clothes and so on.

People weren’t allowed to get access to video, so that was a… and that was fine for X-rated videos and adult videos, but certainly not for entertainment, which a lot of families relied on in outlying communities.

And it had ramifications. I mean, there was a young Aboriginal businesswoman in Tennant Creek whose business went bust because she couldn’t hire out videos.

NICK GRIMM: Well, in your view, can we say that anything has changed for the better in those remote communities?


Look, the other thing that happened at the time, Nick, was there was a reform in local government.

So, from the hundreds of Aboriginal community councils that were in place, they all became part of these super shires, nine super shires, so all the decision making at the local community level had evaporated.

And when the government announced the Intervention and commenced it, they sent in what they called ‘government business managers’ who were, in effect, the old, you know, ‘protectors’ of Aboriginals, the, you know, the old superintendents, the mission managers.

I mean, this is 10 years ago, this is not a hundred years ago, and Aboriginal people were being treated like this. It was almost a violation of every possible human right you could think of.

And what’s more, I called it at the time the Trojan Horse to get the land that our people have under freehold inalienable title in the Northern Territory.

And I thought it was a land grab, and I still believe that, you know, the Commonwealth certainly wanted to have a greater say over Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory – as did the Northern Territory Government, by the way.

NICK GRIMM: Yeah, well we’ve talked about the situation on the ground there in the Northern Territory.

What then would you say have been the national implications of the Intervention?

PAT TURNER: Well, I think without the evidence they’ve adopted – you know, Alan Tudge is very keen on the cashless welfare card, as is Twiggy Forrest, who promoted it.

While I see that, you know, there may be, you know, some opportunity for women to buy more food, it’s fine if you have access to fresh produce at a reasonable price that you could expect to pay in a major regional centre like Alice Springs.

You go out to the communities, the prices are at least double if not tripled, and they’re stale, rotten, old vegetables and meats and so on.

So, you know, that’s where government services need to step up through their outback stores and make sure that people are getting really fresh produce all the time, and healthy produce.

NICK GRIMM: Alright, Pat Turner, thanks very much for talking to us.

PAT TURNER: You’re most welcome. Thank you.

NICK GRIMM: Pat Turner is CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation.

Part 2

” In August 2007 the Howard Liberal Government enacted the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act, or, “the Intervention”. Liberal politicians marketed it as a solution to problems within Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

These problems include health, housing, employment and justice.  When Labor was in power it continued the Intervention’s major initiatives. “

See 10 Years history of the NT Intervention

Intervention was directed at addressing the disproportionate levels of violence in Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, as well as the endemic disadvantage suffered in terms of health, housing, employment and justice.

It was also a direct response to the Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle Report (‘Little Children are Sacred Report’) into sexual abuse of Indigenous children. This report was commissioned by the then Northern Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin following an interview on the ABC’s Lateline program, in which Alice Springs Senior Crown Prosecutor Dr Nanette Rogers SC commented that the violence and sexual abuse of children that was entrenched in Indigenous society was ‘beyond most people’s comprehension and range of human experience’. The then Commonwealth Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, indicated in his second reading speech introducing the NTNERA that “[t]his bill… and the other bills introduced in the same package are all about the safety and wellbeing of children.”

The Little Children are Sacred Report was the result of in-depth research, investigation and community consultation over a period of over eight months by members of the Northern Territory Board of Inquiry. The focus of their inquiry was instances of sexual abuse, especially of children, in Northern Territory Indigenous communities. The findings were presented to Chief Minister Martin in April 2007 and released to the public in June. The striking facts, graphic imagery and ardent plea for action contained in this report saw this issue gain widespread attention both in the media and in the political agenda, inciting divisive debate and discussion.

The NTNERA was enacted by the Howard Government just two months after the report was released to the public, allowing little time for consultation with Indigenous communities. It was framed as a ‘national emergency’ with army troops being deployed to Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. This took place in the lead up to the 2007 Federal Election, in which the Labor Party under Kevin Rudd defeated the Howard Government after four terms of Liberal government.

The Intervention in 2007

The Intervention was a $587 million package of legislation that made a number of changes affecting specified Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. It included restrictions on alcohol, changes to welfare payments, acquisition of parcels of land, education, employment and health initiatives, restrictions on pornography and other measures.

The package of legislation introduced included:

  • NorthernTerritory National Emergency Response Act 2007.
  • Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Payment Reform) Bill 2007.
  • Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment. (Northern Territory National Emergency Response and Other Measures) Act 2007.
  • Appropriation (NorthernTerritory National Emergency Response) Bill (No. 1) 2007-2008.
  • Appropriation (NorthernTerritory National Emergency Response) Bill (No. 2) 2007-2008.

In order to enact this package of legislation, several existing laws were affected or partially suspended, including:

  •  Racial Discrimination Act 1975.
  •  Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976.
  • Native Title Act 1993(Cth).
  • Northern Territory Self-Government Act and related legislation.
  • Social Security Act 1991.
  • IncomeTax Assessment Act 1993.

A raft of reforms and regulations were introduced by this package of legislation, including:

  • Restricting the sale, consumption and purchase of alcohol in prescribed areas. This included the prohibition of alcohol in certain areas prescribed by the legislation, making collection of information compulsory for purchases over a certain amount and the introduction of new penalty provisions.
  • ‘Quarantining’ 50% of welfare payments from individuals living in designated communities and from beneficiaries who were judged to have neglected their children.
  • Compulsorily acquiring townships held under title provisions of the Native Title Act 1993 with the introduction of five year leases in order to give the government unconditional access. Sixty-five Aboriginal communities were compulsorily acquired.
  • Linking income support payments to school attendance for all people living on Aboriginal land, and providing mandatory meals for children at school at parents’ cost.
  • Introducing compulsory health checks for all Aboriginal children.
  • Introducing pornography filters on publicly funded computers, and bans on pornography in designated areas.
  • Abolishing the permit system under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976 for common areas, road corridors and airstrips for prescribed communities,.
  • Increasing policing levels in prescribed communities. Secondments were requested from other jurisdictions to supplement NT resources.
  • Marshalling local workforces through the work-for-the-dole program to clean-up and repair communities.
  • Reforming living arrangements in prescribed communities through introducing market based rents and normal tenancy arrangements.
  • Commonwealth funding for the provision of community services.
  • Removing customary law and cultural practice considerations from bail applications and sentencing in criminal trials.
  • Abolishing the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP).

Changes under successive governments

After an initial focus on preventing child sexual abuse, successive federal governments re-designed and re-framed the Intervention. This involved linking the Intervention with the broader ‘Closing the Gap’ campaign, introducing new measures such as the BasicsCard and tougher penalties for the possession of alcohol and pornography. Changes were also made to the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act (see section on Human Rights). The current package of legislation retains the support of the Liberal Government and is due to expire in 2022.

2008 Changes

The Intervention was introduced in 2007 by the Howard Government, but a change of government in September of that year saw the Labor Government under Kevin Rudd gain power. After some consultation and minor changes, the NTNERA and associated legislation were initially maintained.

In 2008 Rudd apologised to the members of the Stolen Generations on behalf of the nation. In 2009, Rudd also declared support for the most substantive framework for the rights of Indigenous peoples, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The previous Howard government had voted against the ratification of this treaty. Article 3 of the Declaration states that:

‘Indigenous peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development’.

The failure to recognise this right to self-determination would become one of the major points of criticism for the Intervention.

In 2009 Rudd implemented the BasicsCard.  The card is used to manage income in certain areas of the Northern Territory. It cannot be used to purchase alcohol, tobacco, tobacco-products, pornography, gambling products or services, home-brew kits or home-brew concentrate.

During the period 2009-2010 the Rudd Government committed itself to a re-design of the Intervention, with a focus on reinstating the suspended provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA). The Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform and Reinstatement of Racial Discrimination Act) Act 2010 (Cth) repealed the ‘special measures’ that had been created under the original Intervention to suspend the operation of the RDA. However, this new legislation still did not comply with the RDA as it continued to discriminate against Indigenous Australians through land acquisition and compulsory income management.These measures overwhelmingly  affect Indigenous people.

The focus of the government then shifted slightly, concentrating more closely on the need to ‘tackle the destructive, intergenerational cycle of passive welfare’ (see then Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin’s second reading speech). The Rudd government explicitly linked the Intervention to the ‘Closing the Gap’ targets, changing the focus of the Intervention from the protection of children from sexual abuse to the reform of the welfare system.

2012 changes

The legislative basis for the Intervention was due to expire in 2012.  Decisions regarding its future had to be made. Under the Gillard Government, the StrongerFuturesin the Northern Territory Act 2012 (Stronger Futures) replaced the NTNERA and extended the Intervention for a further ten years to 2022.  The StrongerFutureslegislation comprises three principal Acts (the Stronger Futures package), plus associated delegated legislation. The three Acts are:

  • Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Act 2012;
  • Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Act 2012; and
  • Social Security Legislation Amendment Act 2012.

In 2013, the  Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights examined Stronger Futures and the related legislation in their 11th Report. They noted that although the StrongerFutureslegislative package repealed the Northern Territory Emergency Response (‘NTER’) legislation, it retained three key policy elements:

  • The tackling alcohol abuse measure: the purpose of this measure was ‘to enable special measures to be taken to reduce alcohol-related harm to Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.
  • The land reform measure: the land reform measure enabled the Commonwealth to amend Northern Territory legislation relating to community living areas and town
  • camps to enable opportunities for private home ownership in town camps and more flexible long-term leases.
  • The food security measure: the purpose of this measure was ‘to enable special measures to be taken for the purpose of promoting food security for Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory’; modifying the legislation involves a 10 year timeframe with most provisions other than the alcohol measures being reviewed after 7 years.

The key changes imposed under the 2012 Stronger Futures legislation package consist of:

  • Expansion of income management through the BasicsCard and the increase of ‘quarantined’ payments to 70%.
  • Increased penalties related to alcohol and pornography, with as much as 6-months jail time for a single can of beer.
  • Expansion of policy that links school attendance with continued welfare payments.
  • Introduction of licences for ‘community stores’ to ensure the provisions of healthy, quality food.
  • Commonwealth given power to make regulations regarding the use of town camps.

{Sources: SBS Factbox, Stronger Futures in the NT, Listening but not Hearing Report}

Although consultation with Indigenous communities did take place, there was much criticism of the nature of the consultative process and the extent to which it was acted upon. The ‘Listening butnot Hearing’ report by the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning concluded that “the Government’s consultation process has fallen short of Australia’s obligation to consult with Indigenous peoples in relation to initiatives that affect them”.

The Australian Council of Human Rights Agencies has also stated that it was ‘invasive and limiting of individual freedoms and human rights, and require[s] rigorous monitoring’. Amnesty International commented that the new package of legislation was the same as the original ‘Intervention, but with the pretence of being non-discriminatory.’

2014 changes

The current Intervention legislation is not due to expire until 2022. During his time as Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott supported extending the intervention into the future.

In a speech in February of 2014, then Prime Minister Abbott identified the importance of closing the gap through investment in indigenous programs, with a specific focus on school attendance. However, this speech was followed by massive budget cuts to Aboriginal legal and health services, early childhood education and childcare, and the consolidation of 150 Indigenous programs into 5 core programs. While the 2015 Budget reinstated funding to Family Violence legal services, these ongoing cuts are expected to detrimentally affect attempts to Close the Gap of Indigenous disadvantage.

The 2015 Budget modified the  Stronger Futures NPA, redirecting $988.2 million in funds to the new National Partnership Agreement on Northern Territory Remote Aboriginal Investment  (NPA) over eight years. This new NPA prioritises schooling, community safety and employment. This funding also aims to help the Northern Territory Government take full responsibility for the delivery of services in remote Indigenous communities. Additional funding will also be made available to extend the income management scheme until 2017. However, the new NPA has halved the spending allocated to health measures, and means that the Federal Government will have less control over target outcomes.

Government administered funding of $1.4 billion, previously available under Stronger Futures, will not be transferred to the new NPA, but will be delivered by the departments of Prime Minister and Cabinet and Social Services, outside the NPA framework. The new NPA will be complemented by a Remote Indigenous Housing Strategy that will receive $1.1 billion nationally.

Part 3 The Intervention and the Closing the Gap Campaign

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) had identified six areas of Indigenous disadvantage to target as the basis for the Closing the Gap Campaign. These were:

  1. Early childhood;
  2. Schooling;
  3. Health;
  4. Economic Participation;
  5. Safe Communities; and
  6. Governance and Leadership (see Right to Self Determination below).

The Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory National Partnership Agreement (2009) ceased on the 30 June 2012. The Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory package which started on 1 July 2012 continued to support the Closing the Gap reforms.

The 6th Annual Progress Report on Closing the Gap was tabled in Parliament by then Prime Minister Tony Abbott on 12 February 2014. It outlined the commitments made by the Coalition government, including:

  • Consolidating the administration of Indigenous programs from eight government departments into the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
  • Establishing the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council.
  • Increasing indigenous school  attendance  through  providing  $28.4 million funding for a remote school attendance program.
  • Improving indigenous  access to employment by commissioning a review and funding employment initiatives.
  • Supporting a referendum for the recognition of the First Australians in the Australian Constitution.

However, in the seventh annual progress report of 11 February 2015, then PM Tony Abbott labelled progress as ‘profoundly disappointing‘. The report concluded that 4 out of 7 targets were not on track to be met by their deadlines, with little progress in literacy and numeracy standards and a decline in employment outcomes since 2008.

Link to 2012 National Indigenous Reform agreement here.

Part 4 Issues with Evaluating the Intervention – how did we work out our grades? Part 4

Quantity of Evaluation:

The controversial nature of the Intervention and the need for expenditure to be accounted for has meant that there have been a large number of evaluations undertaken regarding various aspects of the Intervention. Within five years of the establishment of the Intervention, by December 2012, 98 reports, seven parliamentary inquiries and hundreds of submissions had been completed. However, the sheer quantity of these reports actually hinders the evaluation process, as it obstructs proper evaluation of effectiveness.

Impartiality of Evaluation:

The majority of evaluations of the Intervention have been undertaken by government departments and paid consultants. Australian National University researchers Jon Altman and Susie Russell suggest that the evaluation of the Intervention, instead of being an independent objective process, has been merged into the policy process and, in many cases, is performed by the policy-makers themselves. This means there is a real risk of evidence being ignored or hidden to suit an agenda.

Independent reports and government commissioned reports have often contradicted each other, with the government seeking to discredit independent reports rather than gathering additional data. This includes independent reports by researchers at Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology Sydney, Concerned Australians and the Equality Rights Alliance, all of which have often come to different conclusions than government reports.

Quality and Consistency of Evaluation:

The ‘final evaluation’ of the Intervention under the NTNER occurred in November 2011 with the publication of the Northern Territory Emergency Response Evaluation ReportHowever, the Stronger Futures legislation did not come into effect until August 2012. This left eight months unaccounted for.

Closingthe Gap in the Northern Territory Monitoring Reports are conducted every six months. A significant criticism is that they focus on bureaucratic ‘outputs’ rather than outcomes. Income management studies, for example, have reported on ‘outputs’ such as the number of recipients of the Basics Card or the total amount of income quarantined, rather than focusing on the card’s effectiveness for health and child protection outcomes.

Much of the data collected has also relied on self-assessment in the form of surveys, such as asking individuals to rate their own health rather than collecting and analysing data on disease. Another issue is the ad hoc nature of some reports. For example, the review of the Alcohol Management Plan in Tennant Creek was only conducted once. This makes it difficult to make comparisons over the life of the policy and evaluate the effectiveness of particular measures.

Independent statistical data can be hard to find, since information compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics is national in scope and cannot be translated directly into the context of the individual Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. Indigenous Australians also have a lower median age than other Australians, meaning data on employment rates or incarceration rates can be statistically skewed.

Benchmarks for Evaluation:

ANU researchers Jon Altman and Susie Russell have noted that the “absence of an overarching evaluation strategy has resulted in a fragmented and confused approach”. They found that the 2007 Intervention did not have any documentation articulating the basis of the policy, nor how it should be evaluated. The first document to address this was the unpublished Program Logic Options Report which was developed in 2010; three years after the Intervention began. This means that there are no original benchmarks for evaluation, and that the decision to extend the program in 2012 was made without clear evidence as to its effectiveness. Furthermore, there is a limited connection between the benchmarks proposed in the 2010 Report and those used in later evaluations.

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