NACCHO Aboriginal Health : #NTIntervention: Ten years on and what has been achieved?


” The intervention was a “debacle” and a new attempt with Indigenous involvement “couldn’t do any worse .

I suggest a “mark two of what was attempted under the intervention”: a 10-year “Marshall plan” between federal and territory governments but with Aboriginal people as expert advisers on a planning, oversight and implementation committee.

It’s not enough to pay us the cursory privilege of being consulted, where our voices are not listened to and where we have no role in decision-making,” she said. “We couldn’t do any worse than what’s being done today, surely.”

Olga Havnen, the chief executive of the Danila Dilba Aboriginal health service see Part 2 story below

 “I  describe the intervention as “a complete violation of the human rights of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

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. People were terrified that they’d come to take the kids away.”

National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation chief executive Pat Turner see story part 3 NT Intervention: Australia’s most costly ‘political stunt’

As the national representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples calls for a fundamental reset of government and community relations with us, beginning with the implementation of the Uluru Statement resolutions for constitutional reform. Congress stands ready to fill the role of the advisory body to parliament.”

“We also call for the immediate implementation of the Redfern Statement, which provides a roadmap for how governments can work collaboratively with us to develop efficient and effective programs”

Congress press release Part 1 Below

Part 1 The Northern Territory Intervention: Ten years on and what has been achieved?

As a federal election loomed a decade ago, facing disappointing polls the government of the day was scandalized by sexual abuse in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities and proposed an intervention to improve the life chances of Aboriginal children.

The program won bipartisan support and continued under a new name, Stronger Futures, when the government changed. Closing the Gap targets were announced and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to improve the health, education, housing and employment status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around the country, and especially those living in remote communities.

A decade on, it is timely to consider results:

  • The annual Closing the Gap report shows that six of the seven targets are not on track.
  •  We understand that there has not been a single prosecution for child sexual abuse as a result of these programs.
  •  Aboriginal men have been stigmatized as drunken, irresponsible pedophiles.
  •  Provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act have been ignored to allow the Intervention to proceed.
  •  Communities have been weakened by the downgrading of local self-government. Those who presume to know what is best for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have had their way.
  •  Tax payers are askance at the shocking waste of public monies on ineffective programs, for which many blame Aboriginal people.
  •  Most notably in the Northern Territory, but in the states as well, shocking abuses of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander juveniles have been uncovered.
  •  Incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, women and children have sky rocketed.
  •  United Nations representatives have issued reports critical of the Intervention and of government relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • The 97 recommendations of the 2007 Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle (Little Children are Sacred) report have been ignored.

A longer list would add to the inevitable conclusion that there is a crisis in Indigenous Affairs.

“The rationale for the Intervention was to protect Aboriginal children and to provide them with a better future. Health, education and well-being statistics demonstrate failure of the Intervention. There have been very few positive outcomes to show for the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent on the Intervention and related programs,” he said.

Part 2 NT intervention a ‘debacle’ and second attempt should be made, commission told

from Helen Davidson The Guardian

A 10-year Northern Territory intervention “mark two” could address the failings of the first one, which has seen most of the money “squandered”, the Northern Territory royal commission has heard.

Olga Havnen, the chief executive of the Danila Dilba Aboriginal health service, said the intervention was a “debacle” and a new attempt with Indigenous involvement “couldn’t do any worse”.

Havnen, who is also a former coordinator general for remote services in the NT, made the comments before the royal commission into the protection and detention of children on Thursday.

The hearing has coincided with the 10-year anniversary of the federal government’s emergency intervention into the region, which has been criticised as draconian and removing self-determination from Indigenous communities while failing to address Indigenous inequality.

Havnen told the hearing the NT was still reliant on federal funds and still failing to involve Indigenous people and organisations properly.

This week the commission heard the rates of child protection cases and notifications has more than doubled in the 10 years since the intervention. Separately, NT budget estimates revealed the number of children in out of home care had tripled, while the proportion in had dropped 20%.

Havnen said many government contracts were still procured without proper assessment of whether the organisation had the capability to work with Indigenous communities.

“These arrangements are absolutely stunning and I think are largely a legacy of the intervention supposedly committed to improving Aboriginal communities,” she said.

“By any measure the vast majority of that money has been squandered, and the people who made those decisions need to be held to account in my view.

“Just on the very cursory amount of information we have access to, you have to go: what the hell is actually really going on here and why does this continue to happen?”

Earlier this week the commission heard evidence a private business, Safe Pathways, had charged the Northern Territory government $85,000 a month to run a residential home for a maximum of four children.

A former Safe Pathways manager, Tracey Hancock, told the commission the amount would include staff wages but she didn’t have any further information on what the money was for.

Safe Pathways reportedly told the ABC the charges had been approved and accepted by the NT government.

“We get held up to be accountable as Aboriginal service providers and our level of accountability and transparency – every dollar we spend and commit, including performance outcomes, is well and truly documented,” Havnen said on Thursday.

“But you go and look at these websites for a lot of these NGOs running out-of-home services, there’s no detail about their governance arrangement, there’s no annual report, there’s no financial transparency or accountability. How is this good for anybody?”

Havnen earlier told the commission governments treated large non-Indigenous organisations as equal partners more than they did Indigenous organisations. She also said there were Indigenous organisations across the NT that were “well placed” to provide services currently contracted to non-Indigenous NGOs.

Aboriginal health services across the NT would be asked by the department to provide client medical records when there was an investigation “and yet we seem to be completely invisible to them as a capable partner and potential resource” to assist the department and vulnerable families, she said.

She said it seemed ironic and suggested the commission look at where remote Aboriginal health services were located. “Many of them are in those communities where we know large numbers of Aboriginal children are being removed from.”

Story 3 NT Intervention: Australia’s most costly ‘political stunt’

THE Federal Government’s radical plan to forcibly intervene in Aboriginal communities and impose restrictions on individuals was a billion dollar “political stunt”, a former political head has said.


The Northern Territory Emergency Response, known as “the Intervention”, was launched unilaterally by the Howard Government 10 years ago today.

It saw widespread alcohol bans and other restrictions imposed on 73 remote indigenous communities, as well as forced land leases, and changes to welfare under the Northern Territory Response Act 2007. The Racial Discrimination Act was suspended by the Commonwealth so thousands of indigenous people could have their welfare payments put onto “basics cards” for essential items. The Army, federal police and medical professionals were deployed to the communities for logistical support and health checks. The community development employment projects (CDEP) scheme was disbanded which limited job prospects for locals and an already limited support of bilingual education was cut off.

Communities that boasted distinctive ways of life as the oldest living culture in the world were suddenly referred to as “prescribed areas”, then “towns”, with individuals in need of reform.

Mr Howard said the Commonwealth had “responded” because the NT government of the day had failed to take action as recommended by the Little Children are Sacred report on child sexual abuse in NT indigenous communities.

The Intervention has cost Australian taxpayers more than one billion dollars but has largely proved ineffective in making a positive impact on the lives of those it denigrated.

NT’s first Labor chief minister Clare Martin said it was nothing more than a “political stunt” that was rolled out without her consultation when she was in power.

“(Then Prime Minister John Howard) didn’t ring me to say ‘can we talk about a possible intervention’, he rang me and said ‘there is an intervention taking place, I’m not going to talk to you about it, and it’s a done deal’,’ she told Sky News earlier today.

“I was stunned. I had no idea it was going to happen. I don’t think most people in the Territory — Aboriginal people who were the subject of it — they didn’t know it was going to happen, and very quickly you worked out it was mostly a political stunt.”

Ms Martin told the program she offered to fly to Canberra to discuss the plan but Mr Howard told her he was ‘too busy’ to meet.

“I thought for six years I had worked reasonably well with John Howard,” she said.

“I wasn’t in the same party as John Howard, but we always seemed to manage to sort things out, and then to be used as a political strategy like it obviously was, I just felt really deflated.

“My first thought when Howard rang me was to say expletives and resign and then I thought ‘well that’s just not mature’, but I did after that plan when I would leave.”

Ms Martin kept her position in the 2007 federal election then resigned as chief minister in November of the same year.

But she wasn’t the only one critical of the Intervention with the full scale of the blunder quickly revealing itself. It has widely been criticised for not directly involving Aboriginal people and instead giving rise to a remarkable spurt of government-funded activity that went on around them.

Twenty thousand Territorians are now on income management, despite the scheme not meeting its aims, according to a report.

Earlier this week, royal commissioners were told child protection notifications, substantiations and out-of-home placements had all more than doubled since 2007.

About 50 per cent of indigenous children in the NT now come to the attention of the child protection system by the age of 10, the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory heard on Monday.

Aboriginal women from the remote Central Australian community of Ampilatwatja performing at a public ceremony in 2010 to protest against the Northern Territory intervention. Picture: Chris Graham.

Aboriginal women from the remote Central Australian community of Ampilatwatja performing at a public ceremony in 2010 to protest against the Northern Territory intervention. Picture: Chris Graham.Source:Supplied

Signs — like this one outside Alice Springs — were erected in many Aboriginal communities following the rollout of the NT Intervention.

Signs — like this one outside Alice Springs — were erected in many Aboriginal communities following the rollout of the NT Intervention.Source:News Limited

New figures by the Menzies School of Health research that were presented to the Royal Commission indicated the intervention has not made a difference.

“The data that we have shows that since the intervention rates of child protection notifications, substantiations and out of home care have all doubled and so if that’s an outcome we’re looking at, the intervention has really failed to make a difference for that particular outcome,” school spokesperson Sven Silburn said.

Professor Silburn said the lack of proper community engagement, which he said might have given the Intervention a better chance of success, was a “great mistake”.

Footage of children detained at Don Dale recently sparked a royal commission into the maltreatment of youths in detention. It came as the Territory’s incarceration rate hit a 15-year high — the highest per capita rate in Australia — with one per cent of the population behind bars and more than 85 per cent of inmates indigenous.

Federal indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion recently said the Intervention was flawed.

“I think it would have been far better to do some of the same things with the full compliance of the community rather than the community having the sense that it was imposed on us, so yes of course we could have done it better,” Mr Scullion said during a recent visit to the central Australian community of Mutitjulu, which was at the front line of the Intervention.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, community, families have to be at the centre of the decisions, if we’re going to make substantive and sustainable change.”

Central Australian Aboriginal leader Bess Price has been vocal about the high level of violence in central Australian indigenous communities and supported the Northern Territory intervention.

Central Australian Aboriginal leader Bess Price has been vocal about the high level of violence in central Australian indigenous communities and supported the Northern Territory intervention.Source:Supplied


Some high profile indigenous politicians and community members have expressed support for the Intervention.

Former Chair of the Northern Territory’s indigenous Affairs Advisory Council, Bess Price previously said the Intervention has “had an impact on the grog, the alcohol, and it’s made life a bit better for the children”.

“It’s gonna take years to fix not everything, but right now, it’s done a huge amount of, you know, change in the way people have thought about children as well in regards to their health and wellbeing,” Ms Price told the ABC in 2011.

Ms Price later came under attack for her comments from indigenous lawyer Larissa Behrendt who used her Twitter account to describe watching bestiality on TV as “less offensive than Bess Price”. has contacted Ms Price for comment.

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