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The Intervention

The Intervention is a set of policies introduced by the Howard government in 2007 in response to the The Little Children are Sacred Report, which claimed that neglect and sexual abuse of children in Indigenous communities had reached crisis levels. 

The Intervention applied to 73 Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, and involved:

  • withholding 50% of welfare payments from Indigenous welfare recipients 
  • bans on alcohol and pornography 
  • increased police presence in Aboriginal communities
  • compulsory health checks for all Aboriginal children
  • the power for government to take possession of Aboriginal land and property (1)

The Intervention is a highly controversial issue and continues to be hotly debated by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike. 

Support for the Intervention

Those in favour of the Intervention argue that:

  • the situation in Northern Territory communities was a national emergency that required immediate action
  • the measures introduced by the Intervention in order to protect Indigenous children were required by international law (2)
  • Any action was better than doing nothing (3)

The Intervention received limited support from Indigenous people; however, two of Australia’s most influential Indigenous academics and leaders, Noel Pearson and Marcia Langton, supported several of the more controversial aspects of the Intervention.

Find out more about Noel Pearson's support for the Intervention here

Read an article by Marcia Langton indicating her support for the Intervention here

Objections to the Intervention

Many Indigenous people objected to the Intervention, expressing concern that it:

  • did not address the underlying causes of disadvantage which give rise to problems such as child abuse and domestic violence (4)
  • violated the human rights of Indigenous people (5)
  • ignored local knowledge and disempowered Indigenous people
  • only addressed 2 of the 97 recommendations from the Little Children are Sacred Report (6.7MB) (6)

In 2010, the United Nations appointed an independent expert to investigate the Intervention. The final report concluded that several aspects of the Intervention racially discriminated against Indigenous Australians and violated their basic human rights. (7)

 

Objections to the Intervention were strengthened when it was revealed that in the two years following the Intervention:

  • Indigenous children’s health and school attendance declined
  • malnutrition, violent offences, substance abuse and suicide increased in Indigenous communities (8)

 

Although the Intervention formally ended in August 2012, many key components have continued under a policy package known as Building Stronger Futures that was introduced in 2012 and is predicted to remain effective until 2022. (9)


Stop & Think... Racism or Rescue effort?

  • What do you think about the idea of certain Australian laws only applying to people of a particular racial background? How would you feel if you were singled out by certain laws on the basis of your race?
  • Why do you think only 2 of the 97 recommendations in the report the government was acting on were addressed?


The approach taken in the intervention unfortunately reinforced some of the damaging generational patterns already created by previous policy approaches towards Indigenous Australians, including denying people basic control over their own lives. This is a pattern that has yet to be resolved in the overall positioning of the government towards Indigenous citizens.


Want to know more?

Watch Sharing Our Story Episode 3 to find out more about the Intervention.

To watch the full Sharing Our Story series, click here.

 


References

  1. Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007 (Cth)Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Payment Reform) Act 2007 (Cth)Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and  Other Legislation Amendment (Northern Territory National Emergency Response and Other Measures) Act 2007 (Cth)Appropriation (Northern Territory National Emergency Response) Act (No. 1) 2007–2008 2007 (Cth)Appropriation (Northern Territory National Emergency Response) Act (No. 2) 2007-2008 2007 (Cth)
  2. The Explanatory Memorandum for the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007 (Cth) 
  3. Behrendt, L. 2012, Indigenous Australia for Dummies, Wiley Publishing Australia PTY LTD, Milton, Australia.
  4. Behrendt, L. 2012, Indigenous Australia for Dummies, Wiley Publishing Australia PTY LTD, Milton, Australia.
  5.  Appendix B: Observations on the Northern Territory Emergency Response in Australia 2010, in the Report by the Special Rapportuer on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous People, James Anaya 
  6. Glanville, K. and Long, A.  30 Years in Review: Indigenous Law Bulletin 1881-2011
  7. Appendix B: Observations on the Northern Territory Emergency Response in Australia 2010, in the Report by the Special Rapportuer on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous People, James Anaya 
  8. Behrendt, L. 2012, Indigenous Australia for Dummies, Wiley Publishing Australia PTY LTD, Milton, Australia.
  9. Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Act 2012 (Cth)

Images:

  1. Police and community members: ©Robert McFarlane / Fairfax Media
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