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It's not hard to look back at the history of colonisation in this country and see that authorities mistreated Indigenous people. But paternalistic policies that serve to criminalise Indigenous people are not simply a thing of our past.

The Intervention was 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:

  • didn't 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. The Stronger Futures legislation was introduced in 2012 and is predicted to remain effective until 2022. [9]

Stop and 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.