The Northern Territory Emergency Response, or ‘intervention’, was designed to provide genuine help and protection for Indigenous people. The legislation is far from perfect, which is why the motives behind why it was first implemented must be constantly revisited to ensure that the right indicators are being measured in a way that is statistically robust.
It was the Coalition Government that recognised the need for essential infrastructure and a strategic housing program over and above the housing that was being provided, and allocated the money in the Federal budget to provide it. In August 2007, then Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Mal Brough announced 99-year leases on the Tiwi Islands, in Tennant Creek and on Groote Eylandt and backed up the lease negotiations by allocating nearly $800 million for Indigenous remote housing. More than two years later, very little has been achieved. Nigel has asked repeatedly in Parliament and in the public domain for the budget and timeline associated with the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program to be made public.
In 2008, the Rudd Labor Government ordered a review of the intervention, and is now seeking to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act by applying income management to certain welfare recipients across the Northern Territory. The problem with this is it will again expose the elderly and people with a disability to humbugging and even violence.
It is very easy to talk about plans to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians but much more difficult to actually do it. Labor has always claimed to have a better relationship with Indigenous people and better policies to resolve Indigenous disadvantage, but the reality on the ground is proving to be quite different.
Politicians and the entire community need to be more courageous and passionate about Indigenous affairs. The political cycle changes many times within a generation, and so it will be difficult to tell how effective the intervention has been for many years, if it lasts that long. The Coalition believes its implementation has been botched, which is very frustrating because it was designed to have much wider benefits for Indigenous Australians and their communities.