Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Northern Territory intervention revisited

Back in June, the Australian government announced an 'intervention' of sweeping proportions into the Northern Territory to reduce widespread child abuse amongst indigenous communities. While there is a broad consensus on this goal, the specific measures to be taken have proved controversial, sparking widespread community debate.

The Sydney Anglican Social Issues Briefing has recently published a response which briefly summarises a number of the key issues and ends with some useful questions for both the government and its opponents to ponder:

Questions to Government:
      1. Is government being honest about its limitations? a) Is it clear on what forcefulness can, and cannot, achieve in people’s lives? b) Has it taken enough notice of local knowledge concerning what will and won’t work, and what has and hasn’t worked, on the ground in each place?
      2. Does government have long-term proposals for the self-sustaining health and good order of these remote communities, a genuine process of review, and an appropriate exit-strategy?
      3. Is government honest about those failures in indigenous communities that have occurred because productive pilot programs have not been maintained long-term?

Questions to its opponents:
      1. Are opponents honest about some of the intractable problems facing indigenous communities, and willing to concede the failures of some previous strategies?
      2 Are opponents willing to suggest at what points force is necessary or in-order (or do they believe that all government use of force is evil)?
      3. In what way can they encourage government in its efforts while at the same time suggesting improvements?
I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of these questions, especially if you first take the time to read the briefing.

UPDATE: A NT linguist reports on some effects of the intervention. (H/T Ruth)


Mister Tim said...

On the questions to Government, my suspicion, is that the answers are:
1. Not completely
2. No
3. Probably not

1. I think that there is some realisation that the top level policy won't achieve everything, but the Government is sending people in 'on the ground' to live in and work with Indigenous communities. I think that this will have the impact of addressing part (b) of that question and will inform some lower level policy. About the effect of forcefulness - I'm sure the Government is aware and that force alone cannot fix everything.

2. My perception is that this is policy on the run and the long term hasn't been thought through.

3. I don't know which pilot programs this refers to, so it's hard to say. I think that the Government would disagree with the premise of the question: I think they would take the view that most programs employed in the NT did not work. Part of this intervention even scrapped long term programes like CDEP - which is something that may have worked for some communities, but there was significant evidence that it held back others.

My take on the whole thing is a bit mixed. I think I approve of the intention behind the Government's actions, but think that they are implementing it badly. For example, scrapping CDEP seems to have been done with no thought to transitional arrangements or short term impact. And the 'one size fits all' approach' reeks of policy on the run, where Government hasn't had the time to do the hard work in figuring out appropriate boundaries around their intervention and how you stop it affecting people who don't need it.

byron smith said...

Thanks Tim, I always appreciate your thoughtfulness, and hearing from someone in Canberra is always valuable.