The Northern Territory Emergency Response was a Howard Government initiative announced in June 2007 in response to reports of abuse and neglect of children outlined in the “Little Children are Sacred” report and supported by the Rudd Government when it took office five months later. The legislation period of NTER is five years and it commits the Government to actions to “close the gap” between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal key health indicators. The key objectives of NTER are ensuring the protection of women and children, reducing family violence, improving education, improving health, and promoting positive behaviours and personal responsibility.
In 2009, the Rudd Government attempted to remove some of the more odious elements of the NTER with legislation that is now before the Senate to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act. This was done after many in the 73 NTER communities felt they had been hurt, humiliated and confused by the often discriminatory way in which the original legislation was pushed through. However the same people admitted children, women and the elderly were were all feeling safer, better fed and clothed, and that there was less humbugging for alcohol, drugs and gambling.
There have been some good recorded improvements. The Government has built eight of nine promised new crèches and upgraded 11 out of another promised 13. Average school attendance has increased from 60.1 percent to 62.2 percent in 12 months. However this is still down on the 62.7 percent figure recorded in 2007. A school nutrition program is up and running staffed mainly by Indigenous people while over 140 new teaching positions have been funded in the NT. Another 173 health professionals are on the books covering nursing, GP, dental and allied health. Outreach teams have made 110 visits to 66 remote communities.
88 community stores were licensed to sell alcohol and out of 190 monitoring visits just one store had its licence revoked. Alcohol Management Plans are in place in Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Palmerston and Katherine and on their way in Borroloola, Maningrida, Gunbalanya, Elliot, Tiwi Islands and Groote Eylandt. The Government created 2,200 new jobs still leaving almost 17,000 on welfare quarantine known as “income management”. 96 percent of these spent $133 million on food and clothing using BasicCards.
The instance of child abuse cases increased over the 2009 reporting period giving the ABC its gloomy headline when discussing the report. The numbers of child abuses cases from 72 in 2007 to 142 two years later. However with 62 additional police deployed to communities, there is an obvious increase in reported crime, while the actual incidence of crime may have remained unchanged or have fallen. The numbers of alcohol related incidents went up 31 percent while the number of drug related incidents went up 23 percent while reported incidents of domestic abuse went up a staggering 75 percent between 2007 and 2009.
But undoubtedly problems still remain in the communities. Last year NT Indigenous children were six times as likely as other children to be the subject of a substantiation of a notification of abuse and neglect. Neglect remains the main crime (43 percent) followed by physical abuse (26 percent) and emotional abuse (24 percent). Sexual abuse accounted for less than 10 percent of cases and since July 2007 27 people (including 4 non-Indigenous people) have been convicted for child sexual assault.
Response to the report has so far been limited in the media and virtually non-existent in the blogosphere. Apart from the ABC article noted above, the NT News also picked up on the increased stats angle, The Australian published an article by Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin, while ANU’s Jon Altman in Crikey called the state of progress “disturbing”.
However what is truly disturbing is the mainstream lack of interest in the report and its contents other than for its political conflict value. Altman makes good points about some of the ways we have gone backwards since 2007. However, until there is a concerted hue and cry on behalf of white Australia to really follow through on the initiatives, nothing will change. Our media is failing us with this task. For those interested, Part 2 of the report provides detailed information and analysis by sub measure.