Friday, October 26, 2007

(notes) from a visit from the Intervention Task Force

This week was my first experience with 'The Intervention', it started with a woman appearing at the door to the language centre saying quickly- after 3pm next Tuesday expect a visit from The Intervention. It seemed a little unofficial and almost clandestine, I asked her who specifically she meant and when and how long for. She replied very vaguely 'oh about 10 people, including General Chalmers'. But I was glad she came and appreciated having a little notice. After she left I realised she didn't tell me her name (I didn't even see her car!), or leave anything typed or informative with us.

Oh well. The next Tuesday we were at the school doing language classes after 3pm, when a minibus full of whitefellas showed up and we guessed it was them. Their guide ( a local man) told us they were having ameeting at 4pm and we should come along. I went back to the Language Centre to wait for their visit. Perhaps time was short because they just slowed as they drove past and continued on.

The meeting was small, about 10 Intervention (ists?) Task Force and about 12 community members. Quite a few of them whitefellas (from the Ngukurr community). From the Government there was General Dave Chalmers, Sue Gordon ( a magistrate from WA), a rep. from the Prime Minister's Office, the newly appointed Government Business Manager for Ngukurr, 2 media persons, some kind of doctor and the General's Aid (secretary type person).

Chalmers started off, saying they were there to address issues of houses/schools being overcrowded, looking into Aged Care Programs and Safe Houses for families. Initially they said this was not the result of the Little Children Are Sacred report but a repsonse to the violence and use of drugs and alcohol in Aboriginal communities ( later Sue Gordon said it WAS because of this research and that to protect children the entire community needed to be supported). They said they report directly to Mal Brough. There was no professional interpretor present and almos the whole meeting was conducted in English. General Chalmers said he worked for the Govt. not the Army but wore camoflage Army gear all the same.

Chalmers said by Christmas there would be 3 more classrooms at Ngukurr School (these had been long promised). The school has to stagger some of its classes as the overcrowding becomes more of an issue.

That 60-70 more Police would be in Remote Communities in the NT. None for Ngukurr ( we have two- this is enough they say).Two Council members asked for more Police prescence here, Chalmers said Ngukurr had been decided to have adequate Police presence.

Chalmers said that early February would bring the Health Check team, who would offer a 'general check' to children, height/ 3200 children have been checked already and over 1000 referred for follow up ( hopefully there are resources available to actually do the followups). That 100 million 'committed' (by the NT govt.? is it dependant on the election?) for health support for children. Is this more than usual? Supplementaty to what is already in place?

There will be 20 government business men for the NT, a 'face of the government' in the community. They will not be 'in control, or a CEO', they will be 'in the community all the time, addressing issues of health, housing and jobs' ( and earning 100 000p.a.).

In Ngukurr, May next year will bring the transition of CDEP to 'real jobs' 'training' and 'work for the dole' programs. The work for the dole and real jobs remained part of the discussion- we never heard about training programs again.

At this time the 'income managers' will arrive, anyone on govt. benefits will have 'at least half' of their income allocated to buying food, and that it be 'good healthy food at reasonable prices- or we will make it that way'. Centrelink will spend three weeks here 'transitioning' , interviewing everyone. DEWR will come to transition CDEP over 6 weeks, and 'please use of any leave you have before then'.


KR " community needs to come up for some ideas, incentives of their own, otherwise this is a backwards step"

SUEGORDON " this is not about controlling your lives, you have been treated not as citizens, but as 2nd class citizens as you have been up until now (no superannuation not paid properly for the work you do etc.)"..
and then something further about a 700million dollar housing committment for the NT over the next four years.

DD: "We are caring and sharing people" we take care of our community, don't tell us we dont take care of our children.
DD: We have 50 young boys down there learning discipline in Ceremony right now- do you (whitefellas) ever do that?

SN: Have any one of you here today read any of the prior research or information about this community before coming here today? Have you looked at what has worked before in the past? Are assured your policy will work into the future

Chalmers: Brough was not prepared to wait after hearing what was happening to children, he decided to act now. We are seeing too many communities and have no time to read about them. But I do see your point.

SN: What is the research that indicates that abolishing the Permit system will be useful to this cause?

Chalmers: At the moment it is just for govt. reps. so they can move easily between communities, we have acquired a five year lease of the Ngukurr community area, roads and landing area. Within 6 months we will allow any people to these communites without permit. They will be restricted to the community, not allowed into houses. This six months is to allow people to put up signs for visitors. THe reason for it ultimately is to "normalise the economy".

DCITA will hopefully offer up funding to keep on the 4 CDEP workers here (Chalmers said it may be difficult). I hope the reality of all this possible change isn't just putting everyone nto work-for-the-dole.

There was more and it went on for ages, I got to ask lots of questions and feel satisfied to hear directly from the Task Force themselves.. alot of it was Chlamers saying , "I appreciate your point of you, or I can see what you are saying, but this is the policy etc.'

I cam away from it all feeling exhausted. Though somehow relieved. It was good to talk to people about it really, even though there wasn't many community members, and nothing in some ways, was really said, it did seem that despite the policies there are some people really concerned and dedicated to making a difference this time, Sue Gordon for example and that guy from the Prime Ministers office. Even Chalmers.

After the meeting I gave them a bit of humbug about not having more information or interpreters, or any translations. I told Chalmers most people here speak Kriol. He said, 'what is that?'. I hope he knows now. It would be a pity to visit 73 Aboriginal communities and not know what Kriol was (not that it is everywhere).

I felt it was a pity that they had just come to tell us how their new policies wouldbe implemented, some one said "it is like we are being blown around, like leaves, this way and that ( by the government)'. That there will be little agency for the Aboriginal communities, very little positive decision making and planning within the community. Just more beaurocrats coming to 'implement' some policies, I hope at least that they improve some issues.

As usual the visiting government mob flew out as the sun set, not beofre they had been thanked for coming by Council members, and the Task Force thanked everyone for speaking up andmaking it a 'lively' discussion..


Blogger Catalin said...

Thanks for this account. Hurrah for DD and his/her questions! Chalmer's response to SN's question about reading about the communities is horrifying, but at least straightforward, not full of obfuscatory poli-speak. His not knowing about Kriol, of course, also horrifying. Who is he? Why is a general in charge of this task force?

Despite feeling really apprehensive about much of their plans, the optimist in me is looking forward to hearing about the improved supplies of fresh healthy food and new housing construction.

Can you explain the difference on the ground between CDEP and work-for-the-dole? In the latter, would people not be able to work for a nonprofit like the Language Centre?

Thanks for keeping us informed of what the Intervention really looks like in one particular community.

4:19 am  
Blogger bulanjdjan said...

Thanks for your report, Soph. It seems pretty fair and balanced.

12:16 pm  
Blogger Sophie said...

The difference between CDEP and work for the dole is quite hazy- I think there are two main differences, one is that Centrelink administers it and has quite harsh penalties for missing work ( like 10 weeks no pay), and the pay is slightly less. I think it may also require people to have like a 'job-seeker' diary where they apply for a few jobs a month. The second difference is that CDEP was really meant to be training people into jobs- work for the dole espouses no such ideals, and can be almost anything (clearing rubbish, cutting grass etc.). I think that people could work for the language centre- but there would be little incentive other than your own determination to do so much work so consistantly for so little pay and no hope of a job. There is also no 'top up' money in work for the dole- unlike those who do CDEP can earn more money if they do consistant extra work hours.

12:24 pm  
Blogger Catalin said...

Thanks for explaining that. What did the government perceive to be the problems with CDEP that warranted eliminating it? I supposed they assume that with local oversight, ppl might bludge more? Seems like either way, ppl are going to have local supervisors, right? I mean, they're not going to bring in a bunch of Centrelink work supervisors to watch ppl clear rubbish.

WRT the language centre, do you think all those dedicated language workers have been primarily motivated by the idea of some day getting a "real" job there? I never realized that was part of it. The no extra pay for extra work definitely seems like a disincentive in the work-for-dole scheme.

Thanks for educating me about what's going on. Kip goin.

6:30 am  
Anonymous Jangari said...

Nice account Sophie. It appears the rhetoric has shifted slightly from when Kybrook received their visit back in... August. Interesting too that they sent Chalmers and Gordon, when previously the teams were mere bureaucrats.

As I understand CDEP etc., language work can, in principle, continue under the new STEP, or whatever it's called, but the participants will have to go into this federal system of applying for 12 weeks of training in a given area. It's just not the case that you can give someone something to do for a few hours and write it up as CDEP as you used to be able to do. After the period of work has finished however, the participant must move on to another project. I think this is silly.

I believe it's come to light that the health checks were a bit of a logistic flaw in the government's system (assuming one has a very cynical understanding of their motivations, mind you). They thought the health checks would show lots of cases of abuse, but instead, they showed lots of preventable conditions that abound precisely because the NT health system, especially in remote communities, is so woefully inadequate. Inner ear infections, teeth problems, and so on. All that money spent and what did it show? That they need to spend more money to fix everything.
(I hope my irony is transparent)

Nice hairy questions you threw. I think I asked what the causation between land tenure and child abuse was understood to be, but received very little by way of an answer.

10:33 pm  
Anonymous Bob Durnan said...


Re the follow-up to the child health checks: Commonwealth Health Dept (DoHA) has programmed around $89m. this financial year for general and specialist child health follow-up, and $50m. in each of the next two financial years, for further expansion of primary health service provision in remote areas of the NT; plus some other bonuses.

All up this will take expenditure on Aboriginal health in the NT up to well over 80% of what has been estimated by AMSANT and DHCS as being the extra required to get adequate programs for improving Aboriginal health in the short and long terms. This is all new Commonwealth money, and it is a considerable win for DoHA (and for the NT Aboriginal poipulation) that they were able to chisel this supplementary money out of Cabinet, against some stiff opposition. Labor has promised to follow through with these Intervention programs.

Re the 'government business men': they are not 'men' - they are 'managers'; some of whom are women, and most of whom seem to be quite good to deal with. Their great virtue is their accessibility, being located in the communities. They are not powerful czars or commissars, but - in Central Australia at least - they are mostly (with possibly at least one notable exception) normal, competent & quite dedicated Commonwealth public servants. (If anything, they may have too few powers and clout to deal with some of the situations confronting them).

Re healthy food in stores: the Intervention may improve the quality of available food, but unfortunately the IM (Income Management of half of government welfare payments) does not provide any incentive or mechanism for causing people to actually buy the healthy foods rather than the preservative ridden and fat-sugar-salt-refined flour laden commodities which are still on prominent display and in plentiful supply in the shops where the IM dollars are spent.

It seems that under intervention, everyone will remain completely free to poison themselves and their children by spending all their welfare income on this type of food if they so wish (or if their kids continue to throw themselves on the floors of the shops and scream demands for it until they get their way).

Re money for housing: Brough did a deal to supply around $700m. of extra funds to repair and renovate existing houses in communities, and to build around 2000 new houses, over the next four years, in return for a commitment by the NTG to also improve its investment in these activities.

Re DD and 'don't tell us we don't take care of our children' .... doesn't DD have eyes, ears and a sense of concern for the many neglected kids - who often have very poor health, get into trouble, receive little schooling, get into substance abuse etc? Does DD think that anything like the same rate of child neglect exists in other strata of Australian society? Hasn't he heard the statistics? I'm not sure that supportive acceptance of these kinds of statements serves anybody's interests, least of all the kids.

Responsible elders in this part of the NT continually lament that most initiation camps are awash with grog and cannabis, often degenerate into drunken fighting, and serve as schools for substance abuse more than they do as universities of traditional culture.

Re WfD: it is worth about 10% less in income terms, and is much less flexible for both participants and community organisations. People can do extra work (e.g for NGOs) and accrue 'credit' for use when they have to take leave for ceremonies, funerals or whatever. However the rules are much more strict, leading to 'breaches' for not turning up for work on time etc, and three breaches apparently lead to suspension of all income for 8 weeks. There is also talk about a 'work card' for WfD participants, possibly allowing them to earn extra income.

Re 'what the government perceived as problems with CDEP': their reviews identified that more often than not CDEPs were poorly managed and supervised; that the majority of CDEP 'workers' often did little or no work for the hours for which they were paid; that in effect CDEP functioned as an easier and more reliable form of welfare income for most participants, and was accompanied by very high rates of substance abuse; and that many CDEP participants preferred to cope with living in relative poverty on CDEP incomes, rather than take up options for training, work experience, apprenticeships etc that could lead to better paid but more demanding occupations.

Re 'all that money spent (on Child Health Checks) and what did it show?' Well, it helped get around $189m. extra for remote Aboriginal health - that's not too bad an outcome, following a few million investment; and the initial few million has produced a large immediate boost for the health of the two-thirds of kids checked, including quick treatment where needed, and far more comprehensive checks and detailed individual health plans, which were previously not possible in most of the over-worked/under-staffed remote clinics. Nothing to sniff at, really.

Bob Durnan, Hermannsburg 4.11.07

10:07 am  

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