(notes) from a visit from the Intervention Task Force
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/weight.skin/teethetc. 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..