What direction

The Stop the Intervention Collective held rallies in Adelaide, Alice Springs and Sydney. The reasons for the widespread opposition are that there is no evidence that the measures in place in prescribed areas, particularly income management, have had any clear benefits. Data is, at best, inconclusive and, at worst, signals some damage to the goodwill and well being of many affected people. Despite this the government appears determined to only remove the suspension of the rights of the prescribed areas, if the rest of the legislation goes through.

The Greens set up a Senate Inquiry on the legislation that started hearings this month. There are 35 submissions so far (Feb 3) including ACOSS, Anglicare, St Vincent de Paul and NAPCAN, which deals with child abuse, none of the submissions support the proposed changes. This is very significant as most of these named agencies generally support government initiatives.

Speakers included Irene Fisher who helped set up, and is Chief Executive Officer of Sunrise Health Service, a highly effective Indigenous Health Service servicing the Katherine East Health Zone. The success of the Sunrise Health Service’s Board was reflected in the award of a special commendation from the inaugural Indigenous Governance Awards conducted by Reconciliation Australia and BHP Billiton.

Irene spoke of the lack of any evidence to support either the extension of the Welfare Income Quarantining, nor its original enactment. In fact there is evidence from around the world points explicitly to the fact that inequality breeds ill health. Those who are poor and powerless have far, far worse health outcomes than those – like our politicians in Canberra – who enjoy higher status.

Sunrise has compared data collected before and since the intervention and the results are dispiriting. Anaemia is an iron deficiency that leads to poor growth and development, and as such is an indicator for the general health of children. Since the intervention, anaemia rates in the area have jumped significantly.

In the six months to December 2006, 20 per cent of children were anaemic. A year later the figure had increased to 36 per cent, and by June last year it had reached 55 per cent, where it stayed in the last six months of 2008.

Now, more than half the area’s children face big threats to their physical and mental development. In two years, 18 months of which was under the intervention, the anaemia rate nearly trebled.

There is also a worrying rise in low birth weight among babies. In the six months leading up to the intervention, 9 per cent of children had low birth weights. This rose to 12 per cent in December 2007, and to 18 per cent six months later. By the end of last year, it was 19 per cent, double the figure at the start of the intervention.

Since compulsory income management of welfare payments began in the region in late 2007, there have been documented instances when it affected people’s capacity to buy food. This included diabetics, who with no local store access were unable to access food for weeks at a time. Their response to this situation was to sleep until food became available.

Also Jeff McMullen spoke of his experince in the communities and the effect of the Intervention, particularly through the stigmatising of Aboriginal men as a excuse for the Intervention.

The Macklin claims for the effectiveness of the program are based on the supposed good results of  Income Management, imposed on 73 Aboriginal communities as part of the emergency response. There are serious doubts whether the NT program has had an overall positive effect on the communities and individuals involved. There are questions on the validity of the data the government is using and the gaps of no data.

At the rally the book “This Is What We Said” was launched. This book is a follow-up to the report called “Will They Be Heard?” launched in November 2009 by the Hon. Malcolm Fraser. Using pictures and quotations taken from footage of actual consultations at Bagot, Ampilatwatja, Utopia and Yirrkala, this book provides a graphic account of the depth of frustration and despair of many Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory regarding the Intervention. It is therefore tragic that legislation, about to be debated in Parliament, pays scant attention to the views expressed by many Aboriginal people during the consultations process of 2009. For further information please check: http://stoptheintervention.org/facts/films-and-literature/book-this-is-what-we-said

No attempts were made by the government to measure the ill effects that the process may have had. There is no international research that shows the good effect of such controls. Imposing such constraints on people’s lives has not been shown anywhere to be of benefit while loss of self esteem and sense of control is known to be damaging.

We need to focus our attention on the lack of evidence for government policy, especially in light of their insistence that they produce evidence based policies.

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