Homelands policy risks art industry and more child abuse: Altman
Thursday, 25 June 2009 8:24:13 AM
By Tara Ravens
NORTHERN TERRITORY, June 25, 2009: Forcing Aboriginal people to move off their homelands could jeopardise the Northern Territory’s million dollar Indigenous art industry and result in an increase in child sexual abuse, an academic says.
The Northern Territory government hopes to turn 20 towns into regional hubs under its controversial new homelands policy, announced last month.
Funding will be frozen to more than 500 outstations, or homelands, forcing residents into larger towns for vital social services.
The government says it aims to help Indigenous people “live life like other Australians”.
It’s a policy that falls in line with commonwealth plans to prioritise 26 communities across the country, 15 of which are in the NT, for new housing and infrastructure, says Jon Altman, director of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR).
“Circumscribing the choice of outstation residents seems to be a form of acquiescence to Canberra by the NT government that is neither in the Aboriginal, or ultimately, in the Territory’s best interests,” he said.
Speaking at Charles Darwin University on Wednesday, Prof Altman said the policy could have massive ramifications for the burgeoning Indigenous art industry.
“The statistics we do have show that most art is sourced from outstations,” he said.
“There are a number of reasons for this. One, because this is a really important form of livelihood when you live on an outstation. Secondly, raw materials are available at outstations. Thirdly, outstation environments – the country – is what inspires the art …
“Obviously, if people move off country you’re likely to jeopardise a significant proportion of art produced in the Northern Territory, some might say as much as 80 per cent.
“That won’t happen overnight, but it will certainly happen, I think, within a generation.”
The policy is part of a radical shake-up of Indigenous policy, encapsulated by the Howard government’s 2007 intervention into remote communities to combat child sexual abuse.
But the Indigenous policy expert, from the Australian National University, said the homelands policy could actually result in an increase in the number of cases of abused children.
“Most of us … know where there are greater problems with child abuse, and that is places where there are population concentrations rather than the outlying communities where they tend to have arguably more social cohesion but if nothing else more scrutiny of what’s happening in a household.”
Homeland communities also have less overcrowding, which the authors of the report which prompted the intervention highlighted as a reason for child abuse.
“We would expect to see less problems with children in the outstations than in the larger communities,” Prof Altman said.
Earlier this month, Independent NT MP Marion Scrymgour quit Labor over the Territory government’s policy which she described as “premature” and insulting to Aboriginal people.
She has proposed an inquiry into remote communities that won’t benefit from the homelands policy, which the NT opposition indicated it would support this week. – AAP