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the re-emergence of ‘assimilation’ « Previous | |Next »
April 19, 2011

I missed the Q+ A programme on the intervention into the NT indigenous communities when I was in Tasmania but I have just read the transcript. There was little debate about the breaking up of Aboriginal control and Aboriginal culture, moving people off their lands and forcing assimilation into "mainstream" Australia.

What we did have in Q+A was Bess Price, a central Australian Aboriginal leader, saying:

I am for the intervention because I've seen progress. I've seen women who now have voices. They can speak for themselves and they are standing up for their rights. Children are being fed and young people more or less know how to manage their lives. That's what's happened since the intervention.

I find that a puzzling statement because, as Graeme Innes the Human Rights Commissioner observes, notwithstanding the huge amount of work that needs to be done amongst remote Aboriginal communities, it also:
seems to me counter intuitive to empower people to improve their communities by taking away their rights. That just seems to me totally counter intuitive to do that and that's what was done when the Racial Discrimination Act was suspended and rights to complain were taken away from Aboriginal people.

Price's response is that at the time it needed to take place the Intervention was an emergency because her people were suffering and it was so bad out there. She also said that she didn't think the commonwealth government is racist.

However, Price failed to mention the community opposition to SIHIP's design to further break up community control of township land, push people out of remote areas, and entrench the NT intervention; or thge community opposition to Income Management; or the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act. Nor did Price refer to the deep resentment of the Intervention amongst aboriginal people.

If aboriginal women are standing up for their rights as Price claims, then it is as a form of resistance to the equivalent of working for rations and to the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) in which a select number of aboriginal communities are required to sign away leases over their land for between 40-90 years for new housing.

The core problem that I have with the Intervention (under Howard, Rudd and now Gillard) is that it is not based on a partnership with aboriginal people as is claimed. It is being imposed on aboriginal communities whether they want it or not. Income management increasingly looks more like the old welfare rationing system that disempowers individuals and communities in order to control and socially engineer aboriginal people in the Northern Territory throughout the 20th century before the advent of the 'self-determination' era in the early 1970s.

I see the NT Intervention as the culmination of the re-emergence of ‘assimilation’ as a dominant philosophy guiding government policy in Aboriginal affairs. We have, in effect, a re- introduction of "rationing" policies in the form of Income Management through the Centrelink bureaucracy. The effect of this paternalism over whole communities is the aboriginal people's loss of autonomy and voice.

So liberalism has been dumped in the name of protecting woman and children. The rhetoric is based around the stereotypes of abusive men, pitted against women, needing strong controls for their own protection in order to protect the children. The women are battling the men to retain the Intervention. We have the construction of Aboriginal women as hapless victims needing government controls to protect them from abusive men so they can be safe.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:24 PM | | Comments (9)


The ad campaign highlighting aboriginal smokers is a good move. Long overdue.

Gary I don't see any reason for puzzlement. Many people who have been acculturated to a paternalistic mentality will welcome the good things [they believe] it is responsible for and be incapable of imagining any alternative other than anarchy. We can see that from centuries of class systems in Europe where inherited privilege was often defended by the lower classes just as vigorously as by their social betters. Society is nice and predictable and orderly when everybody 'knows their place'.

People who perceive their welfare to depend on the strong rule of a leader will support that leader having more power, not less. It's the whole philosophy of benevolent authoritarianism.

that's a good point. It is a paternalism that keeps aboriginal people in their place by Centrelink controlling their money. Sadly, it is the ALP that is bringing back the old paternalistic methods of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) legislation and the hardships Income Management imposes on aboriginal people. They say that they have no say and no power.

Once upon a time Labor portrayed itself as the party of reform, out to fix an unjust world. The Liberals were conservatives, satisfied with the world as it was and trying to keep change to a minimum.

Now both are into reform --the top down, heavy handed intervention -but the reform is not designed to make things better for aborigine people. In Lockdown and labelling has failed the women and children Marion Scrymgour says:

the architects of the intervention deliberately destroyed successful or potentially successful Aboriginal businesses and organisations that had been using community development employment project job subsidy payments to part-fund the wages of Aboriginal employees. The project component would fund up to four hours of the worker's day and the additional hours would be funded from profits or other available funds. This was essentially the same as the arrangement under which the Australian car manufacturing industry receives government subsidy.

Most of the Aboriginal employees lost their jobs (and these included ''real'' jobs in tourism, service stations and auto-mechanical repairs, construction, and critical social services such as child safety programs) and were forcibly moved into work-for-the-dole or mickey mouse training schemes.

yes it is good that is happening, but the Intervention under the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) legislation is more than a campaign highlighting aboriginal smokers.

The problem that I have with Labor's Intervention is that the sanctions and restrictions on behaviour and living conditions are targeting the community in general not just the irresponsible individuals within the community.

The conservative response to criticism of the Intervention (eg., the Australian) is that it is the concern of the latte-sipping set who are still entangled in the 50-year-old abstractions and ideology of the sanctity of the individual versus the collective rights of groups. These privileged people are unable to move on from a "failed rights agenda.

The conservatives ignore that aboriginal people cannot access food to which they are entitled; have to spend whole days dealing with a Centrelink bureaucracy; increased violence from the police; the re-emergence of segregation around the Basics Card.

Its about control --eg., the Intervention has given the federal police new powers to enter “prescribed areas” without warrant. Its far more than an emergency response now.

Like most here, I think the Intervention was something dreamed up and applied by the wrong people for the wrong and arguably base, reasons, adding insult to injury for the most unfortunate Australians.
I think, yet again, a really GOOD summary from GST.

Yes your right there. A lot of the aboriginal problems would be solved if they began to make healthy choices. Smoking, alcohol consumption, dope use and good eating in particular. Ad campaigns for all these things would be of benefit and would show results.