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Ending the Intervention

  • 09 February 2011

Over three and a half years since the Northern Territory Emergency Response ('the Intervention') was launched, it has ceased to be front-page news.

Although criticism of the Federal Government's Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) still regularly makes the headlines, the day-to-day realities of living under the Intervention remain somewhat mysterious.

Originally, the Intervention was premised on the notion that, where 'self-determination' policies had 'failed', decisive action would enable the Government to 'stabilise, normalise and exit' remote Aboriginal communities. In other words, it would storm in, fix the problem, and leave when its radical solutions were no longer needed.

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The Intervention was announced by John Howard and Mal Brough on 21 June 2007. The question hovers: what is the endpoint? When, and by what measures, will remote Aboriginal communities be deemed to be 'normalised'?

Boyd Hunter, a Fellow at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, wrote in 2007 that the Intervention had been launched in such a hurried fashion that there had been no lead time to prepare an evaluation framework.

'It will now be very difficult to evaluate the outcomes,' Hunter wrote, 'because no groundwork was laid to establish credible benchmarks for what existed before the policy shift.

'Consequently, the NT intervention is unlikely to be held to account and the Government can make almost any claim it wants about what happens as a result of its policy.'

Boyd has proven to be prescient: arguments about the Intervention's effectiveness have largely become a matter of competing anecdotes, contested legitimacy and ad hominem attacks — who has the right to speak?

On 7 February 2011, a non-partisan group of 'concerned Australians' — including former prime minister Malcolm Fraser, Professor Larissa Behrendt, Reverend Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM, the Hon. Alastair Nicholson, Reverend Alistair Macrae, The Hon. Elizabeth Evatt AC, Professor Fiona Stanley, Julian Burnside QC and Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne Phillip Freiere — released a statement expressing their concerns about 'the failure of the Federal Government, with the tacit support of the Opposition, to properly address problems facing Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory'.

These signatories note that the Intervention 'has been progressed without credible consultation with, or the approval of, Aboriginal people'.

It is important to note that there