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More on the dreaded Intervention

10 October, 2007

I feel like it deserves capital letters — The Intervention — such is the gravity of the recent government push to restructure the way remote indigenous communities are managed. Already a number of the more dubious policy changes seem to be bearing fruit.

For example, one of the more disastrous aspects of the Intervention would appear to be the dismantling of community-based employment projects that have provided government subsidised work in remote communities. Anthropologist Jon Altman has written this article criticising the scrapping of the Community Development Employment Programmes (CDEP). The article also provides some background on the rationale for setting up the scheme in the first place.

Accounts are emerging of the damage scrapping the CDEP is causing. For example, an anthropologist who recently returned from doing fieldwork in Arnhem Land, Jennifer Deger, has cited cases of people who have had community-based roles for many years, such as collecting the garbage, and have effectively been left without jobs since the CDEP funding ran out. There also doesn’t seem to be any plan in place for replacing such vital services or offering similar sorts of employment opportunities. Instead, Aborigines are being forced onto Work for the Dole schemes, a move which would seem to increase welfare dependency rather than providing any meaningful employment.

On a larger scale, entire projects have been scuttled by the sudden shift in the management of employment and community development. Margaret Carew, a lecturer from Alice Springs writes:

I don’t know how you are all feeling about the intervention, but the reports coming in are making me angry, sad and sick to the stomach. We keep hearing of terrible stories from places like Titjikala (Successful tourism enterprise forced to close) Utopia (existing training doesn’t fit into new compulsory work for the dole being introduced on 29 Oct) and Tennant Creek (Pink Palace Arts Centre is closing its doors because they have abolished CDEP).

It seems pretty obvious that these sorts of developments are going to negatively affect communities. I also don’t understand what scuttling the CDEP has to do with the original issue which set off The Intervention in the first place, the protection of children from abuse.

The motivation for making these changes seems to be designed to maximise government control and leverage rather than being based on sound social or economic policy. According to Altman, the key objectives of this change are to increase the coercive power tying welfare payments to certain behaviours, such as parents sending their children to school, and to neutralise the political power of Aboriginal organisations. He writes:

One part of the agenda seems to be to sacrifice CDEP positions, many that generate extra hours of work and extra income, to bring participants and their earnings under the single system of quarantining that will apply to welfare payments. It is as if the Government is happy to sacrifice work and income to deal with a perceived expenditure problem: cash is spent on unacceptable goods.

Another part of the agenda seems to be to further depoliticise Indigenous organisations, in this case robust CDEP organisations, perhaps to give government-appointed community administrators greater powers.

In other words the policy is designed to reduce Aboriginal independence, centralise power, and create more docile subjects. This is of course in accordance with other moves, such as doing away with the permit system that gives Aboriginal communities control over who enters their land.

If readers would like to express concern about the Intervention I recommend the Women for Wik website, which has been following developments and also includes a petition against The Intervention.

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