State leaders call for end to failing indigenous action

The Northern Territory intervention has been described as a failure by a group of prominent South Australians.
The Northern Territory intervention has been described as a failure by a group of prominent South Australians.

A GROUP of prominent South Australians has called on the federal government to end the intervention in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities, claiming it has not only failed in its purpose, but in some aspects has made things worse.

The group of 24, led by the former South Australian Supreme Court judge Robyn Layton, QC, the former premier Lynn Arnold and Lowitja O'Donohue, a former chairwoman of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, believe the failed measures undertaken since 2007 have intensified problems and should be reversed.

The signatories claimed yesterday that a government decision to visit 98 Aboriginal communities over six weeks to ''consult'' with them was as hasty as the original decision to intervene and was unlikely to bear fruit.

They claim the government has failed to provide steady, proper or timely housing; that new houses are being built at a slow pace; that there is still overcrowding and the housing provided was not taking into account the size or requirements for Aboriginal people.

They also claim targets have not been met for full-time education and there is an over-reliance on teachers who ''fly-in and fly-out often for only one or two days per week''.

Further measures intended to arrest the decline in school attendance have failed and in very remote areas the drop in attendance has increased.

They believe the intervention has been successful in some instances but has, by and large, failed. It should be brought to an end in accordance with Australia's international obligations.

The government should ensure promised services were automatically delivered without requiring Aboriginal people to lease land to the government in return for basic services, they said, and that voluntary income management under the BasicsCard should be terminated.

The signatories said Aboriginal people should have rights assured in accordance with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Racial Discrimination Act, which had been suspended with the intervention.

The Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, defended the government's policy on intervention yesterday.

''I have been very clear that this consultation process will be genuine and we will seek the advice and experience of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory about ways forward,'' she said.

''I know that the lack of consultation before the previous government introduced the emergency response caused pain and anger for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

''I also know that the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act … was a serious affront to Aboriginal people.

''That is why the government has now fully restored people's rights and protections under the Racial Discrimination Act.''