more notes on “the intervention” (one)

On Saturday June 20, on the eve of the second anniversary of the Federal Government’s implementation of its ‘Northern Territory National Emergency Response’ — aka ‘The Intervention’ — there were protests in a number of urban centres, including Melbourne (also Adelaide, Brisbane, Darwin, Perth and Sydney). Pics of the rally are available courtesy of (the irrepressible) Sina.

Following the protest, there was a public meeting @ Trades Hall, with a panel presentation featuring Adam Bandt, Valerie Napaljarri Martin, Aletha Penrith and Robbie Thorpe.

I didn’t take notes, but here, for what it’s worth, are my recollections. (These are not intended to be exhaustive.)

Adam Bandt

The first speaker was Adam Bandt. He outlined Greens’ policy on The Intervention, which the Greens oppose. He made note of the fact that The Intervention has required the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act. This fact is referred to in an article in Saturday’s edition of The Age (by Dan Harrison and Orietta Guererra and titled, interestingly enough, ‘Fresh food sales up since intervention’):

…Tomorrow [June 21] marks the second anniversary of the HoWARd government’s intervention in the territory purportedly to stamp out child sexual abuse in indigenous communities. The current Government has committed to reinstate the suspended Racial Discrimination Act as part of planned changes to the policy. One of the proposed changes is to allow welfare recipients to apply for income management exemption.

A review of the intervention led by Kimberley indigenous leader Peter Yu last year criticised the blanket imposition of income management, but Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin has said she is in favour of continuing compulsory income management.

Measures deemed beneficial to a particular racial group can be exempt from the Racial Discrimination Act.

As Adam stated, and as expressed by Greens Senator Rachel Siewert (‘Speech on Alice Springs Town Camps in Federal Parliament’, June 17, 2009):

However, it [Siewert is here referring to the ‘Future Directions for the Northern Territory Emergency Response – Discussion Paper’, May 21, 2009] leaves out a critical piece of information on how laws that apply on the basis of race can be deemed ‘special measures’ that are beneficial to the community on which they are imposed. Given that the ‘Future Directions’ discussion paper is meant to form the basis of community consultation necessary to continue the NTER, the Northern Territory Emergency Response, and implement its minor reforms, we believe it is disingenuous to leave out this important information. I cannot see how this could be an accidental oversight on this issue, as [it] has been discussed at length in this chamber, particularly by me; in the NT review report; and by the Human Rights Commission in its submissions.

This is an important piece of information. For any of the Northern Territory restrictions, such as compulsory income quarantining or mandatory leases, to qualify as a special measure, the government must be able to show strong evidence that the communities involved believe the measures are beneficial and support them. The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, commonly called CERD, is very clear in this regard, as are the provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act. Special measures need to be positive measures that give additional rights or preferential treatment — so-called affirmative action — designed to achieve equality of outcomes.

Where a special measure requires a community to waive one of its existing rights — a negative measure — it can only ever be a special measure with the support and informed consent of the group concerned. Negative measures can only ever be temporary. In addition to informed consent, they require periodic assessment against specific, measurable outcomes. Special measures must also be necessary and proportionate.

I cannot see how 40-year leases and compulsory acquisition are necessary for the delivery of essential housing services and improvements. There is no logical link or evidence base to justify compulsory acquisition. The government simply has not made this case. Australian case law is very clear on the need for informed consent. Justice Brennan’s findings in Gerhardy v Brown [February 28, 1985; see also : Australian Human Rights Commission, Federal Discrimination Law, Chapter 3 : The Racial Discrimination Act, 3.3 Exceptions, 3.3.1 Special measures, (a) Gerhardy v Brown] are very clear.

He stated:

    “Advancement” is not necessarily what the person who takes the measure regards as a benefit for the beneficiaries.

It —

    … is not established by showing that the branch of government or the person who takes the measure does so for the purpose of conferring what it or he [sic] regards as a benefit for the group if the group does not seek or wish to have the benefit.

So the minister’s continued assertion that she believes these to be a beneficial measure is in fact irrelevant if that belief is not shared by town camp residents wanting decent housing or communities who do not want blanket income quarantining.

We believe it is extremely strange. There is a strange description of ‘special measures’ in the Future directions discussion paper, which is why the failure to clearly explain this in the discussion paper is, in fact, very disturbing. It would seem logical to assume that the intent of the discussion paper and the consultations associated with it is to provide a basis for arguing that the communities consulted support the minor reforms to the NTER for that purpose. However, if the communities are not explicitly told the purpose of this consultation and informed of their rights up front, this clearly does not qualify as informed consent. (Time expired)

Valerie Napaljarri Martin

    Note that Liam Jurrah (Yuendumu Magpies) made his AFL debut for the Melbourne Demons on Friday night, the first footballer from a remote Central Australian community to play in the competition. Overall, indigenous players make up approximately 10% of listed players in the league. One day, hopefully, Liam will abandon his Melbourne guernsey and play, once again, for the Mighty Magpies!

The second speaker was Valerie Napaljarri Martin. She outlined the effects of The Intervention upon her community in Yuendumu. Her presentation echoed sentiments she expressed at the public rally earlier in the day (which chllptr has kindly made available on YouTube):

Valerie’s determination to resist the seizure of Aboriginal lands and to maintain her culture was made very clear, despite the conditions which have been attached to the forms of financial and other ‘assistance’ that the Federal Government has included in its Intervention (in a manner which brings to mind earlier state policies to ‘smooth the dying pillow’). One especially pernicious aspect of this program is the Government’s decision to dismantle ‘remote homelands’, which Valerie maintains is one of several measures which will successfully sever the intimate relationship between local peoples and their land and culture.

On this subject in particular, after having noted what it believes to have been the generally positive nature of The Intervention (facts which themselves are subject to dispute), the editorialists in Saturday’s edition of The Age write (What intervention has wrought, June 20, 2009):

…Against these indicators, however, must be set a tendency on the part of both the federal and Territory governments to disregard — and sometimes even reject — what indigenous people have achieved on their own initiative. The most conspicuous example has been the Territory Government’s decision, with federal support, to concentrate indigenous services in 20 “hub” communities, a move that will undermine the remote homelands revived by the outstation movement of the 1970s. It is demonstrable fact that the homelands have promoted health, well-being, and social pride and cohesiveness. If the two governments hope to win majority indigenous support for the next phase of intervention, that is precisely the kind of progress they cannot ignore.

Of course, the support of indigenous peoples for Government programs has never halted ‘progress’ in the past, and — to put it mildly — ‘land rights’ have always, and without exception, been accorded to the Crown and the corporate sector ahead of others. The current process of enclosure in the Northern Territory is proceeding on the basis of strategies which have proved successful at other times and in other places, and follow upon a more general trajectory of colonial rule. One key feature of this project has been the necessity of dividing subject peoples so as to erode their sense of solidarity and capacity to resist colonialist impositions: Theodore W. Allen argues — quite successfully, I think — in his survey of British rule in Ireland and the institution of racialised forms of oppression in Anglo-America that stable control often necessitated the formation of a social buffer; this social buffer is also in the process of creation in Australia.

Ireland and General Principles of Colonial Social Control

The English efforts to establish social control in Ireland that are noted in this chapter present a variation on the general principles of the social control problems and policies of colonizing powers and their relationship to the option for racial oppression. After first establishing commanding authority, colonizers pursued one of two general lines of policy, according to circumstances as they found them. Where they found a developed and well-defined system of classes, the new rulers sought to adapt the pre-existing social structure to their own needs, coopting amenable elements of the old order into their colonial administration as a buffer and social control stratum over and against the masses of the super-exploited wealth-producing laboring classes. Such was the case of the Spanish in Peru and Mexico; of the Portuguese in India and the East Indies; of the English in India; and of the Dutch in the East Indies.

Where, on the other hand, the conquerors encountered a society with no previously developed significant class differentiation, and therefore with no available social handle to serve their rule, they employed a policy tending to the complete elimination of the indigenous population by slaughter and expulsion. The Spanish in the Carribean, the Portuguese in Brazil, the English in St Vincent, and the English and Anglo-Americans in North America demonstrated this approach. In such cases, the colonizers found themselves obliged to seek foreign supplies of commodity-producing labor, and were obliged to invent and establish an intermediate social control stratum for each colony by promoting elements of the imported laboring class.

With regard to the extermination option, English military and economic policies from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century produced in Ireland episodes of mass extermination, as we have noted, which in absolute numerical terms and ferocity were possibly a match for those chronicled by Las Casas in the West Indies. But it would have been impossible for the English to have perpetrated such complete extermination of the Irish people as that executed upon the Caribs and Arawaks by the Spanish in the Caribbean in the sixteenth century. Unlike the situation of the Spanish in the Caribbean, there was in Ireland a much more substantial general English hostage population subject to retaliation for any such attempt. Although the English achieved an overwhelming military advantage over the Irish, still they at no time enjoyed the degree of practical invulnerability possessed by the Spanish vis-a-vis the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Moreover, but one Las Casas arose to deplore genocide in the Caribbean, and then only after the deed was done. But the Catholic Irish and Anglo-Irish had as allies popes, potentates and powers, sworn antagonists all of the English Protestant “heretics”. In the struggle against their English rivals, the hopes of these powers depended, militarily and morally, on the preservation of the Irish resistance to the English, though not necessarily upon Irish independence. Finally, even if the English colonialists could have safely undertaken a Caribbean-style extermination of the Irish, it would have been detrimental to their own interest. Unlike the Spanish, the English were sixty years away from secure access to African sources of labor. And England could not supply English agricultural laborers for Ireland at a cost matching that of Irish labor already in place.

On the other hand, the English option for religio-racial oppression in Ireland at the end of the sixteenth century eliminated the possibility of recruiting an indigenous intermediate social control stratum. This would remain the central problem of British rule in Ireland for more than two centuries. To the partial extent, namely in Ulster, that they succeeded in establishing an intermediate stratum, they were able to maintain racial oppression “without sending an army to do it”. Outside Ulster, they would in time be forced to abandon rule by racial oppression. These developments and their Anglo-American parallels will be the subject of other chapters.

~ Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race: Volume One, ‘Racial Oppression and Social Control’, Verso, 1994, pp.69–70.


About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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4 Responses to more notes on “the intervention” (one)


  2. Pingback: title number one « Our Generation

  3. Jacob Hapeta says:

    Thought it worth adding that Valerie spoke about the new intervention shop that opened up there. Previous to the intervention there were 2 shops both selling fruit and veg. Since the intervention they weren’t granted permission to cash the new quarantine card, the govt opened the intervention shop, its prices are higher and it doesn’t carry enough fruit & veg. Nuff said really.


  4. @ndy says:

    Cheers Jake!

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