About 30minutes ago the Senate passed what is known as the Stronger Futures legislation, In essence an extension of the Northern Territory Intervention passed under the previous Howard Government.
The facts of this are largely known, so to the implications. Incarceration & suicide have risen in the Territory since the first instalment, outcomes have not improved and there continues a great deal of fear in the hearts of many. Having just watched 7 straight hours of debate on the matter it again has been reaffirmed how little our members of Parliament know about the First Australians. But this should not come as a surprise, if you speak at someone, instead of listening, you will be no wiser than when you first arrived.
But this is not an attempt to give commentary on the politics, the bill or the Parliament that passed it. There is enough blame for every single one of them and I fear we will again apologise to a generation of Indigenous Australians for the policies of our Government, in our name, that are imposed on them. Sometimes brutally!
This is a message to everyone, it is only over when we allow it to be over! We’ve rallied, we’ve written submissions, we’ve called radio stations, we’ve travelled to Canberra and we have made our objections loud and clear. Now we must offer our support to those who will live under this legislation. To all Indigenous Australians, to those in the NT, to those who live and work as Teachers, Doctors, Nurses etc in Aboriginal communities, on Aboriginal land, we must offer up our assistance. We must extend our hand to them and allow them to direct us. They may live under these laws, but together we can fight back against them. We can offer an ear, we can offer a voice and we can roll up our sleeves. We can assist with legal help, we can (if invited) provide eyes to watch over those who enforce these laws, we can donate to the many wonderful organisations who help improve health, education & housing in Aboriginal communities.
We can also make a commitment not to forget them. Right now as I write this #StrongerFutures is trending nationally on twitter. By the weekend it will be gone. The laws will not! You can make a choice to be distracted by the latest television show, get caught up in the next faux celebrity controversy or simply block it out. But the Intervention will remain a reality for many in the NT. We can have an influence on just how badly it impacts on those forced to live under it. They have not been given a choice to determine their own future, but we do have that luxury.
You cannot say I was not alive when it happened, You cannot say you didn’t know and you cannot say you didn’t know what to do. You may have to listen carefully, you may have to put your ear to the wind and listen for their call. But when it comes, you will have a choice, will this be a Stronger Future against all odds? Or will it be a Stolen Future, not just because our Government took it away, but because you and I didn’t try to fight and take it back?!
A FEDERAL government program that stopped welfare payments to Aboriginal parents whose children missed too much school has failed to produce sustained improvement in school attendance.
An official evaluation of the trial’s first year shows it did not improve the attendance rate, and had little effect on lifting enrolments.
Between the program’s inception in January 2009 and August this year, 380 people had welfare payments, such as the Newstart allowance or disability pension, suspended for an average of 21 days, and one had them cancelled for failure either to enrol their children or to ensure regular attendance.
The program ”did not demonstrably improve the rate of attendance … overall, nor was any effect apparent at any stage of the attendance process in 2009,” the evaluation says. Even after the program was tweaked in the second year and produced a spike in attendance, the improvement was not sustained.
The School Enrolment and Attendance through Welfare Reform Measure (SEAM), was trialled in six Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. The federal government has a bill pending to introduce a third version in mid 2012, that gives parents more help before benefits are suspended or cancelled.
As well, the government will expand the trial to a further 16 communities, including schools in Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, and Katherine.
The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations has released the evaluation to the Herald in response to a request.
The Greens senator Rachel Siewert, who has opposed the penalty approach, had also called for the report to be made public.
The evaluation shows the threat of stopped payments brought forward school enrolments that mostly would have happened anyway – for example, from March to February. But it had no impact on the bigger problem of children leaving school part-way through the year. Only 40 per cent of the children who enrolled after a notification letter was sent to their parents stayed enrolled for the full year.
The program’s ”poor” performance in improving attendance was due in part to the reluctance of school principals to dob in parents to Centrelink.
The report said it was ”not clear” how the program could address the reasons for chronic absenteeism, which included cultural obligations, clan conflict and violence, transport and health problems. ”Tailored case management” was the most critical factor in reducing absenteeism, it said.
Under the scheme’s second version, implemented in 2010, children’s attendance records were relayed to Centrelink, bypassing the principal. A departmental evaluation of the early stages, based on samples as small as 56 children, shows the change led to improved initial attendance for about 80 per cent of the children whose parents were sent a letter threatening payment suspension, ”although many of these improvements were slight”.
The Herald has learnt, however, that the improved attendance was not sustained due to Centrelink’s inability to provide the necessary support to families.
The scheme’s proposed third version will allow the territory government to take the running with its new approach that requires principals to convene formal ”attendance” conferences with persistent problem families, social workers and others. ”Attendance plans” will be drawn up.
If improvement is not evident after 28 days, families will be referred to Centrelink for payment suspension, and other families can be fined.
The Minister for School Education, Peter Garrett, said payment suspension would be used as a last resort when parents had rejected repeated attempts to discuss the barriers to their child’s attendance and assistance to resolve them.
A group of Aboriginal leaders say they are furious about the Federal Government’s plan to extend the Northern Territory intervention next year. ABC News
The intervention was meant to wrap up next year but last month Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin announced that measures including alcohol bans and welfare quarantining in remote communities will continue.
Ms Macklin has signalled legislation will be introduced into Parliament before Christmas.
Rosalie Kunoth-Monks from Utopia in Central Australia says communities around the Territory are angry the Government is extending the intervention.
“After almost five years of the oppression of the intervention we demand that the Government hand back to us control over our communities,” she said.
“We reject the Stronger Futures document. We reject it absolutely.
“We will not support an extension of the intervention legislation, we did not ask for it, in fact, we call for a genuine apology.”
Barbara Shaw from Alice Springs says the intervention is discriminatory and the Government has ignored the concerns of many people.
“We know what we want and the arrogance of the Australian Government as well as the Northern Territory Government, they just don’t want to listen to the views of the people like us,” she said.
The elders say the intervention is causing shame and embarrassment in Aboriginal communities.
To call on Minister Macklin to end the Intervention please use the contact form provided at the link below