Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
Media Release 23/10/2008
Compulsory income management to continue as key NTER measure
The Australian Government will continue comprehensive, compulsory income management as a key measure of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) because of its demonstrated benefits for women and children.
The Government will continue and strengthen the NTER to protect women and children, reduce alcohol-fuelled violence, promote personal responsibility and rebuild community norms in Northern Territory (NT) Indigenous communities.
Last week, the Government released the report of the independent Review of the NTER which found that the situation in remote NT communities and town camps remained sufficiently acute to be described as a national emergency.
For this reason, the current stabilisation phase of the NTER will continue for the next twelve months before transitioning to a long-term, development phase.
The Government accepts the three overarching recommendations of the Review Report.
The Government is determined to improve the safety and wellbeing of children in remote NT communities and make real in-roads towards closing the gap.
Achieving this will require careful transition from the first phase of the NTER.
Long-term success through the development of communities requires that key NTER measures are able to generate greater individual and community responsibility.
This means that long term measures cannot rely on the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA).
The development phase of the NTER will commence when increased levels of personal and community responsibility are demonstrated.
The development phase will maintain and strengthen core NTER measures including compulsory income management, five year leases, alcohol and pornography controls, while placing a greater emphasis on community development and community engagement.
The current comprehensive income management system will be extended for at least twelve months. We will design a compulsory income management policy which does not require the suspension of the RDA. This will involve consultation with Indigenous communities.
Legislative amendments to bring existing NTER legislation within the scope of the the RDA will be introduced in the Spring Parliamentary session next year. The Government will respond in full to the Review Board’s recommendations, including future funding arrangements, over the coming months.
AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT INITIAL RESPONSE TO THE NTER REVIEW
On 13 October 2008 the Government released the report of the independent review of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER).
The Review Board concluded that the situation in remote Northern Territory (NT) communities and town camps remains sufficiently acute to be described as a national emergency and that the NTER should continue.
It also emphasised the need to improve engagement with Indigenous people in prescribed communities, to provide the basis for long term and sustainable change.
The Government’s continuing support for the NTER stems from our obligation to protect children from violence, abuse and neglect and expand their life chances.
In partnership with the NT Government and Indigenous communities, we want to ensure Indigenous children are growing up in a safe community, living in a decent home, eating healthy food and are supported by a strong family.
They need better education and health services and must have more opportunities to get and keep a job. Each of these elements is integral to our wider Closing the Gap strategy on Indigenous disadvantage.
The NTER has been making important progress:
* Families in remote communities report feeling safer because of the increased police presence, the reduction in alcohol consumption and additional night patrols and safe houses. There are now 51 additional police serving in communities that did not previously have a permanent police presence.
* Women say that income management means they can buy essentials for their children such as food and clothes. Shopping habits in licensed stores have changed – more is being spent on fresh food, sales of cigarettes have halved and the incidence of ‘humbugging’ has fallen.
* The ‘BasicsCard’, which has recently been introduced, is making it easier for customers to shop with their income managed funds. More than 4000 BasicsCards have been issued to date.
* School nutrition programs are providing breakfast and lunch for children in 68 communities and associated outstations and ten town camp regions.
* In total, 12,097 Child Health Checks including Medical Benefits Scheme (MBS) checks, representing 70% of eligible children have been conducted.
* Audiology follow-up services have been provided to 1,309 children. Non-surgical dental services have been provided to 1,750 children; 109 children have undergone ear, nose and throat surgery and 178 children have undergone dental surgery.
* Additional funding has been allocated in 2008-09 and the following year to improve health services in remote communities in the NT.
* 200 additional teachers are being recruited. The first of these teachers are now in place.
* The Government is investing $547 million in remote Indigenous housing in the NT. In cooperation with the NT Government, around 750 new houses will be built and 2,500 houses will be upgraded. The successful tenderers to deliver this construction were announced on 9 October 2008.
The Government is determined to keep moving forward.
The Review Board has made three overarching recommendations and the Government is responding to these today. This Response will underpin the Australian Government’s full response to the report’s detailed recommendations which will be made after further consideration of the review report.
The Government accepts each of these overarching recommendations and will act on them in progressing to the next phase of the NTER.
1. The Australian and Northern Territory Governments recognise as a matter of urgent national significance the continuing need to address the unacceptably high level of disadvantage and social dislocation experienced by remote communities and town camps in the Northern Territory.
The NTER will continue in recognition of the exceptional disadvantage and levels of violence and abuse against women and children in remote communities and town camps in the Northern Territory.
The Australian Government has also committed to closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and the next phase of the NTER will be aligned with this broader effort and measured against the Government’s targets in health, life expectancy, education and employment.
2. Governments reset their relationship with Indigenous people based on genuine consultation, engagement and partnership.
Since gaining office, the Government has committed itself to re-establishing the relationship with Indigenous Australians based on the principles of mutual respect, cooperation and mutual responsibility.
The national apology, the first official business of the Government, was an important step in moving towards a new relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
The Government agrees that the NTER should be strengthened, made more sustainable and foster greater personal and community responsibility. There will be a greater emphasis on community development and engagement.
The issues facing remote NT Aboriginal communities are challenging and confronting, and the Government recognises that work also needs to happen within communities to renew local leadership and strengthen local relationships.
3. Government actions respect Australia’s human rights obligations and conform with the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) 1975.
The Government takes the view that the NTER will not achieve robust long-term outcomes if measures do not conform with the RDA.
At the same time the Government is not prepared to disrupt current beneficial measures or place them at risk of legal challenge in the short term.
We will maintain the core elements of the NTER such as compulsory income management, the five-year leases, and alcohol and pornography controls. We will also strengthen them to ensure that they are either more clearly special measures or non-discriminatory. The revised measures will conform with the Racial Discrimination Act and will not involve suspension of the Act.
The Review Board’s report demonstrates that the measures are largely beneficial to Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.
The Government is strongly committed to compulsory income management as a tool to reduce alcohol-related violence, protect children, guard against humbugging and promote personal responsibility.
The existing comprehensive compulsory income management measures are yielding vital benefits to Indigenous communities and many Indigenous people want them to continue.
The Government will immediately start to design a compulsory income management policy which does not require the suspension of the RDA. We will be developing the most robust system possible to protect women and children. We will not adopt a policy which compromises the benefits and protections for vulnerable people in communities secured through the current income management arrangements. The Government will consult with Indigenous communities in the development of this framework.
In the interim, the Government will continue comprehensive, compulsory income management for all welfare recipients in the communities subject to the existing arrangements.
We also recognise the critical need for controls on the supply of alcohol and pornography. Alcohol and pornography are destroying remote communities. Over the coming months we will work to refine these measures so they are more clearly special measures under the RDA.
Five-year leases are providing the foundation for better housing services which are crucial to the future viability and sustainability of remote communities. However, we recognise that this is Aboriginal-owned land and, as such, a reasonable rent is payable.
The original conception of the NTER was to progress from a first phase of stabilisation to a second phase of normalisation of services in communities.
Improving NTER measures to move to the next phase is a complex policy task that requires detailed consultation and technical work. The Government is committed to doing the job properly in conjunction with the NT Government and Aboriginal people. Achieving this will take time.
The Government intends to introduce legislation to lift the RDA suspension in the Spring 2009 sittings of the Parliament.
The commencement of this legislation will mark the beginning of the development phase of the NTER.
Between now and the commencement of the legislation, transitional arrangements will apply.
Our proposed transition period will have the following elements:
* The ongoing development and implementation of our policies to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage.
* An immediate, renewed emphasis on community engagement and development to build the foundations for more lasting change.
* Existing NTER measures will continue while the legislation is being developed and considered.
* In particular, comprehensive income management will continue while the Government designs and consults on a new compulsory income management policy which does not involve the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act. These consultations will acknowledge that not all welfare recipients are unable to manage their finances in the interests of dependent women and children.
The Government will also legislate in the first half of 2009 to ensure people subject to the NT income management regime have access to the full range of appeal mechanisms afforded to other Australians, including through the Social Security Appeals Tribunal and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
Other immediate steps include:
* The Government will immediately ask the NT Valuer-General to determine a reasonable rent for all existing five-year leases. Payment will then commence automatically. We will also examine the scope to reduce the current boundaries of five-year leases.
* Negotiations with traditional owners for long term leases will continue. This is to ensure that beneficial activities already under way, in particular, the Australian Government’s $547 million investment in new housing, housing upgrades and reformed tenancy arrangements, can be progressed.
The Government will respond in full to the Review Board’s recommendations, including future funding arrangements, over the coming months. (Ends)******************************************
Australian Human Rights Commission Mailing List Service
Commitment to end discrimination welcomed but why the delay?
Friday, 24 October 2008
The federal government’s announcement yesterday that it would modify the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) so it is consistent with the Racial Discrimination Act is long overdue, but it’s decision to delay key elements of this by at least 12 months is deeply problematic, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma said today.
“Effectively, we have ended up with a situation where it took two weeks to design a suite of discriminatory measures, but will end up taking more than two years to remove them. This is despite the Minister for Indigenous Affairs having the ability to exercise her administrative powers to remove substantial elements of the discrimination with immediate effect,” Mr Calma said.
“While I applaud the government for announcing that the NTER measures cannot rely on the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) in the long term, the delays involved in moving to this arrangement will continue what the NTER Review Board described as the ‘sense of betrayal and disbelief’ among Indigenous peoples, and will continue to ‘undercut the potential effectiveness of its substantive measures’”.
The recommendations of the (NTER) Review Report provided an opportunity to refocus the federal government’s efforts from an emergency to community development approach in improving the lives of Northern Territory Aboriginal children.
“While I accept that such changes may require an intermediate period to transition from the present scheme, the planning of this transition should begin immediately and be tailored to the specific and varying needs of different communities,” Commissioner Calma said.
“No one wants to see children abused, families destroyed and communities ripped apart, so I welcome this ongoing commitment to protecting women and children. But I do not, and never have, accepted that we need to resort to discrimination in order to achieve this protection. The only sound policy choice is one where children are protected and are not discriminated against as well.”
Commissioner Calma urged the government to use the framework outlined in the Social Justice Report 2007 to make the transition to a community development approach. This proposes the development of Community Partnership Agreements to introduce a tailored response to the needs of individual communities in the NT.
“This could enable a staged and incentive-based approach to adjust compulsory income management and other measures at the community level,” he said.
“Such agreements would only be validly entered into once the community had provided its consent and when the Minister was satisfied that the particular community in question had appropriately identified how it will continue to tackle violence and abuse.”
The Commissioner also stated that (in his capacity as Race Discrimination Commissioner) he expected the government would seek his advice on whether proposed measures for income management could appropriately be characterised as special measures under the Racial Discrimination Act.
“I also expect that the government will engage in thorough and robust consultations with all sections of the affected communities,” Mr Calma said.
“This process must be inclusive of women and men, and the proposed changes to the intervention should be guided by the free, prior and informed consent of community members, particularly those most vulnerable.
“Unless the government restores respect to and constructively engages with Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, the community ownership so essential for enabling functional, resilient communities will not be achieved.”