There’s a very noisy left-leaning opposition group to the Gillard government’s modified version of the NTER or Indigenous Intervention (which Minister Macklin has variously renamed “Closing the Gap” or “Stronger Futures”). No doubt they’re sincere in their opposition to current policy, but their rhetorical style is shrill to say the least.
If you read only publications like Crikey or the Fairfax press, you might well be convinced that the Gillard government’s Indigenous affairs policies are just cynical, racist paternalism. A typical example is a piece in today’s Crikey newsletter by Dr Hilary Tyler and Paddy Gibson. It deals with some of the research underpinning the Commonwealth’s recently released 400-page evaluation of the NTER, in particular the Community Safety and Wellbeing Research Study.
The reasons why opponents of current policies might wish to discredit this research are apparent from a brief perusal of the executive summary:
Survey responses showed consistent agreement that the key positive changes perceived to have taken place over the last three years are in schools (83.3%), Centrelink (80.6%), clinics (78.3%), police (76.3%) and stores (76.2%). Services that have contributed to an improvement in safety at the community level are Night Patrols (74.8%) and more activities for young people (65.4%). In addition to the survey responses, the participative voting process identified that the most highly regarded change over the last three years was the increase in police presence. In addition, the Basics Card, improved housing and the school nutrition programs were voted into the list of the top five changes across the sample. (These issues were not covered by the survey tool). Improvement in opportunities for employment and training were also identified as a significant positive change. These data provide strong evidence that survey participants identify improvements to service delivery as being the most important changes that have taken place over the last three years. A very strong finding was that some of the positive changes, particularly those around community functioning and safety, were much less marked in larger communities.
The majority of survey respondents (58.7%) reported that their own lives were on the ‘way up’. The most common reasons cited were getting a job, living in improved housing, and having more money. Fewer people thought that their community was on the ‘way up’ (47.4%); however more people judged ‘way up’ than ‘no change’ (42.1%) or ‘way down’ (7.6%). The most common reasons for citing ‘no change’ or ‘way down’ were that people are still living in overcrowded housing, find it hard to get a job, there is still a lot of family fighting and unhappiness about both the Intervention and the loss of Community Councils through the change to governance through the Shires.
Strong negative changes that have taken place over the last three years are perceived to be the loss of control at the community level and resulting disempowerment of local leaders, and the increase in marijuana use.
Our anonymous Alice Springs informant reflects on Gibson and Tyler’s critique of the Community Safety and Wellbeing Research Study:
Paddy Gibson & Hilary Tyler spend the first part of their article disparaging the accuracy, credibility and objectivity of the Community Safety & Wellbeing Research Study (CSWRS), but then proceed to use its findings as seriously credible evidence for attacks on some aspects of Macklin’s policies etc. So do they think it’s credible or not?
The great majority of these pilot interviews were carried out by Aboriginal speakers fluent in local languages who had been trained professionally in research techniques in a stridently anti-Intervention organisation. These researchers were definitely not pro-Intervention, but they understood and honoured the duty of researchers to do their work in a scrupulously unbiased and non-directive manner.
The reason the ‘17-page survey form used in communities does not once refer to “the intervention” or the “Northern Territory Emergency Response”’ is that hardly any of the randomly-chosen interviewees in remote communities knew what the terms “the intervention” or “Northern Territory Emergency Response” meant.
Therefore the survey form was modified, and interviewees were asked to compare their lives to the period before three years ago, before the intervention, but also using concrete illustrations such as ‘before the introduction of Income Management’, the arrival of GBMs, the arrival of extra police, and the changes to CDEP and alcohol regulations, to ensure they understood what was being asked.
Also: most NTER programs were introduced into most communities in the period Oct. 2007 to May 2008. The intervention was not “in full swing” in late 2007 – many communities did not yet have Income Management, or changes to shops, CDEP, police and other things in late 2007.
Another quirk: they are billed as being “NT indigenous workers”. Neither is Indigenous, and Paddy lives in Sydney, working at UTS’s Jumbunna House & I think also enrolled for PhD on the NTER at Sydney U. He is a leading light in the Sydney Stop the Intervention Collective (STIC) and also I think still in the Working Group on Aboriginal Rights (WGAR) and the campaign to stop Income Management being implemented in Bankstown. Dr Hilary Tyler works at Alice Springs Hospital, has worked in Emergency there for the last few years. She is heavily involved in the Intervention Rollback Action Group (IRAG), and may now be on the Public Health Association Australia (PHAA) executive.