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The NT Intervention: a ten-year attack on Aboriginal sovereignty

Nick G.

June 21 2017 marks the tenth anniversary of the racist NT “emergency” Intervention. It is not an anniversary to be celebrated.

The Intervention was conducted by a force of 600 soldiers and detachments from the Australian Defence Forces representing the first time since the 1949 coal strikes that the Australian Army, as a key pillar of the capitalist state, had been used to take rights from Australian citizens.

Then Prime Minister John Howard and his Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mal Brough justified the Intervention as an “emergency response” to reports of Indigenous child sexual abuse contained in the Wild-Anderson Little Children are Sacred  report.

If that was the case, then one is entitled to ask why Howard’s government implemented only two out of ninety-seven of the report's recommendations.

The reality is that the case for the racist Intervention had been made nine months before in a Discussion Paper issued by Brough’s Department. The paper’s title, Access to Aboriginal Land Under the Northern Territory Aboriginal Land Rights Act – Time for Change? , forecast many of the changes that would be included in the twelve measures in the Intervention package.

The measures suggested a “land grab” to many people – scrapping the entry permit system, the seizure of Indigenous land for five years, the empty promise of “compensation” for lands not returned after the expiry of that five years, replacing communal title to land with individual title to homes on 99-year leases, or renting at market rates, and the scrapping of the CDEP employment scheme did nothing to advance the interests of Indigenous children, but everything to advance the interests of the big mining and pastoral corporations.

Aboriginal communities were used as guinea pigs for an experiment at controlling the financial independence of welfare recipients. Indeed,the Basics Card experiment, since rolled out to poor communities around the nation, required the suspension of the NT Anti-Discrimination Act for its enforcement.

Clearly the preferred option and the outcome that the Federal Government was seeking from its October 2006 discussion paper, the removal of the permit system and the normalizing of access arrangements to Aboriginal land, had been planned well in advance of the release in May 2007 of the Little Children are Sacred report.

According to Gavin Mudd, an environmental engineer with over ten years’ experience of visiting remote Aboriginal communities in which mining companies have an interest, “It is no coincidence that many of the communities targeted for ‘military style intervention’ are also areas that are heavily targeted for minerals exploration, particularly uranium, as well as for potential nuclear waste dumps.”

John Howard set up the Intervention, but lost the federal election less than six months later. Not surprisingly, if one understands the nature and role of Labor as a party of capitalism, the new government of Kevin Rudd committed to the Intervention’s continued implementation. It continued in all but name under Prime Minister Julia Gillard when it became the Stronger Futures program.

The policies enshrined in the Intervention must cease.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders want a genuine Treaty negotiated between equals.

They want their unceded sovereignty recognised.

They want their rights to self-determination upheld.

The combined voices of this country’s First Peoples will not be silenced.


The NT Intervention: a ten-year attack on Aboriginal sovereignty
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