By Caitlin McInnis
In anticipation of the Prime Minister’s “Closing the Gap” report to Parliament this morning, on Monday we released a study on the Northern Territory Intervention’s impact on this signature government policy. Our report is a damning assessment, and the numbers shocking.
The Intervention was introduced in 2007 by the Howard Government and, although it has been amended since, it survives to the present day under the name “Stronger Futures”.
Our report reviews the Intervention as a whole, evaluating its effects on a range of human rights indicators as well as each of the official Closing the Gap targets. Those targets were set by the former Labour government in four key areas: health and life expectancy, education, safer communities and employment and economic participation. In our report, we named an issue that we (and many others) believe should be made a fifth target: lowered incarceration rates.
Incarceration rates for Indigenous Australians in the Northern Territory have risen by 41% during the Intervention and do not seem to be slowing. One figure that particularly stands out is that Indigenous Australians make up only 3% of the population but about 27% of the prison population. This is significant, as negative contact with the justice system can be a large contributor to disadvantage.
Overall, we gave the Closing the Gap targets the following scores:
- Health and life expectancy: 4/10
- Education: 5/10
- Safer communities: 4/10
- Employment and economic participation: 3/10
- Incarceration: 0/10
On the human rights front, the results were equally poor. One glaring human rights violation was the suspension of s10 of the Racial Discrimination Act under the initial Intervention legislation. Suspension of s10 enabled the government to enact measures that clearly discriminated on the basis of race without fear of legal repercussions. The suspension has since been lifted, but discriminatory aspects of the Intervention remain. We gave it a score of 3/10 for discrimination. Other human rights that were trampled included the right to be consulted (3/10), the right to self-determination (2/10) and the right to social security (4/10).
Currently the trialling of the Healthy Welfare card – a system that restricts how recipients can spend their money – is underway. It raises concerns over the right to privacy, as the legislation that authorises the Healthy Welfare card allows certain people, including bank officers, to disclose information about a person to the government. Other human rights impacted by this system include the right to social security and the right to family and private life.
The Intervention has been a human rights failure on the part of the Australian government. As the author of our report and Centre Associate Dr Stephen Gray concludes: “The Intervention was meant to improve the lives of Indigenous people in the Northern Territory, but at this rate the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people may never close in many areas”. This is concerning and disheartening.