Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Strengthening the Northern Territory Emergency Response

Joint Media Release with:

  • Warren Snowdon MP, Member for Lingiari

The Australian Government will strengthen the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) to provide the foundations for real and lasting change in Indigenous communities.

Unacceptably high levels of disadvantage in Northern Territory (NT) Indigenous communities continue and this demands continued and sustained effort from all levels of government.

The Australian Government will continue to take firm action to close the gap in the NT while moving the NTER towards a sustainable development phase to make it effective for the long term.

To achieve this, we will continue to work in partnership with Indigenous Australians recognising they are essential to develop effective solutions and drive change on the ground.

Moving the NTER to a sustainable development phase can not be achieved while the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA) continues.

The Government will introduce legislation into the Parliament to repeal all NTER laws that suspend the operation of the RDA.

Alcohol and pornography restrictions, five-year leases, community store licensing and law enforcement powers have been re-designed to more clearly be special measures that help Indigenous people in the NT achieve equal human rights. The measures relating to publicly funded computers and the business management areas powers will remain unchanged.

These measures are delivering substantial benefits to Indigenous communities and will remain core elements of the NTER

Income management will be re-designed as a non-discriminatory measure. The new scheme will commence across the NT – in urban, regional and remote areas – as a first step in a national roll out of income management in disadvantaged regions. This represents a significant step forward in the Government’s continuing welfare reform agenda. The roll out of the new scheme in the NT will begin in July 2010 and is expected to be completed by 31 December 2010.

The RDA will immediately apply to the new income management scheme from July 2010. Existing income management provisions will be repealed with transitional arrangements put in place.

The RDA suspension in relation to existing measures will be lifted on 31 December 2010 to enable an effective transition from existing to new arrangements.

The major reforms to income management will require significant Centrelink system development, which need to be carefully and properly implemented.

All of these changes complement the Government’s closing the gap agenda, which is delivering unprecedented investment in education, health, housing, jobs and remote service delivery.

They follow extensive consultations with Indigenous Australians in the NT.

Between June and August 2009, the Australian Government conducted more than 500 consultations involving several thousands participants in the 73 remote communities and town camps, and workshops with regional leaders and stakeholder organisation representatives.

The consultations found that:

  • Children, the elderly and women are safer, better fed and clothed; they are getting a better night’s sleep; and humbugging for money for alcohol, drugs and gambling has declined. This was attributed to a combination of NTER measures, in particular income management, alcohol restrictions, community store licensing and the increased police presence; and
  • More money is being spent on food, clothing and school-related expenses and people are saving for large purchases, such as fridges and washing machines.

The engagement process was monitored by the independent Cultural and Indigenous Research Centre Australia which also provided a report on the openness and integrity of the consultations.

Re-design of specific NTER measures

Income management

From 1 July 2010, a new non-discriminatory income management scheme will be rolled out across the NT – in urban, rural and remote areas – and will apply to all relevant welfare recipients. The new income management scheme is expected to be fully implemented across the NT by 31 December 2010. Following collection and evaluation of evidence from the NT, the scheme will be extended to other disadvantaged regions of Australia outside the NT.

Alcohol restrictions

The existing alcohol restrictions will continue. Regional or community alcohol restrictions may be developed as part of alcohol management plans tailored to the circumstances of each area to replace the existing restrictions. The Government will consider proposals on a case by case basis, based on matters such as the evidence of alcohol related harm in each location, community consultation on the effectiveness of the existing restrictions and an assessment of the likely effectiveness of the proposed alcohol management plan in minimising alcohol related harm in the community.

The Government will continue to closely monitor levels of alcohol-related harm and will have the capacity to re-impose the current restrictions. The Government considers alcohol restrictions are a special measure for the purposes of the RDA. The new arrangements will be implemented from 1 July 2010. As well, the current requirement for a licensee to record the sale of takeaway liquor valued at $100 or more will be abolished because it has not been effective.

Pornography restrictions

In light of strong community opposition to the availability of sexually explicit and very violent material, current restrictions prohibiting its possession and supply will continue. Consideration of any individual community requests to have the restrictions lifted will take into account the risk of harm to families and children. The Government considers the restrictions on sexually explicit and very violent material as a special measure for the purposes of the RDA. While the measure restricts the rights of some adults to obtain some types of otherwise lawful material, the Government believes restricting pornography is necessary to protect children – a view shared by many who participated in the community consultations. These arrangements will be implemented from 1 July 2010.

Five-year leases

Five-year leases were introduced to provide security of tenure for better service delivery and do not affect the underlying title of the land. Indigenous owners still own this land. These leases have underpinned the installation of safe houses, refurbishment of houses, community clean-up programs, reformed property and tenancy arrangements and accommodation for Government Business Managers. The five year leases will continue.

The Government has begun paying compensation for the leases to benefit traditional owners. The NT Valuer-General’s first assessment of a reasonable payment has been finalised and is being paid for leases on Milikapiti and Pirlangimpi in the Tiwi Islands. As further assessments are made in other areas, the Government will automatically make the payments.

The Government will also introduce changes to make it clear that the objective of the five-year leases is to improve service delivery and promote economic and social development. The legislative changes will also clarify that exploration and mining are not permitted uses, require that the administration of the leases respect Aboriginal culture and facilitate the transition to voluntary leases.

The Government considers the leases are a special measure for the purposes of the RDA. The changes will be implemented from 1 July 2010 and the five-year leases lapse in 2012, during which time the Government will work to transition to voluntary leases.

Community store licensing

Community consultation and monitoring of community stores indicates that the licensing of community stores has improved the range and quality of food available in communities. Currently there are 88 licensed community stores with 68 per cent of all store operators reporting increased sale of fruit, vegetables, dairy products and meat. Community store licensing will continue. The scheme will be improved and extended through:

  • the establishment of a legislative link between community store licensing and the eligibility of a store to participate in the income management arrangements;
  • extending the scope of the licensing scheme to cover shops which are a key source of food, drink and grocery items for an Indigenous community, including takeaway or fast food shops and roadhouses; and
  • providing greater clarity about the obligations of licence holders.

The Government considers that the community store licensing scheme is a special measure for the purposes of the RDA. The new arrangements will be implemented from 1 July 2010.

Publicly funded computers

Measures to prevent access to sexually explicit material and very violent material on publicly funded computers provided to community organisations will continue. The measures include the installation of content filters to prevent access and auditing the use of computers and their users. The Government considers these controls are a special measure for the purposes of the RDA.

Law enforcement

The Australian Crime Commission’s (ACC) special law enforcement powers will be retained with an amendment to the Australian Crime Commission Act 2002 to ensure that the ACC’s use of powers in relation to Indigenous violence and child abuse is for the benefit of Indigenous victims. The Government believes that this measure protects the rights of Indigenous people, particularly women and children. The measure facilitates the reporting and investigation of violence and abuse, assists the prosecution of these offences and also serves as a deterrent. The Government considers that these special law enforcement powers are a special measure for the purposes of the RDA.

Business management areas powers

The Government will retain the business management areas powers to enable the maintenance of safe, healthy living conditions in Indigenous communities. Under this measure, the Commonwealth has various powers to take action where there is a need for essential services to be maintained and alternative options have been tried and failed or are unavailable. The Government considers that the business management areas powers are a special measure for the purposes of the RDA.