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New phase of NT intervention as kids get hosp -

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New phase of NT intervention as kids get hospital treatment

Broadcast: 14/04/2008

Reporter: Suzanne Smith

Around 500 Indigenous children are about to begin recieving ear, nose and throat surgery as part of
the Federal Government's Northern Territory intervention program.

Transcript

LEIGH SALES: Five-hundred Indigenous children are about to begin ear, nose and throat surgery as
part of the Federal Government's intervention program. In Central Australia, 200 children have been
referred for treatment after their conditions were picked up during the intervention's health
checks. Some remote communities are reporting that the alcohol and drug bans which are key planks
of the intervention are working. But the condition of children in some of Alice Springs' more
dysfunctional town camps is still far from ideal.

Lateline reporter Suzanne Smith has gone back to Central Australia to gauge the progress of the
intervention and to follow 12-year-old Lekisha McDonald as she begins her journey to Alice Springs
Hospital.

SUZANNE SMITH: This big sky desert country about three hours west of Alice Springs is home to the
Pintubi and Luritja people. One of their biggest townships is the former Lutheran mission of
Papunya. And today, 12-year-old Lekisha McDonald is packing to catch a bus to Alice Springs
Hospital, where it's hoped she'll finally get her eardrum fixed.

MICHAEL NELSON, GRANDFATHER: I'm quite happy to see my granddaughter go check up in Alice Springs,
so she can hear the teachers. You know, the kids poke their ears with the sticks like that, they
get all the stuff out from the ears and suddenly they damage their ear drums, you know.

SUZANNE SMITH: Lekisha is behind in her schooling and if not for the federal intervention, she
would be still waiting for treatment. She wasn't afraid of the intervention health checks, although
some of her cousins ran away and hid when the health team came through. Lekisha McDonald's chance
to have surgery isn't the only result of the Federal Government's intervention apparent in Papunya.
There are four new homes that already house three generations of Aboriginal families. There are two
more nurses and healthier food at the store, although only one extra job for a local person has
been found. The biggest change has been the imposition of alcohol, drug and gambling bans, which
for Michael Nelson means a good night's sleep without being pestered for money from local drunks.
With 50 per cent of all welfare payments quarantined the drunks know, according to Mr Nelson, there
isn't spare money to give away.

ALISON ANDERSON, NT MEMBER FOR MACDONNELL: The fact before the intervention came on you heard from
the ladies here and Michael Nelson that people used to knock on their doors all hours of the night
and humbug them for food. You couldn't go to a shop without being humbugged and abused outside the
shop, and gambling has gone down by 80 per cent.

SUZANNE SMITH: Alison Anderson is the member for MacDonnell in the Northern Territory and was born
in Papunya. She says 8,500 children have been checked throughout the Territory, but about 7,000
children are yet to receive health checks by the intervention. Alison Anderson believes some
families avoided the intervention health teams because their children have sexually transmitted
diseases.

ALISON ANDERSON: I know for a fact that certain people who had children in that category actually
ran away from the community when the health checks come in. And I think we just have to make sure
that... because if we know there's 7,000 kids that haven't gone through the health checks, we must
know their names. And it's about us as a community and leaders stand-upping to these people and
saying don't be frightened. We need to expose child abuse and abuse against families and women.

SUZANNE SMITH: As the sun starts to fade across the community of Papunya and night falls, a few of
the children and families gather to sing some hymns to pray for the children heading to hospital in
the morning. After the singing, the families sit around the fire to talk. Alison Anderson has been
campaigning for a federal intervention for many years and sees this policy decision as a once in a
lifetime opportunity.

ALISON ANDERSON: Well, one of the messages that I'd send to my Labor colleagues in Canberra is to
allow the intervention to be ran forever. I mean, this is the 21st century and we need major
changes in our lives. Changes to make sure that our school go to school, that they've got a good
quality education, good health, live safely on the communities and making sure that we have laws
that we all abide by as Australian citizens of this country and be treated no different to anyone
else.

SUZANNE SMITH: And what are the consequences if it doesn't?

ALISON ANDERSON: I think the consequences are that history will prove that as a nation we failed.

SUZANNE SMITH: Back at the interventions Operations Centre in Darwin, Sue Gordon says this ear,
nose and throat health blitz is an important strategy, along with other measures which aims to
tackle child abuse and neglect in Indigenous communities.

SUE GORDON, CHAIR, FEDERAL INTERVENTION TASKFORCE: What some of the evidence that's being put to by
various commentators is that these same young people who have hearing problems that drop out of
school are more easily swayed off into being abused because they can't hear properly. Some nice
kind person wants to look after them, someone wants to give them some drugs or alcohol.

SUZANNE SMITH: Back at Papunya it's just after daybreak and children and their carers come to the
health clinic to wait for the bus. Some are discussing last night's news; a 15-year-old girl was
bashed with a picket by an adult man. Right outside the clinic she's being treated for her
injuries. But today is full of anticipation. Lekisha, her cousin and friends board the bus and do a
loop of the community. Lekisha and her friends sing and joke on the three hour journey to Alice
Springs. When the children get to town there's a party put on by the hospital under the red gums of
the oasis known as Telegraph Station.

But just five minutes over the hill, other children are living in pitiful conditions. At a camp on
the edge of Alice Springs, children as young as three, play and scamp through a river of beer cans
and broken glass. This is Mt Nancy Town Camp in Alice Springs. Under the Federal Government's
intervention it was declared dry. That means there is absolutely no alcohol to be drunk here. Now
as you can see, hardly anyone is following the regulations. As we walk around the camp, people are
drinking alcohol. The fence meant to keep it out was cut months ago and never fixed. Dicki Brown is
seeing out his days here at Hoppies Camp, in his wheelchair trying to supervise his many family
members, many who are just little children, including 8-year-old Edward Thompson.

Can he read and write?

DICKY BROWN, TOWN CAMP RESIDENT: A little bit. He can count, he can write his name, too.

SUZANNE SMITH: What do you think of the intervention and that big sign out the front saying, no
alcohol?

DICKY BROWN: I reckon good.

SUZANNE SMITH: Do they hassle you, do they humbug you, all the alcoholics and the sniffers?

DICKY BROWN: They go on the night, steal in the bridge, make everything bad.

SUZANNE SMITH: Do they still humbug you now the intervention's here?

DICKY BROWN: Yeah, they still humbug.

JENNY MACKLIN, INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS MINISTER: What happened in Hoppies Camp is obviously a serious
matter, but I'd say, we do understand how critical it is both for the law to be enforced. We also
understand how critical it is to get additional police into those communities who haven't had
police present ever before.

SUZANNE SMITH: There's still some people who do not like the intervention. Down the road at Mt
Nancy Town Camp, life is much better. Most people have jobs and children attend local schools. It
is the home of Barb Shaw, the official spokesperson for the anti-intervention movement. Since the
intervention it's now a prescribed area. What does that actually mean for you?

BARB SHAW, ANTI-INTERVENTION MOVEMENT: Well, on this camp under the prescribed area, we are now
classed as all alcoholics and paedophiles. One of the old men that live on this camp is my father
and he's a Vietnam veteran. He fought for this country, so he should be entitled to a drink.

SUZANNE SMITH: Barb Shaw says the main problem with the intervention is the imposition of laws
without consultation. Along with her stepmother Eileen Hoosan, she says this sign typifies the
approach and shames the whole town.

BARB SHAW: I'd say to the rest of Australia and especially the suburbs, how would you like a sign
like this outside your suburbs? I felt like burning it, painting it, but we didn't do that. What we
did was say to the Government, 'this sign has to go, there is a better way to get the message out'.

SUZANNE SMITH: But those supporting the intervention say the ear, nose and throat surgery blitz is
a major improvement for Indigenous children. Lekisha McDonald and her cousin Selina are amongst the
first to arrive at the hospital. The prognosis according to the visiting surgeon from Victoria is
good. Forty children will have surgery in the next few days. Real achievement that stands out among
the many fragile gains made under the intervention so far. Suzanne Smith. Lateline.