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Twelve months on, the Emergency Response cannot be allowed to falter.

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The Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP Shadow Minister for Environment, Heritage and the Arts Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs Federal Liberal Member for Murray

Friday, 20 May 2008

Twelve months on,

the Emergency Response cannot be allowed to falter

There can be little doubt that the first year of the NT Emergency Intervention has achieved much..

It was 12 months ago that the Little Children are Sacred report shocked many ordinary Australians, who were unaware of the other world of experience of indigenous families in some of the remotest parts of Australia. For others, like the remote area school teachers, police, and health service professionals, it was just another report in a long line of reports highlighting the disease and dysfunction, the violence and misery endemic in

hundreds of unemployed, welfare-dependent settlements tucked away out of sight and the mind, in no-go areas protected by a no- visitor permit system.

It was the Howard Government that said enough was enough. Then Minister for Indigenous Affairs Mal Brough refused to be way-laid with yet another six months of consultations, or further reports. Nearly a billion dollars was sourced to ensure every child in the more than 70 prescribed communities was to immediately have a health check with follow up treatments.

Policing had to be immediately and substantially boosted. Children going hungry because their parents gambled away or drank up their pensions were to have a greater chance of food and clothing through quarantining these welfare payments.

Housing was to be immediately improved and supplemented, pornography was banned, alcohol and drugs controlled, and the permit system modified so ordinary Australians travelling the country could come and drop into the settlements’ public places. For example, tourists could buy some local art, or check out the food in the local store. The Howard Government believed this would end the system of hiding some of the country’s most run-down and derelict schools, houses and health services as ordinary caring Australians’ condemnation of the squalor shamed and spurred the Territory government into taking real action.

Perhaps, most importantly, the Coalition set out to abolish the remote area exemptions in settlements where there were jobs. This meant that those on unemployment payments had to actively look for work At the same time the federal government ramped up employment services, with every unemployed person to be case managed and actively supported to engage in education, training, or work experience in preparation for employment.

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The Coalition had reviewed CDEP in 2005 and found it locked indigenous Australians into intergenerational poverty through unemployment. CDEP institutionalised sit down money, even when there were real jobs available in the town, or it kept workers in part time, part paid jobs (for example as teacher’s aides), when the state or territory governments should have been permanently employing these aids with real salaries, training and career opportunities.

The Coalition brought forward the abolition of CDEP in the NT’s prescribed communities, putting over $70 million on the table to give those who had been doing some real work a transition to real government jobs.

While the new Rudd Labor Government has embraced the emergency response, it has bowed down to the status quo in some vital areas. The old permit system is to be reinstated, with communities once again locked away from general scrutiny. Up to 30% of pornography is allowed back on paid TV. You can carry alcohol and pornography through settlements. But saddest of all, it seems new life is to be breathed into the old, debilitating CDEP.

So much has been achieved in just 12 months. Women and children are safer in many places. Hope has been rekindled. But we still have a long, long way to go.

Dr Sharman Stone Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs

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