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Intervention in Aboriginal Life



John Howard the then Prime Minister of Australia introduced a series of measures (June 2007) to regulate the life of Aboriginal peoples in the Northern Territory, an action that became known as the Intervention. The measures were introduced as emergency measures designed to control the widespread physical and sexual abuse of children, the excessive use of alcohol, poor levels of education and unemployment rife among Aboriginal people in the Territory according to a government sponsored report, Little Children are Sacred. The local councils of aboriginal communities were immediately dissolved, their property acquired by compulsory leases for five years and business managers appointed to administer them. After an initial occupation by army units and police to stabilize the situation in Aboriginal communities and settlements, the Federal government introduced a number of measures designed to channel welfare money for purchase of wholesome food, to limit access to alcohol and it made a commitment to refurbish schools and clinics and to build houses to ease overcrowding. These were all good things to do and cost the government hundreds of millions of dollars, but were imposed from without in a bureaucratic manner with little consultation of local people. Construction programs were conducted largely by non-aboriginal workers and school curricula were not revised with an eye to Aboriginal cultural needs or interests. The ancient culture of Aboriginal people depends upon the land, family relationship and upon the Dreaming. The bureaucracy dealt with Aboriginal communities as if it were dealing with a particularly difficult city suburb that required a new master plan. Instead of this, Aboriginal people must resolve their communal problems in their own way. For that to happen there is a need to encourage initiative and creativity and conversion of life. The Intervention and what followed did not deal well with the cultural side of its program and it did more to smother Aboriginal initiative than to encourage it.