The Intervention

After little Johny's huge success of getting re-elected in 2001 using the distraction of the Children Overboard Affair, he thought he'd try something similar for the 2007 election with The Intervention. It failed as a re-election stunt, since most Australians didn't really care about Aboriginals, but it went ahead anyway. Despite all evidence suggesting that it's making things worse, it's still happening.

The intervention was largely initiated by a lateline story claiming child sexual abuse on Aboriginal communities that was fabricated by a senior public servant working for Liberal Member Mal Brough.

This prompted a board of inquiry that produced The Little Children are Sacred report. The original Little Children are Sacred report was the result of a "Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse". This report did not find widespread child sexual abuse (neither has the intervention since), and actually found that there was less child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities than in Australia generally. It did find Aboriginal children were suffering from much larger social problems within Aboriginal communities caused by dis-empowerment, poverty, and government neglect. Unfortunately, although the report recommended that better health, education, and family support were what Aboriginal children really needed, it had some headings with "sexual abuse", "alcohol" "substance abuse" and "pornography" in them, and it seems politicians only read the headings. It had 97 recommendations related to improving Aboriginal welfare in general, and all but 2 of them were ignored. Instead we got the "Intervention", which implemented a bunch of things that were not recommended, and in many cases the opposite of what was recommended. The co-chair of "The Little Children are Sacred" himself condemned the response;

Contrary to Government wishes, every report on the intervention and various rebrandings and/or related programs of it since have shown that things are getting worse.

In the Government's own 2019 report, only 2 out of 7 targets improved at all (both school related, and the improvements are debatable/mixed, and possibly in spite of the intervention), and in particular child mortality and life expectancy both got worse. In the 2020 report they appear to have abandoned trying to measure progress at all and instead resorted to long-winded platitudes.

I could have re-written the above points replacing "The Little Children Are Sacred" with just about any other report on the state of Aboriginal people in Australia. "Aboriginal Deaths in Custody", "Don Dale:NT juvenile justice inquiry", "Pathways to Justice: Incarceration Rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples", "Uluru Statement from the Heart" etc. Report after report, full of hard researched recommendations that get ignored, and we get yet more destructive policies implemented instead.

Governments repeatedly choose "popular" solutions to get elected, not "working" solutions recommended by research/science/reports/etc to solve the problem. They have no accountability for the results, or incentive to solve them, because "tackling these problems" forms the basis of their next election platform. More and more it seems the "popular" solutions are being engineered by the media to maximize political and personal gain.

Income management

One things not recommended but implemented was Income Management. Half of every Aboriginal's welfare income would be quarantined into a special basics card that could only be used at certain shops to buy "priority items" like food and blankets. This would stop Aboriginals spending all their money on alcohol, drugs, and porn. They would spend money on essentials and learn how to manage their finances better. Families would become healthy and plan their long term future, children would go to school, crime would stop. The Aboriginal Problem would be fixed!

Except that there were a few problems.

First, it turns out that doing something as draconian as dictating where and how people can spend their money on the basis of their race is... well... racist. It turns out Australia has laws against that to meet International Conventions or something. You think that would be the end of it, but no. This was clearly such a brilliant idea to save Aboriginals that the Racial Discrimination Act had to be suspended. Think about that for a second.

Second, the whole concept is completely flawed. You can't teach people how to manage their finances by taking away their power to manage their finances. It's like teaching people to walk by handcuffing them into a wheelchair. The only lesson that this could possibly teach is; cash is for alcohol, drugs and porn, because the basics card can only buy food and blankets.

Third, the "Aboriginal Problem" that this was supposed to fix didn't really exist. Aboriginals were not all living on an exclusive diet of alcohol, drugs, and porn. The problems facing Aboriginal communities are not Aboriginal problems, they are poverty problems. Every community with similar levels of poverty, education, and dis-empowerment have these problems, whether they are Aboriginals in Alice Springs, or "white trash" living on Struggle Street in Sydney. There is a high level of alcohol abuse, but drugs are pretty rare, and I've never even heard of porn related problems. They are worse in big cities where there is more supply, but the more remote you go, the more the supply dries up, and many Aboriginals live really remote. Communities were already tackling the problems that did exist in their own ways with very good success. Many communities were "dry" with bans on alcohol. Women had created night patrols to enforce alcohol bans and defuse violence. Elders had started their own substance abuse programs. If you went to a remote Aboriginal community hoping to find an orgy of booze, drugs, and porn you would be sorely disappointed. Probably nearly as disappointed as the Federal Police sent to Aboriginal communities tasked with finding the organized crime rings distributing them. Treating every Aboriginal like they were hopeless alcoholic drug-addict porn-fiends who couldn't be trusted with their own money was just hugely insulting.

But it went ahead anyway, with some interesting knock-on effects.

Basic cards could only be used at large authorized stores like Coles, Target, and WoolWorths?. Unfortunately these shops don't exist on remote communities. The locally owned small shops were not equipped to accept basic card payments, and later various excuses were used to deny them access entirely.

This meant people often had to travel hundreds of kilometers into the big towns to use the other half of their welfare payments. This slowly encouraged people to move from their alcohol-free remote communities and permanently into the town-fringe drinking camps. This increased alcohol abuse, violence, crime, and incarceration rates.

Meanwhile, the locally owned small shops were isolated from half the communities welfare income. This, combined with the economically encouraged migration away from the remote communities hit them hard. Most of them have been slowly going broke ever since.

When it became embarrassing how useless the basics card was on remote communities, instead of giving local businesses access to basic cards, a new government owned and funded company Outback Stores was created to set up new shops on remote communities. These shops provided more competition for the small local shops on communities too small to justify another shop in the first place. With their exclusive basics-card access they could also charge significantly higher prices.

So income management became an economic weapon to kill off small businesses and force people off remote communities into big Towns. I'm not entirely sure that this was an accident. "Joining the mainstream" is something many people think is the solution, and having Aboriginals move into towns and closing remote communities is part of the plan. The problem is all the evidence says that Aboriginals are better off in remote communities than in big Towns.

So if Income Management is such a failure, what are they doing about it? Well, remember that pesky racial discrimination and international conventions thing? They are trying to fix that... by rolling out Income Management for everyone on welfare! (The Racial Descrimination Act was reinstated in 2010). It turns out that nearly everyone on welfare in the NT is Aboriginal anyway, so you don't need to explicit racism to apply it almost exclusively to Aboriginals.

Why are they so keen to push this Basics Card thing? Well, it turns out it's a pretty effective way to siphon public federal funds into Liberal Party members pockets;

Even if you warp your mind enough to think that the basic idea is sound, it didn't need to be implemented this way. How many people have corporate credit cards with limits applied to them on what they can be used to purchase? You can bet that corporations are not paying $10,000 per card for those.

My Dads Reply on 2015-12-21 --DonovanBaarda, Fri, 26 Jun 2020 10:23:47 +1000 reply

Hi Don,

Income Management initially was launched without the card. The card came later because the system was what is colloquially known in Australia as "a big root".

For example a person insisted they wanted fuel then unavailable at our local Outback Stores store (the third shop from the fifth column as I dubbed it back then) from their quarantined income. Centrelink in Yuendumu sent a fax overseas (Tasmania) to request this. Yuendumu Mining got three pages of fax from overseas... Page one telling us such and such (first name) was entitled to be supplied $40 worth of fuel. Page two reiterating a list of goodies we were NOT allowed to supply (including our bestselling line- pornography) If the person did not spend the $40 all at once we were supposed to keep the "client" in credit and this credit was not supposed to be used for... and here the whole list was repeated (just in case we hadn't understood in the first place).... Page 3 was a Bank Deposit slip.

The "client" wasn't even given the dignity of being a participant in the transaction (e.g. by requiring him or her to sign for it)

We (YMC) declined to apply for a licence to become an Income Management approved shop, partly because we didn't want our books or lack thereof to be scrutinised by the Government as they'd find something they could use to shut us down for bloody sure. Another reason was on principle. As we told the authorities when they were "rolling it out" - We are getting mixed messages and prefer to wait for Peter Yu's review (one year after the launch of the Intervention). In relation to Income Management the Yu report was unequivocal "Blanket Income Management shall cease" ... it then went on to appease the Government by mentioning under what rare circumstances IM would be acceptable and appropriate. It was the "blanket" bit they took issue with.

I'm told that Peter Yu was put under extreme pressure to "tone it down" and from memory some pre-toning down bits got out of the bag. I remember reading in an appendix to a huge FACSiaH? annual report that Peter Yu got something like $300K for his trials and tribulations. Peter Yu's was an excellent report that Jenny Macklin cherry picked... Sometimes I don't know why I bother (to let off steam I guess). Jack Waterford put it better than I can:

Or indeed, under the maternalistic reign of Jenny Kabbarli Macklin, the wise and all-knowing oracle able to reinterpret any evidence that did not suit her preconceptions?

I Googled Kabbarli, turns out to be the nickname (the name given to her by "the Aborigines") of "dying pillow" Daisy Bates.

Getting back to the Basic Card (now under some threat to be overshadowed by Twiggy's even more Basic idea). It is indeed an ill wind that blows no one any good. With iron ore at $40 a tonne Twiggy has gone quiet. One of the card's features was that accredited shop keepers could not tell if the card borne by anyone was really theirs, thus defeating one of the main purposes of the whole scheme. People in Alice Springs where even greater anonymity reigned than in places like Yuendumu, where known to go into a shop with a shopping list of say $200 worth of goods and outside the shop hand over these goods to a waiting white-fellow who paid $100 which could then be spent on grog.

So I guess it worked in as far as cutting back on grog consumption!

It all backfired though. Groups of young men that used to go to Alice Springs on drinking binges, relied on say a couple of their gang who were on unemployment benefits to provide the finances. When IM cut back their money, some of their gang who hadn't bothered to register for benefits suddenly needed to register until the fixed sum required for a drinking binge was reached. When I asked Eva ( our then 8? year old granddaughter) what she thought of Basic Card she said "It is good, you can get things with it!" The fact she was no longer able to purchase pornography didn't seem to bother her. And yes I just remembered- one little known fact is that as well as suspending the Racial Discrimination Act, certain aspects of Trade legislation to do with fair competition were also suspended. You should see the way they spell out requirements to comply with store legislation in the Stronger Futures Legislation.

People like someone I know reasonably well, are liable to be sent to Guantanamo Bay for not complying with store licensing requirements. The only reason they don't is they are defeating such people anyway and haven't got the guts to risk being exposed by the flames these people would go down in.

I wrote this before finishing to read what you wrote.

It's good and far more to the point than my "Ancient Mariner" spiel

Another Reply 2015-12-21 --DonovanBaarda, Fri, 26 Jun 2020 10:25:03 +1000 reply


I do like the way you've written this. Am wondering if it is worth mentioning the role of Tony Jones (ABC Lateline, at the time) who did so much to soften up the white population with reporting more of the standard of Andrew Bolt than I would have expected from the ABC. Chris Graham has done the best expose of this that I know of:

My response 2015-12-21 --DonovanBaarda, Fri, 26 Jun 2020 10:26:11 +1000 reply

Wow, thanks for the feedback. I feel I need to tweak and update it a bit, especially with that link pointing out the whole lateline story that triggered it all being completely fabricated... I didn't know all that.

Dad, how the hell did income management without the basics card work for coles/target/woolies in the early days? Did they have to do the special-fax-dance for every single purchase too? It sounds like the basics card also came after outback stores setup in Yuendumu. Did they have to do the fax-dance for every purchase too?

As for YMC becoming licensed to accept basic card payments, I bet if you applied they would have found reasons to block you. The social club have tried repeatedly without success. I found a brief mention of that in the following article that also shows that Outback Stores are hardly a paragon of virtue so far above the competition they deserve exclusive basic-card access;

Some updates... --DonovanBaarda, Fri, 26 Jun 2020 11:12:19 +1000 reply

The text above has been updated and expanded taking into account some of the comments and updated some of the links that were broken. In case it's not obvious, my Fathers comment about "our bestselling line- pornography" was sarcasm; The Yuendumum Mining Company has never sold pornography.

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