Chapter 1 - Introduction
The Review Board placed primary importance on establishing face-to-face dialogue with Aboriginal people and encouraging them to put forward their views on the NTER and its impact on their lives— both good and bad.
From 9 July to 25 August 2007 the Board visited 31 communities and met with representatives of 56 communities. In total the Board consulted with over 140 different organisations. A list of the Board's consultations appears in Appendix 6 and a summary of issues emerging from community consultations is at Appendix 7.
In selecting communities for consultations, the Board considered the location, size and type of communities (including outstations and town camps), as well as the degree to which NTER measures had been implemented.
Communities had different levels of preparedness for the Review. Some community members did not understand the role of the Review Board and initially thought it was part of the NTER.
The Board also met outstation residents and a number of outstation resource centres.
In addition to community consultations the Review Board consulted with key non-government organisations, sought public submissions and met with relevant Commonwealth and Northern Territory agencies.
Over 200 public submissions were received. A list of public submissions appears in Appendix 8.
In addition to written submissions, both Australian and Northern Territory Government agencies provided background briefing materials, data and specific information requested by the Board.
The Review Board also commissioned independent research in the following areas of interest:
- the fiscal relationship between the Australian and Northern Territory Governments
- demographics of Indigenous population and the implications for service delivery
- child and community safety within an Aboriginal context
- legal aspects of the NTER including the implications of exemptions from the Racial Discrimination Act 1975
- focus group research conducted in selected communities to further explore community perceptions of the impact of the NTER. The Board convened three formal meetings of the Expert Group. Members of the group generously provided their expertise and advice in response to the Board's requests. The Board was, however, independent of the Group and takes full responsibility for the content and recommendations contained in this report.
Lack of evidentiary material
While considerable quantitative and qualitative data is available in the key areas of health, housing, education, policing and employment in remote Territory communities, it was clear that little or no baseline data existed to specifically evaluate the impacts of the NTER.
The Board also found that at the time of the Review a number of measures, such as education initiatives, safe houses, policing, night patrols and child services, were yet to be implemented in many communities.
Apart from some initial scoping data, there was little evidence of baseline data being gathered in any formal or organised format which would permit an assessment of the impact and progress of the NTER upon communities. The lack of empirical data has proved to be a major problem for this Review and is an area that requires urgent attention.
- Government establish an authoritative database as a single integrated information system that enables regular measurement of outcomes of all government agency programs and services that target Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.
The Review Board was concerned to clearly identify the size and composition of the Indigenous population, particularly the number and age of children, targeted by the Intervention. This was critical to be able to assess its effectiveness and the future resources required to achieve its objectives.
In 2006 the ABS estimated the Indigenous population of the areas prescribed by the NTER to have been 44,229. According to research commissioned by the Review, this was projected to reach 45,654 by 2008. This is substantially higher than the 35,929 cited in the internal NTER planning documents. It raises questions about the adequacy of the demographic base that has informed the NTER roll-out.
As Table 1 shows, of this number (45,654) about 36 per cent (16,386) are children aged 0–15 years These children can be separated into different age groups relevant to the various aims of the NTER— almost 10 per cent of the prescribed area population are infants (4166), a further 5 per cent are of pre-school age (2408) and over 20 per cent are of compulsory school age (9811). Almost two-thirds of the population are adults (29,268), and just over half of these (15,998) are of prime working age. In line with continuing high adult mortality, people aged over 50 years are relatively few (5026).
|Target populations||Number||Per cent|
|6–15 (compulsory school age)||9,811||21.5|
|0–15 (child health checks)||16,386||35.9|
|10–20 (diversionary programs)||10,558||23.1|
|15–24 (school to work)||9,200||20.2|
|25–49 (working age)||15,998||35.0|
|Total prescribed areas||45,654||100.0|
Based on projection from 2006 ABS customised estimated resident population (ERP)
By 2021 the Indigenous population of prescribed areas is projected to reach 54,766, an increase of 9112 or 20 per cent.
Figure 1 shows the age distribution of this possible future population compared to the original population in 2006. It points to sustained growth at younger ages but with the greatest increase in numbers at older ages over 35 years.
Figure 1: Indigenous population distribution by age: prescribed areas of the Northern Territory 2006 and 2021
Table 2 shows what this means in terms of the likely future size of particular segments of the population. Comparison with Table 1 shows that the number of children will increase by over 1500 but that children as an overall share of the population will decline from 36 per cent to 33 per cent. Consequently, there will be more adults, especially people over 50 years of age.
|Target populations||Number||Per cent|
|6–15 (compulsory school age)||10,767||19.7|
|0–15 (child health checks)||17,942||32.8|
|10–20 (diversionary programs)||11,829||21.6|
|15–24 (school to work)||10,306||18.8|
|25–49 (working age)||19,697||36.0|
|Total prescribed areas||54,766||100.0|
Based on projection from 2006 ABS customised ERP
The changing settlement pattern
This scenario of growth in the population of prescribed areas is consistent with the experience of the past 20 years. Average annual growth of the Indigenous population living in non-urban parts of the Territory has not been far behind that recorded in urban centres. The Review Board is interested in the degree to which this growth in remote areas is itself leading to urban development in the form of emerging large population clusters, many of which are former mission and government settlements on Aboriginal land.
Medium and large settlements of 100 people or more have expanded substantially. At the same time, a number of places have declined in population and there has been a proliferation of very small family-based outstations many of which are only intermittently occupied. The overall effect, though, has been steady growth in situ with the emergence of a dispersed network of service centres.
Twenty years ago only three Aboriginal towns had a population of over 1000 people covering barely 12 per cent of the Territory's remote area Aboriginal population. There are now 10 such towns covering more than one quarter of the prescribed area population with four more settlements soon to reach this figure.
The continuing growth of Aboriginal towns represents a major shift in the kind of places where most people actually live. There is a great deal of mobility between urban centres, Aboriginal towns and very much smaller outstations. This creates a demand for more effective pathways of service delivery and more sophisticated ways of linking outstations to larger population centres. Overall it provides the demographic setting that will shape the future opportunities for local and regional development.
Since the commencement of the NTER there has been considerable public attention to Aboriginal population movement from remote communities into Darwin, Alice Springs, Katherine and other regional centres. A number of submissions commented on this subject suggesting that alcohol restrictions on prescribed lands and issues relating to income management were prime reasons for a heightened level of temporary residence in towns. Demographic research undertaken on behalf of the Board along with the outcomes of a Northern Territory Government study of specific indicators did not support the widely held perception that the NTER is driving large numbers of Aboriginal people into urban centres on a permanent basis. However, anecdotal evidence does suggest that there have been increased mobility patterns on a temporary basis between usual places of residence and regional centres.
Two papers prepared for the Review Board on the demography of prescribed areas and the roll-out of the NTER measures are in Appendix 9 and 10, respectively.
Just as it is imperative to identify the demographic setting of the NTER, so it is essential to identify the social and cultural context of remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.
The size of the Aboriginal land estate in the Northern Territory is unequalled in Australia: it comprises 45 per cent of the land and forms 80 per cent of the coastline; 70 per cent of Aboriginal people in the Territory live on Aboriginal titled land. The proportion of Indigenous to non- Indigenous people is unparalleled: 30.4 per cent of the total Territory population is Aboriginal. Outside Darwin, Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek—beyond the suburbs—75.6 per cent of the population is Aboriginal.
The mother tongue for most people is an Aboriginal language. Many people speak several Aboriginal languages before they learn English. Cultural and social practices continue to be overwhelmingly informed by traditions that predate European occupation and the birth of the Australian state.
The term 'Aboriginal community' can be misleading. It can belie the actual size of the towns it is applied to. It can also gloss over the social and cultural complexity of places that variously evolved from mission stations, ration depots and Welfare Department settlements.
There has been a major displacement of Aboriginal people to settlements and urban fringes over the past century as a result of assimilation policies and changes in the pastoral industry. A substantial proportion of Aboriginal people do not live on their traditional country; they are living on the traditional country of others. Traditional owners are often a minority on their own land.
The particular history, the various groups of Aboriginal people within a community, their distinct and shared languages and law, the traditional ownership of the underlying land—all these factors contribute to the social dynamics of any individual Aboriginal community. It is unique and specific to every place.
The different and convergent interests of men and women, old people and young people, who can speak about what, what can be spoken of in front of whom, what is private and what is public—all these elements are at play in any community consultation. Or they may ensure that, whatever is said, nothing is said. An observer from the outside, like so many government officials who earnestly come to consult, may be entirely misled by the apparent outcomes.
As stated in the Review Board's terms of reference, it is 'the Government's intention that Indigenous interests be engaged to ensure effective policy development and implementation processes, and that policy and program measures to be adopted or endorsed by the Government give primacy to the interests of families and children'.
If that intention is to be fulfilled then engagement with Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory must start with effective communication, based on a real understanding and appreciation of the cultural setting in which that engagement is sought.