An Amnesty International report entitled, ‘The land holds us: Aboriginal Peoples right to traditional homelands in the Northern Territory’, published in early August, has urged the Federal and Northern Territory governments to place a greater funding emphasis on Indigenous homeland communities.
The report by the human rights organisation alleges current government policies are forcing Indigenous people from traditional homelands into ‘hub towns’, where the governments are concentrating their spending. Amnesty International contends that the Territory and Commonwealth governments have focussed on 21 ‘hub towns’, home to 24 per cent of Aboriginals, at the expense of remote communities, which include 35 per cent of the Northern Territory Indigenous population. During 2010-2011, communities received $7 million for projects, compared with $722 million allocated to towns in the territory. The egregious disparity of funding contradicts current research findings that suggest Indigenous communities foster greater health and social benefits than larger, more urban environments.
Amnesty’s study profiled the Central Australian communities of the Utopia region, 260 kilometres northeast of Alice Springs, home to the Alyawarr and Anmatyerr people. The organisation concluded that far from the image the name suggests, Utopia communities were closer to third world slums. There is a severe lack of government funding and this creates restrictions on health, housing and education services. A 2008, Medical Journal of Australia study, however, found that Utopia residents were healthier than other sectors of the Indigenous population; Amnesty noted the limited access to alcohol in the Utopia region.
The ‘Land Holds Us’ publication, came only a few days after a scathing internal government report, which found failures by successive governments and projects that have ‘yielded dismally poor returns to date’. That report, authored by senior bureaucrat, Neil Johnstone, recommended: enhanced professionalism and accountability of public servants in delivering projects; developing a greater ‘on the ground presence’; and reducing the ‘silo’ approach to government services by streamlining projects.
Although Mr Johnstone’s critique of the failures of governmental approaches to Indigenous issues are valid, the recommendations he proposes are hardly novel. State, Territory and Commonwealth governments must accept that Aboriginal people cannot be redesigned and moulded to fit government policy. Continued attempts to do this will produce problems for governments, and are inconsistent with the objectives of the ‘Closing the Gap’ Strategy. Consultation and local involvement in projects remain paramount in tackling Indigenous marginalisation; community ownership of programmes will promote accountability and foster entrepreneurialism. Dialogue will be the crucial influence to ‘close the gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Northern Australia and Energy Security Research Programmes