Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Looking back at the Howard Brough Intervention after ten years - what was achieved?

In a comment, Jim Kable reminded me that it was ten years since the Howard Brough Intervention in remote Aboriginal communities and of the posts I had written at the time. These are listed below.

In writing, I tried to be objective, examining the issues within a framework set by my knowledge and experience. That included a discussion of the problems involved in bringing about real change.

Looking at the posts now from a ten year perspective, I wonder just what was achieved?  What positive results came from the whole thing?

This is a genuine question because I am hard pressed to think of any.

The Posts

Some of the posts that I wrote at the time are listed below:


Anonymous said...

Maybe a child or six born without foetal alcohol syndrome.


Jim Belshaw said...

That's possible, M, and should be measurable recognising the difficulties involved in evaluation, including the question of what would have happened in any case.

Anonymous said...


A greater mistrust of white people. A few women not bashed as much. A few women bashed more. A growing resentment by aborigines in other States who see the Intervention as evidence of treating ALL aborigines as second class citizens. Support by women ON the lands who are grateful for a bit of peace. Fewer STDs. Fewer incidents of child molestation. Polarisation - many aborigines think the communities should be supported more (more health workers police teachers maintenance workers research/retention of languages) and many whites increasingly think the communities are bad places for people to live and should be shut down.


Anonymous said...

Jim, I re-read each of your earlier posts, together with the comments attached, and would like to highlight a couple of things. These are just thoughts, with no definite aim in mind, other than I found them interesting.

1) Early in your posts there was a discussion between yourself and 'Anon' about his concept of the indivisibility and non-hierarchical nature of "human rights". I shared your confusion with that concept.

2) Mr Brough's past life as an Army officer was touched on only briefly, but I felt, and still do, that his background very much informed his 'execution' of the NTER - for both better and worse.

3) The NTER seems to have morphed into the 'Bridging the Gap' then 'Stronger Futures'? Perhaps I'm wrong, but the one seems subsumed in the next, and so on. And I'm not sure it's evident that the original intervention took place against a defined set of outcomes against which 'progress' or 'success' could be measured, but it appears that vague measures of education, health, housing, crime rates, and alcohol consumption would suggest we are 'failing'? I guess proponents would maintain the present situation would be so much worse, but that viewpoint is not easily measurable.

4) A wider issue, but one I've always thought would be of great benefit in any assessment and monitoring of any government initiative is an addition to our democracy of a "council of elders". I don't mean that in the sense of Aboriginal elders - more in the sense of a non-partisan group of senior, retired, members perhaps of the legal, military, political and business community who might be charged with an independent review power for the benefit of our society. Sort of like having a dozen Governors General sitting over (or off to one side of) the too-often blatantly partisan approach of our present political system. But it'll never happen :)

I'll be very interested to read your own review - that is, I'm assuming/hoping you have the time to engage with this further.


Jim Belshaw said...

That's not a bad list, M. I think it draws out some of the issues and complexities.

kvd, I will look at the question of my own update, if somewhat reluctantly. You are right that the NTER morphed into other policies. Here I need to check some dates. I was writing on Aboriginal policy earlier, but first started working in the NSW policy space in December 2008 and then again from December 2011.

I have been very cautious about writing on the Northern Australian experience because I just don't know the detail of the on-ground position. I think M's comments draw out the complexities.

Sadly, its not easy to go back to the Intervention and look at the main documents to see what people hoped to achieve. I read them and linked to them, but then we had a change in Government and they all went off line. I would agree that the outcomes were not thought through.

I do know that many of the issues in some ways disappeared from the policy space or at least morphed in form. In some ways, the cashless welfare card seems to be the only obvious continuance.