The Australian Government will continue comprehensive, compulsory income management as a key measure of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) because of its demonstrated benefits for women and children.
The Government will continue and strengthen the NTER to protect women and children, reduce alcohol-fuelled violence, promote personal responsibility and rebuild community norms in Northern Territory (NT) Indigenous communities.
Last week, the Government released the report of the independent Review of the NTER which found that the situation in remote NT communities and town camps remained sufficiently acute to be described as a national emergency.
For this reason, the current stabilisation phase of the NTER will continue for the next twelve months before transitioning to a long-term, development phase.
The Government accepts the three overarching recommendations of the Review Report.
The Government is determined to improve the safety and wellbeing of children in remote NT communities and make real in-roads towards closing the gap.
Achieving this will require careful transition from the first phase of the NTER.
Long-term success through the development of communities requires that key NTER measures are able to generate greater individual and community responsibility.
This means that long term measures cannot rely on the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA).
The development phase of the NTER will commence when increased levels of personal and community responsibility are demonstrated.
The development phase will maintain and strengthen core NTER measures including compulsory income management, five year leases, alcohol and pornography controls, while placing a greater emphasis on community development and community engagement.
The current comprehensive income management system will be extended for at least twelve months. We will design a compulsory income management policy which does not require the suspension of the RDA. This will involve consultation with Indigenous communities.
Legislative amendments to bring existing NTER legislation within the scope of the RDA will be introduced in the Spring Parliamentary session next year. The Government will respond in full to the Review Board's recommendations, including future funding arrangements, over the coming months.
On 13 October 2008 the Government released the report of the independent review of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER).
The Review Board concluded that the situation in remote Northern Territory (NT) communities and town camps remains sufficiently acute to be described as a national emergency and that the NTER should continue.
It also emphasised the need to improve engagement with Indigenous people in prescribed communities, to provide the basis for long term and sustainable change.
The Government's continuing support for the NTER stems from our obligation to protect children from violence, abuse and neglect and expand their life chances.
In partnership with the NT Government and Indigenous communities, we want to ensure Indigenous children are growing up in a safe community, living in a decent home, eating healthy food and are supported by a strong family.
They need better education and health services and must have more opportunities to get and keep a job. Each of these elements is integral to our wider Closing the Gap strategy on Indigenous disadvantage.
The NTER has been making important progress:
The Government is determined to keep moving forward.
The Review Board has made three overarching recommendations and the Government is responding to these today. This Response will underpin the Australian Government's full response to the report's detailed recommendations which will be made after further consideration of the review report.
The Government accepts each of these overarching recommendations and will act on them in progressing to the next phase of the NTER.
1. The Australian and Northern Territory Governments recognise as a matter of urgent national significance the continuing need to address the unacceptably high level of disadvantage and social dislocation experienced by remote communities and town camps in the Northern Territory.
The NTER will continue in recognition of the exceptional disadvantage and levels of violence and abuse against women and children in remote communities and town camps in the Northern Territory.
The Australian Government has also committed to closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and the next phase of the NTER will be aligned with this broader effort and measured against the Government's targets in health, life expectancy, education and employment.
2. Governments reset their relationship with Indigenous people based on genuine consultation, engagement and partnership.
Since gaining office, the Government has committed itself to re-establishing the relationship with Indigenous Australians based on the principles of mutual respect, cooperation and mutual responsibility.
The national apology, the first official business of the Government, was an important step in moving towards a new relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
The Government agrees that the NTER should be strengthened, made more sustainable and foster greater personal and community responsibility. There will be a greater emphasis on community development and engagement.
The issues facing remote NT Aboriginal communities are challenging and confronting, and the Government recognises that work also needs to happen within communities to renew local leadership and strengthen local relationships.
3. Government actions respect Australia's human rights obligations and conform with the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) 1975.
The Government takes the view that the NTER will not achieve robust long-term outcomes if measures do not conform with the RDA.
At the same time the Government is not prepared to disrupt current beneficial measures or place them at risk of legal challenge in the short term.
We will maintain the core elements of the NTER such as compulsory income management, the five-year leases, and alcohol and pornography controls. We will also strengthen them to ensure that they are either more clearly special measures or non-discriminatory. The revised measures will conform with the Racial Discrimination Act and will not involve suspension of the Act.
The Review Board's report demonstrates that the measures are largely beneficial to Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.
The Government is strongly committed to compulsory income management as a tool to reduce alcohol-related violence, protect children, guard against humbugging and promote personal responsibility.
The existing comprehensive compulsory income management measures are yielding vital benefits to Indigenous communities and many Indigenous people want them to continue.
The Government will immediately start to design a compulsory income management policy which does not require the suspension of the RDA. We will be developing the most robust system possible to protect women and children. We will not adopt a policy which compromises the benefits and protections for vulnerable people in communities secured through the current income management arrangements. The Government will consult with Indigenous communities in the development of this framework.
In the interim, the Government will continue comprehensive, compulsory income management for all welfare recipients in the communities subject to the existing arrangements.
We also recognise the critical need for controls on the supply of alcohol and pornography. Alcohol and pornography are destroying remote communities. Over the coming months we will work to refine these measures so they are more clearly special measures under the RDA.
Five-year leases are providing the foundation for better housing services which are crucial to the future viability and sustainability of remote communities. However, we recognise that this is Aboriginal-owned land and, as such, a reasonable rent is payable.
The original conception of the NTER was to progress from a first phase of stabilisation to a second phase of normalisation of services in communities.
Improving NTER measures to move to the next phase is a complex policy task that requires detailed consultation and technical work. The Government is committed to doing the job properly in conjunction with the NT Government and Aboriginal people. Achieving this will take time.
The Government intends to introduce legislation to lift the RDA suspension in the Spring 2009 sittings of the Parliament.
The commencement of this legislation will mark the beginning of the development phase of the NTER.
Between now and the commencement of the legislation, transitional arrangements will apply.
Our proposed transition period will have the following elements:
The Government will also legislate in the first half of 2009 to ensure people subject to the NT income management regime have access to the full range of appeal mechanisms afforded to other Australians, including through the Social Security Appeals Tribunal and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
Other immediate steps include:
The Government will respond in full to the Review Board's recommendations, including future funding arrangements, over the coming months.
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