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Aboriginal ghetto

On June 21 2007, the Australian Howard government launched an ‘Intervention’ into 73 Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory (NT) under the banner of addressing child abuse. These communities are known as ‘Prescribed Areas'. The measures implemented required the suspension of anti-discrimination legislation and constitute serious human rights violations according to the UN Declaration on Rights for Indigenous Peoples.

Mparntwe (Alice Springs) is the land of the Arrernte people. Under the 'Intervention', all 'prescribed' Aboriginal townships are compulsorily acquired through five year leases. These leases transfer administration of services from community organisations to government departments. However, despite chronic overcrowding in all communities, the construction of new housing is conditional upon signature to 40-99 year leases.

Central to the Intervention is the compulsory quarantining of all welfare recipients in prescribed areas. Fifty per cent of welfare is delivered in vouchers known as 'basic cards', to be used at particular outlets for particular items. The Government claims basic cards are facilitating greater fresh food access for Aboriginal families but a government report released in November 2009 indicated that rates of child malnutrition had increased by 17% since the Intervention.

Concerns have been raised by Aboriginal residents and human rights advocates about the disempowering nature of the Intervention. Announced under a state of emergency, the Intervention bypassed the fundamental process of consultation with affected communities. The negative psychological impact of the Intervention on Aboriginal people has been profound. Reported cases of attempted suicide and self harm in NT Aboriginal communities have risen by 86 per cent since 2006.