In 2007, in response to a report on child abuse in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, the Australian Government implemented the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), which became known as the Northern Territory Intervention.

The stated goals of the Intervention were to ensure the protection of women and children through a range of measures like restriction of alcohol, more police in communities and quarantining of welfare payments.

But in order to implement the Intervention, the Government suspended the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act, removing any legal protections Aboriginal peoples in the NT had against racial discrimination.

Human rights are inalienable, indivisible and interconnected. That means that while governments have an obligation to prioritise the vulnerable groups, they can’t pick and choose which rights to protect or uphold some rights at the expense of others.

While more police and more money for services are seen as positive benefits for Aboriginal peoples, the Intervention made fundamental procedural errors.

No consultation

The Intervention was implemented without consent or consultation with affected communities, including women and children. Importantly, this is in direct conflict with the first and overarching recommendation of the Little Children are Sacred report, whose findings prompted the Government’s response.

Discriminatory mesaures

Many of the Intervention measures were and remain discriminatory. They applied only Aboriginal people in the 73 prescribed communities in the Northern Territory. Measures like income management applied solely based on race, not based on need or other characteristics.

No evaluation framework

The Intervention was also introduced without an evaluation framework, without baseline measurements of the major population characteristics, and without any control group that would allow causal impact of measures to be assessed.

As a result, there is simply not enough data to assess whether many of the measures are having an impact on child abuse and neglect in the Northern Territory and whether it serves to build strong, resilient and safe communities.

When held up to international human rights standards, the evidence is inadequate. In no way does it justify the punitive measures that discriminate directly or indirectly on the basis of race.

Special measures

In June 2010, the Australian Government re-introduced the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act in the Northern Territory. But many of the discriminatory measures have continued because they’ve been defined as ‘special measures’ in the legislation. Find out more about Special Measures and why the NTER measures don’t stack up to international standards.

  • In 2009, Amnesty International’s Secretary General Irene Khan visited remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. Read about her impressions.

Futher reading:

Amnesty International reports and submissions on the NTER: