Saturday, 1 May 2010

The Intervention

Imagine an estate where unemployment is the norm, poverty, alcohol and drug addiction are rife. Child neglect and truancy are common and then a case of child abuse is discovered. The government acts.

Benefits are no longer paid in cash, instead a Basics card is issued that can only be used for groceries and other basic needs. Alcohol is banned (unless you have a permit, which is difficult to obtain). and residents are searched whenever they enter the estate. They are limited to visiting a pub between 4.30pm and 7.30pm, four days a week, when they are not permitted to drink more than six bottles of beer. Pornography is declared illegal. In order to implement these rules the Human Rights Act has to be suspended.

Sounds draconian. Sounds like the kind of thing a government would never get away with? Well they do in Australia; but only in the Northern Territory and only in indigenous communities.

The programme is called the intervention and I’m about to visit one of the communities affected: Bathurst Island, one of the Tiwi Islands in the far north of Australia.

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