An Australian government programme that imposes restrictions on Aboriginies in an attempt to stamp out sexual abuse of children in remote outback towns has been branded racist and ineffective by the United Nations.
In an advance copy of a report to be released next week, James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on indigenous human rights, expressed grave concerns over the controversial Northern Territory initiative known as “the intervention”.
Mr Anaya found the policy, which was implemented by the previous conservative administration, was incompatible with Australia’s human rights obligations and must be urgently changed.
In 2007 John Howard, the former prime minister, suspended the country’s Racial Discrimination Act in the Northern Territory to enable his government to send troops and police into more than 70 Aboriginal townships to help curb sex abuse and domestic violence fuelled by “rivers of grog”.
The policy included compulsory income management and banned the sale of alcohol and pornography to Aboriginies.
However, many residents of the townships affected by the policy complained bitterly that the new laws stripped them of basic human rights and were discriminatory because they did not apply to Australians of other races.
After touring Aboriginal communities for 12 days last year, Mr Anaya agreed, concluding that the tough new rules had not improved the lives of indigenous Australians.
“The measures specifically target indigenous people and impair certain rights and freedoms,” he said. “It does impair self-determination of Aboriginal communities, their ability to make certain choices about how their communities are run.”
Mr Anaya said there was only limited evidence that the programme had benefited the isolated and impoverished communities it aimed to help.
“With regard to the ban on alcohol, for example, the evidence that I have seen is that there has been an increase in alcohol consumption, alcohol-related problems,” he said.
“I don’t speculate why; my point is there is no evidence that the bans have helped.”
Aborigines make up about 2 per cent of Australia’s population of 22 million and are the country’s poorest, unhealthiest and most disadvantaged minority.
Successive governments have spent billions of dollars on community programs, housing and education reforms over the past few decades, but living conditions and education levels for the nation’s original inhabitants remain abysmal and the average life expectancy for an Aboriginine is 17 years lower than the rest of the country.
Kevin Rudd, the current prime minister, has refused to scrap the controversial policy, but will introduce new rules for income management in July that will not discriminate based on race.
Jessica Walker, spokesman for Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin, said the Racial Discrimination Act would also be reinstated.
Mr Anaya will present his report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in September. Australia will be given the opportunity to formally respond then.