A leading Melbourne University health expert says one of the main benefits of the NT Intervention has been getting Indigenous health back on the agenda as a major social justice issue in Australia.
Professor Hugh Taylor, who is Harold Mitchell Chair of Indigenous Eye Health at the University of Melbourne, began working alongside Fred Hollows in the seventies, and has for 30 years been striving to eradicate trachoma, a treatable eye disease causing blindness which disproportionately affects Indigenous Australians.
He was present in a NT Aboriginal community two years ago when the first army support teams arrived, and had a chance to observe initial contact. Although impressed with the way members of the team handled themselves, he says some of their initiatives sought to address needs that had been identified for years, such as housing, community halls and recreation facilities, women’s refuges and an ongoing police presence.
Professor Taylor says if these things are actually delivered through the Intervention, it will make a huge difference, although some of the things that have happened are "less impressive than others".
"In one community I went to, all the houses had been painted on the outside, they look terrific, but nothing has been done inside. They’re terrible. So there are some things that you have to question. But it takes time to build houses, rebuild schools and community services; and it also takes money. I think that’s starting, but it has a long, long way to go.
"The worst feature (of the intervention) to my mind - was the absolute crushing and destruction of the Aboriginal leadership. Anybody who had been working in Aboriginal affairs was basically wiped off by the government ... People were grieving, mourning not only the impact of the intervention, but the destruction of the Aboriginal leadership and processes, and people were just totally undermined. So that was a very bad thing to happen, and it should not have happened."
Professor Taylor says although some people are ideologically and philosophically against the practice of quarantining welfare payments (for food and essentials only), there have been some striking results.
"Some of the vocal people are against it because they want the money to spend on alcohol or on gambling ... a huge amount of money changes hands in these communities through card games.
"But the impression I get from speaking to people in the communities is that things are much quieter, there is much less problem from alcohol and noise at night ... much less humbugging for money. Kids are better nourished, and there is a huge change in the range of food and vegetables you can see in the stores."