NT Intervention: Let's Try That In Sydney


newmatilda.com has set out to test the Northern Territory Emergency Response (the Intervention) in an urban environment.

Over the coming fortnight newmatilda.com journalist Scott Mitchell will be going gonzo to find out what it’s like to have half your income "quarantined" by the government (or in this case, the newmatilda.com Department of Social Intervention). We’ll be publishing Scott’s daily diary over the next week.

Income quarantining is one of the Intervention’s most controversial and least popular measures. The NTER Review Board, which reported to Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin last October, found that the compulsory nature of the quarantining had caused widespread anger, confusion and disillusionment. 

They wrote:

"Income management has had a direct and profound impact on the lives of over 13,300 individuals… living in 53 communities within prescribed areas and in 46 town camps located in major centres."

"The people to whom the scheme applies were not consulted nor did they consent to the income management regime before or during its rollout."

In the board’s final report, it was reccomended that the compulsory income quarantining measure be scrapped. Macklin rejected the recommendation.

The conditions Scott will be living under are broadly designed to reflect the financial and practical restrictions imposed on someone living in a Town Camp outside of Alice Springs. Of course, we haven’t been able to replicate these conditions exactly, nor, it should be emphasised, are we attempting to replicate social conditions. We are not seeking to imitate or investigate the experience of racism, genuine poverty or inter-generational social marginalisation.

As Scott explains in his first diary entry today:
"It won’t be a patronising vacation into ‘hardship’ to ‘understand’ people in the Northern Territory. It’s about putting a white middle-class kid under these restrictions — someone who the Government would never do this to — to see just how much it imposes on
my freedom and lifestyle."

The restrictions Scott will be living under include:

His income will be $460 in total for the full fortnight,
with $100 of that taken for rent, $30 for child support and another $30 for
government repayments or fines.

Half of his fortnightly income will be quarantined with a
local supermarket in Newtown
and this cannot be spent on cigarettes, alcohol, porn or gambling.

A large sign will be placed on the front of his house that reads
"Prescribed Area: No Liquor".

He is not allowed to drink alcohol (or use porn) within his
local area (Newtown).

He is not allowed to catch the bus, only the train. This is
because most Town Camps are not well serviced by public transport, meaning residents
have to walk a considerable distance to the nearest bus stop. Scott’s residence
is more than a kilometre from the nearest train station.

He is not allowed to use the internet at home, only in a net
café, and has to use a public phone box to make calls.

A few bureaucratic mishaps and administrative errors, similar to those that occur regularly under the Intervention, may also offer some interesting scenarios…  Good luck Scott!


Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.