Aboriginal organisations from across the Northern Territory have launched their own remote employment scheme, which they say should replace the Federal Government’s “racially discriminatory” work-for-the-dole program.
The current Community Development Programme (CDP) covers about 35,000 people across Australia and most participants are Indigenous.
Under the scheme, people must spend 25 hours over five days a week on “work-like” activities to get their unemployment benefits and are fined for being late or failing to show up.
Speaking outside Parliament House in Canberra, the alliance said the scheme was impractical in remote communities, where the job market was poor.
It said the “community-driven” plan would end the harsh penalty regime under CDP.
“We call on the current government to scrap it, get rid of it and work with the Aboriginal leadership,” Aboriginal Peak Organisations NT (APONT) chief executive John Paterson said.
“Not next week, not next month, not next year but right now because Aboriginal people, Aboriginal communities, Aboriginal families are hurting, and I mean seriously hurting.”
The APONT alliance includes the Northern and Central Land Councils, Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service, North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency and Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT.
The group’s proposed Remote Development Employment Scheme includes a jobs fund, which would allow local Indigenous organisations to employ people in part-time work on community projects.
According to APONT, the new scheme would create 10,500 part-time jobs — 30 per cent of CDP’s current caseload — as a “starting point”.
The jobs would go to people who are currently receiving social security payments below the minimum wage.
A spokesperson for the Indigenous Affairs Minister said Nigel Scullion “has already stated his intention to move to a wages-based scheme” and consultations about new model have begun.
Senate committee also considering effectiveness of programme
APONT’s launch coincided with a Senate committee hearing looking at the appropriateness and effectiveness of the CDP in remote communities.
Yuendumu’s Centrelink acting Site Manager and Community and Public Sector Union representative, Brook Holloway, told the inquiry police had reported increasing crime rates because of the penalty regime.
“I remember one police officer telling me, thank God you’re here, can you turn the money back on?” Mr Holloway said.
“He was sick of the DV call-outs and the break and enters. If you take away someone’s basic right, their food their money, someone’s going to find a way to get it.
“It doesn’t matter if you live in St Kilda or you live in Warlpiri country, you take someone’s money away from them, they’ll find a way to survive.”
Mr Holloway also said many CDP providers have not used interpreters.
“You could ask anyone that’s been to one of the CDP providers and ask them what’s in their job plan and they’ll tell you that they don’t know.”
“And that’s purely because they’ve had no access to interpreters while negotiating these contracts.”
Earlier this year during Senate estimates, the Prime Minister’s department confirmed 54,997 penalty notices had been issued from July 1 to September 30 last year.
More than 200,000 breach notices had been handed out since CDP began in July 2015.