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Indigenous Affairs Minister defends extra requirements for work-for-the-dole scheme in remote communities

By October 11, 2018 No Comments


October 10, 2018 15:03:59

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has defended the extra requirements in the remote work-for-the-dole scheme, saying communities have told him they do not want the same conditions that are placed on their city-based counterparts.

Key points:

  • Extra requirements for CDP participants in remote communities have been labelled “too rigid” by a remote community
  • But they were defended by the Indigenous Affairs Minister
  • A senate committee examining proposed changes is due to report tomorrow

But the community the Senator was visiting when he made the comments said the program was “too rigid”, and that the Government’s proposed changes do not go far enough.

A bill that would amend parts of the remote work-for-the-dole scheme or Community Development Program (CPD) is currently before the Senate.

All of the submissions made to a senate committee examining the bill, which is due to report on Thursday, raise concerns about the proposed changes.

In addition to funding for new wage subsidies, the changes would introduce a new penalty framework, and bring the number of hours remote job-seekers are required to work each week down from 25 to 20.

But remote participants would still be required to work each week day, year round, instead of the requirement in non-remote areas of 15 hours a week for six months.

Critics say that makes the scheme discriminatory but on a visit to CDP provider the Arnhem Land Progress Association (ALPA) in Ramingining on Tuesday, Senator Scullion said the city-based conditions would not work in a remote context.

“They have said ‘don’t make us shame by pretending to look for a job here six months of the year every day’, which is actually what the requirement is in non-remote areas,” he said.

“The difference is that in Brisbane you have to spend half your year looking for work — it’s pretty tough in places like Yuendumu and Ramingining to go door-knocking on both businesses, the entire population.

“They’ve said, ‘what we want to do is we want this all the time, we don’t want sit down money’ and that’s exactly what we’re providing.”

But ALPA’s submission to the senate committee said that while its board directors “abhor passive welfare”, key features of the CDP that the Government did not plan to change were “too rigid and prescriptive”.

Removing the mandatory daily participation requirement while maintaining mutual obligation would significantly address the problem, ALPA’s submission to the committee said.

“If participants were enabled to take responsibility to self-manage their participation by flexing up and down their hours over a fortnightly calendar in line with their other responsibilities, they would have an increased sense of control over their life,” the submission said.

“The board feel strongly that the less control that community members have over their lives the worse the situation is becoming in our region.”

Concerns raised about program

Most of the submissions to the senate committee are critical of the Government’s plan to expand to remote areas the Targeted Compliance Framework (TCF), which was introduced in the mainstream work-for-the dole program in July.

The government says the TCF will remove penalties for one-off breaches and focus instead on people who are “persistently and wilfully non-compliant”.

Currently CDP participants can be fined about $50 a day for missing activities — which has seen some participants in Ramingining and Milingimbi fined at least $650 a year, according to data obtained by the ABC.

The Government said the overwhelmingly majority of eight-week breaches were either fully or partly-waived.

But many submissions raised concerns about the removal of the ability to have serious penalties waived under the TCF, including the submission from the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.

“[That means] that participants who have their payments suspended for, for instance, four weeks, will not be paid even if they choose to resume working two weeks into the penalty period,” Congress’ submission reads.

Senator Scullion said that was not the case.

“It won’t be Centrelink anymore, you won’t be on the phone to Centrelink from Ramingining,” he said.

“The local provider will be making decisions and using their discretion instead of somebody who lives in Darwin, and the same levels of discretion that exist now, instead of going through Centrelink, will be available through the local provider.”

The Government’s online explainer about the TCF says: “Waivers are not permitted under the new framework, ensuring it is a real and consistently applied deterrent.”

In its submission to the committee, east Arnhem Land CDP provider Miwatj Employment and Participation said the new bill will do more harm than good and “scuttles a genuine opportunity for tangible positive change to the program”.

The Aboriginal Peak Organisations of the Northern Territory, which has proposed a new remote employment scheme, said in its submission: “We are telling you that we have not been asked for our view in relation to this [bill] and we do not consent to its passage.”

Funding for job providers

The purpose of Senator Scullion’s trip to Ramingining was to announce a new initiative under the CDP that will fund job providers to help participants start small businesses.

ALPA will host the first of four trial CDP Business Incubators and received $500,000 to launch the scheme.

Senator Scullion said the money could be used to provide business coaching, administrative services, workplaces and business equipment.

Ramingining resident Justin Gaykamangu said he hoped to open a gym in the community, but had struggled to finance insurance.

“Sometimes I do bootcamp at the oval for football teams, and sometimes I have sick people asking me to train them,” he said.

“My dream is to make Ramingining healthy by doing fitness.”

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First posted

October 10, 2018 13:04:47

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