Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people denied basic rights through Federal Government program

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities are being denied basic rights, equal treatment and fair payment for work as a result of Federal Government policy, the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) and the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) told a Senate inquiry.

In separate submissions to a Senate Committee examining the appropriateness and effectiveness of the Government’s Community Development Programme (CDP), both organisations have highlighted the inherent discrimination of the social security program.

Depending on a person’s age, CDP can require people to work up to 500 or 760 more hours over the course of a year than people in job seeking programs in non-remote areas. Over 80 per cent of people covered by CDP are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Harley Dannatt, Senior Lawyer at NAAJA, said, “CDP is not fair. If you live in a remote Aboriginal community, you can be doing three times more work for the same amount of money as someone living in town.”

Adrianne Walters, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said, “The Government has targeted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities with this program, which, over the course of a year, sees people paid substantially less per hour than participants in non-Indigenous majority urban areas. By anyone’s account this looks very much like a racially discriminatory government program.”

The Federal Government introduced the Community Development Programme into remote communities on 1 July 2015. A sharp increase in financial penalties followed.

“Every week people in remote communities are approaching our lawyers about this program. People have told us about not being able to do everything that the government demands of them, about having payments cut for 8 weeks and about the hardship this causes their children and families,” said Mr Dannatt.

The Federal Government’s data indicates that people in this program are around 20 times more likely to be financially penalised as those under the non-remote job seeker program.

“The cultural, language and health barriers Aboriginal people in remote communities face accessing support and services are well known. Taken with all the extra obligations under the program, it should come as no surprise to the Government that Aboriginal people in remote communities are being unfairly and disproportionately penalised and left vulnerable,” added Ms Walters.

NAAJA and HRLC have both said that CDP is a missed opportunity to address one of the key drivers of unemployment in remote communities – the lack of jobs. Both organisations support an alternative model developed by the Aboriginal Peak Organisations NT, of which NAAJA is a member.

“Money is being poured into a program that is strangling opportunities for community-led employment creation and community development and seeing families go hungry and young people disengage,” said Ms Walters.

“People want to work and they want to be employed to work, rather than receiving below minimum wage payments through this discriminatory program. The Federal Government needs to listen to and work with Aboriginal people in remote communities and Aboriginal organisations like APONT, to create long term jobs. Penalising people and cutting incomes won’t achieve this,” added Mr Dannatt.

A copy of NAAJA’s submission can be read here.

A copy of HRLC’s submission can be read here.

For further information contact:

Michelle Bennett, Human Rights Law Centre: 0419 100 519