Government should end discrimination in remote program, not make it worse

Government should end discrimination in remote program, not make it worse

People in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities struggling under the Australian Government’s racially discriminatory remote work-for-the-dole program would be left with less money to survive if a Bill before Parliament passes.

Aboriginal Peak Organisations NT, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and the Human Rights Law Centre have called on the Australian Parliament to reject the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Community Development Program) Bill 2018 currently before the Senate.

The Bill would impose a new penalty system called the ‘Targeted Compliance Framework’ onto remote communities already subject to the Government’s remote Community Development Program (CDP).

One of the most alarming parts of the Targeted Compliance Framework would see vulnerable people cycling through 1, 2 and 4 week no-payment penalties, with little avenue to escape and no option for waivers, no matter how much debt, hunger or pain this causes.

Rod Little, Co-Chair of National Congress, urged Parliament not to pass a Bill that will make life harder for many people already struggling to make ends meet in remote communities and will cost government money in other areas.

“The punitive approaches applied under programs like CDP are only exacerbating poverty in remote communities and obstructing progress on Closing the Gap targets. National Congress strongly urges the government to reform the CDP in collaboration with First Peoples, rather than dumping a one-size-fits-all penalty system on remote communities,” said Mr Little.

The Government has tied an offer to provide 6,000 job subsidies to the introduction of the penalty system into remote areas. Those who get a subsidised job would be excluded.

John Paterson, spokesperson for Aboriginal Peak Organisations NT, said that while subsidies for new jobs was a step in the right direction, the Government’s proposal falls far short of the alternative model – Fair Work and Strong Communities – that was handed to the Government by Aboriginal organisations in 2017.

“This attempt to offer small job subsidies in one hand, while forcing a harsh new penalty system on remote communities in the other, shows again that the Australian Government does not want to listen.”

“Aboriginal people want to take up the reins and drive community development. Our proposal for a new model for fair work and strong remote communities is sitting on the Government’s desk but being ignored,” said Mr Paterson.

CDP workers currently have to work up to 500 hours more per year than those covered by the non-remote ‘Jobactive’ program. As a result people under CDP are struggling to keep up and are having payments docked at 25 times the rate of Jobactive participants.

Adrianne Walters, senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said that it was unjust and unnecessary for the Government to make its subsidised jobs proposal conditional on the introduction of a penalty system that will see many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people suffer.

“CDP already subjects remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to the indignity of having to work more for less. If the Bill passes, thousands of women, men and children will be left without money for food, fuel, rent and other basic necessities for up to four weeks no matter how dire their situation,” said Walters.

The Targeted Compliance Framework commenced operation in non-remote areas in July 2018, but the Government initially excluded CDP regions in recognition of their unique labour market conditions.

For interview:
Michelle Bennett, director of communication, 0419 100 519