Remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities struggling under the Australian Government’s racially discriminatory remote work for the dole program would be worse off under a proposed new penalty system, a Senate Committee inquiry has been told.
The Aboriginal Peak Organisations NT, the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency and the Human Rights Law Centre were among a number of organisations urging a Senate Committee to reject the Government’s attempt to expand the ‘Targeted Compliance Framework’ from urban areas into remote communities subject to the Government’s remote Community Development Program (CDP).
Jamie Ahfat, a community leader in the Northern Territory, told the Committee that CDP is making life a lot harder for people in remote communities.
“I’ve been doing CDP since 2016. I always wanted to get a proper job and not be on Centrelink but there are no jobs up here.”
“I’ve always tried to do the right thing in the CPD, but despite this there have been times when I’ve been penalised. There was one time when I had to rush to Darwin to help my mum who had cancer. Because I didn’t tell them, I was penalised and dollars were taken from my pay.”
“The system is discriminatory, it’s unfair that we have to do twice as many hours of activities as people in the cities. The CDP is also confusing, things aren’t properly explained to us, it’s hard to see the point. The activities don’t help us get jobs,” said Mr Ahfat.
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, no matter how much debt, hunger or pain they cause – waivers would not be available.
The Government has included an offer to provide 6,000 job subsidies to the introduction of the harsh penalty system into remote areas. Those who get a subsidised job would be excluded from the penalty system.
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 force a harsh new penalty system on remote communities shows again that the Australian Government does not want to listen. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want to take up the reins and drive job creation and community development. Our proposal for a new model for fair conditions of 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. The scheme also imposes onerous daily requirements. As a result people under CDP are struggling to keep up and are having payments docked at 25 times the rate of Jobactive participants.
David Woodroffe, Principal Legal Officer of the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, said that for years Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations have been dealing with the damage wrought by the Government’s program.
“Rather than adding more penalties there is a real need to address the factors that are driving high penalty rates already, such as barriers to accessing supports for vulnerable people and more onerous work obligations,” said Mr Woodroffe.
Adrianne Walters, senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said that it was unjust and unnecessary for the Government to effectively make its offer to subsidise jobs 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 Government gets its way, parents will be left without money for food, fuel, rent and other basic necessities for four weeks no matter how dire their situation,” said Walters.
Michelle Bennett, director of communication, Human Rights Law Centre: 0419 100 519