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CDEP in the NT

I will largely focus my comments on the Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment (2008 Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2009 and then touch very briefly on the Family Assistance Amendment (Further 2008 Budget Measures) Bill 2009. As Senator Scullion articulated, this bill has three schedules. I have little comment on the first schedule other than to say that I agree that very few people will be affected by these measures and the Greens have no objections to them. Schedule 2 relates to the provision of some appeal mechanisms which, quite frankly, make it look as if the government are doing something but in reality do not really affect the lives of people in the NT because most of the decisions that affect people in the NT under the NT intervention are not appealable under this provision. So, while it looks as if the government are providing a mechanism and responding to people's needs in the Northern Territory, they in fact are not. Under the intervention, one of the areas that people are particularly concerned with and would want to appeal on is compulsory income quarantining. The two avenues about which people are concerned and may want to appeal on are in fact not appealable.

One of them is the declaration of prescribed areas. Under the act, nobody can appeal that. The minister has to take into account certain factors but, regardless of that, if an area is declared, people in that area cannot appeal it. The second area is about being in a prescribed area and being subject to the income quarantine measures. Again, people are not able to appeal that decision. There are a very small amount of exemptions if you were in an area when it was a prescribed area, but if you do not meet one of those exemptions, you cannot appeal. In other words, this is essentially meaningless to people on the ground, and that was certainly the evidence that we received in the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs inquiry into the bill. We would support even a small window of opportunity in terms of allowing people the right of appeal. This does not cause any further disadvantage to anybody in those prescribed communities or in the Northern Territory who are subject to the income quarantining, so the Greens will not object to this particular amendment, but we very clearly point out that it does not in any way meet the needs of those people who are opposed to income quarantining in the Northern Territory.

There have been many claims made about the success of income quarantining, but to date there is no satisfactory data to prove it one way or the other. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence, and I agree with Senator Scullion that there are people in the Northern Territory saying that they are glad to have income quarantining-I acknowledge that. There are also a large number of people who do not like income quarantining, which is why the Greens have maintained all along that income quarantining should be done on a voluntary basis. We believe that the reason it was exempted from the Racial Discrimination Act is that it is racially discriminatory. It picks on one group of people and subjects them to compulsory income quarantining.

There are, as I acknowledged earlier, some people who do not mind compulsory income quarantining, but there is a large group of people who do not like compulsory income quarantining, and I think the people who do like it, if a voluntary mechanism had been available throughout the Northern Territory, would probably have used that. There were 800 people using voluntary income quarantining under the Tangentyere Council system when the intervention was introduced in the Northern Territory and there were 2,000 people on the books. If there had been discussions with the community, the government may well have been able to come up with a system of voluntary income quarantining that could have been expanded throughout the Northern Territory that did not require the measure to be exempt from the RDA but helped people manage their finances.

If the object of the exercise was to ensure that people had access to fresh fruit and vegetables and spent their money on the wellbeing of the children, which is what the government claimed it was, they could have introduced a much better support and education system with that measure. As I touched on earlier, there are claims that this has increased the sales of fresh fruit and vegetables and other things to the benefit of children. For a start, those claims are based on surveys from the stores that of course are going to want to show that they have been increasing sales of fresh fruit and vegetables.

I have acknowledged there have been some positive elements to the intervention, but they could have been brought in without being exempted from the Racial Discrimination Act. One of those is the better provisioning of stores. Licensing of the stores, in general, has been better. There are still some issues there, but stores have been forced to bring in fresh fruit and vegetables and a better supply of food. If you supply it, people will buy it. If you make sure the stores are providing what the communities want, the people will access those stores. If you look on the website, there are a number of evaluations, but there has not been that level of independent assessment of the provisioning of those stores. Nor has there been a look at what happens when you improve the supplies of these stores, regardless of the intervention. What happens when you tighten up the stores' act to ensure that they do supply provisions-and, I have to say, at a reasonable price?

The other point that was brought up during the committee inquiry was the fact that some communities do not have a licensed store. People are having to spend a lot of money to travel to licensed stores. The Senate Select Committee on Regional and Remote Indigenous Communities heard this yet again when we were in Darwin in May. We heard from the Homelands association and from Arnhem Land that people are having to travel great distances to get access to a licensed store and it is costing people a great deal of money. Therefore, when this measure was introduced it caused great hardship to those communities, and those people, under the provisions of schedule 2 of this act, are not able to appeal because they are in a prescribed community.

So the government look as if they are doing something good, but they are not really, because they are not allowing people to appeal against compulsory income quarantining in itself. So, as I said, while the Greens oppose compulsory income quarantining-we have concerns that the government look as if they are doing something or not doing something-we are not going to oppose that particular schedule.

The schedule that we are particularly concerned about is schedule 3, which deals with CDEP. There has been much discussion about CDEP. In fact, there has been much mud slung at CDEP in that it is ‘sit-down money', whereas a lot of the facts do not actually justify calling it sit-down money. Yes, there are problems with CDEP-I will absolutely acknowledge that. I do not think you could have a debate about CDEP without acknowledging some of the past issues with it. But, instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, why don't we fix CDEP so it can function in the manner in which it was originally envisaged? The government will say, ‘We're not throwing the baby out with the bathwater,' that CDEP is continuing and transitioning. Well, it is not properly.

What the government is doing-and let's be quite clear about this-is trying to move away from CDEP so that they accomplish the same thing that the Howard government wanted to accomplish when they brought in the Northern Territory intervention, which was to cut CDEP completely so they could move people off wages, which it could not quarantine, and onto income support, which can be quarantined. The ALP government then came in and reintroduced CDEP. Now they are changing CDEP. In non-remote areas people will be moving off CDEP as of 1 July, and I will go into the numbers in a minute. In remote areas there is a transition period, but any new people who go onto CDEP will go onto income support rather than wages, because the government can quarantine income support. That is in the Northern Territory. You can quarantine income support; you cannot quarantine wages. So they are essentially now doing what the previous government was doing-and that is, subjecting those people to income quarantining.

CDEP, as I indicated, is very important particularly to regional and remote communities where it does provide jobs. I acknowledge that there are anecdotal stories that it is sitdown money and that there are issues, but we should be fixing those issues rather than getting rid of the whole scheme. We think there needs to be a much stronger emphasis in the CDEP scheme on training and skills development to address what is a significant gap between the low levels of education and work experience in a number of communities and actually genuinely meeting people's needs. Studies of the program have found that a high proportion of CDEP residents work much more than the standard 15 hours per week and are much less likely to drink or be arrested. They have higher rates of participation in community and cultural activities than those who are unemployed. There are higher rates of full-time employment in communities that have CDEP schemes, and participants are much more likely to move into paid employment. We believe the most recent focus on CDEP as a labour market program has overlooked the most important community development role that the program has played in the past in developing community infrastructure and delivering community services.

CDEP has unfortunately also been used by federal governments, territory governments and local governments to essentially cost shift around the need to provide wages and support for properly funded jobs. I divert for a minute, as people keep talking about proper jobs and real jobs. Many people who work on CDEP have real jobs, they are just not paid properly. Say that we are shifting people to real jobs I think is being really rude to the people working in those jobs. The people who are working in art centres, the people who are working in child care-I will come back to child care in a minute-are doing proper and real jobs; it is just that the federal, territory and local governments-I am talking about the NT here but it does apply to states as well-have used that funding to subsidise what they should be paying for. That is not Aboriginal people's fault; it is government's fault for not actually paying real money, stumping up the money, for the work that needs to be done. When we were in Alice Springs we were talking to a health organisation that was running child care. Senator Scullion was there, and so was Senator Adams. This organisation was running child care services but was still operating on CDEP money. They had not been transferred to real jobs-and I use that label only because that is what the government has been calling them-but were still on CDEP jobs. They had not been converted to properly funded childcare jobs. That is one of the areas that the federal government had said it would fix, but it has not been fixed.

In the NT at the time of the intervention there were just over 8,000 people on CDEP, and there was a big move at the time, which we supported, to provide funding to convert CDEP jobs to fully paid jobs. But, at the time, they highlighted the fact that there was money for only around 2,000 fully funded positions. In questioning at the inquiry into this bill, and recently at Senate estimates, we found that the latest figure for fully funded positions, in respect of Australian government and local service delivery in the Northern Territory alone, was 2014-2014 jobs. There are 6,000 people still on CDEP in the Northern Territory. So, of 8,000 or so positions that were CDEP, only 2,000 have been converted to jobs. There were 8,000 people employed in CDEP, and a quarter of those have now been provided with properly funded jobs, if I can call them that. Most of the positions in the NT will not be transitioning out of CDEP in June, I acknowledge that, but the figure we got from estimates two weeks ago was that there were a total of 16,291 CDEP positions around Australia. I will not go to the detail now; people can find the breakdown of that in estimates answers in Hansard. It is broken down by people in each state, but the figure that is important for this debate right now is that there are about 4,000 people who will be coming out of CDEP and going into mainstream job service providers, although I do acknowledge there will be some specific Indigenous job service providers. At the time of estimates, unfortunately, the department was not able to tell me how many of those 25 Indigenous job service providers would be able to support the 4,000 people who are coming out of CDEP. At the moment it is not clear whether those 4,000 will be able to access the 25 specialised service providers or not.

The point here is that these people are coming out of CDEP and, in most circumstances, going onto income support. In a study done by the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at ANU, they were able to identify, although there is a lot of churn, that of the 16,000 people who had previously come out of CDEP around 40 per cent went onto income support. However they think that, because there has not been too much study done on this, as many as 70 per cent of those people could be going onto income support. When I asked the department during the inquiry about how many of the people that are coming out of CDEP are going onto income support, the department was not able to tell me because that information is not collected. So we actually do not know how many of the 4,000 people who are coming out of CDEP as of two weeks time will be going into jobs or going onto income support. As to the future people who will be transitioned out of CDEP through the transition process, we do not know, again, how many people will be going onto income support or into the properly funded positions.

We do not believe that this is an appropriate approach to dealing with the huge problems that Aboriginal people face in being work ready. It has been acknowledged, and I know the government and the coalition acknowledge this, that there are huge hurdles that need to be overcome to enable Aboriginal people, particularly in rural and remote areas, to be job ready. We also have to look at the type of jobs that we traditionally have seen as being available in rural and remote communities. That is where we need to be looking more broadly, and it is where CAEPR also argues that we need to be looking at funding alternative economic development mechanisms and we need to be putting real money into the sorts of land management that is absolutely essential in regional communities.

We need to be providing more funding-and here I will acknowledge that the government has been putting more funding into land and sea rangers and into Caring for Country projects, but it is not enough to provide the level of management that is needed. Very significant natural resource management is required in Australia and it is underfunded. Our biodiversity loss continues at a very alarming rate. The management of Aboriginal land and the contribution to carbon offsetting is huge. Aboriginal understanding of land management is unparalleled. There is all the expertise there and we need to value it properly and we need to put more money into supporting development and training.

Another issue that the committee identified during the inquiry, when we travelled to local communities to talk to them, is adult education. In all areas in South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland, where the committee travelled quite extensively, one of the overriding issues that we encountered is the lack of access to adult education. When we talk about adult education we are not talking about people aged 20, 25 and above. We are talking about, in some communities, ages over 13. Once a young man has gone through men's business, he is regarded as an adult. He cannot go back to school with boys and certainly not with girls. Those young men need another avenue of access to education, and it is not being provided. (Time expired).

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