Hip-pocket implications of real jobs in remote communities


Hip-pocket implications of real jobs in remote communitiesThe Commonwealth Parliament has now passed five bills described as the national emergency response to child sexual abuse on Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. It was law making at Canberra’s worst. The 600 page bills were introduced and passed through the House of Representatives in less than a day.

They were subject to just a one-day committee review process in the Senate. When government does not have recourse to an elected Aboriginal consultative body, when the government controls the Senate, and when there is an election in the air with an Opposition that refuses to be wedged on non-economic policy issues, there is little prospect of close parliamentary scrutiny of bold new policy proposals for Aboriginal well-being emanating from Canberra.

A central plank of the original proposal was to ensure “compulsory health checks for all Aboriginal children to identify and treat health problems and any effects of abuse.” The initial announcement of the government initiative was so rushed that it took only the most rudimentary consultation with the medical profession to highlight how unethical, unworkable and harmful compulsory health checks would be.

The government claimed to be acting urgently, without consultation with the NT government and NT Aboriginal leaders, in response to the NT report ‘Little Children are Sacred’. And yet the authors of that report had said, “In the first recommendation, we have specifically referred to the critical importance of governments committing to genuine consultation with Aboriginal people in designing initiatives for Aboriginal communities. ” The authors of the report were not invited to give evidence to the Senate committee even though they travelled to Canberra and were in Parliament House.

Those concerned for the well-being of abused children, but not prepared to take the Commonwealth government’s intervention on trust, asked for credible explanations why it was necessary for the Commonwealth to acquire land leases over Aboriginal community lands for five years. Everyone knew that compulsory acquisition of Aboriginal land without reason and without consultation would engender mistrust in those local Aboriginal leaders whose cooperation would be essential if any Canberra initiative were to succeed.

Minister Mal Brough told Parliament, “We cannot allow the improvements that have to occur to the physical state of these places to be delayed through red tape and vested interests in this emergency period. Under normal circumstances in remote communities, just providing for the clean-up and repair of houses on the scale that we are confronted with could well take years if not decades. The children cannot wait that long.”

We are now entering a new phase in Aboriginal policy. It is not just about protecting the children. Canberra has decided to try a new way of involving Aborigines in remote communities in the real economy, and a new way of delivering health, education and law and order services. The real policy work for this new era will commence in earnest in 2008, no matter which party is in power in Canberra.

Hip-pocket implications of real jobs in remote communitiesBefore the 1960s, Aborigines participated in the north Australian economy without land rights, without self-determination, and without equal wages. The second phase of participation was built upon equal wages with welfare taking up the shortfall, and land rights, with remote communities and outstations being established without a real economy or access to the usual government services.

With the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP), 8,000 Aborigines on these NT communities have been paid the equivalent of the dole for working a few days a week. In this new third phase, 2,000 of these people will be paid real wages for real work. And the rest? They will have to seek employment and job training like other Australians. Where? How? There will be two classes of Aborigines in remote Australia — those with jobs and those with no prospect of employment or training in their home communities.

In the last 20 years, the Aboriginal population in NT remote communities has grown by approximately 40 per cent. 72 per cent of the Territory’s Aboriginal population lives on Aboriginal land outside major towns. 54 per cent of these communities do not have a local health clinic and 94 per cent are without preschools.

Here now is the problem which has been escalating since land rights were first granted and recognised. No matter what the politicians say at a time of emergency, it is not cost effective to deliver the full panoply of human services to small remote communities. The acute problem now is that the children in such communities cannot be guaranteed protection from sexual predators by either the state or by their own community members.

Once the dust settles on the present political flurry, there will have to be a negotiated process for determining the viability of outstations and small remote communities. Taxpayers will not stand for delivering the full panoply of services to every community, no matter how small. There will be a need for detailed government cooperation with groups like the Coalition of Aboriginal Organisations.

Public servants can be sent to remote communities to deliver services; police can be sent to enforce the law; but there will be no long-term satisfaction for anyone in commissioning outsiders to live in communities simply to monitor family obligations before quarantining welfare payments. This third phase will cost big money and will entail significant relocation of the Aboriginal population in northern Australia. Real jobs and real services don’t come cheap in remote Australia, regardless of the community’s racial identity.



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Existing comments

Wonderfully we are indeed entering a new phase in Aboriginal policy: we're actually moving beyond the decades of rhetoric and neglect into on-the-ground tangible action...and thank God for that.

Those who have wrung their hands, all but hoping the federal government would quit after spending an insignificant sum are now being confronted...front and centre...by a very different reality. The response IS long terms...and the bill will indeed run into billions...but, hallejah...look..it's being provided!

All power to the doers...the talkers have had their decades of pondering...and neglect.The age of action is finally here.

Whingers also have the opportunity of putting their shoulders to the wheel...but practically please..and on the ground.
Brian Haill | 23 August 2007

Thankyou to Frank- my family lived in both A Springs & Darwin in the 60 - 70's. I worked helped out with the Church with the Aboriginal People and I am very aware of some of the problems - I am horrified that there is no mention of the good men and women who care for their children - A priest - an Accountant prior to the priesthood looked at the way the Aboriginal shared and thought the credit union idea would be a good system and would fit in with the way of family and community good. He got no support from anyone - he introduced me to the C.U. and I was a volunteer when I came to Adelaide with the first on here run out of our parish. Listen to the men & women who are caring for family & children in difficult circumstances. Margaret
margaret o'reillyff | 23 August 2007

There are few people more competent to speak on this topic than Fr Brennan but it is hard to ignore the reports held and not acted on by 4 state and territory governments over too long--- with no consultation.
Justin Stanwix | 23 August 2007

Excellent article Frank. I don't know if this intervention is the right call or not, but I await the reuslts with interest.
Alison E. | 23 August 2007

Though it is arguable that this intervention has occurred with good intentions, the end result seems likely to be a disaster, to me.
aurora lowe | 24 August 2007

I just don't see how the government can hope to deliver the changes necessary from afar. Jack Waterford's piece a couple of issues back makes it so clear; people on the ground are the way forward, many people, IN the community, not flying visits by (well intentioned) strangers. Brian McCoy's piece was clear too - trust within the community is hard earned.
andy johnson | 24 August 2007

I find Brian Haill's comments a little strange. Putting aside the brio, I do agree with him that it is good that large amounts of money will be spent. I well remember a minister (i thinkit was Brough) extolling the virtue of coming in under budget in education spending. Under budget when remote communities are some of the most disadvantaged in the country. I do also wonder about this government's ability to spend the money wisely and well.
eloise anderson | 24 August 2007

hovering atop our
fractured humanity
a halo of injustice
ensnares our soul

below we wallow
in a well of sorrow
fearful of tomorrow
as hope is crucified....

The federal government is planting the seeds for the destruction of the Aboriginal race. Frank has clearly articulated the plethora of problems associated with the government's plans. It is clear that our leaders refuse to engage fully with the people they purport to help. They are standing atop their castle, shouting orders and drafting plans that will ultimately enhance their wealth and power but not deliver justice to the people that lived here first.
Jonathan Hill | 24 August 2007

My concern is that this intervention in many ways harks back to the ill-planned (but well-intentioned) interventions of the past - ie stolen generations children. While it is imperative that this abuse be stopped, any interventions that ignore consultation with elders of aborginal communities have in my opinion only a chance of short term success. Policing and economic interventions must in the long term come from the aboriginal communities themselves. Hopefully this intevention will assist them to do so.
Mary Toye | 25 August 2007

I fall into the group that is cautiously optimistic, or at least hopeful, that something good will come of this current intervention. However, Frank's article does demonstrate that from a policy and legislative perspective, little positive can be said about the process.

However, I think the most important point Frank makes is that this intervention will bring into relief the economic sustainability of many remote indigenous communities. It seems to me, once we get past diversions like 'compulsory health checks' (which were doomed before the words were even uttered), the real aim of this intervention is about bringing these communities into the 'real economy'. This will have a dramatic impact on the future shape of Aboriginal lives in remote Australia.
Gerard Palk | 26 August 2007

8000 Aborigines doing part time work under the CDEP Scheme, and now, 2000 only, able to get real jobs.
What about human dignity, with 6000 people left without a job and very little chance of finding one?
Maureen Keady | 31 August 2007

Until 7 men were hanged as participants in the Myall Creek massacre Aboriginal People had apparently no protection in law. Though law since prevents them being killed so easily Aboriginal People have been (are?)treated as only a little more human than they were earlier (even after they were accorded citizenship). Accorded little if any dignity in earlier times, they are now to be treated as objects to be dealt with measures of coertion and control instead as humans of a ancient and proud race, the original owners of the land so heavily exploited since colonialism began.
Francis Brown | 01 September 2007

The Aboriginal people are human beings. And proud ones at that. The poor Aboriginal people have been treated like bloody animals for years and the white man wonders why they act like animals. I wonder why they are the way they are, born and trapped in a bloody quagmire with no means of escape from a life god knows and of course the ignorant bloody white fellas. Wake up you so called intelligent whites who run the bloody country.
josie | 16 April 2008

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