Aboriginal groups cool on remote dole shake-up

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Indigenous groups have reacted sceptically to reports the Abbott Government is considering forcing unemployed Aboriginal people in remote communities to do 25 hours a week of work for the dole.

News Corporation reported on Wednesday that the government was considering introducing tough new sanctions to enforce the new requirements, which would be aimed at ensuring indigenous people were “work ready.”

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion did not confirm the plan on Wednesday, with his spokeswoman saying only that the government was “considering measures to make sure that jobseekers in remote Australia are work-ready and able to secure jobs.”

Under the current Remote Jobs and Communities Program, introduced by the former Gillard Government, jobseekers are required to do 30 hours a fortnight of “work-like” activities.

Les Malezer, co-chairman of the elected representative body, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, said it was a “big concern” that the government appeared to be planning to impose changes on indigenous people without their input.

“Every time that a government changes these schemes, supposedly for better results, it worsens the situation in these communities,” Mr Malezer said.

Indigenous people needed policies and programs that recognised their rights to live in their homelands

“For example, you can’t expect in the Torres Strait, in those small island communities, that people are all going to leave and go to Cairns,” he said.

Chairman of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, Justin Mohamed, said the plan would not address the shortage of real jobs in remote areas.

“This is poor policy, as thin as the paper it’s written on, and as remote from our people’s lives as Canberra is from the bush,” Mr Mohamed said.

“Forcing Aboriginal people to work in ‘work-like’ dole activities to supposedly replicate ‘real work’ means the government is admitting what we all know, that there is a drastic shortage of jobs in these remote areas,” he said.

“Jobs will not magically appear because a policy changes. What is needed is investment in better infrastructure through local communities to work as the lever to create jobs.”

But GenerationOne, the indigenous employment organisation founded by mining entrepreneur Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, welcomed the idea or more work for the dole.

“While we don’t want to see people trapped in work for the dole permanently, we believe that mutual obligation can provide the skill development for the long term unemployed to step into meaningful full-time work,” Generation One chief executive Jeremy Donovan said.

“We want to see the narrative of work for the dole changed from being an obligation for remote Indigenous welfare recipients to something more widely viewed as a stepping stone towards sustainable, full-time employment.”

David Thompson, chief executive of Jobs Australia, which represents non-profit employment services providers, said many communities were already reporting difficulty in finding enough “work-like” activity to satisfy the current requirement of 30 hours a fortnight.

“Increasing it to 50 hours a fortnight may be very difficult in some of those communities unless the government is prepared to spend a lot of money on things like equipment and materials and supervision,” he said.

Mr Thompson said various government evaluations of work for the dole arrangements had shown there were other approaches which achieved better results.

“Over 30 years there have been various attempts to revamp and restructure employment services in remote Australia and we still have unacceptably high levels of unemployment, so the problems involved are complex and difficult, and they’re not the same in every community.”

The approach of the current program, which was to engage communities in coming up with solutions, had “a lot of intrinsic merit” and should be given more time.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald