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HomeIssue 43Carrots for jobs, sticks for education and grog

Carrots for jobs, sticks for education and grog

New NT Intervention measures
While the Australian Government is extending the ‘stick’ approach in the field of education, tying welfare payments to school attendance, and alcohol, extending income management arrangements for people with alcohol related problems, there was no mention of the stick in relation to jobs. The announcements today, part of the Northern Territory Intervention Mark 2, are all ‘carrots’, sounding very like the carrots proffered in the past. This new bunch cost $19.1 million.
On the government’s school attendance ‘stick’ Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion says: “Labor is all talk and no action with the re-announcement of welfare quarantining of Aboriginal parents who don’t get their children to school.
“This government can re-announce this policy until the cows come home but it is no good unless it is acted on and people are breached.
“The ability to quarantine welfare for truancy has been in the legislation for four years.
“The Coalition had children attending school when the intervention started but Labor let it slip backwards and we lost four years and another generation of disconnected Indigenous primary school children is Labor’s legacy.”
Headlining the government’s new program are 50 new ranger positions in the Working on Country program.
There’s also emphasis on local filling local jobs, with traineeships to support up to 100 Aboriginal people to fill service delivery jobs in their communities.
The traineeships provide job-specific training and a period of “job shadowing” – “supported on-the-job experience”.
The Australian Government will also support for the NT Government’s initiative providing a job guarantee to Indigenous students from Territory Growth Towns who complete year 12.
The announcement said that “jobs brokers” will help connect Aboriginal people with jobs in sectors that have labour shortages.
The Government will extend Indigenous Business Australia’s Indigenous Communities in Business program to two additional communities to help support the development of new businesses and economic activity in remote areas.
Getting children to school
The school attendance ‘stick’ requires children to meet an attendance benchmark. If they fall below it, their  families will work with schools and Centrelink to develop attendance plans. Then if parents do not meet their part of the plan, their welfare payments will be suspended. Payments will be reinstated once the parent gives clear signals they are complying with their responsibilities and their child or children re-engage with the school.
This program already exists in Hermannsburg, Katherine, Tiwi Islands, Wadeye, Wallace Rockhole. It will now be extended to Alice Springs, Tennant Creek,  remaining schools in Katherine, and Yirrkala, Maningrida, Galiwin’ku, Ngukurr, Numbulwar, Umbakumba, Angurugu, Gapuwiyak, Gunbalanya, Milingimbi, Lajamanu, Yuendumu, Alyangula and Nhulunbuy. The measure will apply to all parents in each community or township, not only Aboriginal parents.
Seminars will be held in each community before the measure is applied to explain to parents their responsibilities.
An “unnacceptable level of under-enrolment” will be the focus of  data exchange between schools and Centrelink to ensure that children are enrolled in a school and attending even if they have moved during the school year.
“This will prevent children, particularly those in mobile families, from falling through the cracks,” says Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin.
Getting people off the grog
Current alcohol restrictions will continue under Intervention Mark 2, while penalties for grog running will be strengthened.
Local alcohol management plans will have to meet “stringent guidelines on harm reduction and the protection of vulnerable women and children” and will only be approved by the Commonwealth Indigenous Affairs Minister if they do.
A new income management measure will allow NT authorities to refer people for compulsory income management for alcohol related problems, on a similar basis to the way this currently occurs under the child protection measure.
Source: Australian Government media releases.
UPDATE: The “stringent guidelines” that local alcohol management plans will have to respond to are “currently being developed”, according to a spokesperson for Minister Macklin.
The new income management measure for people with alcohol related problems could see up to 70% of their income being quarantined, thus reducing the amount of money available for them to buy alcohol.


  1. Interesting story, but now how ’bout linking this to town housing as well. Parents taking kids from town to community. Have Territory housing in town as well as a home on the community, so which school are they attending? Not the one in town that is for sure as when they are in town, the kids have nothing to do, but walk around and get bored and run amok around neighbours’ yards. In town for a few days, and then back to the community for weeks at a time when they get reported on about drinking and fighting. Holiday homes, good for some.

  2. Thanks for the reportage. Any idea what the “stringent guidelines on harm reduction and the protection of vulnerable women and children” actually are?
    ED – No, but we’ll attempt to find out.

  3. What about job guarantees for the 99% that wont complete year 12? What about the fact that 99% of the available jobs in our region don’t require year 12? Let’s cut these token, seen-to-be-doing something policies and concentrate our energies on trying to get as many kids as possible into any available job ASAP. Teach them the skills required to start as a checkout operator, labourer, council worker, ranger, police and fire, building trades etcetera and pay out absolutely no welfare payments to kids under 21 while there are jobs available in their region. What this year 12 policy really says is we will aim for the 1% that make year 12 and we’ll drop the 99% who don’t on the Welfare Dependency Heap.

  4. The stick approach doesn’t work. Communities are calling out for better ways to get their children to school; a school bus, more locals in the school, a curriculum that includes cultural practice. And of course proper support of bilingual education in communities that want it. The reasons that children don’t get to school are many but include overcrowded housing, poverty, as well as cultural obligations. Cutting off welfare to a parent struggling to make ends meet will only make things worse.
    I understand that neither ceremonial cultural business nor funeral attendance are accepted reasons for missing school. This is appalling. As a Pintupi friend says, “the government has to recognise that we need to grow our children up with tjukurrpa” (the dreaming).
    And lastly, housing needs remain dire. These are what communities which have been terribly under-resourced for decades are calling out for – more housing, more services, more activities for young people – the services that Australians everywhere else take for granted. These, and increased community control are some of the things that healthy robust communities need, and will translate to more children at school, more employment, less alcohol, and all those other measures that the government can seemingly only think of punitive measures to address.

  5. Thanks Hilary@Posted November 14, 2011 at 3:11 pm, that was neat. Yes indeed, why should children go to school at all, if there are enough funerals and cultural obligations to take up all their time?
    They’d be far better off huddled weeping in sorry camps, or staying up all night for weeks on end at initiation ceremonies during term, than they would be if they were in school learning the rudiments of science and maths so they could have a chance to become a doctor or nurse or teacher or engineer, or anything else that could earn them an income!
    God forbid that they or their parents should ever aspire for such outcomes – it would be a threat to everything Hilary knows about how Aboriginal people should live, and how much of their school time must continue to be sacrificed on the altar of “culture”! It would be such a shame if “culture” became again primarily the parents’ and families’ responsibility!
    Nothing like a neophyte expert to tell us where we have all gone wrong eh Hilary? It’s simple really, and so obvious when you think about it. It’s a wonder that Aboriginal leaders haven’t thought of all those clever things that you are recommending before … But hang on – they have!
    They tried all those things, and they didn’t work any better than the other things we have been doing. In fact, they basically ARE the things we have been doing, and are doing presently. School buses! Whoever would have thought? Bilingual education? Now there’s a new idea! Locals in the classroom? Revolutionary! A curriculum that includes cultural practice? Never ever been done, I’m sure! How very very clever!
    Let’s order a trillion dollars more lovely carrots from Canberra immediately, and burn all the nasty evil sticks at a special cultural event and feel so jolly jolly good about ourselves! It’s bound to make all the difference this time, now that we are working off Hilary’s superior prescription!
    But hey! Yipirinya School is doing all the good things, has been for decades, and has terrible attendance problems. Always has! In fact, Yipirinya’s school council is calling for help from government with more welfare quarantining and suspensions for recalcitrant parents! But of course, you are right and they are wrong!
    Just by the way, you probably haven’t had time to look at the fine print, but the Minister is not actually trying to completely starve families into submission: apart from providing free meals to the children at school, she is not actually proposing to cut off all income to recalcitrant parents: as an absolute last resort, after many other avenues have been exhausted, and all else has failed to give the kids some opportunity for a shot at some consistent schooling, families will be threatened with having Part H income support payments like Newstart and Parenting Payment suspended; and if they still don’t respond, and the kids still aren’t getting to school, and there’s no real excuse for it, then the threat will be acted upon. Then if the kids start being sent to school, the stayed payments will be refunded to the parents and normal payments resumed. However Part A payments like Family Tax Benefits will not be suspended, so families retain an income stream.
    But I guess that doesn’t help your case in portraying Jenny Macklin as an evil ignorant malevolent duplicitous stupid demoness, so it’s probably irrelevant to your strange way of thinking.

  6. @Bob. Lots of exclamation marks.
    I look at the great results Chris Sarra and the Stronger Smarter Institute are getting in Queensland. He is an expert in education, and highly regarded.
    You might be aware of the studies from USA looking at welfare sanctions linked to school attendance. They found that it was the intensive case management that made a difference. The SEAM results are not yet available. The Halls Creek trial didn’t work.
    It’s not a question of carrots or sticks, it’s a question of what works, and if it doesn’t work, and it’s punitive, and people don’t want it, then why do you? None of those ideas I mentioned are new, but many communities don’t have access to them.
    And it’s perfectly possible to pursue an education that can lead to professional qualifications and at the same time have cultural practice supported.
    None of the above attempts to deny the issues, but punitive policies are not the way to go.

  7. re: Hilary @ November 16, 2011 at 11:07 pm.
    Yes Hil, lots of exclamation marks: denoting lots of ironically-expressed frustration with unperceptive self-satisfied dills who pontificate in superior fashion, misinforming and patronising Aboriginal people and using national platforms to mislead and confuse the general public, whilst disguising their ideological judgements as value-free evidence-based advice to all the uneducated plebs. Well, this is one pleb who is mad as hell about this continuing campaign of disinformation and white-anting of Aboriginal capacity, responsibility, and agency by the IRAG/STICS/Concerned Australians/Green Left/Socialist Alliance/Solidarity brigades and their fellow travellers. Like Gregory Finch, I’m not going to take it anymore, so you may as well get used to the exclamation marks and contain your condescending sniffiness to your private moments.
    The point is, when a Pintupi acquaintance says “the government has to recognise that we need to grow our children up with tjukurrpa”, a true and trustworthy friend would reply by pointing out that the government is not interfering in any way with the right of parents to grow children up to follow their parents’ religious and cultural beliefs.
    In fact, by insisting on Aboriginal children, like all other children, acquiring adequate contemporary educational foundations, the government is not only honouring its strong internationally-required obligation to its young citizens; it is also honouring another international obligation, to assist in the creation of a strong functional base from which Aboriginal people can ensure a future for their cultures, languages and descendants. The logic of this, in case you miss it, is because, as educated people, remote Aboriginal families will be able to make informed, autonomous decisions about the crucial issues of how to survive with dignity and respect as Aboriginal people, without having to rely on massive special government supports. They will be able to thrive and grow strong enough to take control of their own destinies and adapt their own societies and cultures to cope with changes in their world.
    At the same time, a real and ethical friend would also point out that the government is now at last willing to supply huge amounts of resources in remote communities, where the tjukurrpa is flourishing, for education, child care, municipal, youth, health, housing, welfare, policing, safety, art support and many other services; and the government, in return, is requiring that Aboriginal people, like everybody else, send their kids to school and obey the laws about child welfare, wellbeing, violence, safety, and individual rights.
    And Hilary, thanks awfully for the insights about Chris Sarra and his work: once again, who would have guessed! It’s commonly known that he is a talented and committed educator, with some valuable insights, like hundreds of other Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal teachers who slave their guts out to deliver good education in difficult circumstances in remote Australia, but who are implicitly disparaged by you and your mates continuously stating that the reason many kids are not attending school regularly is simply because the schools are no good, are not welcoming/inclusive/respectful/culturally appropriate, when in fact most of the teachers are turning themselves inside out to achieve these very demands. The real problem is they also have to try to get many parents to comply with their end of the bargain. It is in the interests of both the teachers and all the pupils that there is at least one minor stick in the many-carrotted armoury available to the schools, as Chris Sarra in recent interviews has agreed with. He is no fool and understands that sticks are necessarily an important, indeed crucial, part of the deal.

  8. Chris Sarra on linking welfare to school attendance in the past week:
    Nov 14 on ABC: CHRIS SARRA, SMARTER STRONGER INSTITUTE: “There’s all this talk about evidence-based approaches to policy reform and there are some serious questions about the extent of evidence that enables this to be considered for expansion.”
    KATRINA BOLTON: Dr Chris Sarra questions whether the big stick approach is the right one.
    CHRIS SARRA: “This is an approach that delivers minimal return for exorbitant investments.”
    Nov 11: The approach of quarantining welfare payments if children didn’t attend school was “profoundly ineffective”.
    Nov 15: Indigenous education expert Chris Sarra said “with this approach everybody loses”.

  9. Re your post @November 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm
    Chris Sarra is a bit contradictory when publicly discussing the issue of “carrots and sticks”. While he is certainly critical of the perceived cost of the case management and the administration of the new SEAM model, and is savagely opposed to the cost and operational aspects of the Noel Pearson / Cape York version of the experiment, he seems to fail to recognize the parallels between Macklin’s stick (the temporary with-holding of some welfare income) with the often sturdy sticks involved in his own practice.
    Sarra established his reputation through his transformation of Cherbourg State School between 1998 and 2004. He developed his practice of ‘high expectations,” high quality teaching, interesting projects, affirmation of Aboriginal identity and insistence on respect, to create an effective program where participation and attendance rose and achievement rose too.
    However, his theory is very much based on a synthesis of “support” accompanied by “challenging and intervening at times when individuals or communities are clearly not exercising their responsibilities appropriately. A relationship is anchored by low expectations when we only set about supporting and developing, without the courage to challenge and intervene.” (Chris Sarra, “Indigenous Policy: be compassionate, be brave”, National Indigenous Times, Oct.11th 2011).
    In Sarra’s case, he used both his experience as a rugby league player and his training as a teacher to create a respectful atmosphere in the school and help engender serious respect from his more difficult pupils, and this included deploying some robust methods for exercising discipline in the Cherbourg School.
    The approach worked admirably, producing a transformed learning environment and turning around many lives. In the process, it also led to seven complaints being laid against Sarra by disaffected students and their carers, which resulted in four complaints against him being upheld by the Queensland Education Department in 2004 (see ABC TV Australian Story “Good Morning Mr Sarra”, 4th October 2004).
    Not long after this, Sarra delivered a speech that consolidated his ascension to the national educational stage. In it he said: “So it’s useful to reflect on what such children need. And they don’t need the undeliverable rhetoric …
    “What really matters is what’s deliverable on the ground instead of this pseudo-radicalism that delivers nothing. I’m opposed to forms of libertarianism that promise much with its talk of rights and democracy, yet deliver nothing to indigenous people who are sniffing petrol, paint and glue, and who are stealing cars and need to understand where their boundaries are.
    “Changing the culture of a school is a difficult process, especially in a school like ours and one in which it had to change.” (Chris Sarra, Principal, Cherbourg State School, “Imagine the Future by Learning from the Past”. Address to the Communities in Control Conference, Melbourne, 7th June 2005).
    He recently averred that “there also needs to be structure in the kids lives … where the environment is predictable. Where there is a consequence – if you do the wrong thing, someone will growl on you, but if you work hard and do the right thing there will be a reward.” (Chris Sarra to Stephen Hagan, “A chat with Stephen Hagan”, National Indigenous Times, 2nd November 2011).
    To imply that the Sarra method is not partly dependent, in practice, on its own judicious deployment of sanctions, and sometimes punishments, would be quite misleading, if not delusional.

  10. Hilary
    Re your earlier post @November 16, 2011 at 11:07 pm:
    Many concerned Aboriginal leaders told Macklin and Snowdon that they think they should withhold some welfare from carers who neglect those in their charge, e.g. with-hold a part of welfare from people who don’t ensure that their children attend school often enough, amongst other things. These responsible leaders think this will assist in sorting out the non-attendance problem. Why do you doubt Macklin’s word on this and also the judgement of the responsible Aboriginal elders in the places she visited?
    You are right about the USA studies that looked at welfare sanctions linked to school attendance. They did find that it was the intensive case management that made the biggest difference. But the case management was supported by sanctions and non-negotiable guidelines and penalties i.e. little “sticks”, or potential punishments, which also contributed to the success of the case management and the improved outcomes by providing a strong underpinning to the other measures.
    Macklin’s new SEAM proposal is based on intensive case management, with sanctions as the absolute last resort, just like in the US experiments. If this system made the difference there, why shouldn’t it do so here? Why are you in denial about the truth of this?
    Re the Halls Creek school attendance experiment: this was a very flawed design, and predictably failed. It is not comparable with the more sophisticated and integrated approach being mooted by Macklin for NT communities. Much more relevant are the other experiments with Income Management and child welfare that have been occurring more recently in various parts of WA. These have been having more success in producing behavioral changes in irresponsible carers.
    The early SEAM trials, which only occurred in about half a dozen NT sites, were carried out using an under-developed model, although they too have had some varied success, according to people involved with the education bureaucracy. These trials were very slow to get started, as protocols took far too long to sort out, maybe due to some bureaucratic resistance or inertia. It will be interesting to see their evaluation results.

  11. Hilary
    Further re your post @ November 14, 2011 at 3:11 pm:
    I agree with you that “housing needs remain dire. These are what communities which have been terribly under-resourced for decades are calling out for – more housing, more services, more activities for young people – the services that Australians everywhere else take for granted.”
    However, I would point out that these things are exactly what the governments have been attending to, on a massive scale, over the last three or four years: they have been pouring huge amounts of resources into the very communities which are coming under the SEAM experiment.
    The schools where SEAM already exists, or is about to, are in the communities which have most benefited from the billions of dollars being expended under the NTER Intervention programs.
    The reason why SEAM is being introduced to these communities is that the governments’ largesse has, in many cases, not been translated “to more children at school”, although it has usually led to more teachers, more school buildings, more teacher housing, more education support workers, as well as to more night patrol people, welfare workers, youth workers, pre-school workers, child welfare workers, counsellors, police, health workers, nurses, recreation workers, training, community houses, better stores, less alcohol-related disturbances, and many other benefits.
    Under these circumstances, no reasonable person could criticize the government for wanting to give recalcitrant parents a little nudge.

  12. Well we agree that housing needs do remain dire. There is a huge backlog from decades of neglect, but it is not only the designated “hub towns” that need them. And it will continue to be expensive, but there needs to be a commitment to improving housing, service provision and infrastructure to all communities, as called for by people in the Wellbeing report recently released.
    The other aspects of the NTER such as compulsory income management, compulsory land acquisition, and legislation relating to customary law; federal government policy shutting down CDEP; together with NT government policies dismantling community councils, and essentially shutting down bilingual education are all coercive policies removing autonomy from communities and individuals.
    It is highly likely that this disempowerment is contributing to the lack of effect that one might have otherwise seen from increased service provision.
    The SEAM “experiment” may not work because of its coercive component, and further “nudges” or rather use or threat of “big sticks” is likely to further disempower people, again negating the effect of increased service provision, as the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association predicted in their Health Impact Assessment of the Intervention in 2010. However the introduction of intensive case management is welcomed.
    As far as your comments that withholding welfare from parents whose children aren’t attending school have been called for by Aboriginal leaders, there are many Aboriginal leaders who find such policies abhorrent who have made their sentiments public, as well as education leaders such as Chris Sarra as we have already mentioned. Furthermore, at the 5 Stronger Futures consultations that I attended there was unanimous disagreement for such a policy.
    As far as the USA studies, the conclusion was that it was the case management that made the difference, rather than the sanctions. The WA “experiments” have been critiqued by WACOSS. Perhaps you think that a human rights perspective is irrelevant, but I think it is essential. It is possible to provide services, structure, and pragmatic nurturing in a way that does not infringe human rights, which should be regarded as a bottom line.
    The long history of dispossession in this country will take at least decades to overcome, and your frustration that progress is not occurring as fast as you might like is no reason to deny people their autonomy. Further losses of autonomy are likely to continue to worsen outcomes. There is an evidence base to the positive effects of human rights, and your deridement of this is without basis.

  13. Hilary
    Re your reply Posted @November 22, 2011 at 8:37 pm:
    I do not “think that a human rights perspective is irrelevant,” but I think a truly beneficial and just “human rights perspective” needs to be based on a balanced, intelligent and integrated model of human rights.
    The tendency of some advocates to privilege the instrumental rights of some adults over the substantive rights of their neglected children and other vulnerable people seems to me to be neither balanced nor intelligent.
    For example, the freedom of some adults to neglect their children’s welfare, and ignore their need for close supervision by too often allowing them to do whatever they want, including not going to school on two or more days out of five, is sometimes justified in the name of “culture,” tradition, autonomy and “self-determination” rights. Such “rights” seem to be given greater weight by these advocates than the rights of children to receive adequate care, supervision and education.
    Governments are ethically and legally bound to act on behalf of children in such situations. When government actions fail to produce more acceptable behaviour, they have to increase the pressure for change, or remove the children from the situations that are almost certainly causing them irreparable harm that will endure for the rest of their lives.
    I do not believe however that the enactments of the School Enrolment and Attendance Measure (SEAM) and Income Management constitute breaches of human rights, as they are pre-eminently special affirmative action measures, or positive discrimination, designed specifically for the benefit of groups of people who were demonstrably experiencing extreme harm as a result of the previous inappropriate provision of welfare payments without reasonable requirements or responsibilities – children.
    The nature of the “evidence base to the positive effects of human rights” is also more complex and contentious than your reference indicates that you appreciate. Your understanding of the realities and problems of contemporary social, cultural and economic problems in town camps and remote communities seems quite limited, otherwise you would probably not keep lecturing us so patronisingly with your simple mantras and nostrums.
    Whilst it is true that the “compulsory income management,” “federal government policy shutting down CDEP,” “legislation relating to customary law,” and “NT government policies dismantling community councils” have been disempowering for some, for many others these have been empowering; for the great majority they have at least provided the opportunity of a more realistic and neutral terrain on which to begin building better and more egalitarian lives.
    Long-term compulsory land acquisition has not occurred, although I believe that it (along with fair compensation to the original owners) would have been well justified; people living in towns need to have a land tenure system that is based on the “common good” of residents and their needs rather than on an hereditary system of land ownership and control by a local elite.
    The ultimate autonomy of the great majority of individual residents has probably been increased more than it has been diminished by these changes. They are certainly not changes that you hear more than a few people on communities complaining about; and most of the previous arrangements also had their coercive aspects, by virtue of the semi-feudal rights that they conferred on the few over the many.
    I strongly suspect that, to the extent that the SEAM process proves to be worthwhile in terms of achieving its goal in remote Aboriginal communities, you will probably find reasons to deny it, as it appears that you may be psychologically allergic to the idea that Aboriginal people could ever be really responsible for any of their own behaviours.

  14. Yes – all income management does is make things worse. It ends up mostly punishing those who are trying to do the right thing. Personal circumstances must be taken into consideration.
    To reward the rich and hurt the poor is shocking behaviour. Yes, the kids do need more to do on an age appropriate level. Alcoholism has a basic cause – self esteem – in other words the basic needs of the individual are not being met. To just give without working is destructive – but to hand jobs to those who are untrained just because of a popularity contest will cause the downfall of many.
    If you have teachers who are only partly trained or who have been given the job on the grounds that they are popular then everything is destroyed. Why does every child have to go to uni. Uni itself gives theory but no practical knowledge.
    Why are people being forced into jobs they do not particularly want – just because someone else identifies one of their skills – and ignores all other skills that person has.
    There are three stages to human development – the ID (baby who needs food, love and personal care); the EGO (the child who has to have everything they and their friends want – many adults are still at this stage); the superego (a person with a balance between needs, wants and what others need and want).


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