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HomeIssue 40NT needs someone to 'call things honestly' says Havnen ...

NT needs someone to 'call things honestly' says Havnen …

… but she surely gets it wrong when she suggests that 60% of working age Aboriginal men in remote NT have no income
UPDATE, October 16, 3.30pm:
Former NT Coordinator-General of Remote Service Delivery, Olga Havnen, has suggested that the half or more of men of working age in remote communities who are “not in the labour force” have no income. “Not in the labour force” (NILF) is a statistical category based on international definitions of ‘labour force’ and used by the Australian Bureau of Statistics to measure how many people do not have jobs (whether full-time or part-time) and are not looking for a job. The Alice Springs News Online has asserted that it is not a measure of income and that it beggars belief that so many men in remote communities would be without income.
In response to comments received on this issue, including from Ms Havnen (see below),  the News asked the ABS for a layman’s definition of NILF and a statement on whether it can be seen as reflecting anything about income. We were directed to this general statement on their website:
“Persons not in the labour force are those persons who, during the week prior to Census Night, were neither employed nor unemployed. They include persons who were keeping house (unpaid), retired, voluntarily inactive, permanently unable to work, in gaol, trainee teachers, members of contemplative religious orders, and persons whose only activity during the week prior to Census Night was jury service or unpaid voluntary work for a charitable organisation. ”
Examples of “non-labour force occupations” are “housewives, students and pensioners” – “people whose sole occupations include those above, are coded in the Census as ‘not in the labour force'”.
We asked Centrelink about income support for those “not in the labour force” and about their efforts to ensure that everyone in a remote community is covered by some form of income support. They don’t publish data at a community level. We were directed to electorate data published by DEEWR (Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations), DIISRTE (Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education), and FaHCSIA (Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs).
While it doesn’t give breakdowns such as age, gender, community size, this data, dated March 2012, does paint a picture.  It shows that in Lingiari (all of the NT outside of Darwin and Palmerston, with a population of roughly 80,000) there were, for example, 6636 people receiving the disability support pension. This figure is not far behind those receiving Newstart (7462) who are classified as in the labour force, that is they are unemployed and looking for work.
A significant number of people – 2415 – were receiving ABSTUDY (a student allowance for Aboriginal people). The News speculates that some men, though probably small numbers, would also receive parenting payments (2505 partnered and 2451 single) and carer payments (718).
Centrelink made the following statement about its “remote outreach”:-

  • We work very hard to ensure people living in remote communities are aware of the range of payments and services available through Centrelink, and stay connected through frequent visits.
  • In the Northern Territory, we have 10 Remote Service Centres, and more than 80 Agents and Access Points providing Centrelink services.
  • Outreach teams, comprising Customer Service Officers, Social Workers and Indigenous Services Officers, visit very remote communities regularly, with most seeing an outreach team once a month (and sometimes more, depending on need).
  • While ultimately some people may still choose not to make a claim for payment, our outreach officers have a strong presence in educating communities about assistance, helping people stay connected and referring to other programs of assistance.

Olga Havnen, whose position of Coordinator-General of Remote Services was terminated by Minister for Indigenous Advancement Alison Anderson last Monday, appeared to be among friends when she spoke to her first and only report in Alice Springs on Friday.
Donna Ah Chee, Acting CEO of Congress, introduced Ms Havnen (pictured at left), referring to “the events of this week” and pointing out that Ms Havnen was here “in her own personal time”. Des Rogers, who stood for Labor against Ms Anderson in the last election, said it was a “sad day” when she was “dismissed” and that it would put Aboriginal people back significantly, “possibly by 20 years”. Paddy Gibson, spokesperson for the Stop the Intervention Collective, had already put out a media release against her “sacking”: “No report has pulled together such a comprehensive and clear account of where the untold millions are going – and it’s not to Aboriginal communities,” he said in the release.
Ms Havnen herself did not speak about  “the politics” around the release of her report until later, when she again made a point about the “extraordinary difficulty” she had had in getting access to data that would have made her report “much more robust”. She was aware that NT Government agencies had compiled a 17 page critique of the reliability of her data. Her response to that was why didn’t they give her the data they had when she asked for it. She said she was not worried about losing her job, but was really worried about the absence of an “ongoing arm’s length independent monitoring role”. It would be “a little optimistic” to imagine that governments or bureaucracies, even with the best of intentions, are capable of being “self-monitoring and self-critical”.
Without scrutiny and someone out there to “call things honestly”, the big risk is getting to the end of the Stronger Futures decade and finding that not a whole lot has changed. “Guess who’s going to get the blame?” she asked, warning of the possibility of “donor fatigue” setting in: “And I can tell you now we can’t afford that to happen.”
Men ‘not in the labor force’ have no income?
Broadly, she may well have a point. However, in her presentation there was a glaring example of a mishandling of data. That was around the question of labour force participation, with her rolling into one those Aboriginal men not in the labour force (NILF) and those not having an income. This was more than a case of passing confusion as she returned to underline her point later in the session.
Her report makes clear that we do not know how many people, who describe themselves as ‘not in the labour force’, may also not have an income and she recommends that we find out. To her sympathetic audience on Friday she said NILF “means you’re not registered with Centrelink, you’re not at school, not at work, you’re not engaged in any sort of mainstream activity basically.
“In the NT the rates of NILF for Aboriginal men for the last 20 years have been in the order of 60%. So if you’ve got 60% of Aboriginal men of working age who have no income, think about it for one second, what impact do you reckon it has on a household or a family?
“And what connection do you think that might have to the level of violence or to crime? This is not rocket science, I have no evidence base to make those assertions, but you just think about it in a logical kind of manner … maybe this has got something to do with what is going on at the moment. I went back over the last four Census collections, and I’ve looked at towns like Tennant Creek, Wadeye, Maningrida and so on, that rate has not changed.
“The question in my mind is, why is it that men are not wanting to participate. Is it that they are actually choosing not to register with Centrelink and not have a source of income? It may be that the system itself is too difficult and challenging. It may be that people engage with the system and then drop out of it. Whatever it is, I think we need to understand this and deal with it. But at the moment there is absolutely no public policy response to this particular issue. And I can tell you now there can be no suburb anywhere else in Australia where you would have 60% of men of working age not engaged. So the fact that this has been around for such a long time and nobody has paid any attention to it, to me is just mind-blowing.
“So a big recommendation in my report is that I think we need to understand this a whole lot better … talk to them, find out what the hell is going on [did she ever talk to anyone who had no income and try to find out why?]. It may well be that people are actively choosing not to participate, because it’s just too hard, they don’t like all the humbug, dealing with strangers, don’t like talking about personal information, it can be a multitude of reasons why this is going on, but the fact that it’s existed for 20 years and nobody is doing anything, I think is a disgrace.”
Nobody challenged Ms Havnen on these statements, despite it beggaring belief that 60% of men in remote NT would have no income. There are indeed Census stats for people who report that they have no income. In the Central Desert area, for example, the 2011 Census reported around 5.6% of men aged 15 and over as having nil income (a long way from 60%).
In question time Mr Rogers returned to the “60% of Aboriginal men not getting Centrelink or not engaged”. He put it down to too many women and not enough men working in the agencies and traditional Aboriginal men in particular not being prepared to talk to women.
Another person wanted to know the source of Ms Havnen’s data on the issue. “The ABS”, Ms Havnen replied, and far from taking the opportunity to clarify the distinction between “NILF” and “nil income”, she simply suggested that the Census data may be “completely out of whack” but “given what we know about the undercount of the ABS data, if I’m talking about a 60% rate that is reported by ABS, I guarantee you it would be a much higher level than that”. She also did not clarify that the 60% was for the 15 to 24 years age group. The overall rate for men aged 15 to 64, as stated in her report, is 45%.
NT, a very different part of Australia
Putting this aside, Ms Havnen spoke on Friday with fluency and feeling for more than an hour. For ‘insiders’ the introductory remarks traced familiar ground. She stressed how different from anywhere else in Australia is the remote Northern Territory, with its 650 discrete Aboriginal communities (most of them very small), but also its “not insignificant” number of towns with majority Aboriginal populations, particularly in the Top End.
In the remote areas of the Territory the population has doubled in the last 20 years, she said, and it’s a very young population. In contrast to the national picture of an aging population, in remote NT 45% of the population is under 20 years. Most people are “unaware” of these facts, she said.
She gave detail about the NT’s high level of dependency on the Commonwealth for funding – 81% of the government’s funds come from the Commonwealth. While its per capita share of GST money is the highest in the country, due to its levels of disadvantage, this money is not tied, and thus the government does not need to spend it on alleviating disadvantage (a fact well-reported on this site over the years).
She showed pie charts of how the massive expenditure in the wake of the Intervention has been divvied up, expressing her surprise at how little – in contrast to the portion spent on bureacracy –  has gone to the areas of Early Childhood Programs and Family Support Services, given the focus on children that  triggered the Intervention.
While agreeing “completely” with Ms Havnen’s focus on early childhood, Ms Ah Chee (pictured at right) later made the point that we also need to be putting “a microscope” on nought to three years age group, given that 80% of children’s brains have been “wired and developed” by the age of three. She said a lot of investment in primary prevention for that age group would see reduction in risky behaviours in adolescents, a lowering of the incarceration rate and so on.
Ms Havnen reiterated her criticisms of the data that gives account of government expenditure, that focusses on dollars and cents and enumerating activities and personnel but not producing evidence of impact and effectiveness. For example, she asked, has the provision of extra police in remote communities made them safer. There’s information out there about perceptions of safety, but it’s difficult to find “hard data”, she said.
Ms Ah Chee later commended Ms Havnen’s “extremely important” focus on outcomes, saying that the Aboriginal health service sector had been working for a number of years on developing “key performance indicators” that will enable them to compare outcomes across the NT between each health service and the NT averages. This will allow them to see how effective their investment is into various services.
Ms Havnen acknowledged progress with the provision of housing but there’s “a hell of a long way to go”, she said, and expressed the view that the Federal Minister Jenny Macklin and the general public have no real sense of “the quantum of need”.
As examples of the difficulty she had in gaining access to data held by NT Government agencies, she said she had made numerous unsuccessful requests for data that she knows exists about low birth weights and failure to thrive amongst children in remote NT.
NT public servants’ change of attitudes ‘heartening’
She acknowledged some good things, such as the amount of money being made available to address the problems and what she sees as a change in attitudes throughout the NT public service compared to 10 years ago. She found a higher level of awareness amongst public servants about what is going on, and a more positive attitude with people genuinely trying to make things better. This was “heartening” and “a sign of maturity”.
By contrast, she found the fragmentation and duplication of services “distressing”: “You wouldn’t run a business this way.” She gave an example of “aged care packages” being delivered to a small community outside of Katherine.  There are eight pensioners receiving the services from a  total of seven service providers who drive in and out from Katherine. What couldn’t local people do, out of what was being provided, she asked – things like ‘meals on wheels’ and personal care. “It leaves me gobsmacked,” she said. (More examples and less reproduction of program descriptions and allocations might have been a way to go in her report.)
Overall there is too much focus on crisis response and too little on local capacity building, a concept which is simply not understood, she said. The focus is always on the training of individuals, but international development work stresses also organisational and community-wide capacity building.
Ms Ah Chee said her sector was “absolutely frustrated” by program fragmentation. She saw it as a Commonwealth issue around the competitive tendering process: “We really do need to get the Feds to ackowledge that this is a real problem for Aboriginal community-controlled organisations,” she said. The big international NGOs “need to work in partnership and not competition with our organisations”.
Ms Havnen did not want to criticise the Department of Children and Families, but she said the system is designed around a (massively expensive) response to physical and sexual abuse, while the greater need is in the areas of neglect and failure to thrive. If the focus doesn’t change, the system will become completely unsustainable.
Reiterating a major theme in the media coverage of her report, she said there is no robust scrutiny of the Not For Profit sector, for which she advocated a national accreditation system.
In speaking to her recommendation that a population and mobility study be done, apart from casting doubt broadly on ABS data about remote communities she proposed that such a study should ask what people’s aspirations are about where they want to live, so that governments can do some forward-planning. She mentioned the example of a woman from a remote community who wanted to move to Darwin for the sake of her children’s education but could not stay because of the high rents.
Violence ‘not just an Aboriginal problem’
On her recommendation about improving community safety, she expressed her horror about the high level of violent assault experienced by Aboriginal women – their hospital “separations” for assault are 69 times higher than for other women. Ms Haven believed one would not see such a situation even in armed conflict. “This whole Intervention was about making women safer,” she said, “and I’m not convinced this is happening.” However, violence is “not just an Aboriginal problem”, she said as 45% of all hospital admissions in the NT are for assault.  There’s a “much bigger and wider societal issue around violence”.
Youth programs are “a dog’s breakfast”, she said, with lots of gaps as well as lots of duplication. She wants to see regional mapping of what’s there and what’s needed and the development of long-term youth plans. She referred to the cost of keeping young people (60% of them on remand) at Don Dale – $590 per day per child – and suggested the money could be much better spent, describing teenage boys as “our most vulnerable”. (She did not get into what was to be done about youths facing serious criminal charges, nor look at the expenditure on the youth justice system compared to other areas). She praised highly the achievement of Clontarf in getting boys to stay on at school. At Casuarina Secondary, thanks to Clontarf, a cohort of 40 boys are about to move from Year 10 into Year 11, previously unheard of, she said.
She welcomed the “substantial commitment” to the NT by the Stronger Futures package but echoed her critique of past Commonwealth allocations and priorities. For example, the allocation of $75m plus to regulating alcohol she said would be mostly going to the NT Government to pay for things like “compliance, signage and inspectors”, and very little into rehabilitation – she described this as “insane”. About 57% of the total would be controlled by the Commonwealth – her critique of the widespread use of NGOs to deliver the various services it chooses to fund has been well-covered. To a question from someone in the NGO sector she suggested that there could be a “honest broker” role for them, they could say to governments who asked them to deliver programs that they would only do so in negotiation or partnership with Aboriginal communities or organisations.  There is a lot of “best practice” evidence about this way of working in the international development sector, she said.


  1. What most of us do not realise is how easy it is to drop completely out of sight in terms of government statistics.
    In their war on the poor, both major parties have undermined Centrelink for many years quite deliberately in an attempt to restructure the organisation.
    Olga Havnen may well be on the right track with her analysis.
    David Chewings aka The lone dingo

  2. One of the things I question is whether or not International NGOs would really be of great assistance here in the NT. The argument runs that they have models and systems that would enhance sustainability (or something to that effect). Having worked internationally the one thing I can say is that the Northern Australian context is different, and may or may not benefit from international approaches. A friend of mine who has worked in Australia as well as too many places in the developing world to mention said that by far the hardest place he has worked was Australia (in the top end).
    My fear is that both the Federal and Territory governments will look and listen to the words of these big NGOs, with their slick PR and be taken in by it thinking “this is the solution”. I think that experience tells us that there are things that are working here, and we need to learn from these. International NGOs with their program logics and all might look nice, but I fear that rather than learning from what works here, we will overlook it and instead invest time and money in approaches that are not tested or proven in this context (indeed if they are in the international context).

  3. Hi Kieran
    Re NILF statistics – I refer you to page 175 of my report where this is disucssed and I quote ABS census data for 1991, 1996, and 2001 census.
    I also refer to work done by Professor John Taylor on Wadeye demographic trends which indicate that the NILF rates has barely changed over time – 2003 56.8% of men of working age were reported as ‘not in the labour force’ and in 2009 it was 54.2%.
    I am happy to stand corrected if my understanding and interpretation of this data is incorrect.
    Olga Havnen

  4. Matt Campbell, could you give us some examples please? Why did your friend find working in the Top End so difficult and how is Northern Australia so different in ‘context’ to international situations?

  5. Olga, I’m not contesting that the NILF stats are high, nor that they are a cause for concern. I’m simply saying they are not a measure of income. They are a measure of not being employed (whether full-time or part-time) and not ‘unemployed’, ie not looking for work. The ABS has a separate statistical measure for income and in the example I give, for the Central Desert area, ‘nil income’ was nowhere near 60%. For men 15 years and over, 73 reported ‘nil income’ out of 1306, which by my calculation is 5.6%.

  6. Matt (Posted October 15, 2012 at 12:23 pm): Gathering from what I’ve heard on the radio today, I think the advice from both Havnen and Gleeson is not that international NGOs should be brought in to the NT, but rather that the NGOs working here should be encouraged to apply some of the better practices of progressive international agencies: for example, Olga mentions partnering with local organisations, something that has been fairly conspicuously absent from the approaches of several national NGOS who have taken on major projects in the NT over the last few years without trying to forge formal partnerships with locally-based Aboriginal organisations, and who you would think should have known better.
    Although it should go without saying that we should understand and support “what works here”, this is not as straightforward as it seems, as the literature is littered with examples of fulsome praise for organisations, projects and practices which have been highly recommended by not necessarily neutral or capable assessors, only to see the supposedly praiseworthy enterprises fall over due to corruption, mismanagement or inappropriate program design shortly after the accolades have been articulated.
    A major problem with the commonly held belief that we have large amounts of developmental treasure here which is under-recognised and under-utilised (“learning from what works here”) is that the writing about these examples of “what works” is too often short on realistic and frank critical analysis, and is therefore less then compelling when presented to politicians and public servants who often have much more direct experience of the local organisations and practices than that held by the proponents of their alleged virtues.
    We badly need to foster a more mature climate for discussion of the merits and problems associated with our local developmental initiatives, and this is where people like Matt and his associates could be of immense assistance.

  7. @Olga (or Kieran)
    I’m not surprised to hear that between 50% and 60% of NT indigenous men of working age (15 to 60?) are not in the work force. But does that mean they are in receipt of no income at all, neither dole nor royalties nor sale of art – nothing?
    From the article: Her report makes clear that we do not know how many people, who describe themselves as ‘not in the labour force’, may also not have an income and she recommends that we find out.
    And then: To her sympathetic audience on Friday she said NILF “means you’re not registered with Centrelink, you’re not at school, not at work, you’re not engaged in any sort of mainstream activity basically.”
    These two statements seem to say that we don’t know if they have an income, and then that we do know, and they don’t.
    Like the man under the bridge said in Samson and Delilah, noodles don’t come cheap. If these men are getting nil income, what are they living on?

  8. NILF – “not in the labour force”, not employed, not registered with Centrelink as “looking for work” then it would seem to suggest that people do not receive an income.
    I’m not sure where people classified as NILF might receive money from other than from people who do receive income support from Centrelink or from those who are employed and earning an income.
    Perhaps Centrelink might shed some light on this e.g. how many people receive Centrelink payments in a community, how many people are employed and measure this against the total adult population?
    Clearly this issue warrants further investigation – is the figure of 49% – 50%+ NILF for Aboriginal men of working age accurate? If so, then why is this the situation? What are are the underlying reasons for this and what are the consequences for the individuals, their families and households?
    Olga Havnen

  9. @ Olga and Hal. The ABS definition of NILF: “Persons Not in the Labour Force are people who are neither employed nor unemployed in a particular reference period.” That is, as I understand people who do not have a job of any sort and are not looking for work. But that does not mean they have no income support from Centrelink. They might, for instance, be receiving parenting or carer or disability payments. I have put in questions to both Centrelink and ABS to get further information.

  10. ‘you’ve got 60% of Aboriginal men of working age (in the NT) who have no income…’ this statement shows the disconnect between the ex Coordinator-General of Remote Services and the reality she is attempting to describe.

  11. Ralph Folds
    Your rather overdetermined comment regarding ‘the disconnect between the ex Coordinator-General of Remote Services and the reality she is attempting to describe’? appears to be only somewhat formulated as a public domain comment and, unless you were rudely interrupted in the midst of this endeavour and accidentally pressed ‘post comment’, its lack of rigour suggests a lamentable and considerable whiff of hubris. Your use of unevidenced rhetoric to describe a ‘reality disconnect’ is certainly paradoxical to say the least!!! Annie Farrell

  12. Thanks Annie,
    I would have thought that the 60% figure is extraordinary enough to require some rigour of its own in the form of credible evidence to support it, and I neither see that in the comments nor can find it in my research of the available data. Please direct me to it. My ‘evidence’, of a couple of decades of working in remote communities and with their residents, tells me that the statement is absurd. That it could be presented by the former NT Coordinator-General of Remote Service Delivery is disturbing, and I think, justifies the claim that she is disconnected with the reality she describes.

  13. Ralph, again your use of dramatic language like “disturbing” and “disconnected from reality” is distinctly curious. I’m not in any way engaged with the data (the complete stats dud that I am) but am always surprised and disappointed by the overstuffed and, in this instance, empty and lazy language which endeavours to pose as critique or a form of rigour. Regards, Annie

  14. Annie, so you’re ‘not in any way engaged with the data’ but simply object to the language I use? W.E.H Stanner highlighted the importance of grounding policies in the real lives of Aboriginal people, and wrote in an understated way that you may find more satisfactory: ‘We thus sometimes beg the question whether we have consulted the right reality in the first place’. I would think that this applies rather well to Olga Havnen’s claim that 60% of Aboriginal men of working age (in the NT) have no income.
    ED – The ‘60% with no income’ claim was with respect to men living in remote communities in the NT, not the NT as a whole.

  15. Ralph! Why not just contest the data that Ms Havnen has invoked (which the Ed. appears to be signalling you’ve misquoted anyway) rather than load it up with hubris and a certain tone and tenor? What’s your agenda in being unnecessarily a bit dank? I think I saw Ms Havnen post that she’s more than happy to be corrected about the data and appears to be engaging in a self-reflexive and civil manner. Unfortunately your less than civil tone and tenor is a bit of a blight on the otherwise reasonable responses of the other postees. Where on earth have you been honing your public domain conduct lately? Regards, Annie.

  16. Remote communities have highly mobile populations with multiple residences, in several communities, outstations and town camps, confusing names (for whitefellas), overestimations of remote community populations based on actual residence at just about any particular time and, as a result, data that is inaccurate and equivocal enough to be subject to a range of interpretations depending on one’s bent. Against that, remote community men can, in no way, afford to not have an income. Remote community men who are not employed access a range of benefits including a share of family payments and other forms of welfare and there is a very high level of pressure on agencies to ensure that any elgible person is getting a benefit. The failure of a single payment for any reason can produce a storm of protest. What I particularly object to from someone with the assumed credibility of the former NT Coordinator-General of Remote Service Delivery is that her statement has strong implications for policy action to remedy a host of other problems. It’s a false trail, yet another one, and it absolutely needs to be challenged in a forthright manner in the public domain. I do understand that the role of coordinator general has many passionate and articulate defenders, but to be effective it needed to be grounded in the day to day realities of remote community life and it simply wasn’t.

  17. Well, Ralph, it’s good to see some detail at last rather than all of that rhetorical high emotion! But your views are not necessarily singularly correct – worthy, of course, but highly contestable which is the very nature of this (and most other) policy fields. My current research is on ‘income management’ as it emerged from the ‘intervention’ and every policy critique ‘angle’, including the data, is highly fraught and strenuosly contested. Best we keep our wigs on and have the conversations rather than assert we have a monopoly on the truth of the matter even when we think we really, really do! Regards, Annie

  18. I believe Ralph (Posted October 20, 2012 at 7:51 am) is broadly correct: some communities’ populations may be generally more mobile than others, but multiple ‘residences’ and identities are the norm for many of their ‘residents’, some of whom may be more accurately labelled variously as ‘habitually travelling, occasionally itinerant, often wandering or sometimes semi-nomadic people’. The ‘over-estimations of remote community populations’ is a real problem, but under-estimations are also a problem. A health service will generally perceive a higher resident population than will the ABS, NTEC or the AEC, for example, as the clinic keeps records of all the people who define themselves as residents (i.e. ‘living’ in the community) at the time they visit the clinic, even if they unpredictably disappear, unbeknownst to the clinic, shortly afterwards, whilst the ABS and Electoral Commission workers, constrained by all kinds of niceties even if they are highly familiar with the community, will be unable to push past their agency’s guidelines, ‘protocols’ or resource constraints to identify where some people are living, and are unlikely to find any trace of many of those who are on the Clinic’s books at the time, even if they may still be most often residing in the community in question. The clinic and ABS figures both will probably be quite different to the average number of people present in the community in the course of the year. Outstation services and the old community councils had their own ways of measuring population numbers, but these were sometimes conflicted by their need to maximise numbers in order to maintain desperately needed funding levels.
    The true average is a figure that nobody is ever likely to know with any accuracy, as the fluidity of ‘residence’ on a daily basis is shaped by various unpredictable and often very elusive factors, as well as by an ever changing combination of predictable causes.
    However, when Ralph claims that ‘remote community men can, in no way, afford to not have an income’ he is largely correct, but on less stable ground. Although it is true that ‘remote community men can, in no way, afford to not have an income’, that does not mean that all men, at any given time, will actually have an income. Some of these men – a small number – for various reasons, will very often not have an income. The reasons for this range from rejection of sufficient co-operation with the welfare system, to simple social disconnection and inability to sufficiently comprehend the system’s requirements. For some, constant mobility is one of these factors, and may be enabled by relatives who feel pity for the ‘akunye’ (a ‘poor thing’, deserving of pity and, perhaps, care).
    However, as Ralph indicates, the people working for Centrelink and in other segments of the welfare apparatus are these days mostly hyper-vigilant to minimize the instances of “people falling through the cracks”, so the numbers who do fall are far less than they were 20 or 30 years ago. The mythology that drives the popular assumptions that Ralph is attacking have their basis much more in data and lived experience from past decades than they have in the present, since the NTER enabled Centrelink to employ sufficient workers and establish systems to bring virtually all those who wish to be on welfare into the system on a relatively permanent basis.
    This contrasts strongly with the situation in the 70s and 80s, when many men (at least, many men amongst those living on or frequently visiting town camps) did survive for considerable periods without any reliable income. I suspect that the now deeply engrained practices of humbugging for access to relatives’ and acquaintances’ cash, goods and cards, using a combination of bullying and distortions of reciprocal sharing traditions (‘demand sharing’), became more deeply entrenched as a survival mechanism amongst some groups during those desperate times, when the rate of alcohol addiction and its associated needs were far outstripping the ability of many individuals to maintain a commensurate personal income stream.


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