Social woes: it's all about having a job, says ALP's Nova Peris


When it comes to picking an attractive candidate it doesn’t get much better than Nova Peris: She is thoughtful, a good communicator, energetic, a sporting star, Territory born and bred and good looking.
For a Labor candidate she is surprisingly conservative on some issues, quoting that four-letter word – work – as the key to fixing much of what’s wrong in the Territory. Far from focusing on just Aboriginal issues she says fixing the live cattle export industry will be one of her top priorities.
But for now she says: “I’m only the candidate and my focus right now is listening and understanding the issues.”
At the Show on the weekend her presence was the highlight of the ALP stall. A mother of three and grandmother at age 41, the placement by dumped Prime Minister Julia Gillard of the Aboriginal girl from Darwin at the head of the Territory Senate ticket raised some ALP party hackles. According to media reports, the nose of her predecessor, the bland Trish Crossin, is out of joint.
We could not contact Rohan Foley, president of the Alice Springs ALP branch, but a prominent member says here there are no hard feelings about Ms Peris in The Centre.
She was a member of Australia’s Hockeyroos which beat South Korea in the final at the 1996 Atlanta games, becoming the first Aboriginal to win Olympic gold. In 1998 she again won gold in the 200 metres and 100 metres relay at the Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games and in 2000 made the semi finals of the 400 metres at the Sydney Olympics.
She spoke with Alice Springs News Online Editor ERWIN CHLANDA.
NEWS: The Territory’s troubling issues – crime, alcohol control – are mostly in the court of the NT Government but there is one issue Federal government has to answer for: Passive welfare, supplied by Centrelink. We have lots of land, water and a certain level of transport infrastructure – but we can’t marshal the thousands of unemployed into agriculture, cattle or tourism ventures. Should the dole be stopped where work is available? What would you do?
PERIS: Unemployment in the NT is regarded as low but in the remote communities it is high. I am definitely all for creating employment through use of the land. If someone doesn’t have a job, that’s where social issues start. You’re bored, you have a sense of hopelessness. When you do have a job it gives you a sense of pride. You’re earning your own money, you can provide for your family, you’re putting a roof over its head. All these things.
I met with Grant Fenton from the NT Farmers the other day. We talked about creating real jobs, real income, in particular for Aboriginal people, and the use of their land. That’s one thing so many Aboriginal people have said to me: We want to create something that’s sustainable, over the years. If the parents have a job, the children are going to say, they’ve got a job, so that’s what you do.
NEWS: Let me give you two examples. There is a broad acre watermelon plantation in Ali Curung. Despite the massive unemployment in that region, farm labourers have to be drawn from outside. There is a large commercial vineyard at Rocky Hill producing 1000 tonnes of table grapes. Pruners and pickers are Vietnamese people brought in from the Riverland while there are idle people in Santa Teresa and Amoonguna, a stone’s throw away. What would you do?
PERIS (types a note about Ali Curung into her mobile phone): You’ve got to go and speak to the people. Do they know these jobs exist?
NEWS: If they don’t someone should have a talk to Centrelink.
PERIS: If someone is sitting down [does not have a job], why are they sitting down? You’ve got to ask that question. I find it’s not hard to motivate people. That’s just my experience. But at the end of the day people must want to help themselves.
Tiwi Islands people are saying, we have very capable people here. Strong men who want to work and they’ve had enough of the fly-in, fly-outs. I haven’t been south of Tennant Creek a lot, I’m going there next week, I will speak to those people as well.
NEWS: Centrelink obviously knows about the plantation at Ali Curung, and they also know about the vineyard. If Labor is re-elected and continues to control Centrelink, what will you be saying to them?
PERIS: I need to find out more about that situation, why people are not taking up those opportunities. I am all for work. My parents have been hard workers. It’s in our genes to go out, to be motivated to work, to earn an honest dollar. If there are opportunities to work unemployed should take up those opportunities.
NEWS: Should the dole be stopped when there are such opportunities, even if they are intermittent?
PERIS: If work is available, people should have the opportunity to work.
NEWS: They have the opportunity. Many don’t take it.
PERIS: As I said, do I believe that people should work? Yes, I do. There is your answer.
NEWS: Should the dole be stopped – as it’s the case in the rest of the country – if a recipient doesn’t take a job offered?
PERIS: If the opportunity is there for you to work, and there is no reason why you can’t take that job, then yes, that’s the answer. Everybody should contribute to society in a fruitful way. Set an example for your children. Education: Yes. Work: Yes. Healthy life: Yes.
NEWS: The other problem is alcohol abuse. To deal with it is mostly a Territory responsibility but Canberra has the money.
PERIS: Again, why are people taking to alcohol? All of those people probably don’t have jobs. And this has absolutely the most horrific, devastating effect. I believe the Banned Drinkers Register certainly worked. When you hear about full strength alcohol being allowed back into communities you are just adding to the already terrible social issues that are occurring right now. We’re talking about adults now. Nobody likes being told what to do.
Change needs to come from the grassroots. Umbakumba on Groote Eylandt, for example, had a huge alcohol problem. That problem is gone. That is a community that has beaten the problem.
NEWS: Should income management stay?
PERIS: I hate the name.
NEWS: What would you call it?
PERIS: Savings. Children’s savings.
PERIS: I need to be speaking to people out there in the community.
NEWS: You only have  a few weeks to the election.
PERIS: That’s all right, speak to me in two weeks’ time.
NEWS: What will be your five top priorities if you are elected?
PERIS: I’ve thought about this. Problems with live cattle exports have really hurt the Territory. I will work with the respective parties to get live exports back on track.
I will look at where the mining boom, including INPEX, are at, especially the prioritising those jobs for Territorians. They are perfectly capable, yet we still have a lot of interstaters coming in [driving up rents and cost of living].
We need to have a discussion with Territory kids about their expectations. We have a Chief Minister saying we’re open for business, but we have to take the Territorians with us. That’s number two.
We need to look at services for our elderly people, such as respite care. My mum is a pensioner, she’s served her time. Simple things, like making old people paying a dollar for a bus fare while installing WiFi … it doesn’t make sense. Small things are hurting people.
People in the communities are not informed. They don’t know what’s going on. Some companies going into communities to do business need to be made accountable.
NEWS: There has long been a push for changing the landrights act, to allow smaller land councils, or sub-councils that have responsibility for land management and mining royalties, as well as providing individual property rights so that people can live and run businesses on their own land.
PERIS: Communities want to use their land, create jobs. Communities have to become economically sustainable. It’s all very well to be trained up, but you need economic development to use your skills.
NEWS: Do you find that Top End Aboriginal people are more assertive than those in The Centre, more self-certain and active?
PERIS: There are more activities in coastal areas, more opportunities. Desert people do it tough, in the extreme weather. I have another two months to spend some time with people down here.
It’s not for me to be saying, this is what you should be doing. Having ears and eyes and learning what’s happened in the past … what am I going to do in the future to help those communities, make them sustainable, so Aboriginal people can become proud Aboriginal people, that’s my objective.
NEWS: We lost 50% of our tourism in the past 10 years.
PERIS: I went to Uluru not long ago and I know how much tourism is hurting there. But look at the price of flights, that’s probably one of the big issues …
NEWS: And the cost to be there?
PERIS: … and to be there. When you go down south, everyone wants to come to the Territory but it’s too expensive.
Ms Peris, at left in the photo at top, is pictured at the Alice Springs Show with law student Que Kenny, from Hermannsburg.


  1. Erwin. The communities were part of the original start of the farms. So Nova has informed us all that she has no idea of anything below the Berrimah line. We need politicians who know the issues and know what is happening. For those running in this and other elections should have a basic understanding of the issues.
    So if they go in asking to be elected what is they are going to do for the state territory if they do not understand the issues. I find most people are putting up their hands just to get into politics. Ask the people to vote for you and you don’t care what the issues are that affect the people. “Vote for me.” I look good interact well and I am a nice person.
    Sorry if someone gives me a gift all wrapped beautiful and when I open it there is nothing inside excuse me for being unimpressed.
    This election is about real commitment to the voters. Real commitment to Australia. There are some running again for the vote. I ask what have they done whilst representing the Territory in Federal politics.

  2. It sounds like Ms Peris is level headed and open to thinking outside of the box on issues. Great!
    But there is absolutely no logical rationale in this day and age for sending Australian animals overseas as live exports for slaughter.
    We have seen too much evidence that the end result for the animals is wrong.
    A much better solution is for the Government to support local enterprise in the Top End to establish abattoirs, in consultation with export partners (Indonesia, Egypt, etc) to ensure that the meat is halal.
    And then the product is shipped frozen. Much better all round – increased jobs for Australians, animals are allowed to die with minimal trauma, and we sustain a local farming industry.

  3. Regarding the AS News Online statement that “someone should have a talk to Centrelink”, it’s my opinion that Centrelink should send field workers into communities and assess the work situation, its proximinity to the community and whether clients currently on passive welfare could be bussed to jobs within a reasonable daily commuting framework.
    This would involve a substantial mobilisation on behalf of Centrelink, but it could have substantial benefits and savings, especially in lives currently devoted to daily consumption of alcohol.
    Along the way, employment creation opportunities might suggest themselves and instead of a long-time fallow field, the plough might produce a harvest.
    One day, at this rate, we could wake up and find that consumption (CPI) outweighs production.

  4. Russell@. Centrelink has on site offices in some communities. And in other communities visit on set dates. But Centrelink is not in communities to look at what work is available that is what the organisations such as ITEC, Centacare and other employment agencies including those who operated in the CDEP.
    All have been found incompetent and the federal government has moved in the right direction by establishing the shires to act as job find officers and implement employment program’s and report to centrelink and DEEWR.
    This new program started 1st July. This year. This is a move in the right direction finally the communities have on the ground knowledge base. Real futures for communities.

  5. Can’t believe we the keep going around the same circle pouring tax payers’ money into a bottomless hole.

  6. Farms were on the communities.
    Commonwealth obstructive legislation prevents leases being available for housing on many communities.
    Without a lease you have no right to exclude others from walking through your house.
    Without a lease you have no right to stop others harvesting crops you grow.
    Farms are not around communities because leases are NOT provided.

  7. Malala Yousafzi: “One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.”
    Malala Yousafzi marked her 16th birthday by delivering a speech at the UN headquarters in New York to call on governments to ensure free compulsory education for every child.
    For Malala Yousafzi this was her first public speech since she was attacked on a bus in Pakistan’s north-western Swat valley after standing up for her right to go to school in her home country.
    We need all – particularly our irregularly attending youth, to know more about Malala Yousafzi and the challenges others face to obtain their education. How to change the world, first we all need to educate ourselves.
    What do we do with our Taliban? Our Taliban are all those interfering, obstructing, just looking away, when children fail to receive their education.

  8. In reply to Janet (Posted July 11, 2013 at 9:05 am): I don’t know how to break this to you gently Janet; it’s just … that I … agree with you … a little bit. At least, on this occasion, I agree with you … a little bit.
    I hope that didn’t shock you or cause too much offence.
    On the other hand, you have it wrong – at least partly – about the shires. The Federal government has not selected “the shires to act as job find officers and implement employment programs and report to Centrelink and DEEWR.” This may be happening in parts of the Central Desert Shire (CDS) area, as the CDS tendered for contracts to provide this service, together with partners.
    In the MacDonnell Shire area, and parts of CDS such as Nyirrpi, other entities (principally Aboriginal-controlled resource agencies and community development bodies) have been selected to provide these important functions, such as organising training and work experience, supporting enterprise development and assisting people to find jobs in external workplaces.
    It is my understanding that these agencies will also have the responsibility to break the passive welfare cycle, referred to by Russell Guy (Posted July 10, 2013 at 8:24 pm), i.e. to “assess the work situation, its proximity to the community and whether clients currently on passive welfare could be bussed to jobs within a reasonable daily commuting framework”, or risk being breached.
    But you are basically correct Janet on the most important aspect of these reforms: these new arrangements have the potential to achieve real advances for people living in remote communities. For the first time there will be a properly integrated approach, driven by an “on the ground knowledge base”, for developing work opportunities and working lives for these people.

  9. Bob, your assumption here is that being breached or the threat of it will get remote community people working.
    That is not the case in a society where there are extensive kinship support relationships, where there is quite a high level of collective disposable income due to provision of houses for free, with low rents, so there is no pressure to maintain an income.
    Along with that there is the flow of incomes from painting and royalties etc – breached individuals will get along quite nicely without working and almost all will choose not to.
    Meanwhile the properly integrated approach you refer to will be expensive, very expensive. Sorry to be negative about a great sounding plan but that’s the ‘on the ground’ reality I see.

  10. @ Interested Observer. July 13. 6: 31AM.
    If we take the premise that the outcome of Centrelink programs is to get people working, then from the information you are providing, there needs to be a much closer appraisal of the situation and terms of reference.
    Clearly, it is complex, but I agree that Aboriginal society is basically an obligated, kinship support system where a collective pool of money is used to achieve travel and survival needs, such as food, clothing and discretionary income.
    There are some profound benefits as against an individually based, nuclear family, competitive model.
    However, incentives to work, including the work ethic can be founded on the need to eat. This is bound to involve some arbitration.
    The issue of “free housing and low rents” is often pointed out in these posts as bound by the lack of private ownership of land or leases on communities. Perhaps, Alison Anderson is pushing ahead with this, given her recent comments.
    The ancient adage, ‘if you don’t work, you don’t eat’ is salient in a hunter / gatherer society integrating with a capitalist economy and possibly forms a basis for breaching clients of passive welfare, but there are health and educational issues to be considered within an historical context.
    Tax-free royalty payments are an issue.
    In 2002, the Australian Taxation Office issued a ‘Statement by a supplier’ to be signed by an artist or anyone without an ABN as a measure of accountability.
    The declining Aboriginal art industry seems to me not worth the ATO’s time in following up artist incomes in the majority of cases.
    I once tried to help an artist get a home loan, but the bank required an income tax history, evidence of being able to meet regular payments and a deposit. Only the latter could be supplied.
    Maybe breaching needs to begin after the employment availability assessment. It could have a positive educational outcome as to the reality of consumption versus production in a modern capitalist economic cycle based on the pool of taxpayer funds. The ‘hand-up’ rather than ‘hand-out’ comes to mind.
    One thing is certain, consumption of alcohol will never outweigh production of alcohol to meet demand. Supply issues are crucial as is Centrelink accountability in all of this.

  11. IO (Posted July 13, 2013 at 6:31 am) you are of course correct this time, about the various expectations, habits, addictions, dependencies and opportunities which paralyse too much potential Indigenous agency, achievement and self-realisation.
    However you fail to recognise that the breaching of those who break their contracts, along with the cumulative efforts on a number of fronts (including the example of others, the impacts of leadership and a changing group ethos, the expectations of the rest of society becoming better known, the improved education attainments of many individuals, and desire by increasing numbers of young people for better lifestyles and broader horizons), as proposed via the new remote jobs and enterprise fostering scheme, will help to chip away at the lethargy, ignorance, dysfunctions, lack of opportunities and fatalism which is holding many back from taking more control over their own lives and beginning to take action over their responsibilities and potentials.

  12. Obstacles to the success of this proposal are far more profound than ‘habits, addictions, dependencies and opportunities which paralyse too much potential Indigenous agency, achievement and self-realisation.’
    Aboriginal agency, achievement and self realisation encompass far more than the mainstream agenda and can flourish unnoticed, unrecognised and labelled an abject failure in the terms of non Aboriginal society.
    As for the agents of change:
    (1) The impacts of leadership and a changing group ethos: Only at the rhetorical level not on the ground.
    (2) The expectations of the rest of society becoming better known: They already know, we tell them constantly but they are largely irrelevant to this group, though happy to provide spoken agreement.
    (3) Improved education attainments: Didn’t ex Minister Garrett admit these are going backwards?
    (4) Desire by increasing numbers of young people for better lifestyles and broader horizons: True but completely disconnected from remote jobs and the enterprise fostering scheme.

  13. If Nova Peris is about getting people working and paying their share of tax, then I would like to sum up my recent post @ July 13: 6:31pm.
    Based on the reported differences between European and Aboriginal cultures, the issue of “free housing and low rents” on communities is to do with the fact that private ownership of land is not available.
    The basis of freehold is what Europeans use to determine a sound investment in a house. If home ownership, rather than “free housing and low rents” is to be expected, then land title on communities needs to be changed this century. Hello?
    The issue of employment on communities needs to be assessed, passive welfare clients interviewed and training for existing jobs as opposed to training for non-existent jobs rolled out as quickly as the AMT.
    Terms of reference for breaching needs to be thrashed-out.
    (Perhaps, the Alice Springs News Online could get a spokesperson from Centrelink to give us an update on their state of play).
    Once work is undertaken, regular pay-cheques could fit the concept of home ownership. No Income Management there. A start needs to be made and leading by example is a proven method.
    Educational opportunities need to be assessed and fitted to Centrelink interviewees and their requirements so that they can be shepherded in the direction of self-improvement and eventual home ownership, rather than perennial reliance on passive welfare.
    Tax-free royalty payments need to stop. Tax should be taken out in a similar manner as PAYG personal income tax at a rate determined, either by existing welfare income or employment.
    I would hope that someone from the NTG would canvas these posts and do something about it, including working with the Federal government for all Australians.
    Re my attempt at a bank loan for an Indigenous artist being knocked back because of no income tax history, this needs to be taken on board if progress is to be made towards integrating with a capitalist economy.
    Breaching could have a positive educational outcome on the client as well as numerous benefits to the Australian taxpayer.
    The ‘hand-up’ rather than ‘hand-out’ should be an axiom in Closing the Gap.
    Without changes to the current alcohol supply regulations, this task is unlikely to succeed and the next forty years will be worse.
    Good afternoon.

  14. My congratulations go to Russell Guy for making a singularly sensible and thought provoking contribution to this debate (see Posted July 15, 2013 at 7:32 pm).
    It would probably be worth turning your post into a letter, Russell, and sending it off to young Ms Peris for her consideration.
    On the other hand, our old mate Interested Observer persists with a fine imitation of an ostrich (Posted July 15, 2013 at 1:32 pm).
    In IO’s fatalistic world, because positive change in the Aboriginal realm has been so difficult and often ephemeral in the recent past, it must remain forever so.
    According to IO’s gospel, Aboriginal education cannot succeed; leadership is an illusion too flimsy to break the constraints of tribal loyalties and habits; the outside world is too stupid to realise the true nature of the problems and thus impotent to help in changing anything; and the ties that bind will forever strangle efforts to engage constructively with modernity (and all its implications).
    IO seems to underestimate the trends of history, the ability of others to learn from previous mistakes, and the capacity of some individual Aboriginal people to break free from the conformism and chains of the past, and thus lead the way for others.
    I suspect that IO is simply a victim of personal cynicism and despair. These are qualities of mind which do not aid us in clear thinking or constructive analysis of complex social issues.

  15. Which community pays reasonable wages for casual work and has problems finding applicants?

  16. Paul Parker (Posted July 22, 2013 at 1:09 pm): You asked “Which community pays reasonable wages for casual work and has problems finding applicants?”
    Some of the places that have unskilled and semi-skilled casual seasonal work jobs with reasonable wages available close by or within reasonable commuting distance, or with accommodation supplied on site in some cases, include Amoonguna, Santa Teresa, Ali Curung, Ti Tree / Nturiya, Alyuen and Pmara Jutunta.
    Most of these have quite a bit of seasonal work related to horticulture available at certain times of the year, and have to recruit back-packers or labour from interstate.
    Others, such as Mutitjulu and town camps, have cleaning, waiting and other work associated with the hospitality industry available within commuting distance.


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