Scullion: outback economies answer to bush welfare mess


Creating outback economies that provide jobs is the way out of the current passive welfare structure that doesn’t match the needs in the bush, says Australia’s new Indigenous Affairs Minister,  NT Senator Nigel Scullion.
He spoke this morning with Alice Springs News Online editor ERWIN CHLANDA.
NEWS: Is there a case for expanding the principle of stopping the dole for people rejecting offers of work, for expecting that people who have assets use them for projects that create work? Aborigines in The Centre own half a million square kilometres.
SCULLION: Receiving Newstart payments in an area that has no economy and no jobs is inappropriate. In these conditions governments have been taking the view that the dole is unconditional.
We know that is not acceptable in the long term. Newstart is for people between jobs, searching for jobs. We need to look at that more broadly.
The development of an economy such as tourism, broad-acre or pastoral industries, manufacturing – these are very important elements of the future and the government plays an important role.
NEWS: Is there a case for Aboriginal land trusts and land councils to look for joint ventures with job creation as a main focus?
SCULLION: I’ve had long conversations with land owners about a range of issues, from tenure to development. As areas are developed and jobs become available, and we move to an economy, then clearly we would have a reasonable expectation to involve people currently disconnected.
If they are able to work then they should be working. I’ve not heard anyone saying no, we don’t need economic development and we want to continue to receive welfare. Nobody’s told me that. We’ll be working closely with the land councils.
In the area you’re speaking off, places like Ali Curung, it has been disappointing that a melon farm is six kilometers up the road from able bodied men and women and they find it very difficult to get employment. That’s an issue. It’s a complex one.
Who’s currently making the decisions? This is an area where they are adjacent to an economy, and adjacent to jobs. If there is a job there, and you’re simply saying, I’m just not going to take that job, well, there’s no unconditional welfare.
The leverage of moving people away from the horrors of welfare into employment – it’s good enough for people in the mainstream. These opportunities should also be available to Aboriginal people.
NEWS: Is there a reluctance by the land trusts and land councils to enter into joint ventures that could create jobs?
SCULLION: The use of broad-acre land such as in other states is one of the low hanging fruits of economic development. Look over the fence! Whatever they’ve been doing there for the last 30, 40 years is probably a good indicator of how to use the land. As to the land councils, I’m always interested in hearing submissions. They should be assisting the land owners where they can.
Separate services: Congress gets big tick
NEWS: What’s the future of the big Aboriginal organisations in Alice Springs? Tangentyere and Congress, for example?
SCULLION: We don’t need duplication of services. We need very good services. If you talk about the application of municipal services in some of the town camps by Tangentyere, I have had a number of people telling me that they don’t believe the service they are getting is particularly good.
If you live in some areas of Alice Springs you shouldn’t be delivered a different service, you should be getting exactly the same service. And equally you should be expected to pay for it. For example, normalcy for the town council would be, who’s going to pay rates?
NEWS: What about Congress?
SCULLION: Congress in Alice Springs is probably one of the best health organisations in Australia, full stop. They have moved to a very good business model that has been picked up in other parts of Australia.
They’re fundamentally welded to Medicare, they ensure all of their clients have a Medicare card. It’s the same sort of [positive] index you get across Australia, particularly in demographics with larger areas of need.
NEWS: What’s on top of your agenda as the new Minister?
SCULLION: Talking with my partners in the other jurisdictions, discussions about structural changes in the departments, moving many of the instruments of government into Prime Minister and Cabinet, the formation of a new role.
NEWS: Which functions of Indigenous Affairs will be moved?
SCULLION: We’re bringing the functions of a whole range of Indigenous specific functions across to Prime Minister and Cabinet. Health will stay with Health, education will stay with Education, but there are a whole range of functions we’re taking out of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, and the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and out of other departments, functions that are either remote or Indigenous specific.


  1. Hi hum, not exactly bursting with new ideas and exciting initiatives is he. Steady as she goes and as long as the Aboriginal industry has a good business plan all is well.

  2. On the need for a Commission of Enquiry into the alcohol industry in the NT, Tony Fitzgerald, author of the Fitzgerald Report into corruption in Queensland during the late 1980s, reflects on democracy in the Weekend Australian.
    “I think it’s a pity that we have lost the capacity – or maybe it’s that we never had that capacity – to differentiate between political partisanshp and someone simply doing a job.
    “If we really want society to function, we do need to recognise that there will be unpleasant jobs that have to be done, and the fact that the person who does it reports unfavourably on a person or institutions doesn’t mean there is bias.”
    After the hard-won gains of Land Rights, it is somewhat dispiriting to see how it has morphed into Grog Rights.

  3. Experts, do-gooders and other interested people have been trying for decades to “find” viable projects and employment opportunities in communities for the limited number who really want to work.
    Many Indigenous people have been trained to death in fencing, welding and essential services, but finding something viable and productive that requires a large number of employees has been evasive.
    If you could find something that worked and patented it, you’d be rich for life and the problem would be solved.


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