By ERWIN CHLANDA
“It is clear that Community Development Programme (CDP) is not working,” thunders the NT’s Labor Senator, Malarndirri McCarthy.
Left: Michelle Holmes, one of the best known Ampilatwatja artists for her paintings, extending her skills to ceramics. The art centre wants to use CDP but is facing obstacles. Photo from our archive.
“It’s not working for remote area job seekers, it’s not working for remote area economic development, it’s not working for community development and it’s not working for the Government.
“It is not a program that creates jobs or economic development,” she says.
In the Utopia and Sandover region My Pathway, a big national company, made up of a group of 10 entities, is the provider of a CDP scheme.
In a nutshell this is how it works: To continue to receive the dole, recipients are required to do work for 25 hours a week – five hours a day.
My Pathway organises that work, and gets a fee per participant, the size of which depends on his or her background.
If he or she finishes up with a job and sticks to it for 13 weeks, My Pathway gets a bonus, and if the period is 26 weeks a second bonus, $1900, is paid.
The My Pathway operation in the Sandover region is huge – 22 staff and up to 500 participants, according to Regional Group Manager Leigh Pollard.
The centre of operations is a complex leased from the Barkly Regional Council where some participants learn trade skills such as carpentry and concreting. They produce some items principally for use in the complex, such as BBQs and shade structures.
Activities elsewhere seem to be minor – a concrete job in the store and fencing a softball ground, for example. As it doesn’t have a blade of grass to protect the purpose of the fence is unclear, yet another one is planned, around a football oval, that is also without grass.
The problem of CDP there – and possibly elsewhere – is that very few participants move on into full time work (and hence go off the dole).
And secondly, making meaningful the 25 hours a week they are obliged to work whilst being in the scheme.
The Ampilatwatja school principal, Elizabeth Milne, says local staff employed at school come from MyPathway.
Right: Store at Arlparra, established as a resource centre for the Utopia homelands, but becoming a community in its own right. Bush stores are one source of local employment. Photo from our archive.
Mrs Milne describes the arrangements with MyPathway as an “excellent established routine”.
She says: “Our local staff play an important role in the life of the school and are employed in a variety of areas, for example, assistant teachers, grounds staff and cleaning.”
The school’s nutrition program is run by the Barkly Regional Council, offering the children breakfast, fruit mid-morning and a cooked lunch.
Mrs Milne says: “We do not have CDP participants at this point.”
Steve Dawkins, the Barkly Council’s Director of Community Services, says there are four Indigenous staff in the nutrition program, all of them sourced from My Pathway.
He says the council has a “good working relationship” with My Pathway.
There are no CDP participants doing their five hours a day stints involved with the council.
This brings the total of participants we could find having moved into employment to eight.
That would leave up to 492 doing compulsory work which appears to be largely of very limited benefit to anyone.
The Artists of Ampilatwatja Aboriginal Corporation belongs to that sparsely occupied Aboriginal private enterprise sector that is consistently making money, has earned for Central Australia international fame in contemporary arts, has managed to keep off its back the dead hand of Indigenous organisations including the Central Land Council, and is run mostly by women.
Caroline Hunter has managed the Ampilatwatja art centre since it was resurrected in 2010. Currently she is gearing up for several artists to mount a show in the Australian embassy in Berlin.
The financial affairs of bush-based art groups are subject to public audit but those of its members are less transparent.
No matter how much in demand their works may be, Aboriginal artists have one thing in common: They are attached to their pensions, says an insider.
That inevitably lands the artists in the realm of Centrelink and well-meaning jobs for the dole systems. And this is thoroughly counter-productive.
Left: A ceramics workshop at the Ampilatwatja art centre, with visiting lecturer Suzi Lyon from Charles Darwin University and highly reputed artist Colleen Morton. Photo from our archive.
Rather than putting brush to canvas they are sidelined into crocheting circles or some other hardly lucrative activity for five hours a day, five days a week, devoid of prospects.
That is notwithstanding that the Australian Government’s fact sheet on CDP makes it clear that “remote-area Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art centres can work with CDP Providers to assist job seekers build their skills and gain work experience that moves them along a pathway to employment.”
This includes “but is not limited to” job seeker work experience placements in the art centre, activities leading to products on consignment to sell through the art centre, as well as, for example a beautification, landscaping or cleaning activity.
“In most cases, the art centre will be eligible for remuneration to cover some costs,” says the fact sheet.
Yet Ms Hunter has tried for the past two and a half years, without success so far, to get women from My Pathway for their five hours a day obligatory work stints.
“I provided 12 names and as yet only have one placement as of October this year,” she says.
The art centre could well act as a CDP provider, she says, and receive funds currently going to My Pathway which has been of no help to the art centre.
Meanwhile Senator McCarthy is scathing about CDP: “It is a punitive program that punishes people, families and communities.
“In the NT there were over 74,500 financial penalties imposed in the previous financial year – that means people and families who were receiving little to no income for periods of time.
“The impact of this on health, education, community safety is huge.
“CDP isn’t working, the Turnbull Government’s handling of Indigenous policy and issues is in chaos and it’s Indigenous Australians who are paying the price.”
Although Senator McCarthy isn’t proposing remedies, her outrage is understandable.
The numbers of financial penalties for CDP jobseekers give the term shamejob a whole new meaning.
NSW has a population of 7.5 million and Queensland 4.7 million, a combined population of 12.2 million. The two states between them recorded 32,861 “no show no pay” penalties in the CDP system.
The Northern Territory has a population of 212,000 and recorded 62,829 “no show no pay” penalties.
That’s a penalty for every 3.4 people, compared to every 371.2 people for NSW and Queensland combined. The ratio for “total financial penalty events” is similar.
That means the NT is 110 times worse in terms of compliance. Comprehension becomes difficult. Brainlock sets in.
This is where a two-months CDP investigation by the Alice Springs News Online has gotten to so far:
• A resident well acquainted with CDP initiatives in Finke and Santa Teresa described the scheme as a haven for rorting taxpayers’ money and achieving little in terms of job creation and getting people job ready.
• The organisation running the scheme, Catholic Care, vehemently rejects the claims but denies us access to records and fails to respond to specific questions.
• CLP Senator Nigel Scullion, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, refuses to be interviewed on the subject.
• The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, which forks out for the scheme, offers bland responses and leaves most of 17 specific questions we put to them without an answer.
According to the Federal Government, of the 37,000 job seekers supported by Providers, more than 80 per cent are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
By ERWIN CHLANDA