By ERWIN CHLANDA
Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion wants to significally increase Commonwealth spending with Aboriginal companies and organisations.
For example, by the middle of next year he wants 100% of the CDP (jobs for the dole) providers to be Indigenous.
The Commonwealth’s Indigenous Procurement Policy (IPP), according to the program’s website, in 2015/16 the Commonwealth awarded, nation-wide, 1,509 contracts worth $284m to 493 Indigenous businesses.
This compares to $6.2m in 2012-13, “almost 46 times the value in previous years”.
A spokesman for NT Senator Scullion says that in the program’s first 18 months more than 700 Indigenous businesses won $434m in contracts. 150 Indigenous businesses in the NT won 363 contracts worth $65m. Details for Central Australia were not available.
“Since I became Minister we have on average employed between 50 and 60 people every day as a consequence of all these initiatives I have implemented,” Senator Scullion told the Alice Springs News Online in an exclusive interview at the Annual Show.
He said the Government-funded employment sector, which receives about $269m a year, “by June 2018 needs to move to being Indigenous owned. Slightly more than half already are.
“It started at 40%, it’s gone up to 65% and I’m going to go from 65% to 100%.”
Senator Scullion (pictured) says the reason for this is that outcomes by Indigenous operated firms are better, people are in jobs longer and being better placed.
It is part of a strategy of fostering Indigenous enterprises because they are “more than 100 times more likely to employ Aboriginal people.
“Off the top of my head, 60% to 70% of the people in those 700 organisations [receiving government contracts] are Indigenous. People are doing joint ventures with Indigenous businesses and that is growing the employment.”
Says a spokesman for Senator Scullion: “Under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, the Minister has announced that the Government is working to ensure all Community Development Programme providers will be Indigenous owned (either directly or through a form of joint venture or governance arrangement) by June 30, 2018.
“Indigenous CDP providers in the Central Region already include Wana Ungkunytja, Tjuwanpa Outstation Resource Centre, Tangentyere Council, Ngurratjuta-Pmara Ntjarra Aboriginal Corporation and Julalikari Council.”
CDP, the Community Development Programme, has reached a level of notoriety in recent years.
The News has been unable to get answers from the Commonwealth on what benefits the system provides, beyond engaging unemployed people in activities that are of limited use.
For example, neither Senator Scullion nor Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will state how many participants obtain ongoing full-time work in the mainstream economy.
Our request for an interview with Mr Turnbull, first made on May 17, “about the chaotic jobs-for-the-dole schemes in Central Australia” will be kept on record, his Press Office told us yesterday.
Information we were given for our reports on providers CatholicCare and MyPathway stopped short of outlining long-term employment results for the people who are obliged to participate in order to get their dole.
Last month a report by the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) found only 6% of Indigenous [program] evaluations use robust methodology.
It said evaluations “are marred by a lack of rigour, with only three of 49 evaluations analysed using robust methodology.
“Previous research found only 8% of 1082 Indigenous-specific programs had been evaluated, but our latest research found, of those evaluated, only 6% were of high quality.
“Not only is there an absence of evaluations, but only a minority have been conducted properly. None of the evaluations analysed used what is considered the ‘gold standard’ of evidence: random controlled trials. Overall, the evaluations were characterised by a lack of data and an over-reliance on anecdotal evidence.”
“Despite this, a number of people continue to think the CDP program is too punitive and does not take into account the challenges people living in remote communities face; such as the lack of jobs.
“A recent report by the Australian National University found 146,000 financial penalties had been applied to 34,000 CDP participants in 2015–16, compared to 104,000 penalties to approximately 750,000 job-active participants in mainstream Australia.
“It seems the original reason CDEP was established the lack of a real economy or many job opportunities in remote Indigenous communities continues to be ignored.”
That picture falls a long way short of the Department of the Prime Minister & Cabinet’s expectation for the CDP as providing “an essential part of the Australian Government’s agenda for increasing employment and breaking the cycle of welfare dependency in remote areas of Australia”.
In response to a Senate Finance Committee question, NT Senator Malarndirri McCarthywas told a whopping half of the nation’s No Show No Pay penalties for CDP in 2015-16 were incurred by participants in the NT, notwithstanding its tiny population: 62,829 penalties of the total of 125,742. NSW is in second place with 32,861.
Why CDP should even exist in the NT seems a fair question given that in November last year the NT and the ACT had the lowest unemployment rate (3.7% each), with SA and WA almost twice that at 6.7% each: Why in town does there need to be such a heavy reliance on visa holder labour? Why in the bush is there so little focus on growing tourism, art and agriculture industries?
The extent of the Indigenous Procurement Policy is a vexed question in an area where the Indigenous population is around 30% – 10 times the national figure – and where the service needs of the Indigenous population are immense.
The News was unable to obtain details from Senator Scullion about which non-Indigenous companies or NGOs in Central Australia are currently Commonwealth providers supplying services for Aboriginal people.
The manager of a non-Indigenous NGO providing services mostly to Indigenous people expressed to the News anxiety about the organisation’s future, and the future of its non-Indigenous workforce.
Erin Neil Dickson, of CatholicCare NT, which is a CDP provider, says it “currently has no formal position on changes to IPP.
“As a place based service provider, we have strong collaborative working relationships with the Aboriginal corporations and organisations that we operate with in the communities in which we provide CDP and other services, and we will continue to work with them in order to best serve the residents of those communities.”
But IPP extends well beyond CDP across 19 Commonwealth departments.
A massive half of the $284m spent under IPP Australia-wide in 2015/16 came from Defence, followed by Treasury ($35m), Prime Minister and Cabinet ($28m), Industry, Innovation and Science ($15m), Foreign Affairs and Trade ($14m) and Human Services ($10m).
Government purchases are “a trillion dollar economy,” says Senator Scullion.
Under IPP “we buy just about everything, from badges for military equipment … the standards are the same, the quality has to remain the same. I am motivated by Indigenous employment.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Cooking was part of a CDP program in Finke. (Above) Regional Council workers are sometimes engaged in CDP work.