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Tuesday, 8 May 2018
Page: 2610

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (20:47): I rise tonight to talk about the future of employment and services in Aboriginal communities, and to highlight the need for a different approach in remote, rural and regional communities. There is an urgent need for meaningful jobs in rural and remote Aboriginal communities; there is also a growing need for more people to work in carer occupations in particular as the NDIS rolls out and as the population ages, and to ensure that we have adequate services in remote communities in particular. Rather than increasingly punitive approaches to income support, there could be a transition to meaningful work creating not only more jobs in communities desperate for them but also enabling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to remain on country and receive the services they require.

I've spoken on numerous occasions in this place on my concerns about CDP—the Community Development Program. About 80 per cent of CDP participants are Aboriginal people living in regions where unemployment can be as high as 51 per cent. The CDP requires them to work 25 hours per week for below the minimum wage and under different circumstances to the rest of Australia in jobactive programs. The latest figures on the number of penalties applied to Aboriginal people on this program highlight the failures of the program and the urgent need for change. There are more than 340,000 fines that have been issued since 2015 to people enrolled in CDP, according to the latest data from the federal government. Roughly 30,000 people are registered with the program, and there were 47,729 fines issued to that group of people in the three months to September 2017. When you look at the jobactive program—which includes 760,000 people living in major cities and regional areas—54,758 fines were issued for the same quarter. Now, you can see the vast difference in the proportion of people fined under CDP compared to the rest of Australia.

Analysis by The Australia Institute showed that the scheme had helped fewer than one in five people into an ongoing job and that fewer than one in 10 remained in that job for six months or more. Statistics from estimates show that between June 2015 and September 2017 the number of young people accessing the CDP dropped dramatically, showing that young people increasingly are not accessing the program, despite needing support. The number of people with vulnerability indicators also dropped during this period, which serves as a concerning indicator that vulnerable Australians increasingly are not accessing the program, despite needing help. These trends will probably be viewed by the government as a badge of success. They've kept people off income support. They are not in jobs, just not on any visible means of support. This is evidence that points to the fact that vulnerable Australians are increasingly shying away from a program that is difficult to navigate when trying to access support in remote Australia.

Between June 2015 and September 2017 the number of participants aged under 25 dropped by nearly 2,500. This is very concerning, because members of this cohort are at the start of their working lives. The data doesn't indicate that employment is driving the shift, so this more than likely means that young people aren't getting support at a critical juncture in their lives and highlights yet again that the program is fundamentally broken.

At Garma at the beginning of August last year, and in fact in recent Senate estimates, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Scullion, conceded that the program needed improving and mentioned, particularly, that the program should address issues around community wages, which is what the Aboriginal community has been calling for for a long time. Yet that issue was not taken up with urgent action. The minister has supposedly been consulting on this for some period of time. In the meantime, Aboriginal people are left on this harsh and paternalistic program which has appalling impacts, as I've just articulated. We know this program doesn't work, and these failures need to be addressed.

The budget papers say that there is going to be reform of the CDP:

The changes will better align job seekers' participation activities with their assessed work capacity and incentivise job seeker attendance and engagement.

Under the new arrangements, CDP job seekers will be subject to the Jobseeker Compliance Framework introduced in the 2017-18 Budget measure titled Better Targeting of Assistance to Support Jobseekers

In other words, it's the demerits program. There is little other information provided at this stage. The papers go on to say that this will be implemented by 1 February 2019. This is an unacceptable wait for any level of reform, and I'm severely doubtful that this is the meaningful and proper reform the community has very clearly articulated is needed. APO NT, in the Northern Territory, have set out a plan which the government could follow to better develop this program, but we are yet to see the details of the reform other than, by the look of it, the application of even more stringent measures to this vulnerable group of jobseekers. In the meantime, before we see that reform, people will be stuck for eight months on this harsh, punitive approach which drops people off income support and which has caused distress in the community and has led literally to food not being put on tables. The Senate inquiry into the CDP made a number of recommendations, including—where I'm particularly focusing these comments—that the government needs to take immediate action on those onerous compliance measures which drop people off income support for long periods of time. Even if it's 'no show, no pay', people are losing multiple days. It's having a significant effect on people's ability to survive.

The failure of this program has had devastating impacts on individuals, families and communities, with kids not getting food on the table, and communities being pushed further into poverty and disadvantage. It's clear that this type of program is not working. And if the only reform that is going to occur is to put people onto the demerit points system then that is not going to deliver the outcomes. We know that there's plenty of opportunity, for example, to invest in and develop a caring economy in these communities to provide essential community services to support ageing, disabilities, family and community, and mental health. We know these are vital to regional and remote communities.

In its submission to the Senate Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers inquiry, the WA Council of Social Services discussed the need to invest in our human services. The council said we should be investing in our human services in response to the projected demand to drive growth in our economy and that will simultaneously tackle greater inequalities and meet the needs of an ageing population. We also need to continue the growth of our skilled Aboriginal human services workforce in order to provide employment opportunities and informed services that can best address the disadvantage experienced by the Aboriginal community.

It is predicted that, by 2020, demand for health and social services will triple; however, we still don't have a workforce development strategy in place to meet this demand. Developing and sustaining an appropriately skilled community services workforce to meet the projected demand is becoming increasingly challenging. We need to significantly invest in and develop a strategy around how we are going to provide human services in remote communities. It's an ideal opportunity to invest in developing the skills of Aboriginal workers so the services are owned and delivered by Aboriginal communities themselves and generate jobs that are needed in these communities. We need to invest in that sort of approach, not in a punitive top-down approach that hurts Aboriginal people living in remote communities.