Can the town afford the welfare burden?

Kay Eade, Executive Officer of the Chamber of Commerce in Alice Springs, joins our Food for Thought panel this week.

When things get tough the tough get going. Kay strutted a no-nonsense attitude at a string of recent public functions: Enough talk. Here are her views of what action the town needs.

When Alice Springs was going through difficult times during the summer of 2011, I contacted many regional Chambers to find out if their communities were experiencing similar issues, and if so, what were they doing to combat the problem.

Most of them were, or had been, having difficulties with lawlessness which added to businesses operating expenses.

One topic which kept being raised was that of welfare payments.  Many of the Chambers I contacted stated that their community believed that welfare was hindering the progress of their regions. At the meetings I attended during last summer, traditional owners and senior Aboriginal people also voiced their concerns regarding welfare payments, which they believed were stunting their peoples’ progress and willingness to enter into the workforce.

Most parties agreed that welfare has it place, but at present this practice, as well as the many government agencies with ‘well meaning’ programmes, are taking away Aboriginal peoples motive to be responsible for their lives and the lives of their families.

I believe Australia cannot sustain the welfare system as it is, and if it is in fact deterring local people from entering the workforce, it is detrimental to regional towns’ economical growth. Staff shortages create a huge impact on Alice Springs businesses potential to operate efficiently, and limit their ability to develop.

The town needs the local population to fill the vacancies on their books.  The Chamber has developed many initiatives with employers with the aim to assist them in attracting and retaining Aboriginal people into the workforce.  Our findings from these exercises have been that businesses have more success with young people who attend or have attended school.

The quandary is if you decrease welfare payments, will this have an affect on Alice Springs economy?  Being a welfare dependant town has provided businesses in Central Australia steady revenue, enabling them to overcome many national economic disasters.  With tourism numbers at a low, and the affects of the federal government’s intervention having an impact on some businesses, would the transition of weaning people off welfare and making them work ready, be the straw that breaks the camel’s back?

 

See Deborah Rock’s and Bob Durnan’s Food for Thought contributions below. Earlier postings:

Education: Alice must lift its game. By KEMY OGENDI.

Transport Hall of Fame bucks downward trends. By LIZ MARTIN.

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9 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Sam
    Posted February 12, 2013 at 7:40 am

    It’s called natural selection. Keep paying for some individuals to survive and then just wait for them to fade away, as no doubt they will.

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  2. Glad to be gone
    Posted February 20, 2012 at 10:37 am

    Agree with DN and [NAME DELETED because the writer did not provide his/her full name for publication – ED]. It is people like you that assist Alice Springs being the shit hole it is.
    I lived in Alice Springs for nearly five years and I must say I am very glad to be out of there. Great to be in the land of living again.
    Unfortunately I tried to improve the town but there just appears to be too many locals who want to keep it in the gutter. After that you just give up as the town will never work together to fix the issues. Way too many self interests.
    Look at the break-ins and violence but the locals just say that’s part of Alice Springs. Live with it. Then you have a completely inept council, police force and government. The plan is to hand out as much cash as possible and hope the problem goes away. Oh, and the courts just hand out little slaps, not real fair dinkum kicks in the arse. DN is right. I see nothing in the comments that you can actually argue with.
    But again that’s the problem – you have gooses like [NAME DELETED – ED] who just crap on and have no real solutions. Sarcasm is his weapon … Lack of education. Probably a public servant being paid heaps and living in a subsidised rental property in the Golf Club estate, thus creating an overpriced rental market.
    Get off your arse and do something rather than get on everyone else’s back. Goose.

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  3. Kathy Fritz
    Posted February 16, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    I believe any money given out by government should be earned. No matter what colour you are. If I employ a cleaner, they expect to be told what I want them to do to earn the money I give them, same for unemployed people. There are many jobs need doing around town. Just look at the untidy streets in this town, home help assistance with the carers. Not great jobs, but unless people go to school, learn English and get educated, it’s up to each and everyone to help themselves, not expect someone else to fix things for them.

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  4. Russell Guy
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    ‘DN’ below, says “you can only support culture if you can afford to pay for it.” Get out of here! When was the last time you had a coffee in the mall? Or went to the library, or the cinema, or tossed a dollar at a busker? Without “culture” the world would’ve been blown up by now, so give the raw prawn away and wrap your laughing gear around something other than a stubbie. May I suggest a falafel, or a couple of dim sims, or perhaps a trip to the zoo for you, DN. You need a break. Have an ice cream on the way home from work or buy yourself some cologne. What about a box of chocolates? Or a magazine? Maybe a visit to the Doc for a check-up? Anything you can think of to stem the boredom of living in a money-making culture where singing, dancing and making merry is seen as too expensive by fundamentally deranged logicians who wouldn’t know their Picasso from Pissarro, but when it comes to Pavlova, no worries! What about painting the wheelbarrow? Your choice.

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  5. Mike Gillam
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    While I agree with much of this I don’t think we’ve got 30 years. With the right policy settings and adequate investment, great strides are possible. I realize Alice Springs locals are demoralized by social dysfunction but I’d suggest that many welfare recipients are also profoundly demoralized by the pattern of their lives.
    Welfare puts money in your pocket but it robs able-bodied people of a purpose in life, motivation, mental and physical development. Moreover the damage radiates outwards impacting on their family and community. People are caught in a bitter trap that provides some basics and certainty but the costs to the whole community are immeasurable and rapidly growing.
    Chances are they did not grow up in a working house-hold. Instead most of their friends and extended family may live this way so a welfare situation is “normal”. In their community the overwhelming critical mass is often unemployed so the failure rate for those trying to break free is high. As they struggle to find a job and keep it they have little or no support from other workers in their immediate social circle. I’ve watched too many dynamic young people with significant promise crash and burn – some give up trying. I guess its easy to judge people and say you should get up and try again and again but realistically most of us have never walked in their shoes – that’s assuming some-one hasn’t already taken their shoes and the clean shirt they were going to wear to work.
    So it’s complex but the issue of critical mass must be addressed before the lives of Aboriginal people can improve. We must take the whole family, street and community on this path together. School leavers should not be allowed to submit to a dole habit – they must be embedded in workplaces, committed to training, rangers, police cadets, Norforce or whatever but most importantly they need routine and somewhere decent to live and if possible trusted mentors to help them grow in confidence and experience.
    Supported accommodation for workers is the single greatest need and this is an efficient way to switch critical mass (at a given locality) in favour of work. I respect the professionalism of Aboriginal Hostels but I’d like to see worker’s villages that provide for all races and ages. Funding is the big question. Governments must also get back into public housing in a big way but with a huge emphasis on transitioning people to work and HOME OWNERSHIP.

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  6. DN
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 7:36 am

    Isn’t it really time in this town to start calling a spade a bloody shovel?
    One just needs to head down the street at 2pm to see where the effort is going in this town – meanwhile the rest of us are slogging it out every day trying to earn a quid. Does that quid get spent in the town? Well, let’s be honest – no it doesn’t.
    For an increasing number of workers that money is spent out of town. Who could be bothered shopping in town when the service is crap, or going out when you know that you are going to put up with screaming, abusive drunk people? Even the walk back to the car is a stress test in itself – are you going to be accosted or will your car still be in one piece?
    It’s time to take a good hard look around the town, and see what is really going on. Businesses are closing, restaurants are empty. It isn’t that people don’t have the money, they just don’t want the aggravation.
    We have public servants who are here to mark up their resumes and over priced housing that makes it easier for people to pay off their flash homes down south. To add insult to injury we have a government who are good at talking, paying for telly ads that tell everyone the bleeding obvious or sponsoring festivals and concerts.
    It’s time for those who support or work in the Aboriginal industry to stop the crap. The talk of footy, music and art as cultural indicators is rubbish. You can only support culture if you can afford to pay for it. In my world, footy, music and art are pastimes that you indulge in when you have the cash.
    Time for parents to be held accountable for not giving their children an education. Time for kids to come out of school and be able to count, read and write in the language of the society that they expect to fit into.
    It might also be time for public servants and others on the public purse to realise that if people want to indulge in cultural pursuits, then maybe, just maybe they should pay for it. Not the taxpayer.

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  7. Hal Duell
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Since the introduction of welfare (income) management, the specter of hunger through misuse of the dole has faded. Now everyone is guaranteed the wherewithal to at least buy basic food stuffs. To take this away from those Australians that have missed out on the chance to earn an income of their own would be cruel.
    Therefore, we may as well accept that some people will be getting the dole for life, or at least getting that part of it that gets credited to the BasicsCard.
    Some of the other dole monies are already contingent on school attendance. There are differing opinions on whether this will work or not, but let’s give it a chance and hope it does. As Kay Eade points out, “businesses have more success with young people who attend or have attended school”.
    I think the other big structural change that needs to be made in welfare is to allow restitution orders for property damage caused by adults and their children to be made against that part of the dole not already committed to the BasicsCard. As I understand it, restitution orders are not allowed under the current welfare system.
    Being on the dole is not a good life choice, but it would be foolish to think it’s not being made. In a recent television program focusing on education in bush communities, a young teenage girl was especially pleased with herself because she could now write her name and date of birth.
    My initial reaction was to admire her desire to register to vote.
    When I expressed that, I was laughed at. She was pleased because she could now register for the dole.
    This is the coal face where the work needs to be done.

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  8. Domenico Pecorari
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 11:18 am

    As hard as I looked into Ms Eade’s commentary, I could not find any indication of the “action the town needs”, as teasingly promoted in the introduction, but just more questions.
    Well, I have a question or two for her and the business community represented by the Chamber she heads: Would you agree that the abuse of alcohol lies at the heart of the majority of our town’s woes?
    And, if so, why have you chosen to ignore the issue, preferring instead to question welfare payments which you correctly identify as an important income source which the local economy depends upon.
    I agree with Terry, that education is the long-term answer, but what about the HERE and NOW.
    I’d like to see the Chamber “get real” and promote some serious curbs on take-away alcohol sales, say, limiting them to Friday and Saturday afternoons and evenings. Yes, just two days.
    Clubs and hotel hours could stay the same, or even extended, with the strict enforcement of existing serving regulations.
    It won’t be so hard to adjust to such a system. After all, we have all come to accept seat-belts in cars, bicycle helmets and non-smoking public places.
    Our community leaders need to realise that, sometimes, the broader public interest needs to over-ride the economic benefit to the few.

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  9. Terry
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 4:13 am

    Ms Eade’s point of view is very much to the point, and not only for the Indigenous people of Australia, but right throughout the western world. The reliance on “government handouts” is of epidemic proportions wherever you look, most certainly in the UK, Australia, NZ and the USA.
    That said, how do we solve this problem? Answer, there is no immediate answer, just long term planning and execution, and I am talking decades to do this.
    In the meantime, the Indigenous people of Australia suffer for the stupidity of many governments since the discovery of the country, none of which ever “got it right”.
    The worst decision was made some time around 1956, when the Aboriginals were given the right to drink. I know there are those of you that will scream “human rights” but in truth, alcohol has been the downfall of the Indigenous folk throughout history, and Australia should have taken heed of what happened to the Inuit, and the American Indians, and the natives of South America, but they did not.
    But back to Ms Eade’s post. There is an answer, and it is education, and that is a long slow process, nonetheless, it is the only way to go. Removing “the dole” would cause terrible hardship to a people that have little or no skills. Training and education is the way, but without a doubt, a reasonable improvement will take twenty or thirty years.

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