PHOTO: We chatted with this group of youngsters yesterday and they were happy for us to take this picture. It was a nice Saturday morning in the Mall, and they were hanging out together, having fun. One boy, clearly suspecting that people would think they are up to no good, said: “Are you going to give this photo to the police?” Another said he would look up the story at school on Monday and took the Alice Springs News Online website address. A third boy, when asked where he is from, replied: “Alice Springs. I own it.” One boy said, with a big laugh: “My name is Damien Ryan.” We’ve obscured their smiling faces because there was no opportunity of getting formal permission. We’re sorry about that, and will be happy to provide the un-redacted picture to the boys.
By ERWIN CHLANDA
Down here on the ground in Alice Springs, black children, driven to crime by hunger and fear, are fast becoming enemy number one, or victim number one, depending on who you’re talking to.
There’s not much public knowledge about just who these kids are, nor how many of them there are.
We have a land, sea, men’s, women’s and all manner of other councils, but do these kids have a voice?
Here’s a look at a couple of current initiatives: are they going to make a difference?
The drunks “send in the kids. For the kids it’s excitement,” a burgled restaurant owner explained during the recent town council election campaign, dominated by law and order issues. The loot was a few bottles of spirits. The cost of smashed property was in the thousands.
“We’ve had $1800 worth of damage done here and all they took was bread and cheese,” said a candidate seeking re-election.
Meanwhile up there in the stratosphere, the Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) are making submission to the Attorney-General’s Department Public Consultation on the Third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which is a new United Nations (UN) communications procedure for individual children or groups of children to submit complaints regarding specific violations of their rights under the CRC and its first two optional protocols.
That means those children in Central Australia who don’t know which bed they will be sleeping in tonight, whose drunken parents spend money on booze rather than food, those children who are rarely sent to school, as young as 10 roaming the streets of A Town Like Alice in packs of 30 or 40 at 2am, who are routinely and with impunity denied the necessities of life, kids who climb on a roof, jemmy an airconditioner off its mountings, get into the roof cavity through the shaft, breach the ceiling, steal food or booze, those kids will – if their government signs the Third Optional Protocol – have access to a “process allowing complaints to be made by groups of children or on behalf of children [that] is different to other UN communication procedures that require individuals whose rights have been violated to make the complaint themselves. This type of process demonstrates the importance of a unique communications procedure for children that is more understanding and better suited to their special needs”.
Or as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, noted, according to a media release by ALHR president Stephen Keim SC: “Children will now be able to join the ranks of other rights-holders who are empowered to bring their complaints about human rights violations before an international body.”
And that’s not all the good folk in Canberra are doing for the kids risking their lives playing cat and mouse with the cops on the hills and in the streets and the dry creeks of Alice Springs.
Jenny Macklin, Bill Shorten and Julie Collins are working on “a new flagship program for youth, [namely the] Remote Youth Development and Leadership Corps for people aged under 25, [which] will provide 3,000 young people each year with a clear pathway to employment”.
The trio is doing this the only way they know how: chuck vast amounts of money at it.
The Remote Jobs and Communities Program starting on July 1 next year will cost $1.5b to “provide a more integrated and flexible approach to employment and participation services for people living in remote areas of Australia”.
It’s worth spelling it out: one thousand five hundred million dollars.
Again, it’s unfathomable how this relates to the reality on the dusty ground of The Centre.
From Alex Nelson’s valuable archive, which his observing mind puts to good use, comes this:-
Centralian Advocate, February 24, 1966: “Two more groups of Aborigines from Central Australia have left Alice Springs to obtain seasonal employment as fruit pickers in southern states. 15 Aborigines from Hermannsburg Mission had left last week to pick fruit in the Clare district of SA.
“A second group of 20 Aborigines from Santa Teresa Mission had left Alice Springs at the weekend to pick tomatoes on a large property at Griffith, in NSW.
“Once they had gained experience, these Aborigines were expected to earn up to [the print here is fuzzy but it looks like] 10 pounds a day while working a six day week during the harvesting season.
“With seven Aborigines from Warrabri and Yuendumu already engaged in fruit picking at Leeton, in NSW, this made a total of 43 who had obtained this type of employment this season.”
Fast forward 45 years.
Alice Springs News Online, September 15, 2011: “The Rocky Hill vineyard last year produced 1000 tonnes of table grapes. At $3 to $4 a kilogram that’s worth $3m to $4m.
“Mr Hayes [the owner] says it’s no secret that there are hundreds of unemployed people in Alice Springs and St Teresa – each about 50 kms from Rocky Hill: ‘Not one of them has put up his hand for a job.’
“The pruners and pickers are each year recruited from a contract labour firm in Mildura. These days they are usually Asians. They make their own way to Alice Springs, some 2000 kms. They stay at the workers’ quarters, look after their own food and are paid by the box.
“They start work before sunrise and knock off after sunset. They are great workers, says Mr Hayes.”
Back to the ’60s, a clipping – again supplied by Mr Nelson – from a book about camels in Australia, published in 1969: “Australian Aborigines are not noted as owners and users of livestock. Despite the fact that they make excellent stockmen and, as such, are essential to the progress of the cattle industry of the northern half of the country, and although they are sometimes talented workers with sheep or swine, it is a valid generalization that Aborigines do not often own or use animals other than dogs.
“However, it was noted that many Aborigines took advantage of the opportunity to acquire camels during the period of their release by Afghan and white owners.
“Camels are mainly used by the Aborigines for personal transport, and especially on walkabout greatly enhance their owners’ mobility. In some cases dromedaries are put to other uses.
“If the Aboriginal has a trade or a job that requires the movement of heavy materials, such as sandalwood-gathering, he can profitably employ his beast. And an increasing use for Aboriginal-owned camels in the tourist areas of central Australia is to provide amusement for visitors, in the form of rides and photographs, for a fee.
“This enterprise is now a regular part of the tourist itinerary at such places as Jay Creek, Palm Valley and Ayers Rock.”
Fast forward 43 years.
Alice Springs News Online, April 12, 2012: “Senator Sean Edwards (Liberal, SA) describes the Feral Camel Management Project as ‘another pink batts debacle in the making.’
“By the end of next financial year, $19 million will have been spent and of the targeted 350,000 feral camels, a mere 36,000 were exterminated in the first two years.
“The cost per head of shooting the camels from helicopter had blown out, with the latest provided estimated being about $212 per head, plus direct operation costs, whatever they might be.
“Surely it is time for the authorities to … try something else – such as capturing the more accessible camels and transporting them to abattoirs.
“This alternative would provide jobs for local communities including aboriginals, but no – the government doesn’t want to alter its program.”
So what do the initiatives promoted in the 60 page NGO report Listen to Children, the subject of Mr Keim’s release, have in common with the newest opus of Ms Macklin, Ms Collins and Mr Shorten?
• going to keep lots of bureaucrats un-gainfully employed for the rest of their natural life;
• failing to acknowledge that self-help and accepting responsibility need first the threat and then the application of sanctions for any Aboriginal advancement to occur;
• assuming – erroneously – that education works without it being offered with a high degree of expectation backed up by a hefty degree of compulsion, applied to parents as well as children;
• ignoring that nothing is going to happen while there is an easy escape to passive welfare, so convincingly portrayed by Noel Pearson and witnessed every day in our community, although a “no show, no pay” provision in the new scheme gives rise to hope;
• blind to the fact that services provided at massive public expenditure are futile unless there is a reciprocal effort from the recipients.
The Listen to Children report was written after consulting more than 750 children and young people around Australia – including in Alice Springs – and more than 100 organisations and subject matter experts, and a workshop in Melbourne in November 2010, attended “by 40 of Australia’s notable child rights practitioners”.
Surely, existing knowledge of the misery is plentiful for resolute and meaningful action to be put in motion right now.
Sample from the report: “Aboriginal children aged 10–17 are 24 times more likely to be jailed than non-Aboriginal children.”
The report finds that despite ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, “Australia has not effectively incorporated human rights into policy and legislative frameworks to nurture and support Australian children.
“Instead, successive governments have perpetuated a traditional welfare approach to children’s wellbeing and have not learned to listen to and work with children—to create child-sensitive bodies, systems and initiatives.”
The report is especially critical that Australia has not fully adopted Article 4 of the convention adopted by the United Nations in 1989.
In essence that article requires that governments assess their “social services, legal, health and educational systems, as well as levels of funding for these services.
“Governments are then obliged to take all necessary steps to ensure that the minimum standards set by the Convention in these areas are being met.
“They must help families protect children’s rights and create an environment where they can grow and reach their potential. In some instances, this may involve changing existing laws or creating new ones.”
That is as far from the Central Australian reality as Canberra’s Remote Jobs and Communities Program.
Whatever slice of its billion and a half will be spent in The Centre, much or most is likely to be wasted.
One of local employers’ major complaints it the difficulty to find labour – skilled or unskilled. Interstate job hunters arriving in Alice find work almost instantly.
Their problem is likely to be accommodation.
So why are all able bodied Aboriginal town camp dwellers, who’ve just received $150m worth of housing at no cost to them, not off to work every morning?
The Canberra trio will give us a Community Action Plan: What job opportunities will that include that are not staring us in the face right now – including cattle, horticulture, tourism?
They will “help people get ready for work” says a media release: How hard it is to pick grapes at Rocky Hill and watermelons at Ali Curung – where reportedly backpackers from overseas are currently doing the work?
The Federal program “will focus on providing work-experience in jobs that are available in or near their community. For example in mine regeneration work, office work, farm or station work, building and maintenance and environmental land management.” These jobs are available right now. Why aren’t they taken up?
The program will have a “No Show No Pay” rule: people who fail to participate will have their payments suspended.
A spokesperson for Ms Macklin says that will extend to the dole as well: people who do not participate in the Remote Jobs and Communities Program will not have the easy option of staying or going back on the dole.
She says: “The new single provider system will make it easier to enforce the ‘no show no pay rule’ quickly, as there will be no chance for people to avoid their responsibilities.”
When considering the government’s likely resolve in enforcing this measure, it’s worth keeping in mind that the dole has been paid for decades notwithstanding countless job vacancies in The Centre.
If that measure puts an end to the rorting of unemployment benefits over generations, and get people into work and a mindset of looking after their kids, then it will be worth the billion and a half dollars of taxpayers’ money.
PHOTO above: Broken window in the Town and Country pub in Todd Mall, now temporarily closed after poor trading and a string of break-ins.
MESSAGE from reader David Hewitt via Alex Nelson:
Thanks for this Alex. A great story by Erwin. You were certainly right about employment in fruit picking down south. Around 1965-66 fellows from Ernabella went down to Berri for fruit picking. Just before I started at Amata in 1964, a group of men from there had been up at Snake Bay on Melville Island working in the timber industry.
Re the camels, when we were at Docker River in early 1970s, Dennis Wickham, whom you may have known, came through with camels on his way to the WA coast. A couple of older men who had worked at Angus Downs and Tempe Downs could have told Dennis all he wanted to know about camels – they were the experts.
• Under the Intervention Centrelink made some local changes to the obligation of looking for jobs and taking them when they are offered. See reports by KIERAN FINNANE, Slowly moving to growth towns and Bush ready for work change.
• Bob Beadman is one of the most insightful commentators on the subject, including his final report, December 2010 to May 2011, as the Northern Territory Coordinator General for Remote Services.
• See Job creation, Gillard style: The spin and the real world for an account of the difficulties in getting meaningful information, from Centrelink, about the number of unemployed people in specific locations.
Update April 30: Fresh statistics are now available (see below) which refer to smaller regions. However, the regions are still too big to plan for businesses to which workers can commute daily.
The figures below relate to the regions above. The unemployment rate rose in all areas between 2010 and 2011. The small white patch above the number 6 is Alice Springs.
Area Profile for roughly all of the Northern Territory south of Barrow Creek:
Unemployment Rate (15+): 5.5%
Job Seekers (15+): 4,616
Average Job Seeker Age: 32 years
Average Job Seeker Duration of Registration: 44 months
Working Age Population (15-64): 29,410
2006 Census of Population and Housing Statistics:
Number of people who identified as Indigenous (15-64): 8,551
Indigenous Employment Rate (15-64): 31.7%
Number of People Born Overseas (15-64): 3,453
Number of People Born in Non-English Speaking Countries (15-64): 1,372
Number of People Employed: 15,297
Employment Rate (15-64): 67.1%
Employment Rate for People Born Overseas in Non-English Speaking Countries: 82.1%
Source: Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations