Centrelink holds key to alcohol and crime mayhem but gets no seat at the Police Commissioner’s round table

COMMENT by RUSSELL GUY

 

At recent meetings in Alice Springs, the NT Police Commissioner met with NT government departments, but not with Federal departments or non-government, community-based organisations.
The key Federal departments that he failed to involve are those controlling Centrelink and the new Remote Jobs and Community Programs (RJCP) which replaces CDEP from July, 2013.
These departments are critical to solving alcohol-related, anti-social behavior, by re-evaluating welfare entitlement and creating employment opportunities.
The Leader of the NT Opposition has said that “it’s the demand for alcohol, not the supply that is the problem” (Australian, 1/4/11). He has a point, but in favouring an economically unsustainable and ultimately unproductive Law and Order / Rehab approach, which remains deeply flawed on the issue of prevention of re-offending, unless there is a corresponding reduction in supply, it will not solve anything.
The NT Police Commissioner has said that “police alone cannot solve the acutely dysfunctional social elements in Alice Springs. 90% of crime Territory-wide is alcohol-related and involves Indigenous people. You’re not going to remove Aboriginals, but we can address the problem of alcohol” (Advocate, 7/5/12).  Those are big words. The failure of alcohol regulation in Alice Springs and any form of consensus is an entrenched fact.
It’s been said that Aboriginal people will always find money for grog, but the blunt reason for passive welfare is inadequate employment opportunities.  Calls for “tough love” in withholding welfare from able-bodied Indigenous workers in Alice Springs who fail to take up employment opportunities, have been made for the past twelve months.
Many reasons have been given for the failure to take up available work opportunities, but the underestimated power of racism and the steep social gradient are two factors influencing Indigenous people about whether or not to step up to the jobs market.
Noel Pearson has challenged Aboriginal people to see racism as “an impediment, but not a disability”. However, on the more remote communities of central Australia’s ‘failed State’, a revolution is needed if the culture of alcohol addiction and passive welfare is to change.  It’s a classic chicken and egg situation. What comes first, alcohol reform or job creation and what about welfare reform? It’s not your average chicken.
Means testing of benefits, taking into account all income from various sources, including mining royalties and that flowing from rental leases on Aboriginal land, should be part of the re-evaluation of Centrelink’s Indigenous programs.
The current three-month reporting period for remote clients is not working effectively, especially when client paperwork is regularly found floating around dispersed bush drinking camps. I have found empty spirit-mix and beer cans in plastic shopping bags from town, way out bush and regularly find this paperwork discarded in these places.
These people are technically wards of the Territory, which has a duty to protect people of any colour who are addicted to alcohol and are, in a sense, requiring ‘special care’, but none more so than the long term unemployed and welfare dependent addicts who are inter-acting regularly with the criminal justice system.
Joe Hockey, Federal Shadow Treasurer, recently said that the era of laissez-faire entitlement was “coming to an end.” This week, Bill Kelty, former ACTU Secretary referred to the economy as “transitioning and some people are going to be doing it hard.”
It makes little sense to keep throwing $15b p.a. into alcohol-abuse and propping up an inefficient welfare system in need of a major realignment with incoming government programs.
Centrelink needs to be seen as ‘bureaucratically enabling’ this revolution in association with other government departments and non-government community organisations. That the Police Commissioner has gone on holiday, might be because he realizes that this chicken is too big and he’ll pass it back to the Chief Minister, who at least, has better ideas than the Leader of the Opposition, or for that matter Alice Springs Town Councillors, in navigating a way through this social malaise.

 

Mr Guy has written fiction, comment and news for radio and newspapers. He is a frequent contributor to the comment section of the Alice Springs New Online. He has been in Territory since 1977, working in occupations ranging from manager of indigenous bands to broadcast training officer for CAAMA, assisted with the setting up of Imparja, and was a community development officer mentoring work projects ‘out bush’ in half a dozen Central Australian communties from Elliott south.

 

PHOTO: Aboriginal dingo trapper in the 1960s. Was he self-taught or had he participated in the kind of program Mr  Snowdon has announced? “$19.1 million to create 50 extra Aboriginal Working on Country ranger positions in remote Northern Territory communities over the next four years.”

 

 

As grog debate rages, Warren Snowdon stays mum

 

COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA

 

Readers have contributed more than 100 comments and facts about the town’s grog and violence problems in the past few months, supplementing, from the whole spectrum of views, interpretation and reporting on these subjects in the Alice Springs News Online.
One person notably absent from this debate is Warren Snowdon (pictured), Member for Lingiari in Federal Parliament. Last week he announced that his government will be spending $5.2 billion of taxpayers’ money “to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage” including, in the Territory, “a comprehensive $3.4 billion 10-year package to support Aboriginal people in regional and remote areas to live strong and independent lives”.

This is in addition to the Remote Jobs and Communities Program starting on July 1 next year which 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”.
Nine days ago we emailed Mr Snowdon, asking him for an interview in which we would explore in detail questions (see them in bold type) about his announcements, focusing especially on whether the spending spree is encouraging self-help.
We still don’t have any answers nor an agreement to be interviewed.
In his media release Mr Snowdon says: “We are investing …”
$713.5 million over 10 years for better primary health care, and better access to allied health services.
Is there going to be a self-help aspect to this, and if so, how will it work?
$40.9 million over 10 years for food security.
Will this be support for people growing their own food?
$694.9 million over 10 years to improve the safety of communities and help communities tackle alcohol abuse.
Will communities be encouraged to draft and implement their own measures, and if so, what measures will be encouraged?
$583.4 million over 10 years to continue to improve Aboriginal children’s access to quality education.
Will the initiative continue of penalising parents not sending their kids to school; will laws requiring children to be provided with the necessities of life be enforced?
$442.4 million over 10 years to strengthen the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal children, youth and their families.
Ditto.
$206.4 million over 10 years to support the continuation of basic municipal and essential services for up to 9,000 Aboriginal people living in outstations and homelands.
Will that be in connection with a shire rate paying scheme, and if so, what minimum payment will be required?
$19.1 million to create 50 extra Aboriginal Working on Country ranger positions in remote Northern Territory communities over the next four years. In addition, up to 100 Indigenous traineeships will be offered to ensure local people can fill jobs available in their communities.
Will rangers do hands-on work on the eradication of weeds such as buffel? What kind of work will they be doing?
$427.4 million over 10 years to place more local Aboriginal people in Indigenous Engagement Officer jobs, ensure local services are effective, support governance and leadership and local planning, and continue to support interpreting services.
Will people not accepting available work lose the dole? And what will be done to create [projects] (e.g. pastoralism, horticulture, tourism)?
$283.5 million to continue our work to improve remote Indigenous housing, and remove asbestos from houses and community buildings. This will complement the substantial investment we are already providing for housing over 10 years.
$13.7 million to continue the family and social support services as part of the Alice Springs Transformation Plan which began in 2009 with over $150 million investment.
What has that plan achieved so far?

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6 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. Ian Sharp
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    Well explained Bob. I admire you for making the effort, I wonder if the people you are addressing make the effort to process it and adjust their viewpoint accordingly. Some do, I suppose.

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  2. Bob Durnan
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 11:45 am

    In reply to Jason Newman (Posted May 21, 2012 at 8:14 am): You haven’t been paying attention in class again Jason.
    There is no mandated “3 year Budget Cycle”. You’re getting confused with the normal Federal electoral cycle.
    The Parliament (in August/September of 2007) committed to a 5 year budget for Mal Brough’s NTER rollout of programs. The expenditure was pretty well all legislated in binding laws which could only be rescinded by votes in both houses of Parliament. This funding (and legislation) ceases on June 30th this year.
    Macklin’s legislation to continue funding for some of those programs (for up to 10 years in some cases), and replace others (with similar long term funding provisions), is currently before the Senate for a final vote, in the form of three bills collectively known as the Stronger Futures legislation. If passed, future governments will only be able to avoid continuation of funding for these programs by getting both houses to vote to amend (or abolish) them, in the same way that Brough’s legislation was entrenched well past the defeat of the Howard government.
    The DEEWR / FAHCSIA Remote Jobs and Communities Program is a similar arrangement.
    The same applies to a whole host of other legislation coming out of this year’s budget, as has been the case for many years. Governments have been increasingly committed to this type of long term planning for key projects which need time to carry out or make their impacts.
    By the way, who are these academics that you reckon belong to PAAC? Must be secret new recruits whom I am yet to meet!
    Cheers, Bob D

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  3. Ray
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 9:21 am

    @ Dianne.
    Di, 19.1 million divided by 50 jobs is $382,000 per person, but the story says it’s for funding over 4 years, which is just over $95,000 averaged per person. This average would also include administration, training, equipment infrastructure etc. Plus paying for the consultant to get the scheme up and running, that would be at least $150,000 at a guess.
    Giving away 1.91m as compared to funding real jobs for 50 people. Um, I think the proposal actually sounds better than giving money away.
    Cheers

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  4. Jason Newman
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 8:14 am

    Does anyone care to mention that the Budget Cycle is three years, so they actually cant even commit to 10 year projects.
    It’s all just spin, and no matter what happens they cant win the next election. Its all just a con.

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  5. Dianne
    Posted May 20, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    You’re gagging, right? Wouldn’t we be better off just giving the money out – 19.1 million equates to 382,000 per position. Is that value for money?
    Also – Erwin don’t feel special about Mr Snowdon not responding to you. I don’t think he responds to anyone in his community any more.
    Although best you watch out. Any perceived criticism of this gummint and you will be named and shamed with “serious questions to answer”.
    Snowdon is a joke and well past his use by date.

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  6. Jules
    Posted May 20, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    One idea worth trying would be to make clients clean up sites where cans, bottles and Centrelink paperwork is strewn … if they don’t no Centrelink money should not be given … obviously they would have to be supervised either by their more reliable kin or one of these new officers … if we do not report volunteer or paid work with proof that we do it we are immediately cut off from our Newstart so anyone whether black, white or brindle should be treated the same … if they don’t like it, tough.

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