Work-for-the-dole program leaving people without food, Northern Territory MP, Chansey Paech
ities. (ABC Kimberley: Ben Collins)
A Northern Territory Government MP says people are begging him for emergency help because of a troubled work-for-the-dole scheme.
Chansey Paech represents Namatjira — a vast electorate covering part of Alice Springs and communities further south.
Appearing before a Senate inquiry into the Federal Government’s Community Development Program, Mr Paech said CDP was a “national shame”.
Fines imposed under the program had left people with “no form of income or no stable income”, he told the committee.
“You will often get calls from people in the community where they are stuck, they’ve been breached and they need money to buy the bare essentials,” he said.
“People coming into town for a medical appointment are being breached and are unable to get back, so it’s working in to help them [get] transportation home.”
Mr Paech said he used his annual electorate allowance of $78,000 to help constituents, including giving them Coles and Woolworths gift cards to purchase food.
People are stripped a day’s Centrelink allowance if they miss work-for-the-dole activities or are late.
Remote unemployed people must work five hours each weekday — up to three times longer than city-based jobseekers.
The committee yesterday heard the fine system was impractical because people often needed to travel long distances for medical appointments, cultural activities and just to go shopping.
Language barriers mean many don’t understand the rules
The inquiry was also told Centrelink needed to engage more Aboriginal language interpreters.
Dozens of different Indigenous languages are spoken in the Northern Territory — with English often not the first language — making communication with the agency’s call centre staff difficult.
“That’s a barrier that a lot of people are facing at the moment out in communities,” said Tanya Luckey from Imanpa, which is around 200 kilometres south-west of Alice Springs.
“English would be about second or third language,” Ms Luckey said, after addressing the politicians in Pitjantjatjara.
“There is a lack of interpreters to let these people know exactly what’s going on.
“There’s that understanding barrier and people aren’t understanding things properly.”
Liza Balmer from NPY Empowered Communities said the program requirements had not been well-communicated.
“There’s a lot of assumptions made under this program: that people have a mail service, that they have an address, that they can actually read the information that comes to them, they can read English and can speak English, and that they’re able to access Centrelink in some way.”
Mr Paech said Centrelink needed to engage more with the territory’s Aboriginal Interpreter Service.
“I think that moving forward there’s an opportunity to certainly work with the [service],” he said.
“A requirement that I would be looking to see is that Centrelink could move to a position where they have place-based people on communities who are Aboriginal, who understand the first languages, who are able to act as an interface [with Centrelink],” he said.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion was unavailable for interview but a spokesman said: “The Government is consulting on a new model for remote Australia.
“The Government recognises more needs to be done to break the cycle of welfare dependency in remote communities.”