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I was going to take a break from whinging, but then today the changes to Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) in the Northern Territory were revealed - further Q&As at FACSIA [.pdf]. I can't say I've fully taken in the changes. But it looks like no one is spared; people in all Northern Territory remote communities will go off CDEP.

The changes to CDEP in the Northern Territory are a key part of the broader emergency response to protect children, make communities safer and normalise services for Indigenous communities.

The only link to protecting children seems to be that if everyone's on welfare and not CDEP, this will make it easier to introduce food stamps and welfare deductions as a way of making parents send their kids to school and making people clean up their yards.

While it's good to see that the Government is at last thinking about transitions from CDEP (unlike the poor people in communities such as Jigalong which lost CDEP on July 1), it also presumably means the loss of the extra Federal funding that has been put into CDEP businesses and community operations.

So now we can guess what the Government Business Managers and Community Brokers will be doing. They'll be trying to arrange conversions of some CDEP jobs into real jobs (with money from where?), converting CDEP businesses into real businesses (or winding them up), and explaining to people if or where they'll getting money in the future. And maybe they'll also have to create Work for the Dole schemes. Some of which apparently will involve Norforce troops moving from playing with the kids, to marshalling people into emu squadrons to pick up the rubbish - at least at the start. The Government claims:

Jobs will also be created across the Northern Territory through moving service delivery away from reliance on CDEP. CDEP currently delivers essential government services in many communities. By working closely with the Northern Territory Government, many CDEP participants will be transitioned from CDEP into real jobs.

Understandably, the Northern Territory Government wants to know where the funds for this will come in the future - since presently cleanup around communities is funded by the Federal Government through the disappearing CDEP scheme.

But what happens to all the good and useful things like Arts Centres, Language Centres and Cultural Centres which survive on staff on CDEP wages, and the extra CDEP support? They may never be self-sufficient, but they do provide interest, training, work and some income for both the employable and the people who are too sick or have too many responsibilities or are too old for full-time work. Let's hope the Government Business Managers can help them survive jumping through the hoops to convince Someone that they're Job Network services, Structured Training and Employment Projects (STEP) or Work for the Dole schemes, rather than just Good Things.

And hurry now for your Information session this week!
Darwin: Darwin Entertainment Centre 26 July 2007 10:00am
Tennant Creek: Karguru Conference Room—Tennant Creek Training Centre 26 July 2007 1:30pm
Nhulunbuy: Arnhem Club Function Room 26 July 2007 1:30pm
Alice Springs: Voyages Resort: 27 July 2007 11:00am
Katherine: Government Centre, First Street 27 July 2007 11:00am
Wadeye: Job Futures Conference Room 30 July 2007 10:30am
Or call the Northern Territory Emergency Response Hotline 1800 333 995.

Big centres, note. What about the remote communities? I wonder if the scoping teams that visited the smaller communities over the last couple of weeks got to tell them about all this. And if not, why not?

So here's my fear - communities will lose the extra CDEP income and resources. The NT Government will be told that it is its responsibility to fund services on communities (but won't be given extra money to do it). So there'll be only a couple more real jobs on each community. Most people on communities won't be able to get jobs, and will be told to go to towns on pain of losing their welfare payments. It'd be nice to think that the Federal Government is planning for the social costs of that, but I bet they'll wash their hands of it when it happens, and say that it's the NT Government's responsibility (and, foolishly, the NT Opposition Leader is already saying that - does she really want to deal with that if she wins office?).

One last Q for which there was no A in the FACSIA site - how does it help children for their parents to be anxious and uncertain about what's to happen to them, and where the money to live on will come from?


Apparently the program INSIGHT “National Emergency” will be well worth watching - tonight =Tuesday, 24 July at 7.30pm on SBS Television. REPEAT FRIDAY 1:30PM AND MONDAY 2:30PM. It includes discussion of Mutitjulu.

"The Federal Government has introduced sweeping changes, described by Prime Minister John Howard as “interventionist", to deal with the crisis including bans on alcohol and pornography, conditional welfare payments and the seizing of Aboriginal land and homes for five years.

Jenny Brockie and the Insight team have called together key players and will investigate whether there are in fact other alternatives to address the issue without putting our most vulnerable citizens at risk."

This is really shocking stuff. Many organisations use CDEP and provide top-up money to give Aboriginal people proper wages. They cannot afford to pay the whole wage, which means loads of Aboriginal people will lose jobs.

My guess is that this is related to private house ownership in some way. Community councils have no revenue to employ people. If everyone has private houses, they pay rates to the councils, and then the councils have money to employ people. The Q is where the income comes from in the first place.

To me there is a rather obscene irony in the fact that the very schools that Aboriginal children are being forced to go to now stand to lose indigenous staff whose wages are being supplemented by CDEP. Of course this has immediate implications for language and culture programs in schools, but it goes beyond that to the core of the issue of meaningful and sustainable employment in remote communities. Indigenous students stand to lose the opportunity to have their mothers, uncles, aunties and grannies as role models ¬– adults working in education – in a world that is promising so-called 'real' job opportunities. Many white teachers stay in remote communities for a very short time – indigenous teachers belong in their communities and they have a vested interest in their children’s futures. They are proud of their work, regardless of the funding formula that makes it possible. It simply makes no sense to rip the carpet out from under people’s feet in this way.

While we are all at it – as a long term resident of Alice I was wondering what the real differences are between the 'dry town' we are getting next week and the 2 kilometre law which has been in place for years. Seems to me that most residential and public areas, including town camps, fall within 2 kilometres of a liquor outlet and so the extension of restrictions on drinking in a public place to the town boundary does not make much difference. I hear that within the town camps residents can opt for a 'wet' or 'dry' household status. So does that mean that one gets fined for being in possession of alcohol when in transit between the shops and a residence? Seems that the crux of this is whether or not the bottle has been opened or not. Perhaps I have missed the point or I am not very well-informed but there is a bit of an "emperor's clothes" feel about this.

Well. I returned from bush and now we all have a map, courtesy of the NTG. There are also some prominent new signs on the entries and exits to town, and in some places that may look like picnic spots. The area covered by the map is now called the Public Restricted Area, and within this area drinking will attract a fine of $100 - $500. Police have the powers to confiscate or tip out alcohol (as they did before under the old legislation). The courts have the power to make prohibition orders limiting individual’s access to alcohol. The Public Restricted Area is actually slightly smaller area than that covered by the 2 km rule. As the Shadow has pointed out to me, the question is partly ‘well who is the emperor?’

On the CDEP changes:

Jenny and Jane make a good point about the threat to the flexible and very useful casual and/or part-time paid work that CDEPs underpin for often uneducated or semi-educated people (who usually have onerous and/or chaotic home circumstances which militate against 'normal' or 'mainstream' training, education and working lives) in many remote schools, clinics, councils, pre-schools, stores, Aged Care and Child Care and Land Care and Disabled Care programs, Language and Art and Culture and Womens Centres, on roadworks and housing maintenance and infrastructure contracts, in recreation and sports and substance abuse projects, on school holiday and afterschool programs, in cattle mustering, feral animal eradication and noxious weeds elimination, and on and on.

Elsewhere I will post a summary of what DEWR's Top Dog - the Alpha Public Servant Bob Harvey - sees as "The Answer", but it's hardly re-assuring, as he places most of his reliance in persuading other government departments to "start picking up their responsibilities" to directly fund all these activities - as though many people haven't just spent decades struggling to achieve exactly this anyway. He also sees great possibilities in trying such innovatory ideas as education, training and mentoring courses, including magical new accelerated adult literacy projects, on all remote communities.

On the alcohol bans proposed for Alice Springs (and other NT) town camps:

The real differences between the 'dry town' we are getting in Alice Springs next week and the 2 kilometre law which has been in place in the NT for years lie in the powers available to police to enforce the rules.

Powers of sanction under the old '2 km law' rules against drinking in public areas were restricted to tipping out any already opened grog, moving drinkers on, and confiscating unopened grog if the drinkers persisted in breaking the rules.

From next week police will be able to arrest and prosecute transgressors, and have a magistrate send repeat offenders off to rehab. Or, when that fails to produce obedient behaviour, to gaol.

As for what happens within the boundaries of the town camp leases, Tangentyere recently announced it was seeking a ban on drinking grog in the areas that are within the leases' fenced boundaries, but outside the individual house yards.

This presumably would mean that the tin sheds and community facilities used by many itinerant habitual drinkers (the people most allergic to paying rent) as temporary shelter will have to be policed to eliminate drinking, thus forcing the drinkers into the living rooms and bedrooms (and closets?) of Aboriginal tenants on and off the town camp leases.

Or, in many cases, back into the rugged valleys and rocky hills which surround the town, where the unfortunate Inspector Plod's motorbike won't go.

Tangentyere also espoused the idea that within the town camps residents should be able to opt for a 'wet' or 'dry' household status, but both Brough and NT Licencing Commission Minister Chris Burns have rejected that proposal, in favour of tougher (and almost certainly unenforceable) complete bans on grog entering town camp leases.

Perhaps Brough has contracted a small army of Gurkhas to come to his aid if he is serious about that one.

However, Burns has been claiming that no extra cops would be required to enforce all this.

As far as I can tell, neither government has yet promulgated any new regulations governing what different alcohol consumption regimes will apply on the town camp leases, although both have been making noises about banning all grog from the leases - a move which would produce a very interesting challenge for the enforcers of law.

Today Brough is again making noises about wresting the town camp leases away from the control of the incorporated associations which currently hold them.

Presumably there will be no place for the tin sheds used by drinkers and other itinerant campers in this brave new world.

Therefore, failing any sensible measures to actually turn down the tap and reduce the availability of cheap take-away alcohol in Alice (which is the key missing ingredient in all this), public servants will now need to start planning for regular helicopter evacuations of wounded victims of violence, alcohol poisoning and pneumococcal infections out of the more inaccessible patches of bush around Alice to a helipad on the roof of the hospital.

But turning down the availability tap would be far too sensible, and far too inconvenient for the bulk of non-problem drinkers, and far too costly for the vendors of cheap take-away grog, to ever get a real guernsey in this futile and never-ending game of 'blame the victim'.

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