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[Guest post from Bob Gosford, who has written on NT topics for Crikey]

Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough and Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey yesterday announced the imminent demise of the Commonwealth's Community Development Employment Programme (CDEP) in the Northern Territory.

As of 30 September this year, CDEP in the NT will be dead.

According to Brough, it's all about the cash and the kids.

Speaking to Leon Compton on Darwin ABC radio yesterday he was asked:

Compton: Are you saying that money from CDEP is the problem in child sexual abuse and alcoholism and violence?
Brough: Absolutely, there is no doubt that there is a contributing factor beyond the CDEP payments and because for all intents and purposes they are a welfare payment - it is the cash that is being used to buy the drugs and alcohol that have caused so many ... so much of the pain for these children. There is just no doubt about that.

Brough was asked if he had considered the impact on people in remote communities, who according to Compton were surprised by the announcement:

Compton: Certainly taking a lot of people we've spoken to this afternoon by shock.
Brough: Umh, yeah probably. Because at the first blush of it people will think that, ahh, um they're gunna be worse off or they're gunna be destitute and it's not that at all. It's quite the contrary.
Leon, the main driver behind this was that clearly with our emergency measures we said that we're trying to cut the disposable income - the cash I should say in communities which has led to this abundance of drugs and alcohol and gambling abuse and you know, as the Little Children are Sacred report stated it's been the rivers of grog that have had so much to answer for.
Compton: Are you saying this is about cutting more cash out of communities?
Brough: Well, what happened is, when you actually look at it, is the biggest single influx of cash is in fact through CDEP payments.

But for many in the NT familiar with the operation of CDEP in the NT, the nexus between the money provided by CDEP and child sexual abuse is less than clear.

I spoke to Professor Jon Altman, Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR) at the Australian National Unity. CAEPR has for many years conducted research into the economics of Aboriginal Australia, including a strong focus on the role that programmes like CDEP play in the economic life of communities (and see Altman's more detailed piece "Scrapping CDEP is just dumb, dumb, dumb" in Crikey 24/7/07).

Altman disputes many of the statements and assertions made in the Brough/Hockey joint statement and the attached explanatory document [.pdf].

Mal Brough describes CDEP as:

"a destination for too many. We need to do much better to improve the long-term prospects for economic independence for those living in the remote areas of the Northern Territory."

Altman contends that Brough just doesn't get it:

"On CDEP an individual has some real say about the kind of work you do and you work for your own organisation. CDEP used to be, in my view, a very positive institution before the Howard government got into power.
And in places like Maningrida on the north coast of the NT, what the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation has done with CDEP is very instructive of the true potential, even under the constraints imposed by this Government.
CAEPR research has shown that CDEP, as part-time work, has been turned into full-time work by many, many organisations - so it's not just a 'destination' - with support and a little imagination it can be a very effective employment generator - or in the kind of military jargon the Minister might understand - 'a force multiplier'.
You actually create thousands of full-time jobs through CDEP. What these politicians don't get - CDEP is not a 'dead-end destination' - it is actually a way out of unemployment and poverty."

Brough says that Aboriginal people in the NT should be looking for jobs in the booming mining, pastoral and tourist developments and opportunities in the NT.

Altman's response to this is that Caring for Country (CFC) projects that are run in the NT by the Northern and Central Land Councils ) in conjunction with the Federal Department of Environment and Water Resources are greater generators of 'real' jobs for indigenous Territorians than any work that these industries might be able to provide.

The full potential of these [CDEP] programmes has yet to be realised - at the moment there are about 400 jobs in CFC in the Top End- more than all of the mining industry jobs in the NT put together. This proposal will negatively affect a lot of other success stories on remote communities as well - it will have serious negative affects on the booming Aboriginal arts industry in the NT, it could potentially kill those arts organisations that provide essential support to thousands of artists, and ring the death knell for the phenomenally successful Indigenous Protected Areas (IPA) programs - all of which have CDEP employees as rangers. There are programs that other Commonwealth Government departments provide considerable and invaluable support to. I really wonder if these flow-on effects have really been thought through properly. On what I've seen so far it seems very much like poorly thought out policy conception and delivery

Altman points out one inexplicable inconsistency in the decision to cut CDEP.

In this year's Commonwealth budget, only two months ago, about 1,000 CDEP positions were enhanced over the next four years to assist communities with Night Patrols and to use CDEP workers to provide and enhanced policing effort on remote communities where the Police are clearly under-resourced. This is a real policy contradiction - why enhance the program in May 2007 and then kill it in the NT in July 2007?

Altman casts an historical eye at the long-term effects of Brough's announcement:

What Mal Brough said in that interview with the ABC, was that "indigenous people in the NT have an expenditure problem - the way I'm going to address this expenditure problem is to cut their income".
I don't think the Government has any idea of the cost of what they are doing to Aboriginal people in the NT - both personally and financially.
They are going to leave a terrible legacy but it seems that they don't care. There is a possibility that they will lose the next election and, like the Romans after they sacked Carthage in 146 BC, they are ploughing salt into the ruins before they leave. Any incoming government will be left with a terrible legacy to rectify.


By now it should be abundantly clear that we are witnessing an attempt by the state to destroy indigenous autonomy. Jon Altman’s analysis is accurate, but his title is inappropriate. Scrapping CDEP is not “dumb, dumb, dumb”. It’s “smart, smart, smart” and will have federal politicians and the interests they represent laughing all the way to the bank.

I’ve never seen evidence that John Howard is dumb. On the contrary, he’s an outstandingly smart and slippery operator who knows where his bread’s buttered. He and his government are out to make things a whole lot easier for their corporate buddies, as if it wasn’t already easy enough. And that entails undermining the pesky notion that indigenous people have a special status in Australian society.

In what is by now a long tradition of establishing tenuous links between proposed measures and the problems they pretend to alleviate, we are now informed by Mr Brough that CDEP income can be used to buy alcohol, which in turn fuels abusive behaviour. Am I missing something, Mal, or is there something about the money people get paid for CDEP positions which gives it a privileged status at the bottleshop counter? In your perfect future when indigenous people are all employed in the white-run uranium and tourism industries, will they be refused alcohol because the money they offer to pay with is not CDEP money?

If you think this intervention sets out to help indigenous people, think again. If you think Howard and his government are benign, but incompetent, think again. They are efficient and focussed, and have been hacking away at indigenous autonomy for a long time. This major intervention, including the scrapping of CDEP with no thought-out replacement, makes perfect sense in that context.

I’m just back from two weeks in one of the targeted communities. The teachers tell me that if everyone turns up to school they’ll have to send most of them home again because they don’t have the staff or facilities to deal with them. Older people were very concerned that the government was planning to take their grandchildren away. One old man was very happy because he’d heard that the government was coming to fix up their houses. Two blokes from Norforce came out to tell the aforementioned old people that no-one was going take children away. They had no answers to people’s questions about what was going to happen.

Brough's (mostly unstated) rationale for scrapping CDEP appears to be that, to achieve sufficient behavioural and social change on the key issues of alcohol, cannabis, violence, sexual abuse and gambling, drastic changes are needed.

To achieve the change on the scale that's needed, he has to make effective interventions to withdraw much of the cash that provides access to the substances.

At the same time he needs to prevent most remaining available cash from being used to pay the higher prices that will be commanded to obtain the scarcer substances that still are become available: this means the virtual welfare (in many cases) of CDEP income, as well as the actual welfare, has to be controlled.

Thus to reduce the pool of freely disposable income, the Commonwealth wants to ensure that much of the remaining income is 'quarantined' (managed) and spent on basic needs (food, rent, power, clothes etc), restrict legal availability of grog, and sool the cops and sniffer dogs onto the illegal supply of grog and dope, at least for a trial period.

This cannot be achieved whilst CDEP cash continues to flow freely into the pockets of binge-drinkers, ganja junkies, addicted gamblers, sexual abusers et al.

If welfare and CDEP cash can be crunched into one manageable bucket, then the plan may have a marginal chance of succeeding.

They probably reckon that after six months most people will have (relatively) detoxed, withdrawn, realized the folly of irresponsibility and self-destruction etc, and won't want to return to the 'big party' and its violence and death.

Therefore, they are going for a quick 'king hit' solution, accompanied by shock therapy. Weaning addicts habitual drinkers-users, and detoxing their minds. At the same time, forcing communities/organizations to re orientate and re-organise themselves, and try to stop a large degree of the endemic gambling addiction. And violence/drama addiction. Detox and 'treatment' on a mass scale. (But where's the aftercare, as usual .. ?).

I hope they have some good psychiatrists/psychologists advising them! If they know what they are doing, it's probably worth supporting. But how do we know if they know?

In the meantime, I get occasional shudders of fear about what it will mean for the responsible CDEP workers out here, the women who prepare the meals for frail/aged/disabled people, who are paid out of CDEP. (All the $13500 HACC grant goes on paying for half of the raw food they use).

And I think about the fact that we were about to recruit three AHWs, using the $80k grant from OATSIH, together with CDEP subsidy, to create the three 30 hr week positions. Presumably now we will only be able to employ two people.

However, I guess in the bigger scheme of things, if it sorts out some addictions and violence in a reasonably sustainable way, we'll all be laughing, so maybe I shouldn't angst so much about the apparent rough edges of the (almost unknown) strategy.

PS the Peter d'Abbs article in Crikey sensibly points out that most Aboriginal drinkers are binge drinkers, and don't really need formal detox etc. But they still need a version of therapeutic 'treatment' if they are to reorganize their lives and avoid other available addictions and obsessions etc.

One big problem with this, as with the intervention as a whole, is that it's tarring all Aboriginal ppl with the same brush and it's making the ppl who do the right thing feel like they've done something wrong.

Here at Ngukurr the CDEP manager who just left did an excellent job and the program ran very well. She was well aware of who the drinkers were and was extra tough on them. There was no sit down money and no free rides but the ppl who worked well and did the right thing had no problems. But now they do have a problem but they haven't done anything wrong.

It's just demoralising that all the ppl and programs that are/were successful are being impacted upon so significantly.

The 'intervention' arrives next Wednesday apparently. goody.

The disbanding of CDEP by the Brough brigade is the final strategy in a plan to completely bring Aboriginal communities to their knees, and agree to anything the government suggests, i.e. the resumption of hard-fought-for land rights, and the introduction of private house ownership. It will result in the ultimate reneging of any responsibility that the government has for its most marginalised citizens.

How did we, as a nation, end up here?!

News Update 26/7/07
A valuable article by Brian McCoy in Eureka Street about how long histories of poor relations with police and Government officials mean that many Aborigines in remote communities feel that the only people they can trust are their family members - and until police and government officials can build up the community's trust, sensitive subjects like child abuse will not be effectively prosecuted and dealt with. This is reinforced by complaints reported in The Australian (25/7/07) by women from Balgo that the trained investigators in child abuse had spoken inappropriately to children about sexual abuse. McCoy writes:

"Government has rarely worked well with Aboriginal adults nor shown that it wanted to communicate and work with them. Instead, it has sought to focus on the children: to remove, educate and immunise them. As a nation we have failed, too often, to work with their parents and grandparents and their wider family networks. We have rarely committed ourselves to support their strengths and capabilities. This recent intervention highlights this tendency."

And in other news, the Mayor of Alice Springs has added herself to the mayors concerned about unprepared their towns are for an influx from the remote communities. The NT Government is putting money into a bus service for remote community members, to help them go home. Pity about the collapse of Aboriginal Air Services which means people have to drive thousands of kilometres for specialist appointments. So they don't. So their health suffers even more.

The NT teachers are still worried they'll have to operate as truancy officers. Mal Brough's response? Says he'll monitor the NT Government's spending on indigenous education .... and no they won't have to be truancy officers -

"We are having Centrelink officers and other departmental officials in the communities to support those teachers. It's not going to be the teachers' responsibility"
So maybe these are 70 new real jobs for Aborigines he's thinking of? Centrelink officers for every little community?

And the Taskforce says that yes really it wants to create real jobs:

"Northern Taskforce chairman Senator Bill Heffernan says the group's role is to explore the potential for agriculture, tourism and indigenous development in northern Australia."
Which of course is exactly what many CDEP enterprises are already doing.

Finally - today's Crikey scuttlebutt:

"Howard's plan to end?: The scuttlebutt around the traps in areas that should know is that there are already explicit signals that the NT "emergency response" will be "pulled out" within six to 12 months... so much for serious policy."

So ..after the election? Nothing to mop up the mess? Or Jenny Macklin's promise of hundreds more Indigenous police officers and properly trained teachers who can teach standard English?

I agree that the government is definitely looking for ways to build up their own financial resources and steamrolling everyone's identity and autonomy into one unnegotiated and non-negotiable version of "Australian".

However, I'd be very wary of promoting CDEP as The Answer. From what I've seen, it really can be an excellent short-term "bridging" strategy in which there is the space to be trained in a particular set of skills and the workings of a particular job as well as establishing some kind of workable routine that means that work is getting done and the result of that work is functional for all stake-holders. CDEP as a long-term, indefinite arrangement is just cheap, mass labour a la station conditions pre-1967. Sure people on CDEP can spend the money however they like (a good start, but so is a 14 year old working at McDonalds) but realistically, it doesn't go very far. The purchase of a minimal amount of basics and maybe some fuel or power cards at community shops pretty much blows the grocery budget. Yay bookup! In a town (like in Port Hedland), after the rent (for Homeswest homes), electricity and phone are paid for, there's not a lot left over for much else.

Added to that is, for instance, the current housing shortage issue in Western Australia which is now at the point where even Homeswest has been looking for strategies for kicking people out so they can sell the houses to the mining companies who'll pay over $3-400000 for any 2-3 bedroom house. People looking to ease the financial burden a bit by finding a job with real pay are faced with the prospect of having to find new housing: Homeswest can either help people purchase a house at interest rates that are higher than what even the banks charge or they can look at private rental options: nothing available for less than $4-500/week and even those tenants are being pushed out so that new ones who are prepared to pay $6-700+ can move in.

I just don't think longterm CDEP offers people more meaningful choices or autonomy in their lives than than any of the alternatives currently available.

And because the government is heavily focussed on the largest possible financial gain in the shortest space of time, it's not that interested in being creative about alternatives that result in meaningful win-win outcomes. Celebrating CDEP is not helpful (neither is me carrying on like I am - I know). CDEP is convenient and meets everyone's short-term needs but it is not a real future for anyone.

This will seriously compromise the infrastructure of a bunch of communities - school cleaners, shop assistants, clinic cleaners, garage workers, etc, are all very common jobs that are mostly done by people on CDEP.

Jane, do you have suggestions for things we can do? Watching such a fragile situation from this distance without being able to do anything ... There must be something we can do?

Bill Heffernan's 'Northern Taskforce' is a completely different beast to the Taskforce attached to the 'Emergency'. The latter is chaired by Sue Gordon.

A short-term reactionary response or a more viable longer-term or both?

All I can suggest, Clare, are letters and e-mails (with your address attached otherwise they think you're spam) to parliamentarians. The Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Care has a page suggesting how to go about this - it's for the child abuse response, but it's easily adaptable.

The indications are, however, that Brough and his people are not interested in the ideas of non-Indigenous researchers, or even non-Indigenous residents of communities - here's a comment from Hamish Townsend at Crikey on the intervention in Maningrida:

"It was clear, however, that Dr Gordon [JHS: an Aboriginal magistrate on the taskforce] had no interest in listening to the community’s non-indigenous residents.
Most of the balandas (whitefellas) Dr Gordon and Maj Gen Chalmers met were high level employees of indigenous organisations and government departments who would more than likely be administering the “intervention”. But people I spoke to who had attended the meetings felt they were thought of as obstructionists. Few felt their questions had been adequately answered."

I still think it is worth sending e-mails and letters, because opinion in the Coalition is not monolithic, and because the Labor Party needs information and advice in framing its response. I've sent about 30 improving e-mails to Parliamentarians, and received about 8 responses. Leaving aside the Democrat Senator Andrew Bartlett (who is probably the strongest voice expressing concern publicly about the Government's response), the most impressive and informative responses came from the offices of two Liberals - Brendan Nelson and Gary Humphries.

So it seems to me important to send information to Liberals, and to press the Labor party to commit to more long-term solutions. Preliminary Labor party policy here [.pdf]. Summary of what Labor were offering a couple of weeks ago:

* to close the Indigenous life expectancy gap in a generation and halve the Indigenous child mortality gap in ten years
* $261 million for comprehensive coverage of Indigenous child and
maternal health, parenting support, early learning and intensive support
for literacy and numeracy
* $30 million to provide an extra 200 teachers for the at least 2,000 Aboriginal children who are not enrolled in school - at all - in remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory
* to rapidly recruit more Indigenous officers in the Australian Federal Police under a $200 million Australian Federal Policing plan
* $15.7 million towards social and emotional well-being through more Bringing Them Home counsellors and link up services, particularly in remote areas

They also don't oppose quarantining welfare payments - but have not committed to the 'quarantine everyone's payments' of Mal Brough.

Eeeeek -Bob, you're right. Oh well, it'd be kinda efficient if they worked together anyway...

News Update 27/7/07

Media interest in Operation Intervention and the abolition of CDEP has died down. Here's what I've found so far.

The Democrats have expressed alarm at the likely consequences from scrapping CDEP.

Kirsten Storry has noted that much more money must be put into Indigenous education because the schools can't accommodate all the no-schoolies.

Richard Ackland has an article in the Brisbane Times pointing out the inconsistency between Brough saying that they just needed five year leases on communities to turn around the problems, but that they needed 99 year leases on the Alice Springs Aboriginal town camps to do the same thing.

A scoping health team has noted that tea-drinking is a major cause of problems such as anaemia among small children:
"Tea drinking and rotten teeth - not alcoholism - have surprisingly emerged as among the biggest health problems facing Aboriginal children."

No surprise. In 2000 the NHMRC information paper Nutrition in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (2000) noted that: "Tea drinking reduces the absorption of non-haem iron (de Maeyer 1989). A number of studies report that young Aboriginal children often drink tea and this may be one reason why the anaemia rates are so high". They quote studies starting in 1970.......

The Prophet Bob Harvey explains the revolution in Indigenous jobs programs 28.7.07

A very slick operator named Bob Harvey (apparently Czar of DEWR's Indigenous Employment Division in Canberra, and one wont to roam the countryside under cover of darkness, howling sensible comments like “Release the bats!”) turned up at the Voyages Resort beside the Todd River in Alice Springs on Friday 27th July to sell the Federal Government's (his?) new deal on Indigenous employment, post-CDEP.

Quite a few people attended, maybe 150 or more. Most seemed to be running or working for Job Network providers or such, with some public servants and a sprinkling of CDEP operators and associated riff-raff like me. A few were even Aboriginal people from affected communities.

The story was that, despite prior info, the CDEPs will not be abolished on Sept 30th: they will instead be issued with new contracts [aka death warrants] outlining what they have to do before their cessation next June 30th.

By then CDEPs will be transforming themselves into mainstream-style Work for the Dole Program `sponsors' (i.e. the very poor cousin of the CDEP, with six month limits on participation, lesser provision for on-costs, and not much for training, equipment, operating materials etc); or else into STEP providers, preparing their participants for their new lives in mainstream employment; or they will hand over their assets to the Federal Government (despite the fact that the Federal Government didn't fund the acquisition of all the assets) and dissolve themselves. Or be dissolved.

No need for trepidation though, because the amazing Mr Harvey and his band of can-do elves in DEWR will solve all possible problems that might be associated with this transformation: with the POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING and MODERN MANAGEMENT JARGON and sheer irrational belief in the superiority of Mr Harvey & Co, they will produce a BRAVE NEW WORLD of mainstream Indigenous employment in remote communities.

All we have to do is believe, obey, kowtow, work very very hard (as though we are not already doing so), not ask questions and implement Bob's bright new ideas, like (so far undeveloped) expert-intensive ACCELERATED LITERACY PROGRAMS and MASS TRAINING and MENTORING, so that in a short period, several thousand positions in remote communities are Aboriginalised and occupied by local unemployed people.

At the same time, GENEROUS and FAR-SIGHTED MINING COMPANIES, BIG RETAILERS and TOURISM OPERATORS will provide large numbers of other openings for many other people currently on remote CDEPs.

When challenged about whether he had visited many remote communities or spent much time in them, Mr Harvey firmly and contemptuously put the questioner in her place, asserting that he had visited more remote communities than others present had ever heard of, and proved this by outlining the wonders his vision had wrought in the typical remote outpost of Kununurra (pop. 7000), where the GENEROUS MINING COMPANIES et al and PROFESSIONAL TRAINING PROVIDERS had illustrated the transformative possibilities awaiting the lucky denizens of Nyirrpi, Ampilatwatja, Engawala, Bonya, Utju, Canteen Creek and Mulga Bore.

Apart from hundreds of unsubsidised jobs opening up for them in retailing, entertainment, hospitality, machine operation and horticulture, they will benefit from going down to their local adult education facility and upgrading their software writing skills and aero-dynamic design capacities with the assistance of dedicated public servants and consultants enticed to the environs of Watiyawanu, Kaltukatjarra, Imanpa, Epenarra, Arlparra, Ukaka, Ulpanyali and Yuelamu by the superior packaging abilities and fringe benefits of Club DEWR. You see, the key to all this is that illiterate Indigenous people with little or no work experience or life skills will have to get used to the idea of continually up-grading their MARKETABLE SKILLS and MOVING ON to WHERE THE JOBS ARE. All they will need is a SUITE OF LEARNINGS, TRAININGS & WORK EXPERIENCES.

The Prophet generously enabled us to depart the gathering with a new learning stapled to the insides of our skulls: NEVER ARGUE WITH A KEEN CHAP WHO'S BEEN TO KUNUNURRA.

As we drove off into the newly enhanced sunset, everything seemed somehow brighter, more vibrant, and indeed, unreal. Just as we were wondering if one of his minders had slipped LSD into the fine array of Voyages coffee urns, we noticed in our rear-view mirror that the Prophet Bob was levitating over the motel beside the Todd, and personally FEEDING NECTAR TO THE BATS by hand from a magical gold jug with “Aladdin's Lamp” emblazoned on its side.

The mention of Accelerated Literacy Programs reminds us that the National Accelerated Literacy Program is being introduced through NT schools in 2005-08. I gather it is used in primary schools and not for adult literacy. I suppose it could be adapted for catch-up literacy for young adults, which will require even more trainers.

Elizabeth Povinelli, an anthropologist who has been visiting a camp near Darwin, situates CDEP in her take on these "extraordinary times" in her talk at a CDU SPR forum on 20 July 2007.

Thanks to the Shadow for reminding me to 'Release the Bats! - see this:
Apologies for being off-topic but I was there - this is my audio mix - in another life I used to work for R & R bands like the BP...Oh, for those days again - at least the band and the punters made some sense and we had a lot of fun - a lot more than I can say for the likes of the New Prophet Bob 'Hi, I'm a gub'ment man and I'm here to help you' Harvey.
All this talk about prophets sends me off to watch John Huston's majestic film of Flannery O'Connor's 'Wise Blood'.


Wamut has an excellent description of the arrival of the intervention at Ngukurr at That Munanga Linguist. Note the scoping team's failure to use an interpreter (even though they had one!) I wonder what measure they had for gauging the level of understanding in an audience many of whom don't speak standard Australian English.

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