NT Chief Minister Adam Giles has called on the federal government to refocus on an Aboriginal-devised employment scheme, saying he has had a “gutful” of a remote jobs program that has been criticised for returning Aboriginal workers back to the days before equal wages.
Mr Giles is the only Indigenous head of government in the country and today unveiled what he labels an overhaul in Indigenous policy in the Northern Territory, according to the Australian newspaper.
It comes three years after the Country Liberal Party won government in the Territory, relying on the “bush vote”, where Aboriginal voters in remote booths turned against Labor, a party they historically have helped gain remote seats.
Mr Giles took the Chief Minister position from Terry Mills while the former leader was in Japan on a work trip in March 2013. The unstable CLP government has shuffled its cabinet 14 times.
One of the first acts of Mr Giles’ term in office was to scrap the Aboriginal advancement portfolio. Today, he told the Australian, he was rearranging Aboriginal policy, focusing predominately on economic development and employment.
Thirteen remote communities have been selected as targets for economic reform, with public service heads to be directly in charge.
While more details are yet to emerge, Mr Giles told the Australian he had had “a gutful” with the federal government’s Remote Jobs and Communities Program (RJCP).
“I don’t think it’s working. I think it’s time that Community Development Employment Projects or a model the same as CDEP needs to be brought back.
“I don’t believe in training for a job… it’s not training first, it’s job first — particularly because we’ve got highly unskilled people.”
The Abbott government unveiled strict new provisions for the program, which only affect remote workers, the majority of whom are Indigenous, following mining magnate Andrew Forrest’s Creating Parity report.
The Rudd/Gillard governments introduced RJCP following the dismantling of CDEP, an Aboriginal-devised program which was considered one of the best pieces of Aboriginal policy in Australia when it was extended under Bob Hawke.
But it was slowly unpicked in urban and regional areas under the Howard government, and then completely abolished under Labor.
The Abbott government’s changes to the $1.5 billion program has been condemned by policy experts for sending Aboriginal workers back to the days before equal wages.
Rather than work 16 hours a week for Newstart wages, RJCP participants will be required to work 25 hours, five days a week over 52 weeks to receive welfare payments.
That’s compared to those in regional areas and cities, who will only be required to work 26 hours a week for six months under the Job Active program.
The different provisions for remote and regional/urban areas have raised concerns by organisations like the Central Desert Regional Council, that Aboriginal workers will abandon their homelands in order to escape the strict requirements.
In the Northern Territory in particular, Aboriginal workers will be toiling for about $5 an hour because half of their wage is quarantined on a BasicsCard under the blanket income management scheme that was rolled out under the NT intervention.
The Aboriginal Peak Organisations of the NT have also called on the federal government to consider a model similar to CDEP, and move away from RJCP.
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