Much has been written about the Intervention since it first came into place in 2007. Reports have been filed, reviews undertaken. The Government PR machine has gone overboard ensuring media is good. In among all of this something has been missing: the creation of real jobs out in communities across the NT.
As part of the Intervention, the Howard Government suspended the Community Development Employment Program. A program in which people in communities were paid to be rangers, to clean up garbage and the likes: jobs where people would work for top up wages on their land.
In 2008 the Rudd Government reinstated CDEP, although not as it was before the Intervention. As Paddy Gibson, in his ‘Working for the Basic Cards in the Northern Territory’ discussion paper for Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning put it:
Following election in 2007, the Rudd Labor Government put a freeze on the abolition of CDEP, saving thousands of jobs in NT CDEP providers that had not yet been closed down.
But in late 2008, the Government announced reforms to CDEP that have had a severe, detrimental impact on the working conditions of many Aboriginal people.
In July 2009 CDEP was abolished in regional areas such as Wollongong, NSW.
In remote areas, including the entirety of the NT, payment for new CDEP participants now takes place through Centrelink and is no higher than the Newstart allowance.
Under these new changes CDEP work is meant to be capped at 16 hours per week and there is to be no banking of hours or proper top up wages. (i.e. In the pre-July 2009 CDEP, if a team worked 30 hours in a week they would get paid wages for those extra hours or be able to bank up hours so they could have paid time off for ceremony and the likes.)
Under the new conditions, this option no longer exists. The new CDEP payments are capped at the same level as Newstart. Meaning if you work 30 hours, you’ll get the same amount as someone who works 16 hours. And the reality is that people are working more then the 16 hours on CDEP. In Kalkaringi, CDEP workers are working 24–30 hours a week building an art centre, all of which is paid for by Income Management.
Out in Amplitawatja one of the CDEP workers was told that he would have to go on work for the dole for a 12-month period before Centrelink would be able to even begin looking for work for him. And yet at Amplitawatja, the Barkly Shire Council is currently paying five independent contractors to come out from Tennant Creek to whipper-snip the grass and pick up the garbage, jobs that CDEP workers could have done, as they have in the past.
In Barunga and Beswick – just east of Katherine – contractors come from Katherine to do the work that people in the community once did. It’s the same in the Shire Council offices too; two sisters in Beswick said that one gets paid on her basic card while the other gets paid full wages for doing essentially the same job.
It’s hard not to see this as a system of cheap labour force masked under the banner of training. And when you hear stories like that at Ampilatwatja, or meet people in the streets of Katherine who tell you they’ve been on the books of a job network for two years but there’s no job that can be found for them, you start to wonder where these real jobs on communities are that the federal government promised as a result of CDEP.
As many in communities are saying, it’s like the ration days of old. The green basic card and the supermarket queues are now the ration shed. Those old fighters who toiled on the lands and fought to get it back and create jobs on their communities are now seeing these jobs being taken away. They are seeing their younger generations moving into towns to look for jobs, moving away from their lands and their culture, becoming part of an urban drift left in limbo.
An earlier version of this piece was included in the autumn edition of Wai Quarterly, which can be downloaded from www.blackkitepress.org