Remote community in WA left without basics under work for the dole scheme

The governments paternalistic and oppressive policies are always a one size fits all. This system never works, and while the Government makes a stroke with a pen in Canberra, our people down the line are seriously effected in so many different ways. As mentioned in this article "Sometimes you've got to just tweak that policy … to make sure that we pick everybody up, and we don't let anyone fall through the cracks." - However, here is another example of policy changes that doesn't allow this to happen.

Work For the Dole farce
Warburton locals in the workshop, playing their part to help maintain the community.
(Image: Duncan Wright)

ABC Goldfields By Rebecca Curtin 10 May 2016

A leader from some of Western Australia's remotest communities is concerned people could be forced to leave because of a Commonwealth-run work for the dole program.

The Community Development Programme (CDP) was introduced by the Federal Government last year to reform employment services in remote Australia.

Ngaanyatjarraku Shire President Damien Mclean said social security payments were previously pooled in a fund to be distributed within the community.

But under the new CDP program, people can only gain access to their payments through Centrelink and the nearest office is hundreds of kilometres away.

Mr Mclean said the change was placing enormous pressure on the community, as people were forced to wait on hold to a call centre for hours on end.

"It's really not accessible in a practical sense, and banking is a real issue for people this far from a bank," he said.

"It's actually making it really difficult for people to live in these communities, and our concern is that there is going to be an increasing pressure on people here to go closer to those places and services like Kalgoorlie."

Work For the Dole
Damien McLean says the reporting arrangements for people who need to access welfare payments are impractical for some remote WA communities.

(Image: Duncan Wright)

The Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku, which services 10 Aboriginal communities over 160,000 square kilometres, is located more than 1,500 kilometres from Perth.

Mr Mclean said the program had resulted in disastrous consequences for locals trying to pay for their housing, fines and even purchasing basics like food.

"Our area had the best collection of rent revenue collection of any of the housing areas in the state, and now we're in a situation where people's payments are going on and off," he said.

"It's also a problem for things like the justice system, where people have time to pay arrangements for fines and infringements.

"When those payments are cut off, those deductions cease and other penalties come into play, including imprisonment for non payment of fines."

Hours spent waiting on hold

A recent report by the National Audit Office found almost one quarter of all calls made to Centrelink last year went unanswered.

It also found the average wait time for people wanting to speak to Centrelink increased to 17 minutes.

Member for Kalgoorlie Wendy Duncan said the programs were further exacerbated as for most people in these communities, English is their second language.

"They don't have enough credit on their phone to sit and wait for hours for someone to answer the phone," she said.

"They tell the Aboriginal person in Warburton or Warakurna to go around the corner to the bank to find out what their bank details are, when the bank is 800 kilometres away.

"When I was last at the Warburton [community centre] I saw three or four phones laying out on the desk playing music and about 20 people behind the counter, all waiting to try and get through to Centrelink and register their required activities."

Work For the Dole - Welding metal frame on the workshop
Metal worker in Warburton, helping with day to day maintenance in the remote community. (Image: Duncan Wright)

Change for the community on the backburner

The Federal Member for O'Connor, Rick Wilson, said the upcoming election had put legislation to change issues with the current CDP program on the backburner.

"When government's implement policy, they implement policy that's relevant across the entire country," he said.

"What often happens is then you see the cracks start to appear, there are some communities and obviously Ngaanyatjarraku is one of those, which is unique and is different.

"Sometimes you've got to just tweak that policy … to make sure that we pick everybody up, and we don't let anyone fall through the cracks."

Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, has been contacted for comment.