Indigenous affairs Mal Brough is forcing Aboriginal people out of work in order to make them reliant on welfare. How could this be?

A week ago Brough announced the next chapter of the “intervention”: the abolition of the Community Development Program (CDEP) in the Northern Territory from September. Without any reference to Barbara Bennett of the Workplace Authority, he has determined to throw 8,000 people out of the workforce and onto work for the dole.

Already Aboriginal people at Amoonguna, Impanpa and Mutitjulu in central Australia have been signed off CDEP and on to work for the dole.

Workforce? Yes and no.

CDEP was established in 1977 on the community of Bamyili with the big promise to build communities through 20 hour a week employment, paid at a shade over dole payments. There were also “add ons” of capital and recurrent costs. Bamyili was later re-named Barunga — the site of another broken promise with Hawke’s 1988 pledge for a treaty with Indigenous Australians.

CDEP’s real achievement for government was that it effectively hid unemployment figures as it spread to its current level of 8,000 participants in the Territory — and 34,000 nation wide. In Opposition, Territory Labor’s Clare Martin used to make much of this statistical distortion of unemployment figures, but has said sweet fanny adams about it since assuming power.

And it has also bitten Brough in the bum.

When he and Howard announced the national emergency, they proclaimed that they would quarantine the welfare payments of irresponsible parents to force them into spending on food, rent and education rather than grog, p-rn and gambling. Then Brough got the bad news: he couldn’t do that to the incomes of CDEP participants because it was illegal. CDEP wages are just that: wages not welfare.

The solution according to Brough was a novel one — and one not attempted anywhere else in the western world — compulsorily remove people from work and put them on welfare.

Of course, he claims that this novel approach will allow people to move onto getting real jobs — though he concedes only 2,000 will be able to do so. So now you get it. Sack 8,000 people; throw them on the dole; and re-employ 2,000. Bring in the Workplace advocate? Can’t see that happening.

In the meantime, there is deep angst in many towns and communities out bush — especially those that have successful enterprises based on CDEP workers having “topped up” wages. It’s hardly a princely sum, but it is common for workers in this situation to earn $20-25,000 a year. Such workers also have wage deductions for rent and electricity — not to mention repayment of loans for household goods and motor cars. On work for the dole — which they are being forced into — incomes will be slashed, and any earnings on top of welfare incur deductions after extra earnings of $20 a week. Widespread loan defaulting can be expected. Enterprises on communities such as stores and mechanical shops might be in jeopardy as money on communities becomes scarce — and they in turn will be forced to cut labour or close shop. The retrenched workers will then be forced on to welfare.

Shades of the Vietnam era philosophy of bombing villages to save them…