This paper analyses the pattern of income support penalties applied to people participating in remote employment services from 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2018. Between 30 000 and 37 000 unemployed Australians were participating in these services at any given time during this period. More than 80% were identified as Indigenous. Although remote program participants were covered by the same social security rules as those in nonremote areas, the programs that they participated in imposed different obligations on them and included different incentives for providers. These differences were justified by government officials on the basis that they were tailored to the unique circumstances of remote communities.
The paper describes how the combination of more stringent obligations and inadequate protections for vulnerable people have contributed to a substantial escalation in penalties. Despite this, there is no sign that the participation of remote Indigenous people in employment services is increasing. In fact, there is evidence that many are rejecting the program.