Inquiry into the adequacy of Newstart and related payments and alternative mechanisms to determine the level of income support payments in Australia

Aboriginal Australians economic conditions Aboriginal Australians government relations Welfare recipients Australia

In this submission, Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory (APO NT) calls on the Government, not just to raise the rate of unemployment benefits, but to make positive investments that enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to enjoy the rights to employment, education, health and cultural participation that all Australians expect.

APO NT has long been interested in remote employment and social security arrangements, and undertook extensive work on this issue during 2010-2011. More recently, APO NT has been increasingly concerned with the inadequacy of the base rate of social security payments such as Newstart to cover the high living costs of remote communities. Our concern is heightened because of damage being caused by the Government’s Community Development Program (CDP), in particular the extraordinarily high rate of financial penalties being imposed on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities and evidence that many people are disengaging from income support altogether.

Key Findings and Recommendations:

  • Aboriginal income support recipients in the Northern Territory have been subject to more than a decade of costly, paternalist interventions, including income management and Work for the Dole. Over this period poverty and unemployment have worsened.
  • The inadequacy of Newstart, Youth Allowance and related payments is contributing to a widening income gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in remote areas. It is simply unacceptable that the prevalence of poverty has risen in remote Indigenous communities and the gap in incomes continues to widen
  • Income support payments (including rental assistance) must be set at a level that allows recipients to have a reasonable prospect of securing housing in the private rental market.
  • APO NT recommends that the Government adopt the Fair Work Strong Communities proposal as the basis for a new remote employment scheme, and immediately enter into negotiations with affected communities with a view to its implementation.
  • Existing discriminatory arrangements under the CDP must be terminated. These discriminatory arrangements include requiring more hours of Work for the Dole over the course of each year and a reduced range of choices for mutual obligation.
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