12 May 2021

Subjects: Budget 2021; Changes to the Community Development Program (CDP)


STEWART BRASH, HOST: Well, let's find out what Labor think. Malarndirri McCarthy, Senator for the Northern Territory. Good morning.

SENATOR MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: Good morning Stewart and good morning to your listeners.

BRASH: What did you make of the announcement by the government that CDP from next year will start to be rolled back?

MCCARTHY: Well, this is another iteration of the Government's form on CDP, Stewart, and that is uncertainty. They talk about 2023 in terms of scrapping it, but there's no real detail as to what's going to happen today until 2023 and what does it become?

BRASH: But they have suggested that the activity test will be paused. Now, Senator McMahon couldn't tell me that. And we do hope to speak to Anne Ruston or either the Minister for Indigenous Australians very, by tomorrow. So, what do you understand is the go with the current situation of the activity testing?

MCCARTHY: Well, the only thing I do understand at the moment is that they promised 1000 jobs under CDP in 2019 and in Estimates last year revealed only 360 jobs have been created and at around a cost of $16.7 million. Now that's quietly been extended until mid 2023. So when we have Budget Senate estimates in just a week's time, those are the questions I want to drill down further in around CDP and what kind of certainty that can give participants - those 33,000 participants across Australia, but in particular the organisations that run the CDP program.

BRASH: Because say during COVID, the activity tests for CDP was dropped. So would one month--.

MCCARTHY: That's, that's correct. That was as a result of a lot of pressure, certainly by us, but also organisations who are concerned that penalties would continue. So thankfully, that did stop, but we're really unclear now as to where they're going given last night's announcement

BRASH: And for those providers who currently gain income, I suppose, in delivering a service, what would you like to see say? Say, the activity test is paused, as has been reported. We don't have that confirmed. How would you like it then to be dealt with by those providers? What's going to happen to those providers?

MCCARTHY: Well, the uncertainty is quite profound, Stewart. I mean, Labor's been totally against CDP. We know that the old program of CDEP is the way to go, but there is no conversation around that. So we're very, very concerned that they've made this announcement in the budget about 2023 and left a vacuum of information for people on CDP currently.

BRASH: In a perfect world, what would you like to see?

MCCARTHY: Well, it needs to be abolished.

BRASH: Right now? Don't even [inaudible]?

MCCARTHY: It needs to be abolished so that you can have a thorough focus on genuine employment. At the moment, "activities" is not genuine employment.

BRASH: Yeah, well, even so, McMahon acknowledged that it wasn't working. She denied it was-- I made the point it is believed to be quite punitive as well, because the activity testing was much more severe and stringent than what people say doing work for the dole in a southern city might expect, but she didn't necessarily come at that. With that in mind, they have said they will trial and they're going to roll out trials of other programs. What advice would you give to the government and to those seeking and looking to design a trial? What should be, what should go into such a trial?

MCCARTHY: Well, the same kind of advice we've been saying consistently for quite some time, Stewart, and that is that unless they're talking to the people on the ground and working with communities in particular who are on these programs, we won't see anything different. And that's the thing that I've always raised in terms of whether it's Minister Ruston, Minister Wyatt, is if you're not working directly with these communities, you're always going to impose something from a top down perspective.

BRASH: What is going to lead to -- and Senator McMahon made the point -- we need to be skilling people to be able to participate in the real economy. What is going to make a difference? What sort of program would actually make people, put people in a position to participate in the real economy. An I ask that given we know that there is such a labour shortage right now in the hospitality in the Northern Territory. Businesses screaming for ready people to work in hospitality and tourism. Should that be where people should be thinking about getting employment because it's there, people demand it in the sense that people are demanding workers right now?

MCCARTHY: Upskilling is absolutely essential. And I do agree with Senator McMahon in relation to that. Just in my travels across the Territory in the last few weeks, roadhouses, community fishing clubs, they're just so short of people. You know, we've got fruit pickers who need people. So we have to make sure that wherever the Federal Government's going on this that they actually work directly with communities to upskill directly all those people, whether they're in a remote or regional area or whether they're just based in Alice or Tennant and Katherine, that they have opportunities, that people can actually go to these training skills areas, get the skills that they require, and then move on into those areas of hospitality and tourism and agriculture.

BRASH: One of the big problems which anyone in remote areas faces and I think is right across inland and remote Australia for Indigenous people is learning outcomes. And I was speaking to one former politician the other day, Scott McConnell. He was saying, where he grew up, Willowra, less than 20 per cent of kids are engaging in education. Now, how much has this Territory Government failed to turn around getting kids to school? And by failing to get kids to school, they're failing the communities they live within and probably meaning that participation in the real economy is going to be so much harder. So what should the Territory government be doing to make sure kids are getting to school and getting an education so they can participate?

MCCARTHY: Yes, look, this is a constant question, isn't it, Stewart, I mean, I ask it of my own families as well when I head back home out into the Gulf Country. We should not be seeing children not going to school, and we shouldn't even be having this conversation.

BRASH: No, we've been having it for too many decades.

MCCARTHY: That's right. You know, what kind of University are they at? And where are they at? This is the conversation we should be having and we're not there. So I would certainly absolutely encourage the Northern Territory government and Federal Government to be working much closer on this.

BRASH: But do you admit that - do you acknowledge and so many people we speak to say education is failing Indigenous young people because there is not an offer, there is not a way to engage young people. And we just heard from the member for the Barkly, Steve Edgington, talking about how terrible the conditions are in Ali Curung School. 1970s built dongas, which some of the classes are being delivered in. So would you would you call on the Territory government, a Labor government, to do better in the education space?

MCCARTHY: Well, it's education plus also what the future looks like beyond education. One of the consistent things that I also hear is that we have students who are graduating from year 11 and 12, yet they have nothing to go to other than a CDP program. So there has to be a genuine partnership of any nature of political persuasion of a Territory Government or a Federal Government to say, well, we begin at the birth of a child right through to the education, completion of education for a child into the workforce. And that's not happening.

BRASH: But before those kids get the year 12, I'm just trying to get - Labor's been in power at a Territory level. And you've been a territory Minister. They've been 16 in the last 20 years Labor's been in power. How poorly has Labor performed in delivering quality education to bush students?

MCCARTHY: Well, I disagree in terms of looking at, you know, the 16 years, I think that we've seen--

BRASH: Well, it has been. There's only been one term of the CLP in that time.

MCCARTHY:] No, no, let me finish. What I'm saying is that there has been an increase in seeing students graduate. But what we are seeing is once they graduate, that they're not moving on to full and thorough employment. So there has to be--

BRASH: Point taken. Point taken. But I have a question which was about the delivery of services by the Education Department and the Territory Government. Just want to give you to give me a sense of whether you think has been adequate.

MCCARTHY: Well, there always has to be more. We need more in across the Northern Territory, whether it's with the Territory Labor government or CLP government, we need more we need more housing. We need more jobs. And we certainly need that assistance from the federal government.

BRASH: Always diplomatic Malarndirri McCarthy. Thank you. And we'll talk again and look forward to finding out what happens in Senate Estimates as well.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.