PAUL WILES: But first, Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison delivered the 2017 Budget last night. How did the NT, and in particular Aboriginal people fair? I spoke with NT Federal Member Warren Snowdon a short time ago.
WARREN SNOWDON: I think this budget should alarm all Territorians because of its lack of interest in the Territory and its lack of any real proposal to assist Territorians in what is a difficult time. There’s a real issue here in terms of what is the government’s strategy for Northern Australia and clearly it’s discarded the NT entirely. There are no additional resources for infrastructure. The budget papers confirm a $1.17 billion cut in our GST revenue, and there’s no subsequent effort by the Commonwealth to invest in infrastructure to make up for some of that cut. I think that we are being punished, penalised because we don’t support the government, because we have 2 Labor Members in the House of Representatives, we’ve got Senator McCarthy, and the annihilation of the CLP at the Territory election, these people don’t believe they’ve got to deal with us, that’s clear. Otherwise they would see that the priority of need in the NT needs to be addressed, and they haven’t done it. Instead we’ve seen a reduction in funding to important areas like remote Aboriginal housing funding. How does that work? The national partnership in remote housing fund is being reduced by $16 million. That’s a horror, an absolute horror. To compound the lack of interest, what they’re doing, we know elections are important, we know it’s extremely important that people are engaged in the election process, that they are enrolled to vote, that they are able to vote.
We rely on the Commonwealth Electoral Commission to do that, they know what’s required, but haven’t been funded properly. But what we see now in this budget is that the AEC will no longer have an office in the NT. So how are they going to respond to the increased needs and demands to increase enrolment and voter education for people in the bush, where we know there is significant under enrolment. I made this very clear in submissions to the Electoral Redistribution Committee, the fact is, what’s happening here, is the NT is once again, once again being abandoned by the Commonwealth. I think it’s a real shame that this budget will not assist people who most need assistance. In terms of the IAS, which has been an absolute dog’s breakfast, they are putting in $50m to do an evaluation, and the formula they are now using for schools will mean that remote schools, along with every other school in the NT, will get less money than they should otherwise get. I have to say though, there have been a couple of issues in the area of Aboriginal health that have been addressed, one of which is to extend the partnership on rheumatic fever, which is important, because rheumatic heart disease is a scourge in many communities across the north, and also they’ve extended the money for the trachoma program.
They are the two positive things, but other than that not much else.
WILES: The push toward looking at people who are out of work, again making it much more difficult. When that flows through down to remote Aboriginal communities, and people having to access Jobsearch and come in for interviews; as we know, the jobs aren’t there.
SNOWDON: It’s a ridiculous thing. The proposition that these things will work in the bush is just wrong. We, that live in the NT, and people who have any experience of living in remote communities know that that is the case. I heard a story just the other day coincidentally of a person in Warburton, WA, who was required to contact Centrelink. He was required to ring them. This person was deaf; how does that work? It demonstrates the absurdity of this system that works again the interests of the people it should be serving.
And it will be interesting to see how those changes in the labour market programs and towards job seekers and CDP participants; I’m uncertain as to whether or not they’ll be directly picked up by that. But what we do know is that there are plenty of people who live around Darwin, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, who are not on CDP, that will be subject to these arrangements. These are the most disadvantaged. Many of them can’t find work, not because they don’t want work, but because they don’t have the capacity, the skills or the education to find a job. There’s nothing in this budget, absolutely zero in this budget, which will assist those people to find work. And assist them in a way that will actually provide them with a positive outcome rather than making them dependent in an ongoing way on ever increasing biddings with the public servants who administer these funds. I mean, it’s just a shocker.