The head of the organisation tasked with delivering a controversial work-for-the-dole program in Western Australia’s remote Kimberley has spoken out about serious problems plaguing the system, ABC News reports.
The Aboriginal organisation East Kimberley Job Pathways (EKJB) administers the Community Development Program (CDP) in Halls Creek, 2,856km north of Perth, and nearby Aboriginal communities.
In a rare public admission, EKJB chief executive Shaun Fowler said unrealistic benchmarks and a blunt approach to mental health problems were causing participants in the program more pain.
Mr Fowler said the program was failing in communities where meaningful work was hard to find.
“You can’t just paint rocks a different colour every day, so to speak,” he said.
“I tear my hair out constantly trying to come up with some really innovative activities.”
CDP participants are required to engage in work or training to receive their welfare payments — or face penalties.
EKJB’s remit covers communities where workers received 12 penalties per person on average last year — one of the highest rates in the country.
The scheme requires participants to undertake 25 hours a week in activities, and those who do not comply may be docked about $50 a day from their welfare payments.
Mr Fowler said while there were many examples of the CDP making a positive difference there were major flaws.
“The program itself and the way it’s currently established is really what drives the penalties,” he said.
The key problem, he said, was a lack of worthwhile employment opportunities.
“When we’re talking large numbers of unemployed people, particularly in the smaller communities, it can be really difficult to have that engagement sustained across 48 weeks of the year,” Mr Fowler said.
CDP participants are required to engage in work or training to receive their welfare payments. / Supplied: Roper Gulf Regional Council