It’s rare that a week should go by without there being some massive indictment of the Brough/Howard Intervention in the Northern Territory. This week is no exception.

First, we had multiple calls for Major General Dave Chalmers to resign as the head of the Task Force on the basis that he is a military man, which is inappropriate given the role.

Ms [Olga] Havnen [from the Combined Aboriginal Organisations] says the involvement in such a controversial operation on home soil risks politicising the military and somebody with a deeper understanding of Aboriginal affairs should be in charge.

“To have even had the Army deployed and to have this task force headed up by military officials was overkill and completely inappropriate.”

Moreover, one such call came from Neil James, Executive Director of the Australian Defence Association, underlining the fact that this is not merely the opinion of some political group and cannot be (easily) dismissed as such¹. James is not critical of the principle of the intervention, I might point out, but he is critical of the way the Defence Force has been used for what overtly appear to be politically partisan projects. In any case, the standard procedure should be for a military commander to hand over to a civilian after the very early stages of a so-called ’emergency’.

Because of the attendant and growing controversy about the federal intervention in Aboriginal communities, and because it encompasses law enforcement, it would be better if this long-term operation, emergency or not, was now headed by a civilian official (say a senior physician) rather than a military officer.

Then, we had more foreseeable – yet apparently unintended² – consequences of the cessation of CDEP.

It has been in the news for weeks (albeit the less-widely read bits) that scrapping CDEP will inevitably have a major impact on the funding for valuable and necessary projects such as alcohol rehabilitation centres, and culturally empowering commercial ventures like aboriginal art centres (see also Kim’s post on this). Now, the prospect of having to operate with significantly less capital is hitting some cultural tourism ventures.

The community of Titjikala has been running a moderately successful indigenous tourism venture for the past 3 three years, but it is now under threat as an indirect consequence of the cessation of CDEP, much to Titjikala’s bemusement. Ironically, Titjikala’s tourism project was held up as a model for other communities to aspire to:

Task force chair Sue Gordon said the venture was the envy of Aboriginal people across Australia during her visit to the community in July, and suggested it be used as a model for other communities.

But, it relies on the flexibility of CDEP in that the work is not constant and employees may have to frequently go back to claiming CDEP when there isn’t tourism work to be done. However under the work-for-the-dole scheme, you’re classed as unemployed and receive benefits in virtue of that. You also endanger that status by doing any work, however infrequent. The bottom line is, it will be safer to ‘sit-down’ on welfare than go through the rigmarole of changing your employment status week-in, week-out when the work is there.

This is surely contrary to the government’s stated goals with respect to moving people from CDEP into ‘real jobs’ – ironically via unemployment. However, it is consistent with their more clandestine goal of rendering it near impossible to live in a remote community, thereby forcing aboriginal people into towns and cities, freeing up the land for mineral extraction, toxic waste sequestration and other unsavoury activities.


Just in, It appears that the tourism venture is not merely ‘under threat’ as I implied above, but has actually completely closed. Except the project’s director is confident that, at some point in the future, if they have enough funding to make ends meet, to train employees, that they will be able to make their tourism venture viable again. This is great of course, but it’s a shame that in the meantime the venture has to be put on hold.

It seems that CDEP, at least in this instance, has worked as a stepping stone, bridging the gap between real employment and real unemployment, with the flexibility to support people who aren’t really classifiable as either. Removing it means that infrequent casual work just won’t do to entice people into jobs and off unemployment. The insecurity of casual or infrequent work, not to mention the humbug dealing with Centrelink and the previous fortnight’s paycheque, ensures that it really is just easy to opt out of the job market and collect welfare.

How odd, given that nomo jidanabat ‘no sitting about’, or ‘no more sit-down money’, is the government’s ongoing theme.


¹I would have thought it’d be difficult to dismiss an independent commenter as politically partisan, until yesterday that is, when the government generally, and Peter Costello and Joe Hockey specifically, dismissed as ‘contaminated’ research into their WorkChoices laws that was half funded by the Australian Research Council, half funded by a number of groups, including some NSW workers unions, and carried out by The University of Sydney, one of Australia’s top… 4 (?) research institutions. They also implied that the independent researchers (that is, employees of the University) were ‘guns for hire‘. The authors of the report are now threatening legal action. If this were any more of a political blog, I’d have posted about that by now.

²I think I may have discussed this before, but there is a theory of ethical behaviour, in which forseeable consequences of intended actions cannot be unintended. That is, if you know that what you do will have some consequence, then for all intents and purposes, you intended that consequence.