Dole scheme blamed for sui­cide surge

Broome Advertiser - - News -

The lead­ers of Kimberley Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity Mowan­jum say the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment must share the blame for a spate of youth sui­cides be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by WA’s Coroner be­cause of changes in its Work For The Dole scheme.

Mowan­jum chief ex­ec­u­tive Steve Austin and chair­man Steve Peu­morra have also called for greater re­stric­tions on buy­ing al­co­hol, in­clud­ing a “drinker’s card” ID a per­son could lose if they com­mit al­co­hol-re­lated of­fences.

Mr Austin said there had been less work for Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple since con­trol of man­ag­ing the com­mu­nity’s fi­nances had been given to Cen­tre­link, in­clud­ing al­lo­cat­ing pay­ments and penal­ties based on whether peo­ple were meet­ing Work For The Dole re­quire­ments.

He said the pre­vi­ous sys­tem should re­turn, in which an Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity’s chief ex­ec­u­tive had dis­cre­tion to pay a worker top-up money in ad­di­tion to a dole cheque if they worked ex­tra hours.

That can no longer be done and peo­ple that mostly meet their obli­ga­tions are re­ceiv­ing penal­ties when they don’t, such as to at­tend a fu­neral, be­cause they have not in­formed Cen­tre­link, partly due to poor English and com­puter skills.

“Peo­ple lost hope af­ter that . . . peo­ple used to take it se­ri­ously as em­ploy­ment and it worked well for com­mu­ni­ties,” Mr Austin said, re­fer­ring to the past five-six years, when Mowan­jum was hit by a a surge in sui­cides, of­ten in­volv­ing youth. “That was be­cause they could not earn ex­tra.

“That’s when the drink­ing re­ally in­creased . . . fam­i­lies started to be­come dys­func­tional and peo­ple went un­der­ground, didn’t want any­thing to do with the Gov­ern­ment and a lot said ‘we’re not work­ing for the dole’.”

The com­ments come as a coro­nial in­quest into a clus­ter of sui­cides by 13 young indige­nous peo­ple in the Kimberley con­tin­ued in Broome last week. A Se­nate re­port is due in Septem­ber but Indige­nous Af­fairs Min­is­ter Nigel Scul­lion has de­fended the Work For The Dole scheme while ac­knowl­edg­ing it might be im­proved.

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