Dole scheme blamed for suicide surge
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.