‘The government needs to radically recommit itself to the creation of jobs in remote Indigenous communities,’ said Bishop Christopher Saunders.

The Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council maintains the federal commitment over a decade to halving the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians will not be met without a robust job creation strategy.

The call comes as members of the Gurindji people in Kalkaringi and Dagaragu stop work to protest over the loss of Community Development Employment Program (CDEP) jobs and the impact of compulsory income management under the Northern Territory Intervention. For these communities, the loss of hundreds of CDEP jobs and the requirement for remaining workers to have their benefit-level pay subject to quarantining is reminiscent of conditions that led to the historic Wave Hill walk-off, 44 years ago.

‘If the government is committed to closing the gap, it must ensure that remote communities get the support they need. In 2005, the federal coalition announced plans to wind back CDEP jobs and “transition” people off benefits and into “real jobs”. We argued then that government was obliged to invest enough in job creation to ensure there were real jobs for people to go to. Clearly, in many communities, this has not occurred,’ Bishop Saunders said.

‘A focus on compulsory income management will not itself address the underlying causes of poverty and disadvantage. Real jobs are needed now – jobs providing a family wage and supporting community development.

‘The current government will spend $350 million on its roll-out of income management in the Northern Territory. How much is it prepared to spend on the jobs and services these communities desperately need?

‘The people of Kalkaringi and Dagaragu need real jobs, not rations. These communities are the testing ground that will reveal government’s resolve to meeting its commitment to closing the gap on employment’, Bishop Saunders said.