NATIONAL: The closure of the Community Development Employment Scheme proved to be a wrecking ball for Toomelah.
And, no-one in the Federal Government can argue they were not warned about the tragic effect the closure of the scheme would have on a fragile community.
The disastrous impact on the isolated community was there for all to see in a report by Darren Coyne in the Koori Mail in February 2010.
Toomelah, he reported, was a community facing meltdown. Residents fear the closure of the CDEP may be the final nail in their coffin, he wrote. Since the CDEP shut nine months before the community “has begun to unravel.”
There has been a deterioration of facilities and services, an increase in crime and suicide attempts and a widespread disintegration in living conditions, Coyne reported.
The Toomelah Community Council held a community meeting in an attempt to stop the rot. It called for urgent help from local MP Mark Coultan and Minister Jenny Macklin.
Toomelah Co-operative Manager Rene Adams told the Koori Mail 80 people on CDEP had lost their jobs and were “now aimless.”
“It was the CDEP workers that built the houses, provided the services and fixed the roads,” she said.
“Everyone had a role. Now there is nothing.
“We’ve lobbied every State and Federal Minister since 2008 and only now they are seeing what the fallout from scrapping CDEP is.”
Ms Adams pointed out Toomelah was the first CDEP to be established in NSW as a result of the human rights report by Justice Marcus Einfeld in 1988.
“The Federal Government response to our submissions was that Toomelah was situated in a 100 kilometre radius of a growth centre being Goondiwindi,” Ms Adams said.
“However in the 21 years of the CDEP being operational not one Aboriginal person had been employed in Goondiwindi from Toomelah or Boggabilla,” she said.
“That’s why they don’t think they’ll have much luck now…in fact many have already given up,” she said.
Ms Adams told the newspaper there had been 14 suicide attempts by former CDEP workers since the closure of the program. There had also been an increase in mental health issues and a rise in the number of people being jailed.
“They (the Federal Government) have killed off the community’s spirit. They’ve spent millions over the years and now they have taken it all away.”
Mr Coultan, the National Party members for Parkes, had sought to plead a special case for Toomelah with the Federal Government but was told the policy on the closure of “non-remote” CDEP’s would stand. Support had been provided to transition Toomelah from CDEP through the Indigenous Employment Program.
Mr Coultan warned against the closure of the CDEP in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald in February 2009 headed: Rudd steers ship back to a closed welfare state.
He described the policy to close ‘non-remote’ CDEP’s in June of that year as “repressive” and argued that community development employment programs gave many communities which lacked an employment base a workable solution.
“For decades,” he wrote, “these programs – while not perfect – provided an ideal platform for Aboriginal people to gain practical skills. They had an instrumental role in fostering a sense of self-belief, while breaking dependence on the welfare system.”
The programs had given many Aboriginal people “a reason to get up in the morning”.
“The closure of such a large number of programs,” he added, “strikes at the heart of the notion of social inclusion and economic independence and steers the ship back towards a closed welfare state.”
Mr Coultan cited the importance of CDEP to the communities of Toomelah and Boggabilla and the wider regional economy. Closing the program would breach the fundamental human right of Aboriginal people to education, training and employment in their own communities.
The Rudd Government should scrap its plan, he wrote.