Meet one of Australia’s CEOs on Centrelink

This outback woman is supporting her community on less than $50 a day. And she’s not the only one.

In the remote north of Western Australia, Patricia Riley is on call 24/7.

She’s the Chief Executive Officer of Pandanus Park Community, an Aboriginal community more than 2000 km north of Perth.

It has a population of less than 200 people and while Pandanus Park Community is about an hours drive to the next major town, it faces chronic issues with water quality, housing and unemployment.

Like most CEOs, Ms Riley’s job involves managing overall operations and resources, as well as liaising between government agencies and the community. It’s a full time job - she’s responsible for advocating for community residents, representing them in meetings, as well as helping people with daily tasks like healthcare and Centrelink.

Resources most Australians take for granted are Ms Riley’s responsibility in her community. Like clean water - in Panandus Park tap water is harmful for babies and the elderly, without Patricia’s advocacy the community would not have the required filter to make water drinkable.

But unlike most CEOs, Ms Riley’s income is less than $300 a week.

Also unlike most CEOs, she foots the bill for her own work expenses - like traveling hours to meetings with fuel costs of up to $1.80 a litre.

Weekly Salary
The Feed

Ms Riley is on the government’s controversial work-for-the dole scheme called the Community Development Program and exceeds the minimum work requirement of 25 hours a week.

Ms Riley doesn’t get superannuation and is excluded from protections under the Fair Work Act.

The program was labelled “racist, punitive and expensive” in a report by the Australia Institute last year.

“Getting Centrelink isn’t enough, rent, electricity and putting food on the table. I have a 17-year-old daughter and two minors in my care from child protection,” she said.

Remote communities are often run by Aboriginal corporations with a board of directors made up of members from the local community. But the funds vary between communities and are dependent on factors like government funding and mining royalties.

Pandanus Park does not have enough funding for a full time CEO or to reimburse her costs in the role, says Patricia Riley.

Patricia Riley
Patricia Riley

There are hundreds of remote communities in Western Australia with people in leadership positions who are volunteers or on work-for-the-dole programs.

This was highlighted in the recent inquest into the deaths of 13 children and young people in the Kimberley Region.

The Inquest heard that CEOs from two Aboriginal communities that it visited were not paid for their work and were not being reimbursed for expenses they personally incurred in undertaking their role.

CEO’s of Aboriginal communities ought to be supported and encouraged, the inquest said.

Suicide inquest calls for better pay

It recommended a policy to ensure those who appropriately act as CEOs of their Aboriginal communities are either remunerated for their efforts or, at the very least, reimbursed for expenses incurred in executing that role.

Indigenous suicide prevention expert at the University of Western Australia Professor Pat Dudgeon said strong leaders help create empowered community, which in-turn can prevent suicides.

“We need to support communities to have strong leaders and strong governance. It’s about recovering from a history of colonisation - disempowered rather than empowered,” she said.

 Pat Dudgeon is a Bardi woman from the Kimberley region and was the first Aboriginal psychologist to graduate in Australia.

She says she welcomes the inquest findings as they address the context in which most suicides take place.

“I feel like it’s the first time they are drilling down on the issue, targeting specifics at the root of this problem.”

Ms Riley said she loves her job but adequate remuneration would help create wellbeing in her community.

“CEOs should have a better wage, were more equipped and had better access to services for people who were suicidal,” Ms Riley said.