• Jenny was once on disability benefits but after a kidney transplant she decided to take control of her life and get full-time employment and become independent. (NITV/ Rangi Hirini)Source: NITV/ Rangi Hirini
An Aboriginal woman who went from being on disability benefits to gaining full-time employment says the controversial government initiative is working for her community.
Rangi Hirini

The Point
24 Jul 2019 - 8:01 PM  UPDATED 24 Jul 2019 - 8:01 PM

Sitting outside under a Boab tree in Derby, 222 kilometres northeast of Broome, Jennifer Drummond Madaus is looking at me nervously as I set up the camera. 

It’s meant to be the middle of the winter but the glaring sun and the 30-plus degree heat would challenge that. The heat doesn’t bother Jennifer though – she’s a Kimberley girl through and through.

Her co-workers looking-on as we set up for the interview is another story. Jennifer looks over to them and mutters under her breath. I ask her if she wants me to ask them to go inside. Jennifer says she does.

Once they’re gone our interview starts.

“My name is Jennifer Drummond Madaus,” she says once the camera is rolling. “My mob here is the Nyklaa tribe.”

Jennifer has an interesting and inspiring story. In the last two years, she’s been able to turn her life around by working with families to help improve the attendance rates for school kids. 

“I started off as a part-timer … and I was on pension then, and then I had to take time off for health reasons and I came back on board and I worked for another year,” she says.

“And I got promoted to full-time officer and then only recently this year, earlier this year, I got promoted to mentor supervisor.

“It has given me independence and I look forward to coming to work every day.”

Jennifer says that she has been able to gain full-time employment and have more security for herself and her future through the Community Development Program (CDP).

Praise for CDP

In 2007, Jenny was diagnosed with kidney failure in both kidneys. Within a year she started dialysis and by 2009 had started home dialysis, followed by a kidney transplant in 2010. 

After her transplant, Jenny reached out to Winun Ngari Aboriginal Corporation: the largest CDP provider in the West Kimberley. Jennifer says the organisation helped her gain employment with the local Remote School Attendance Strategy program.

“Sitting at home, you just waste it (time) and you have some knowledge that you can share around with the staff and try to mentor them,” she says. 

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Bardi Jawi–Gurindji woman Johanna Kitching is the project manager for the Derby Remote School Attendance Strategy. Ms Kitching says the CDP program has helped her go from a school drop out to the project manager.  

“When I dropped out of school when I was 16-17, CDP is a program that I went on because I didn’t want to go to school anymore,” she tells NITV’s The Point.

Ms Kitching also credits Winun Ngari with helping her gain full-time employment and come off the CDP program.

 “I proved to them that I’m a good worker so I went into a reception position, and from reception to community manager, community development officer and now manager,” she says.

The Remote School Attendance Strategy came under the Winun Ngari umbrella of service provided in the West Kimberley and all the employees are CDP participants.

“With the Remote School Attendance Strategy, the work for the dole participants that are on our books, they work their four hours every day: so, from 7.30-11.30, and then they get a top-up as well,” Ms Kitching says.

The project manager describes herself as a “success story” of the CDP and insists the program is a “stepping-stone” for many locals. 

“There’s a lot of jobs going in Derby but for the ones that don’t have experiences, ID, or tickets that they need, that’s where the CDP program is there to help these people,” she says. 

Reforms and evaluation

Winun Ngari Aboriginal Corporation has been operating for more than 30-years and has a list of company objectives listed on its website including supporting the social development of its members and bringing about self-support to its members.

CEO Susan Murphy tells The Point that a lot of the people in the Kimberley haven’t had the opportunity to have real employment because of a “lack of true economic development.”

“So, for them [CDP] is giving them an insight for the workforce but also giving them an opportunity to show us what they’re made of and what they can contribute to their own people in their own community,” she says.

Ms Murphy says CDP is working in Derby, but admits there have been bumps along the way, including constant changes to the program.

Before becoming CDP, the program had gone from Community Development and Employment Program (CDEP) to Remote Jobs and Communities Program (RJCP) and then Community Development Program, which is essentially the regional and remote version of Work for the Dole. 

Winun Ngari’s CDP manager, David Bandwant told The Point the constant swapping and changing of the program’s structure meant providers aren’t able to work out some of the flaws within. 

“The current program can work,’ he says. “Unfortunately, over the last 6 or 7-years we’ve gone from CDEP to RJCP to CDEP, so there’s been a lot of reform over the period of 6 years. It hasn’t really given service prizes the ability to actually stabilise and get into a long-term routine. 

“So, it’s been quite disruptive. However, in its current version, it’s for the remote. I believe that it can work if we’re given time to actually stabilise it.”

In its current form, work-for-the-dole participants in regional and remote communities are required to complete up to 20-hours per week of work-like activities that benefit their community. 

However, there has been a lot of criticism of the program. Many have likened the program to slave labour and said some of the activities are similar to community service and claimed it doesn’t benefit jobseekers. 

In February, the federal government released a review of the program and found 36% of participants say their communities are worse off under the scheme, while 32% said their community was the same as before the program began. 

Ms Susan Murphy acknowledges the company has had “hiccups” and “bad patches” and admits that not all of her company’s participants have been able to secure full-time employment, but overall they are trying hard to make a meaningful impact on community.

“We’re pretty strong on making sure that the participants are given every opportunity to better their own lives but also better their own self,” she says. “It’s not just in employment but also in health, education, in being a family member.

To be able to pay your own bills and put food on the table and give your children a present every now and then is the greatest thing to see in these people’s faces.” 

– For more, watch NITV’s The Point (Ch34), 8.30pm tonight.