House debates

Monday, 26 October 2020


Community Development Program

7:30 pm

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

This evening I want to talk about the Community Development Program, which is an Indigenous welfare program which operates across northern Australia. I want to point out how bad it is and why it needs to be scrapped, and why a new program, developed along the lines of the old CDEP scheme, the Community Development Employment Projects scheme, which operated between 1976 and 2015, should be in place.

The current Community Development Program is a punitive and coercive program that has so far used a total of 774,000 penalties to attempt to whip compliance from the now only 28,000 active participants in the scheme. In the last quarter of 2019, there were 27,000 penalties used to whip those 28,000 CDP participants. Given the mutual obligation requirements that have just been reintroduced, it's likely the penalties will again increase and current participation in CDP will again decrease. There are literally thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who would otherwise be eligible for income support who are not receiving CDP and not getting income support at all. At least a thousand of these are in Arnhem Land.

CDP in remote Australia has been an absolute disaster. The government's own study of CDP found that 68 per cent of surveyed participants felt worse off; that their situation had not improved. The report found social problems had increased due to the introduction of the CDP, including an increase in break and enters to steal food, predominantly by children and young people; an increase in domestic and family violence; an increase in financial coercion and family fighting; and an increase in mental health problems—feelings of shame, depression, sleep deprivation and hunger. These are all issues driven by poverty, largely caused by CDP and its failure. The report said that CDP had had the opposite of its intended effect of getting people off welfare, or sit-down money. The report also said navigating the system was contributing to increased stress, anxiety and mental health problems. In 2017, the Audit Office said that CDP cost almost twice as much as the previous Work for the Dole scheme.

CDEP grew from a pilot in 1977 to eventually run across 265 organisations with 35,000 participants at its height in 2004. It worked by giving community based organisations UB—now the JobSeeker payment—for allocated participants as a lump sum. The community organisation paid those participants and paid them largely on the basis of no work, no pay, except in homelands, where it was assumed people were actively engaged in livelihood activity and were certainly performing necessary work looking after their country. Usually people were paid 15 hours a week at an award rate. It was part-time work for part-time pay. It was an active labour market program, unlike CDP, which is absurd.

CDEP was relatively cheap, owing to the notional wages offset with income support. CDEP did not require a punitive and expensive compliance process. CDEP generated extra jobs, income, social and commercial enterprise and basic income for homeland residents. CDEP was community controlled and could be adapted to the diverse local situations.

CDEP participants were, importantly, paid award wages. CDEP participants were individually better off than the unemployed in many ways, including through earned income. CDEP was not income tested, so participants were incentivised to earn more money and work more if they so wished. CDEP was a program that could and did incubate new industries of the times. The old CDEP incubated the Aboriginal arts industry in the 1980s and the ranger Caring for Country programs in the 1990s. CDEP allowed considerable remote infrastructure work that was, in today's terms, nation-building.

There's a lot to be done in remote Aboriginal communities across this country. Getting people off welfare and into work is one of the objectives we should all have. CDP is a welfare program. CDEP was an active jobs program. The government needs to scrap CDP and redesign it so it looks a lot like the old CDEP and works for all those people in remote communities as an active job and labour market program.