Senate debates

Thursday, 15 February 2018


Finance and Public Administration References Committee; Report

6:15 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to take note of item 8, the Finance and Public Administration References Committee report Appropriateness and effectiveness of the objectives, design, implementation and evaluation of the Community Development Program (CDP). The report was tabled out of session at the end of last year. I think this report is a very significant one, and I think it is particularly apt to be talking about it this week, where we had the Closing the Gap report tabled by the Prime Minister on Monday, and on Tuesday we had the 10th anniversary of the apology to the stolen generations. Much was made by the government of some of the progress on some of the targets, but, of course, employment is not one where we are meeting the target.

On CDP, this week the Minister for Indigenous Affairs has been making a lot of all of the programs and has also been trying to say that CDP is a really good program. Well, he must be talking to a different program than the one that we reviewed through this inquiry. The inquiry makes 22 recommendations that go to the issues that we found during the inquiry. We went to a number of communities, where we heard that people did not like the program and that it was not delivering. They found it involved menial tasks. When we were in Kalgoorlie we heard in person from the police superintendent of the Kalgoorlie region, and we heard via teleconference from the superintendent for the Mid West region, who is based in Geraldton. They gave us some really valuable evidence that pointed to their concerns around the impact that CDP had in fact had on Aboriginal communities in the Goldfields area and in the Mid West region of Western Australia. They said that people were complaining that a lot of Aboriginal people were coming into Kalgoorlie and they were homeless. Their evidence was that they think that's related to CDP, because so many people were being breached, for either No Show, No Pay or for eight weeks for noncompliance. They had no sources of income so they were coming into Kalgoorlie to try to find some work or some support. I urge people to read the transcript and look at what the police said.

As I mentioned, the inquiry made a number of recommendations. Recommendation 1 states:

The committee recommends that the Australian Government immediately replace the current CDP compliance and penalty regime with obligations that are no more onerous than those of other income support recipients. CDP participants must have the same legal rights and other responsibilities as other income support participants, taking into account special circumstances such as remote locations and cultural obligations.

This goes to the heart of one of the major problems with CDP—that is, the huge number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are being breached, either for No Show, No Pay or for so-called serious noncompliance. That may be, for example, that somebody has had some cultural business and has had to go to take care of that, and has not been able to get back into town on the day they said they would, because there is no transport. They instantly get a No Show, No Pay, for example. I'll come shortly to that bigger issue of cultural responsibilities not being accommodated for in CDP. What happens is that people are then docked $50. When you are on Newstart, that's a significant amount of money—if it's a No Show, No Pay. That has an instant impact on how you feed yourself and your basic cost of living, and if you're supporting a family that's particularly important. So the rest of the community also then is supporting you. And I had that, again, direct from members of the community.

We were speaking to somebody who is doing research on this just the other day, in fact, and they said that they've calculated that the penalties have taken about $17 million out of communities. That's a significant amount of money that has come out of communities. What those penalties are doing is having a really negative effect on individuals and communities.

But the other point of that recommendation is there are different rules for CDP. Predominantly, it's Aboriginal people who are on CDP. In my belief, it's a discriminatory program because it is treating Aboriginal people differently, and they have much more onerous requirements than if you're on the Work for the Dole scheme that is operating outside remote and regional areas.

The second recommendation was that CDP requirements should be adjusted to ensure that participants are able to meet them for the majority of the time and that they be more closely aligned with the requirements for other income support participants, like those on Work for the Dole or work-like activity. Participants should have the general obligations and benefits of any other worker. As I said, they are treated differently, and the program is discriminatory—again, despite what the minister and the government claim.

Very importantly, we recommended in the committee that the eight-week serious noncompliance penalty should not be applied during the transition period except under exceptional circumstances. We talk about the 'transition period' because the minister's said repeatedly that they're going to be changing CDP—that CDP is going to change, and it's going to change to more of a community wages program, to be more like what CDEP used to be. He made that announcement in Garma—it was very well received, I will say—yet it still hasn't happened. We're now in February, so it's been seven months. It still hasn't happened. When I was asking him about that in estimates towards the end of last year, we had a number of questions and answers around how it's going to work in, how it's operating, the consultation period and the consultation process, which still seems to be going very slowly. When I talked to some Aboriginal people in community recently, they hadn't been involved in any consultation. That's not to say that it hadn't happened elsewhere, but they hadn't been involved in any consultation.

One of the issues here is this. If we are going to community wages, the committee made recommendations about how, whatever the new program looks like, it should make sure that Aboriginal people are working for the minimum wage, because at the moment they certainly aren't working for the minimum wage, and that that should be more of a community-wage-type program, which CDEP used to be. But, of course, if you are supposedly paying people a wage, you can't income-quarantine that wage, so how's it going to work in the communities that have the cashless welfare card, if people are on CDP? The minister admitted that that is something that they are looking at. They're trying to do that, so they're trying to work a way around it. I still haven't heard a satisfactory answer about how you move to genuine community wages if you are going to income-manage it. That is not genuine community wages. So that is a fundamental problem, I think, with where they're going with the transition, and the minister admitted that they are looking at that issue.

Now, that takes me to a very quick point, because I'm about to run out of time. APO NT, the Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory, made to the inquiry a very, very substantive submission that outlined a new way that you could run a community-development-type program that actually met Aboriginal community needs and delivered a minimum-wage-style approach, that had proper training and that had a scaled approach, yet we still haven't seen a response from government to APO NT's position. There are a number of Aboriginal organisations that have given deep thought to this. It has strong support from the broader Aboriginal community, yet we still haven't seen the government's response.

Here is a group of organisations that want to work 'with'. Do you remember the Prime Minister said, 'We don't do; we do with'? Well, here's a perfect opportunity to work with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. They have come up with a plan—a really well thought out, reasoned plan. I urge the government to go back, talk to APO NT, talk to those organisations and start delivering a plan that the Aboriginal community has come up with. I tell you what: you'll get a much better outcome. You won't get Aboriginal communities suffering as they are under CDEP and you'll get outcomes.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.