Recent revelations about the ongoing dysfunction of the Community Development Programme (CDP) are again stirring calls to reform a scheme that has already attracted a lot of controversy.
The remote work for the dole program, of which 80% of participants are Indigenous, has been riddled with controversy since its inception in 2015, with several scandals and last year's revelation that program providers sought extra funding by listing people who were dead or in prison on their books.
However, more importantly, the very purpose of the policy has come into question as frustration with its ineffectiveness grows in Indigenous communities.
The stated role of CDP is to support job seekers in remote Australia to build skills, address barriers, and contribute to their communities through a range of activities. It purportedly acknowledges the 'unique social and labour market conditions' of the remote areas it serves.
However, the 'work-like' activities undertaken by CDP participants creates a façade of employment, which ignores the fact that in the majority remote areas in which the program operates there are very little prospects. Developing skills for the workforce is great, but for many there are no jobs to progress to. Certain program providers have even been accused of 'making up' jobs, meaning that some participants are not even acquiring the skills to make them work-ready. This turns CDP into an expensive time-filling exercise.
With only a small number of recipients able to take up employment opportunities in the mainstream economy, the question must be asked – is the policy achieving its aim?
Only 20% of CDP participants have found jobs that have lasted more than six months. By comparison, 38% of participants in the government's mainstream Jobactive program were still in employment after the same time period. By this measure it would seem that it is a relative failure.
Some cynics would suggest that CDP represents another manifestation of 'out of sight, out of mind' for politicians in Canberra… Set remote Indigenous people up with pretend work and hope the problem goes away.
However, a look at the bigger picture may be a cause to reassess. CDP will not bring burgeoning prosperity to areas where there is often no functioning economy. But it is arguably better than the alternative of a return to the perils of passive welfare, where multiple generations have never held a job.
If run effectively, the program can keep people active and bring an established routine into participant's lives. This has flow-on effects, with children of parents participating in work significantly more likely to attend pre-school.
In conjunction with CDP, communities must continue to look for other opportunities to engage in the economy. Tourism, natural resources and potential export markets all present options for engaging in the economy.
Incentives for small business ownership should be introduced. While not every community can have a thriving economy, many would benefit from the provision of services that are currently lacking. Cafes, hairdressers and retail stores are scant in many remote areas. Reforming land tenure and creating avenues for private investment would give these businesses a chance.
The widely successful Indigenous ranger program also offers avenues for employment. The program has been praised for providing genuine employment opportunities with tangible outcomes for Indigenous communities. The initiative also contributes to scientific research and bolsters conservation programs by managing the populations of feral animals su/ch as buffalos.
Ranger groups are still primarily reliant on government funding, however there are growing chances for them to leverage business opportunities to generate their own income. In April it was announced that the program would be extended until 2021
While CDP will never solve the woes of remote Indigenous communities, finding a balance would be infinitely better than other alternatives. With some creative thinking and the efforts of passionate Indigenous leaders, fortunes could take a turn for the better.
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