ITEC Employment and its related entity Community Enterprises Australia (CEA) are preparing a submission to the federal government that will argue “the pendulum has swung too far in favour of the jobseeker”, in relation to changes to the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) on Aboriginal communities, The Australian said on April 2.
CEA is the largest CDEP provider in Australia.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the pendulum swinging “too far in favour of the jobseeker” meant, perhaps, that people were finding work.
In fact, under Labor’s changes to CDEP, many Aboriginal people in communities have been shifted from doing meaningful, essential community service work, funded by a Centrelink base rate plus hourly top-up wages, to receiving “income support payments”. These are effectively Newstart payments but recipients have to work for them (a more honest name is “work-for-the dole”).
The changes, introduced in July 2009, are part of Labor’s “reformed CDEP”: a way of keeping its 2007 election promise to not scrap CDEP as the previous Coalition government said it would. Instead Labor has taken control of CDEP out of the hands of communities and essentially turning it into a work-for-the-dole scheme.
Unlike CDEP, income support payments can be quarantined onto the Basics Card. As part of the NT intervention into Aboriginal communities, introduced in 2007, 50% of Aboriginal welfare recipients' payments were put onto this voucher-type card, which can only be spent on approved items such as food, clothing and medicine.
An amendment introduced last year supposedly made this policy non-discriminatory. But a recent Senate Estimates committee found that more than 92.4% of people currently on income management are Aboriginal.
Between April and June 2012, all those employed by CDEP before the reformed scheme was introduced in July 2009, will be moved onto an income support payment. When making enquiries about this to Centrelink, I was optimistically told: “Unless, of course, they have found a ‘real job’ by then.”
Labor has not created more meaningful, salaried, “real jobs” in communities. Swinging the pendulum too far in the jobseekers’ favour has not, it seems, meant government investment in community-controlled employment programs.
Despite the apparent pendulum swing, and despite Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s promise “to ensure that every Australian who can work, does work” in her speech to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia conference in February, no money has been found to, say, pay the garbage collectors in communities (currently working for the dole) the award rates they would be paid if they worked in Darwin.
Labor’s plan is for the eventual wind-up of the old CDEP, but keeping Aboriginal people on work-for-the-dole programs is all too convenient — not to mention cheap. Labor has no plans to create fully paid, equitable employment in communities.
CEA and ITEC Employment said the problem is “Centrelink is not penalising Aboriginal people in bush areas on the dole who avoid mutual obligations”, The Australian reported.
The job service providers’ submission will reportedly call for the “restoration of CDEP ‘wage-like’ payments.”
Many Aboriginal workers across NT communities, who have found themselves providing essential services for not much more than the Basics Card and loose change, are also campaigning against the scrapping of CDEP.
They argue that, rather than closing CDEP and shifting people onto unemployment, the money should be spent converting CDEP positions into salaried jobs at award rates.
However, Aboriginal workers campaigning for “Jobs with Justice” have not found an ally in CEA and ITEC. The job service providers said restoring CDEP “would allow providers to implement no work, no pay principles on the ground in the communities”, as opposed to the “‘weakened’ compliance regime” that is work-for-the-dole.
CDEP was an initiative led by Aboriginal communities in the 1960s and ’70s, in an attempt to combat the negative effects of so-called sit-down money (unemployment benefits).
However, coming from job service providers who stand to make much money from winning government contracts, and who are bemoaning the softening of penalties against Aboriginal people on welfare, we should be very cautious of this particular call defending CDEP.
Once again, discussion is focused on carrot-and-stick tactics for punishing Aboriginal welfare recipients.
This distracts from where the spotlight should be: the government’s complete unwillingness to work with communities to take positive steps towards creating real, fairly paid, community-controlled, employment.