The Federal Labor government has decided to push ahead with major changes to Indigenous welfare despite outrage from affected Aboriginal communities.
On December 19, Indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin announced that Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) would be abolished in all non-remote areas. This will significantly affect rural and regional communities, forcing participants to join the ranks of the unemployed.
While CDEP never offered real jobs or Aboriginal control, in some communities it has been the only means to establish small local economies and it offered supplementary income in areas where few genuine employment opportunities existed.
CDEP was a precursor to the government's current work-for-the-dole program. Originally, CDEP was introduced as a way to provide development in remote Aboriginal communities by replacing unemployment benefits with CDEP "wage" payments.
Participants would receive income support in exchange for work on projects that would improve their skills or provide some infrastructure for local communities.
In the context of the financial crisis, the threat of ballooning Aboriginal unemployment figures with changes to CDEP has prompted the ALP to retain current wages for existing CDEP participants until June 30, 2011.
However, participants who start the scheme after July next year will no longer receive higher welfare payments to do community work. They will be paid a lower amount, equivalent to the dole, and will be forced to register with Centrelink.
As part of the Northern Territory intervention, the Howard government scrapped CDEP there in 2007. Given that the government could not quarantine the income of people on CDEP "wages" the program was simply abolished in affected communities and thousands of NT Aborigines were placed on welfare payments subject to compulsory quarantining.
In remote areas, under Labor's reforms, new CDEP participants will be paid income support rather than "wages" and they too will now have their payments quarantined.
Tina McGhie from the Illawarra Aboriginal Rights Group told Green Left Weekly that "scrapping CDEP wages was one of the first steps in the introduction of the racist NT Intervention. Welfare quarantining soon followed. These changes deepen attacks on Aboriginal rights and herald a further expansion of the Intervention."
The reforms to CDEP, where it is retained, will also include the requirement for participants to move cities to accept jobs.
These changes will give the government the power to force Aboriginal people off their land. Given that CDEP will only exist in remote areas as of July this year — areas where the fewest employment opportunities exist — this could have a devastating impact on Aboriginal communities.