From CDEP to CDP: Regulating Indigenous joblessness while destroying livelihood in remote Australia

Presented by ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

In the past decade, a process of so-called ‘reform’ of the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme that was established in 1977 has seen the scheme’s eventual abolition. At its peak there was 36,000 CDEP participants managed by 265 community-based organisations; most in the scheme worked part-time and so CDEP generated both employment and community development and enterprises outcomes; it helped close what we now term the ‘employment gap’ that according to the latest prime ministerial report to parliament earlier this year is expanding not contracting. CDEP organisations were important institutions of Indigenous self-management. But CDEP was discursively critiqued from 1996 and its prolonged reform to extinction coincided with the abolition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.

The similarly named Community Development Programme (CDP), a draconian work-for-the-dole program for remote Australia in which over 80% of participants are Indigenous, has emerged as the replacement for CDEP — hence the title, “From CDEP to CDP…”. Since its start on 1 July 2015 CDP has seen the reported creation of 4,400 26-week jobs, sometimes referred to as sustainable employment outcomes; and the imposition of 250,000 financial penalties for non-compliance with mutual obligation requirements. Obviously, something is going very wrong, but there seems to be no default button to fundamentally reboot the program or regulate the regulators, although the Australian government has recently (18 May) indicated it will look to reform CDP later this year.

In this Innovations seminar, Jon will look at the creative destruction wrought by CDP, that is currently the subject of a Senate Inquiry and ANAO review, as symptomatic of the punitive neoliberalism that has become the dominant feature of Indigenous policy-making; and ask what might be done about this. How do we get back to some semblance of what was achieved, from CDP to CDEP?

About the Speaker

Jon Altman is an emeritus professor of the ANU at the School of Regulation and Global Governance and a research professor at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University. From 1990–2010 he was the foundation director of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at ANU. This seminar draws on his submission to the Senate Inquiry and reflects his research focus on policy and how it impacts on Indigenous people in remote Arnhem Land where he has worked since 1979. For detail, visit his RegNet profile.