CDEP: A timeline of destruction


 Originally published in Tracker Magazine.

NATIONAL: A timeline of the rise and fall of CDEP.

1977:  The Fraser government rolls out the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) to a small number of discrete remote Aboriginal communities. It’s run by the federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs amid concerns over the increasing amount spent on social security payments to Aboriginal people in remote areas and is seen as an alternative to the dole. In the late 70s, the program expands from 12 to 18 communities, with 1,300 participants.

1983: Plagued by budgetary and administrative problems, the Hawke government pumps in more funding to meet the growing level of community demand for CDEP.

1985-86: CDEP continues to expand to take in 38 remote communities and about 4,000 participants.

1986-87: CDEP becomes a cornerstone of the Hawke government’s Aboriginal Employment Development Policy (AEDP). In the 80s, CDEP would become the largest single program in the federal Aboriginal affairs budget, providing 25 percent of Indigenous employment.

1988-1989: The program is expanded to communities in NSW and Victoria, marking the first CDEPs in regional and urban areas. This marked a shift in the scheme’s focus on remote communities to one that also catered for centres with mainstream services.

1990s: CDEP went from being about 3-4 percent of the federal Indigenous affairs budget in 1980 to about a third of the budget in 1990. Around this time, it has more than 20,000 participants in about 180 communities.

1995: The Race Discrimination Commissioner conducts an inquiry into allegations of discrimination between CDEP participants, who could not access other social security payments like rent assistance. The report doesn’t uncover any direct discrimination but found a “‘lack of consistency in the treatment of CDEP participants by Commonwealth Departments and Agencies”.  The Department of Social Security and ATSIC find new ways of helping CDEP participants access other forms of government support.

1997: An independent review, the Spicer Review, is completed. It recommends CDEP is directed towards employment outcomes, rather than staying as an alternative to social security. ATSIC, which has taken over much of the primary stewardship of the program, defends the program as about community development and social support, as well as employment outcomes.

1999: The Howard government puts in place the Indigenous Employment Policy that recommends CDEP be a ‘stepping stone’ rather than a destination to employment. In urban centres where there is a mainstream economy, the scheme should push people towards paid jobs. Selected CDEPs would also be converted into Indigenous Employment Centres, to co-operate with local employers and Job Network members.

2004: ATSIC releases a new policy for CDEP, which works towards two goals: boosting individual access to the labour market and mainstream economy, and building a strong socio-cultural and economic base for communities.

2004: It’s reported that the Howard government was planning to roll out “shared responsibility agreements”, and that in the future, Aboriginal communities would be required to sign an SRA before accessing CDEP.

2005: Following the abolition of ATSIC, CDEP is placed under the responsibility of the Workplace Relations Minister.

March-April 2006: Minister Kevin Andrews announces a major overhaul of CDEP. One of the most controversial aspects is that Aboriginal people will only be able to stay on the scheme for one year before being pushed off into a non-CDEP job, and two years for remote communities.  It also recommends scrapping urban and regional offices and for CDEP participants to also be registered with a Job Network member in regional and urban areas.

November 2006: Further changes are proposed in a new discussion paper, which says that 7,000 places in 40 CDEP organisations in urban and regional areas would disappear from July 2007. Participants would be encouraged into the Indigenous-specific Structured Training and Employment Projects (STEP).

February 2007: New Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey announces the plans will proceed. This reduces total participant numbers by approximately 5,000.

June 30, 2007: The federal government defunds 40 CDEP organisations located “in strong labour markets with genuine access to real jobs”.

July 2007: Indigenous affairs minister Mal Brough and Workplace Relations minister Joe Hockey announce plans to wind back CDEP in the Northern Territory as part of the NT Emergency Response (NTER).

2007: In the lead up to the 2007 federal election, Labor promises to reinstate the CDEP scheme in Northern Territory communities.

2008: The Rudd government begins reinstating a modified version of CDEP in NT remote communities.

July 1, 2008: The NT government announces an amalgamation of small Aboriginal community councils, instead making ‘super shires’. The changes have a profound impact on CDEP, meaning it is now transferred out of the control of Aboriginal community organisations and into the hands of the shires.

2008-2009: Federal Labor continues reforms.

July 1, 2009: CDEP is replaced with Job Services Australia in regions with “established economies”. In remote areas, new participants become ineligible for CDEP wages and instead receive income support direct from Centrelink. Those who are on the scheme prior to 2009 are labelled ‘grandfathered participants’ and able to receive CDEP wages.

2012: In this year’s budget, Labor announces further plans to wind back CDEP in the Territory. From July 1, 2013 CDEP will be rolled into the $1.5 million Remote Jobs and Community Program.

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