Remote Work-for-the-Dole Program Under Fire for Excessive Penalties
9 January 2018 at 8:42 am
The federal government’s work-for-the-dole Community Development Program (CDP) has again come under fire, after figures revealed more than 350,000 fines have been issued under the scheme.
The CDP requires participants in remote Australia to complete 25 hours of “work-like” activities per week to receive welfare payments – which is up to three times longer than the requirement for unemployed people in metropolitan areas.
Participants are fined one day’s Centrelink allowance if they miss one of their scheduled activities or are late.
Over two years, more than 350,000 fines have been handed out, while figures from 1 April to 30 June 2017 revealed 52,813 financial penalties were issued during this period alone.
The data also showed that 7,868 eight-week, non-payment penalties were handed out during the June quarter to CDP participants.
The CDP came under heavy scrutiny at a senate inquiry, with concerns voiced around unrealistic participation expectations and harsh penalties leaving (predominantly Indigenous) participants without funds.
But a spokesperson for Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion told Pro Bono News that the CDP has been a success, with only a “low” amount of participants fined.
“The CDP has been a huge success and has supported 20,000 remote job seekers into jobs and achieved 6,200 six month employment outcomes,” the spokesperson said.
“It is important to note that penalty amounts are low and the number of people penalised is also low.
“All Newstart recipients are required to perform activity requirements no matter where they live.”
The spokesperson also attacked the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) for promoting a “passive welfare model”.
“The passive welfare model that ACOSS and other groups would have us implement would be devastating to the many communities and thousands of participants who are engaged in CDP activities and is not what communities want – we have heard consistent support for mutual obligation requirements and opposition to sit down money,” they said.
“There is not a shred of evidence to support the claims that CDP penalties are causing hardship in communities.”
But ACOSS have rubbished these claims and said the CDP was causing severe hardship for participants.
ACOSS president Tony Reidy told Pro Bono News the suggestion the CDP program was not causing hardship was “demonstrably incorrect”.
“In just two years, 350,000 penalties were given out in a program with just 33,000 people. Many people on CDP receive just $38 per day, but each penalty equates to around $50 per day. Worse still, many people are having their payments cut completely for up to eight weeks. How could this not be causing hardship for people already living in poverty?,” Reidy said.
“There was a wealth of evidence presented to the senate inquiry into the CDP program detailing the hardship caused by this deeply flawed program.
“In 2015/16, 20,000 people were penalised under CDP. That is 60 per cent of participants. The assertion by the minister’s spokesperson that this is a low number of people being penalised is offensive and wrong.
“Imagine if 60 per cent of people were being penalised across the rest of the social safety net. There would be uproar.”
Reidy also denied that ACOSS desired a “passive welfare model”, pointing to the organisation’s senate inquiry submission.
“ACOSS has never advocated a ‘passive welfare model’. Our submission to the senate inquiry makes this crystal clear, as well as what we would have the government implement,” he said.
“We endorse the APO NT (Aboriginal peak organisations of the NT) model of reform for CDP, which would be community-led and refocus employment services towards realistic pathways to employment.”
These comments come as the federal government recently announced the launch of a discussion paper on future arrangements for the CDP, with submissions open until Friday 9 February.
Meanwhile, ACOSS has again spoken out against the federal government’s proposed welfare reform bill, after reports emerged that the Nick Xenophon Team has almost reached a deal with the Coalition to push through the legislation.
80,000 jobseekers will have their payments cut under proposed compliance changes in the Welfare ‘Reform’ Bill.
— ACOSS (@ACOSS) January 8, 2018
The deal would see the bulk of the proposed measures kept, however this does not include the government’s controversial drug testing plan for welfare participants.