Calls to Abolish Controversial Work-for-the-dole Scheme
29 January 2019 at 5:09 pm
Community groups are calling to abolish the federal government’s controversial remote work-for-the-dole scheme, despite incoming changes to the program aimed at reducing penalties for job seekers.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion last week announced that the government was rolling out reforms to the Community Development Program (CDP) from March this year, after a 2017 Senate inquiry heard the scheme was leaving people without food due to harsh participation requirements and a high number of fines.
Scullion said these changes would have an immediate impact for people living in remote Australia and for CDP participants – of whom more than 80 per cent are Indigenous.
“Community members have told me we need to focus on engaging job seekers and reduce the number of penalties. We’re responding by implementing some of our planned reforms ahead of the full suite of changes that will be brought in later this year following the passage of legislation,” Scullion said.
The minister added that flexible hours were being introduced so participants could take part in CDP alongside other family and cultural commitments, while overall participation hours would fall from up to 25 hours per week to up to 20 hours per week.
“The first phase of reforms will also include a new payment model to incentivise CDP providers to offer a more tailored service to keep participants engaged in activities or in a job,” he said.
“Importantly, the program will only be delivered by Indigenous organisations, giving community greater opportunity to have a say in CDP’s local delivery.”
But while community groups welcomed some improvements to the CDP, they said the program continued to discriminate against Aboriginal people and should be scrapped.
Australian Council of Social Service senior policy officer Charmaine Crowe told Pro Bono News: “This discriminatory program should be abolished and replaced with the Fair Work and Strong Communities proposal put forward by Aboriginal-led organisations.”
Sue Tilley of Uniting Communities said the proposed reforms did little to significantly change the “inherently punitive, discriminatory and exploitative nature of the program”.
She noted that while the CDP cost about $400 million per year, the first three years of the program helped only 629 South Australian participants to be placed in jobs that lasted at least 26 weeks.
“Across the APY [Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara] Lands during this three-year timeframe, only 33 jobs were achieved that lasted 26 weeks or more. The cost-benefit analysis simply doesn’t stack up,” Tilley said.
Under the current scheme, CDP participants must do 25 hours per week of “work-like” activities to receive welfare payments – which is up to three times longer than what’s required for unemployed people in metropolitan areas.
Scheme participants were fined one day’s Centrelink allowance if they missed one of their scheduled activities or were late.
In early 2018, it was uncovered more than 350,000 fines have been handed out to 33,000 CDP participants, while figures from 1 April to 30 June 2017 revealed 52,813 financial penalties were issued during this period alone.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions Indigenous officer Lara Watson said the CDP forced people to work for no pay, with no protection if they were injured, and no basic employment entitlements like superannuation or leave.
She said the government’s changes to the CDP did not address these concerns.
“This program has devastated communities, reduced employment opportunities and forced people into poverty and hunger,” Watson said.
“The Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison government has an appalling record on Indigenous affairs but this program stands alone as an example of outright systemic racism.”
These changes to the CDP are part of a suite of reforms the federal government announced in the 2018/19 budget but were unable to pass through parliament due to Labor’s opposition.
The current Community Development Program is discriminatory, punitive and ineffective. A Labor Government will abolish and replace it – and deliver community development as it is meant to be, as Vincent Lingiari would have wanted. #LaborConf18 pic.twitter.com/BpLOlRGZDD
— Patrick Dodson (@SenatorDodson) December 17, 2018
In December, Labor Senator Patrick Dodson said Labor would continue to oppose the government’s reforms, but the incoming changes do not require legislation and so will come into effect in March.
Dodson pledged that a Shorten Labor government would abolish the current CDP and replace it with a new program.
Scullion attacked Labor for blocking their full package of reforms, and said the CDP had created more than 29,000 jobs since 2015, 10,000 of which continued for at least six months.