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Making a living differently

16 Dec 2016
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"Abolishing CDEP was a well-intentioned mistake and CDP is our attempt to atone for it.” So said Tony Abbott in a recent exchange with journalist Amos Aikman in the Australian. CDEP was the Community Development Employment Projects scheme, which replaced unemployment benefits in a growing number of Indigenous communities after it was launched by the Fraser government in 1977. CDP, or the Community Development Programme, is a work-for-the-dole scheme that pays participants far lower hourly rates than under CDEP.

The Howard government began dismantling CDEP in 2004 despite official statistics and case studies that demonstrated its benefits for Indigenous individuals, communities and organisations. The government’s intention, according to employment minister Joe Hockey, was “to move people off welfare and into ‘real’ employment.” Put this way, his statement misleadingly portrayed CDEP as solely an employment program, ignoring its important role in community development, and erroneously defined CDEP participants as welfare recipients. CDEP was conceived to assist people in remote communities where labour supply greatly exceeded demand. It was designed to operate as a community development and employment program managed by community-based organisations and local councils.

Far from atoning for the destruction wrought by the abolition of CDEP, the new CDP ensures that people are further economically disadvantaged and diverted from vital livelihood activity like hunting. How might Indigenous Australians be afforded proper opportunities to make a decent living as they choose? The reintroduction of CDEP and the payment of compensation for this most egregious transition would be a start. But it is important to avoid the trap of focusing too narrowly on CDP; such reform must be just one element of a broader shift in policy approach to decolonisation and self-determination, which must accommodate the fundamental Indigenous economic right to live regionally and remotely and make a living differently.

(Follow the link to read the full article at Inside Story)

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