The Australian Greens reject the Government’s attempts to make the Commonwealth Development Program (CDP) more punitive and have dissented from the Community Affairs Legislation committee report into the Bill.
“The fact that we are being asked to consider the Bill and the reforms more broadly when we have not yet seen the evaluation of the current CDP is unacceptable, Australian Greens spokesperson on First Nations Issues Rachel Siewert said.
“The Government has commissioned an evaluation of the current CDP and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet confirmed in their response to questions on notice that it has been finalised. The Government should release the finalised evaluation of the current CDP program as a matter of urgency and allow time between its release and debate on this Bill.
“CDP needs urgent reform and I have been calling for reform for a long time. The tragedy here is that the Government is wasting the opportunity to develop a program that could make a meaningful difference to First Nations communities. The Government’s proposed changes to CDP will not improve the program and are going to make life even harder for CDP participants.
“At the inquiry we heard from stakeholders about the lack of consultation and detail available, the lack of discretion in The Targeted Compliance Framework (TCF), the higher number of penalties anticipated for CDP participants and the harshness of these penalties, the lack of jobs in CDP regions and the barriers CDP participants face, as well as the lack of consideration given to cultural and social factors.
“The TCF was not designed with CDP participants in mind and it was not supposed to apply to CDP regions; hence the current exemption of CDP participants from the TCF
“This Government has consistently reiterated the need to consult with First Nations peoples about matters that affect them. But they continually fail to follow through and properly consult on the reforms to the CDP and, more specifically, this Bill, which will disproportionately affect them.
“It is anticipated that CDP participants will enter the penalty zone of the TCF much quicker than jobactive, ParentsNext and Disability Employment Services participants. This is because CDP participants are required to engage in Work for the Dole activities every week day from the moment they enter the program, unlike jobactive participants who have 12 months before they are subjected to Work for the Dole.
“CDP participants must also engage in these activities for 46 weeks of the year, whereas jobactive participants must only do so for six months of the year.
“Many witnesses raised the barriers CDP participants face. Some of the barriers include English being a participant’s third or fourth language, the difficulty of accessing the Centrelink system, the lack of services in these regions, caring responsibilities and cultural obligations. These barriers increase the difficulty CDP participants face engaging with CDP and complying with their mutual obligation hours and other requirements.
“An alternative approach to the Government’s proposed reforms and this Bill is the Fair Work and Strong Communities: Remote Development and Employment Scheme model initially developed by Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory (APONT). It’s deeply disappointing that the Government hasn’t looked to adopting this model and have again ignored First Nations peoples.
“We also heard at the inquiry that almost 6000 people are “missing” from or are no longer in the CDP program. Evidence from the Department and the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research shows that when the scheme commenced on 1 July 2015 there was 36,642 people in the program and as of to 30 June 2018 there was 30,380.
“Those leaving CDP are not being replaced with the next cohort or “caseload”. The committee heard that while some of those who left the caseload will have moved into employment, it would be expected that they would be replaced by others coming into the program and this has not happened.
“The Government still hasn’t adequately explained why people in remote regions – 83% of whom are First Nations peoples – have to be subjected to a Work for the Dole scheme that is far harsher and more punitive than their city counterparts.
“Only CDP participants have an obligation every day for most of the year and have accordingly racked up significant penalties and payments. This is a discriminatory program that has caused extensive damage – millions of dollars have been stripped away from people already living in poverty and this Government wants to make it even harsher.”
Lucy Cowcher-Guthrie: 0418 401 180