Academic journal article Oceania

Rethinking Aboriginal 'Resistance': The Community Development Employment (CEPD) Program

Academic journal article Oceania

Rethinking Aboriginal 'Resistance': The Community Development Employment (CEPD) Program

Article excerpt

Under the Community Development Employment Projects scheme (CDEP), Aboriginal communities which include a large proportion of people eligible to receive Unemployment Benefits (UB, now known as Jobsearch/Newstart or JSN) can choose to be given a lump sum. That amount is the equivalent of all the Unemployment Benefits that would have been received by eligible residents, plus an administrative loading. Through its Council or equivalent management body, each CDEP community pays its residents who would be eligible for UB to perform some kinds of actions which it has deemed to be 'work' for the project. As I will show, CDEP is not only a very popular program option for Aboriginal (and Islander) people, it has also been a neuralgic point within the administrative discourses of 'Aboriginal affairs'. CDEP: POPULAR SUCCESS AND POLICY ANXIETY There can be no doubt that CDEP has become a popular option since its inception in 1977. Recent data from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) show that from 1976/7 to 1991/2, the number of participating communities grew from 1 to 185, workers from 100 to 20,139 and expenditure from $86,700 to $204,522,170. By 1991/2, CDEP amounted to just under 40 per cent of ATSIC's program expenditure. I am told that eight to ten thousand indigenous Australians are waiting to join the scheme, pending its current review by Deloitte Ross Tohmatsu. Sanders' (Sanders 1988) summary of the policy and administrative history of CDEP shows that this review and political hesitation is far from unprecedented. In the late 1970s, he tells us, the Australian Audit Office was not satisfied that individual participants in the scheme were being identified as they would need to have been (by the Department of Social Security) had they chosen to remain UB recipients. (1988:38) Next, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA), reviewing the scheme in 1980 came to its own critical conclusions about what it saw as the policy's confusion of aims; it convened an Interdepartmental Working Party to reform CDEP. The Working Party recommendations, in turn, attracted the critical interest of the Department of Finance. Another Interdepartmental Committee was convened by DAA in 1982, and the scheme was eventually allowed the expansion sought by DAA. Sanders pays tribute to DAA's success in promoting CDEP to sceptical Departments in the early 1980s (1988:43-4); in 1985, he reminds us, the scheme was endorsed by the influential Miller Committee whose report laid the foundations for the Hawke government's major policy initiative, the Aboriginal Employment Development Policy (AEDP). In 1986, another DAA review praised the policy. 'From being a troublesome backwater of DAA's administration' comments Sanders, 'the CDEP scheme was, by 1986, rapidly being transformed into a pace-setter of departmental action' (1988:45). Yet, as Sanders and Altman (1991b:2-3) have recently pointed out, the unexpected growth of the scheme since the inception of the AEDP in 1987 has provoked further critical 'scrutiny': by the Australian National Audit Office in 1989 and again in 1989-90; and by an interdepartmental committee chaired by DAA in 1989-90. What explains this almost unceasing process of questioning on the part of the governments administering the policy? A number of papers circulated by the Australian National University's (ANU's) Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR) can be combed for an analytical statement of what, from the point of view of policy rationality, is troubling about CDEP. Altman and Sanders' (1991b:4-11) account of the 'unresolved administrative and policy issues' of CDEP mentions the following points. First, DAA, and now ATSIC, have never been administratively equipped to do what the Australian Audit Office says is necessary: check that all receiving CDEP are entitled to receive it (that is, they must be eligible for unemployment benefits) and, conversely, that all entitled to UB in a CDEP community are getting their UB equivalent through CDEP. …

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