Dole program is starving families: Labor

Many people in remote communities will go hungry this Christmas as a direct result of the Federal Government’s controversial work-for-the-dole Community Development Program, Labor Senators have warned.

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has announced he is reviewing the CDP, which critics have accused of driving up poverty in remote Aboriginal communities.

But Labor Senators Jenny McAllister, Pat Dodson, Sue Lines and Malarndirri McCarthy said the move has come too late.

“The reality is many people on communities will still go hungry this Christmas because of the Minister’s failure to deal with this discriminatory and punitive CDP program,” the Senators said in a joint statement.

Mr Scullion this month released a discussion paper on future arrangements for the CDP, which includes three options: an updated version of the current system, a new CDP model and a wage-based model.

Members of the public have until February 9 to make submissions on the proposals.

The discussion paper came as a Senate inquiry report this month called for an overhaul of the “unfair” system.

The Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee – made up of three Labor, one Greens and two Coalition MPs – made 22 recommendations.

In its report the committee, chaired by New South Wales Labor Senator Jenny McAllister, called on the government to immediately replace the CDP’s system of compliance and penalties with one in line with those placed on other income support recipients.

It also called for a new program to be developed in consultation with First Nations peoples, so that people working in their communities could be properly paid and have access to leave, superannuation and workers’ compensation.

“CDP participants must have the same legal rights and other responsibilities as other income support participants, taking into account special circumstances such as remote locations and cultural obligations,” it said.

The CDP is a remote area work-for-the-dole scheme with about 35,000 participants, of which about 84 percent are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people.

It was introduced in July 2015 to replace the Remote Jobs and Communities Program.

Jobseekers aged 18-49 who receive Newstart Allowance, Parenting Payment or Youth Allowance must participate in work-like activities for five hours each day for 25 hours each week — up to three times longer than unemployed people in towns.

In return they are to receive skills development and training.

But critics of the program have argued it has inflicted more harm than good on remote communities, with strict financial penalties for non-attendance, reduced pay and conditions and labour market issues.

“One of the main drivers of the current problems are the more onerous mutual obligation requirements which apply to CDP participants, compared to other jobseekers nationally,” the Senate report said.

“As a result, penalties for failure to attend activities have skyrocketed under CDP.”

The Senate committee said it had heard, for example, that in September one third of participants on Palm Island were subject to a no-payment penalty, leaving community members in the Northern Queensland island unable to pay rent or for basic services such as power.

Wendy Caccetta

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