On Wednesday this week the Minister for Employment
and Workplace Relations, Kevin Andrews unveiled changes to the Community Development
Employment Project (CDEP) – the black “work for the dole” – which are
aimed at getting Aboriginal people into real jobs.

CDEP was first created in 1977, at the request of several remote
Aboriginal communities. It was Australia’s first work for the dole
program and is today the largest employer of Aboriginal people in the
country, with 37,000 participants. CDEP participants work 16
hours a week and take home just over $200. In typical urban settings, CDEP workers do things like lawn-mowing. In
regional and remote towns – where there are no real jobs – they often
just paint rocks (white, ironically enough).

The changes unveiled by Andrews promise CDEP workers in urban centres
will now be kicked off the program after one year. The policy is
premised on the belief that there’s plenty of real jobs in cities and
regional towns, and Aboriginal people should have no trouble securing
them.

It may be a Pollyanna view of the world, but it’s not all that
surprising coming from a government that believes the Cronulla riots
were not racially motivated.The fact is, many Australians wouldn’t call
an ambulance for an Aboriginal person, let alone employ one – and that’s
not going to change because CDEP is being reformed.

What’s more likely to happen is that masses of Aboriginal youth will
officially join the unemployment
statistics (currently, if you’re on CDEP you’re classed as employed).
Once the true nature of Aboriginal unemployment is finally revealed ­
to be about 70% the government will have nowhere to hide.

But what of blackfellas in remote regions with no access to jobs? Will
they be kicked off CDEP as well? In one of those official leaks that
didn’t require the intervention of
the Australian Federal Police, The Australian reported on Wednesday
that Aboriginal people in remote communities have a maximum of two
years on CDEP. But this time it turns out the story was wrong.

The Howard government won’t be booting participants in remote
communities off CDEP after two years. Instead, it seems it will be
leaving them there to rot for a few more decades, with no investment in
their communities, no infrastructure and no real jobs. Some change.

Peter Fray

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