The abolition of CDEP (Community Development Employment Projects) is well under way as part of the federal government’s Northern Territory Intervention, with 26 communities already working under other arrangements.

Crikey understands 30 communities will have made the move by Christmas. A number of communities face cut-off dates in March, April, and May next year, with the process due to be completed by 30 June, 2008.

In abolishing CDEP the government aims to move people off welfare into jobs and “increase incentives to work by ‘normalising’ arrangements so that [Indigenous] people have the same incentives as other unemployed people to leave income support and obtain full time work.”

But the government’s own figures show only one in four will get a job, with as many as 6000 former CDEP recipients moving onto work for the dole, where they will be given:

… better opportunities for training onto income support, with the normal participation requirements including Job Network Services, Structured Training and Employment Projects (STEP) and Work for the Dole.

With CDEP recipients already engaged in some form of work, critics claim the government’s rhetoric is misleading, saying that abolishing CDEP is effectively moving people from work to welfare. It’s necessary, they say, to achieve two other Intervention goals: quarantining welfare to ensure that it is spent on children, and linking welfare payments to school attendance.

Further, Crikey understands that Centrelink has employed an additional 300 staff at a cost of around $80 million to manage the transition process, and that Treasury is getting increasingly anxious about the across-the-board cost blowouts. Crikey has made numerous requests this week for an interview with Major General David Chalmers, the operational head of the taskforce, but he was “totally booked out”.

Harry Scott, CEO of Titjikala, situated 130 kilometres south east of Alice Springs and which transitioned off CDEP on 28 September, says his community has received a “substantial number of properly funded positions that relate to what we were previously filling with CDEP people, which is a positive for us,” but local people have struggled with the speed of transition.

“It wasn’t really a consultative process,” Scott told Crikey. “The government did not sit down and speak to anyone here about it. Indigenous people are being told, ‘You’re going to have a house and you’re going to have a job and you’re going to live like us.’ Someone explained it to me really well: this policy is if you beat a black fella hard enough a white fella will jump out. It’s not that the government has got it wrong. The approach has got to be better.”

Will it be any better under Labor? Jenny Macklin’s office told Crikey: “We will be reforming CDEP and making it available to the communities that have been affected by the Intervention,” but wouldn’t offer any further details.