SUMMARY and Conclusions
CDEP, in its basic design, is a simple, elegant and exceedingly low-cost work scheme that has the potential to uplift and transform Aboriginal Communities throughout Australia. Many CDEPs are highly successful, confirming that potential.
Cuts and Restrictions
In recent years, the CDEP program has suffered funding cuts and participant restrictions. Since the election of the new Federal Govt, funding to ATSIC has been cut by a further 10%, CDEP participant numbers have been capped, and programs used to fund coordination of CDEPs and training of administrative staff have been abolished. There are no plans within ATSIC to fund the coordination of CDEPs or the training of Aboriginal coordination trainees and assistants in the future.
Lack of Coordination Policies
Funding the coordination of CDEPs was only ever a makeshift arrangement. There has been no program, no award, no standardised statement of minimum duties, no pay increment structure, no portability of superannuation, and no minimum standards for the training of administration staff. The consequence of the absence of an award was the lowering and keeping down of coordination standards, often below what is needed to for a CDEP to perform adequately.
The direct result of inadequate coordination policies is underperformance of CDEPs, in two major areas:
- failure to provide work for participants as funded; and
- failure to maintain financial accountability.
It is understood that underperformance in both of these areas has been the core reason for the funding cuts.
Abolishing coordination funding altogether will almost guarantee the collapse of a large number of CDEP organisations. It has initiated a vicious circle, which will lower coordination standards even further, resulting in yet further decreases in performance, and perhaps further funding cuts.
What is now most urgently required, is an Australian-wide funded CDEP Coordination award, to ensure that:
- a high level of coordination skill and commitment is driving every CDEP;
- adequate training is given to Aboriginal coordination trainees and assistants.
Unless ATSIC embraces a firm and positive policy to address the whole issue of adequacy of coordination of CDEPs, there is unlikely to be much improvement in the performance of many CDEPs. There is more likely to be a general decline.
ATSIC Decision Making
ATSIC decision and policy making is too often a top-down approach, which does not take into account Regional Councils or CDEP possible input on matters vital to CDEP success. Insufficient consultation has resulted in policies that have impaired the good performance of many able CDEPs, while not necessarily assisting the underperforming CDEPs that were the reason for the policies. In addition, many policies that were and are needed, have never been formulated. The most recent decision to axe any semblance of coordination funding is likely to cripple CDEPs as never before.
Consultation on Policy Matters
If Aboriginal CDEP organisations are to be given the fairest possibility of actualising their potential, and becoming more empowered through self-funding, all issues that at present are having a deleterious effect must be rectified. Policies must be carefully designed and well thought through for long term effects before implementation, to minimise any negative effects, and ensure that only corrective and rejuvenating outcomes follow. The best way to ensure this is to consult widely, and not assume that all wisdom lies in the corridors of ATSIC Central Office. All recommendations in this report should be wide open for Regional Councils and CDEP organisations to exchange ideas about.
ATSIC Guidance and Assistance
There are many areas where ATSIC could and should provide relatively simple assistance that would facilitate significant performance improvements to many CDEPs. These areas include offering guidance on tax exemption matters, releasing publications that would assist, consulting about proposed policies, promoting participant ownership of the project, assisting the setting up of networks, facilitating insight amongst decision makers and extending expenditure periods to reduce funding disruptions and crises.
This paper is not offered as if it were the last word on improvements to Community Development Employment Projects. It is one person’s attempt, over a period of ten years, to identify what is holding back the furtherance of CDEP, and work out ways to put the program back on track, and to enable individual CDEPs to do well despite the difficulties they face..
The hope is that it will enable ATSIC to make preliminary improvements, and at the same time stimulate widespread CDEP discussion within and amongst CDEPs, Regional Councils, Regional Offices, and Central Office. The needs are important and urgent, some are crucial. The possibilities are great. The consequences if this does not occur are likely to be dire.
The most basic need is for good, clear, unambiguous communication. All existing problems throughout the entire CDEP program stem from lack of communication, especially between the various groups mentioned above.
It is not just a need for a minimum standard of communication. This is needed, but if the program is to survive and succeed, much more is needed than this. What is required is a communicative process, whereby good ideas are exchanged freely and, through that learning exchange, are improved and built upon. The communication process is the leavening agent necessary to create the positive ferment to lift CDEPs to greater heights.
CDEP is the best vehicle for the upliftment of Aboriginal persons throughout Australia, but it needs the commitment and willing cooperation of all major players to give it the best chance of actualising this potential into full-blown reality.
A future report will explore using CDEP to enable remote communities to become self-determined and sustainable.