CDEP Performance Issues

Part Three:

CDEP Performance  Issues

CDEP, which is ATSIC’s largest funding program, has come under considerable criticism over recent years, resulting in a number of measures aimed at effecting improvements. These include: conducting reviews of individual CDEPs; a national review of the scheme, “No Reverse Gear”, by Deloitte, Touche, Tomatsu;  and the CDEP enhancement program to promote long-term planning. Yet despite these important contributions, many CDEPs continue to languish, and there remains, in some sections of the wider community, a feeling that insufficient progress has been made. This can only lead to further criticism and continuing pressure for improvement.

Since the election of the new Government, accountability of ATSIC funding to organisations has been exhaustively audited; funding to ATSIC has been reduced by 10%; and participant numbers to the CDEP program has been capped. Concerns are now being expressed within the corridors of ATSIC that the program may be in danger of being, at least partly dismantled, with perhaps the Wages component being handed over to DSS or DEET. This would suggest that whatever can be done to improve the program should be done, without delay.

This part looks at internal reasons for the failure of some CDEPs to perform adequately. This is a serious issue, because the under-performance of some CDEPs has resulted in development of policies by Dept. of Finance, and by ATSIC, which affect all CDEPs. For the better performing ones, this can be experienced as unnecessarily retarding. The image of CDEP amongst Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal society has also suffered. In many cases, recommendations have been directed towards  ATSIC so that they may assist individual CDEPs to improve individual performance.

The performance level of many, perhaps over half of CDEPs are not regarded as being particularly high. Generally, this shows itself in two areas: employment of participants, and accountability of funds. Both of these problems are well known to the Dept. of Finance, who may access CDEP reviews, and who control levels of funding to ATSIC for the program. While accountability of funds has always been the more troublesome for ATSIC to deal with, and has drawn the greater amount of media attention, it is the under-employment of participants that has the greatest undermining effect on the long term viability of the overall program. If it cannot be demonstrated that the vast majority of participants enjoy adequate part-time employment, it is difficult to justify continued funding, let alone any expansion of the program.

Accounting Issues

1.  Breaches of Reporting Requirements

Unwavering financial responsibility and accountability will always be the sine-qua-non that a successful CDEP is founded on. High accountability standards need to be maintained at all times, and under all circumstances.

Should, at any time, a CDEP fail to fulfill its reporting requirements for any of its grants, the organisation automatically enters a condition of breach with respect to all grants. Whenever this happens, quarterly funding to the organisation for each and every grant ceases forthwith, and may not be resumed until all breached reporting requirements have been corrected, and the organisation has been re-assessed as being no longer in breach. With the need to maintain a weekly payroll and to pay for ongoing essential services, the effects of withholding funds from a CDEP can be both swift and severe.

2.  Lack or Loss of Accounting Control

Many CDEPs find that keeping books of account is beyond the ability of office staff. The advent of computer accounting has not always helped, because of the unfriendly nature of some programs. If this is compounded by insufficient computer skills, the result can be all manner of confusion and entanglements. Certain programs require an annual upgrade, which is probably more for ongoing fee-charging purposes, than for genuine improvements to the program. Many CDEPs consider financial accountability to be the greatest problem they have to deal with. It is probably the most difficult problem that ATSIC Project Officers have to deal with.

a.  Manual Bookkeeping

Keeping manual books of account for a CDEP has always been a difficult and onerous task, requiring diligence, accuracy and much persistence. Each grant or source of income was kept in a separate bank account, had its own cheque book, and expenditure was recorded in its own cashbook. It was not unusual for an organisation to run half-a-dozen or more separate bank accounts/cheque books/cash books.

Using multiple cheque books and cash books is always very confusing. There is always  the possibility of writing cheques from the wrong cheque book and/or recording the payment in the wrong cash book. Whenever this occurs a journal entry is required, transferring the payment from one account to another. At the end of any quarter, there could be an entangled and convoluted audit trail capable of testing the patience of even the most capable bookkeeper, and make quarterly reporting a nightmare.

One organisation borrowed funds from one of their liquid accounts to cover shortages from overspending in other accounts. Borrowings, which were rarely repaid, could be taking place from a number of accounts, to replenish a number of other accounts. Funds could thus move through several accounts, again leaving a highly convoluted audit trail. Audits were a major event, and it was not unusual for an auditor to require all original documents and books of account from a community for several months at a time, creating further difficulties.

Each year, a new bank account with its own cheque book was opened for each new non-recurring grants. At one point there were 16 cheque books operating concurrently, of which at least 11 were for ATSIC grants.

b.  Computer Accounting

The advent of computer accounting proved daunting for some CDEPs. Many  programs were, and still are complicated and confusing. Some lock entries to prevent any direct correction of errors.

One organisation used a well-known program, which had multiple levels of security codes and passwords. When a relieving bookkeeper was passed over for the permanent position, she altered passwords, which rendered the program un-accessible. The distributor of the program was unable to assist, stating that passwords were unbreakable and could not be circumvented. This caused the organisation much difficulty and some loss of financial control, culminating in it going into breach. The problem was eventually solved by a complete re-entering of all data on a newly purchased program.

The practice of engaging consultants has not always been as empowering of the organisation as hoped for. Some have kept themselves in long periods of employment through the deliberate use of particularly difficult and unfriendly programs, that required regular monitoring and updating. Such circumstances can also leave the way open for manipulation of figures and even misappropriation of funds, if the organisation cannot themselves keep track of expenditure.

One consultant used a particularly unfriendly program that required budget items be recorded as six digit numbers, that were listed in a random order not corresponding to order of lines in the budget. Erroneous postings were numerous and could not be undone, but were eventually corrected by the consultant on his periodic visit, through transference via a suspension account. Confusion was always high, and at no time did the CDEP ever know its current expenditure levels to compare with the budget, and could only find these out retrospectively, well after purchases had already been made. Budget lines were prone to blowing out, and planning was impossible to conform to. The organisation found that keeping accounts was an unpleasant and unrewarding task. Staff turnover to this position was high, and difficult to replace, with each change requiring more tutoring by the consultant. The consultants bill each year was about equivalent to engaging an accountant. On one occasion, the Auditor required a complete  re-entering of all cheques, for clarity, which increased his bill to exceeded $10,000.

This entire problem could have been completely eliminated by using a more appropriate, user-friendly program.

One organisation, which ran in excess of eight separate bank accounts, employed a bookkeeper who had no previous bookkeeping experience, and was not computer literate. Bills were paid when suppliers sent letters of demand, from whichever accounts held the most funds at the time. Organisation entered breach through failure to lodge quarterly returns, from which it never returned, and eventually had its CDEP suspended.

This problem could have also been eliminated by using the organisation using a simple, user-friendly program, that was easy to operate.

3. Improving Financial Accountability

User Friendly Software

After trialing different computer accounting programs over several years, the writer chose to use “Quicken”, an Australianised small accounting package, because it was the simplest and most user friendly he could find. Quicken is the most widely-used accounting package ever produced and costs much less than $100. He found the program to be wholly adequate to the task, which was also confirmed by the Auditor, extremely easy to learn and to use, and virtually impossible to get lost in. It is also very forgiving and easy to correct if posting errors do occur, and can accommodate changes to budgets, etc, whenever they need to be made.

Quicken is particularly suitable for grant-accounting and may be used as follows:

  • All grants and sources of income may be kept in the one physical bank account, and all payments made out of the one cheque book.
  • All transactions pertaining to that bank account are recorded in a single register within the one computer file.
  • Each grant is recorded as an independent budget, having its own its own individual income and expenditure.
  • Individual grant budgets are consolidated into a ‘master’ budget. Each is functionally separated out at any time through calling up its budget.
  • Tracking of day-to-day expenditure can be through inspecting the register or through customised reports.
  • Bank reconciliations can be done on the computer at the end of each month, or any other time.
  • Quarterly returns are little more than a matter of creating reports.
  • Budget revisions can be done progressively, and without complication.
  • After the end of each financial year, the previous years accounts can be separated off to allow completely new budgets to be created for the next year’s funding.
  • Quicken can also handle accrual accounting, prepayments, expenses incurred and print cheques and invoices.

For anyone wishing to step up to a more comprehensive package, it is immediately convertible to “Quickbooks”, or “Quickbooks Pro” which cost between $250 and $350. Both programs are very easy to link to “Quickline”, the electronic transfer program used by the Commonwealth Bank for direct payments of payrolls.

Recommendation 8:

That ATSIC trial and evaluate potentially suitable accounting packages, and make available to Aboriginal organisations a list of trialed and recommended computer accounting packages, along with review findings. Evaluation criteria to include ease-of-learning, ease-of-use, cost, support etc. Accounting packages to be evaluated should include Quicken, Quickbooks, MYOB, Money 97, as well as other known, potentially suitable packages.

Management Issues

ATSIC has never acknowledged that a program with the complexities of CDEP, and the levels of funding involved, requires a professional level of management, or coordination. Nor has ATSIC made any moves towards creating a funded program, or an award, for CDEP coordination, which would promote stability and minimum standards.

Up until now funding the Coordinator’s position has been rather makeshift, and has taken place through the use of other programs, such as the Community Training Program, the Community Support Scheme, and often, in remote communities, the Community Infrastructure budget. Abolishing these programs has left CDEP devoid of coordination funding altogether.

The lack of an award, with duty statements, as well as a funding structure and career path to ensure minimum standards of performance in all CDEPs has, over the years, contributed to the absence of strong, competent coordination in many CDEPs, which has been to the detriment of the entire CDEP program.

1. Managerial Competence

a.  Suitability of Management Staff

When recruiting a new coordinator, many remote communities may not receive applications from skilled and experienced persons, and can only make do with what is offered, even if this falls far short of what is truly required. Applicants may be devoid of previous experience in similar positions, lack computer and bookkeeping skills, be unfamiliar and uncomfortable with desert conditions, do not understand community dynamics, have never interacted with Aboriginal people before, and have no knowledge of traditional values or customs. In some instances, the person employed may have little sympathy for traditional customs and values.

Some non-Aboriginal Coordinators on desert CDEPs do not recognise traditional business as coming under the broad definition of CDEP. Participants are paid reduced, “sit-down” rates when attending ceremonies, etc. This has caused conflicts and financial difficulties for participants, who find their traditional lifestyle is neither recognised nor valued.

Recommendation 9:

That work in remote communities include within its definition, whatever activities contribute to improving the community life of its members, and may include all traditional obligations and responsibilities, such as business, ceremonies, funeral attendance, traditional food hunting and gathering, and the like.

In many remote communities, the Governing Committee is not able to define or evaluate the technical skills that are required for the position. In some cases, remote CDEPs have been known to employ the outstation developer, essentially an outdoors person, who offered himself as a candidate because he had thought the position involved little more than signing papers, and had no idea of the complexities of the job and skills required to perform the work. Rising levels of sit-down and financial reporting difficulties often ensue from these cases. Burn-out of staff is usually fairly high, leading to a high turnover, lack of coordination stability and loss of progressive development.

One remote CDEP replaced their coordinator with the outstation developer, essentially a dozer driver. This person was computer illiterate and had no understanding of administrative matters, with a result that internal administrative controls became increasingly run down. CDEP employment decreased to around 5% being gainfully employed. Control was lost over participants and other community members, resulting in loss of control over vehicles and community store. As control of services and equipment decreased, threats against non-Aboriginal staff increased, culminating in a walk-out by all non-aboriginal staff. CDEP was eventually suspended.

One Urban CDEP advertised the coordinator’s position in a 50mm x 25mm box containing no details, which was placed in the local newspaper only, on a Monday, to close on the immediately following Friday. Despite applications by skilled persons, they employed a pre-selected person, who lacked previous experience in accounting, computer and administrative skills crucial to the position. The new coordinator was unable to meet reporting requirements, and the CDEP went into multiple beach from which it could not extract itself, leading to suspension of the CDEP.

When any of the above kinds of instances occur, the CDEP, and the quality of community life in general, will almost invariably decline. Even in cases where an unskilled coordinator may eventually make a fist of the job, there can be an extensive period of decline before competences are developed.

Recommendation 10:

That ATSIC construct a recommended, standardised CDEP Coordinator’s Duty Statement. This could be a statement of minimum duties, common to all CDEPs, to which any individual CDEP can add additional duties relevant to its specific needs.

Recommendation 11:

That each ATSIC Regional Office be required to approve the duty statement  and selection criteria of all ATSIC funded positions over, say, $25,000, and require minimum advertising standards for such positions.

Recommendation 12:

That ATSIC require the application of strict coordination selection policies, based and skills and abilities, including minimum advertising . Any CDEP seeking a waiver from this requirement, where no applications come up to standard, to be required to get the approval of the ATSIC Regional Office.

b.  Underfunding of Senior Positions

Because of staff funding restrictions, the Coordinator on a remote CDEP may also have to double as the Service Manager, and in addition to this, may also be required to run the Community store. In these instances, ensuring the community has food, power and water will invariably take precedence over finding meaningful work for participants, except for a skeleton crew of relatively skilled individuals. Some of these CDEPs have almost all participants on “sit-down”, or in effect, unemployed, and receiving weekly payments reduced to sometimes around $100-$120 gross.

Recommendation 13:

That a survey of all CDEPs be carried out by Regional Offices to ascertain minimum professional staffing needs of each.

c.  Misuse of Allocated Funds

In some under-employed and under-utilised remote CDEPs, the Recurrent funding has been used as a defacto supplement to the Infrastructure budget. It may not be unusual for such a CDEP to use the Recurrent grant to fund outside professional workers to carry out building and other labour-intensive tasks, without involving local participants in any form of assisting or learning process whatsoever. These idle, sit-down participants may then treat CDEP as more akin to a spectator, than a participatory, sport. The work done by outside workers may then be funded from the Recurrent budget, as may also unspent wages, after being identified in the audit as surplus. This approach defeats the spirit and purpose of the CDEP, which is to empower participants.

One large, remote CDEP employing over 300 participants had around 70% on sit-down, while a large number of non-Aboriginal staff were employed to do non-specialised work that could easily have been carried out by participants. The scheme did not employ any supervising person to ensure that work was organised for participants, or that their aspirations were being catered for. A review team found that many workplace recommendations made in previous review some three years ago had not been acted upon; there had been no follow up of the review; and that little improvement had been effected for participants.

Recommendation 14:

That all CDEPs employ a person whose job description includes the duties of a CDEP Development Officer, to ensure that adequate attention is given to the employment of CDEP participants, and that planned and budgeted activities are carried out by participants.

Recommendation 15:

That all CDEPs reviewed are re-reviewed with six months to ensure proper attention is given to recommendations made in the review.

d. Lack of Planning and Direction

Investigations by ATSIC revealed that the greatest reason for CDEPs languishing, was a lack of direction and long term goals for development. To address this, ATSIC developed the CDEP Enhancement Program, or 3 Year Plan, which encourages a community-based approach to developing long-term activity goals for the individual project, by funding each CDEP around $10,000, under guidelines, to develop such plans.

Although a community may then apply for a grant to fund some long term activity that has arisen out of the scheme, there is no guarantee of any extra funding being made available. Recent cuts to ATSIC funding has significantly decreased the likelihood of a community being able to fund any new activities developed from the three year plan that require extra capital or recurrent injections.

Lack of planning could be seen as a symptom of the deeper problem of inadequate coordination. Responsible, competent, proactive coordination would be constantly looking ahead, searching for the best opportunities to develop long term solutions.

2. Examples of Required Coordination Competencies

A.  Effective Purchasing

Whereas Financial Accountability keeps track of how and where funds have been expended, and requires an audit trail to ensure there have been no misuse or misappropriation of funds, Management Accountability ensures that those funds were spent well, in the best interest of the project, and that the best value for money has been achieved. This responsibility is difficult to achieve, and places far greater demands upon the coordination staff of CDEPs, than the mere tracking of expenditure.

To illustrate this point, the following is an extreme, and hypothetical, example:

If an organisation chose to spend all of their capital allocation for vehicles on an expensive Mercedes Benz, rather than purchasing, for the same cost, a number of vehicles of a type more appropriate to the organisations actual needs, this extravagant expenditure could still pass the ATSIC accountability test, and be treated as if it were sound practice.

This fictitious example demonstrates where coordination, which includes the effective use of funds, extends beyond accounting, which is the recording of the use of those funds. In the competitive world of commerce, the market place ruthlessly ensures that management accountability does take place, because those companies that do not utilise their scarce resources wisely and effectively, will be unlikely to perform as well as those which do, and, consequently, suffer at the hands of their competitors, who are more sensible in their spending.

Because CDEPs operate on a shoestring budget, it is most important that all purchasing is done prudently and wisely, to ensure appropriateness and durability of materials and equipment purchased, and to drive scarce funds further. A competent and responsible purchasing officer, which is usually one of the many roles of the CDEP Coordinator, could virtually pay for his or her salary out of savings made from sensible spending.

3.  Becoming Enterprising

Over the years, the outcomes expected of CDEPs have risen considerably, making far greater demands and placing increased responsibilities upon CDEP participants and administrations alike. All CDEPs, but in particular those that are urban or town-based, now have placed upon them the additional demand that they become increasingly self-funding. If a CDEP is to make progress in this direction, it must devise ways to generate income, through being commercially competitive and successful in the marketplace. This means that CDEPs need to become enterprising, even entrepreneurial.

An enterprising CDEP will not simply tick over on its own, but needs to be pro-actively driven, and with considerable skill. This is made all the more necessary, and difficult, because CDEPs are minimally funded, on extremely tight ‘shoestring’ budgets. Some CDEPs believe that satisfying ATSIC’s reporting requirements alone amounts to running a successful project. Proper reporting is necessary, but a successful CDEP must do much better than this.

A successful CDEP must not become overwhelmed and bogged down by the highly regulated, bureaucratic procedures that are necessary to handle and acquit grant funds. Nor must a CDEP allow those procedures to restrict any efforts to become enterprising. All CDEPs must now, in addition, develop other procedures and systems that will facilitate an enterprising outlook, leading to success in the market place.

Any CDEP that moves towards self-funding must function in the dual capacities of being bureaucratically answerable, and enterprisingly income-generating. This requires that it goes beyond being passively managed, even beyond being actively managed, to being pro-actively managed. This is no small task. Becoming enterprising is not some minor administrative detail. It is a significant, full-blown management function.

4.  Axing of Makeshift Funding for the Management of CDEPs

There has never existed, within ATSIC’s funding programs, an allocation specifically for coordination, whether of CDEPs or of other or Non-CDEP organisations. Yet the tasks, responsibilities and demands placed upon the coordination of a CDEP are increasing each year, and have recently increased dramatically with demand that they become significantly self-funding through income generation.

Makeshift Coordination of CDEP projects that have no other existing coordination funding, Community Training Program funds and Community Youth Support funds were utilised, as CDEP training and coordination needs were able to meet the criteria of these programs. This de facto means of funding the coordination of CDEPs has never been entirely satisfactory, as there has never been an award developed to manage ATSIC’s most difficult, and most fund-consuming program. Recently, as an outcome of the imposed 10%, across-the-board funding cuts to ATSIC,  both the CTP and CYS programs were axed. This means that Regional Councils may not now legally fund coordination of CDEPs

The effect of axing the CTP and CYS programs was to kill off all funding for coordination and administrative training in a large number of CDEPs. It is difficult to envisage a more devastating blow to the furtherance of CDEP than the targeting of these programs. Emergency funding to get by 1996/97 has since been provided, but the following year(s)  are without any funding for coordination at all, while the CDEP is still required to fund administration salaries and superannuation.

One Region CDEP Forum of 9 CDEP Coordinators has determined, after much financial analysis, that without adequate funding to replace CTP and CYS funding cuts, many of the 9 CDEPs could become financially unviable.

Recommendation 16:

That a program be created specifically to fund the coordination of CDEPs. This fund should include provision for all legitimate expenses associated with CDEP coordination.

5.  Creation of  an Award to Fund Coordination of CDEPs

The average CDEP must budget, expend and account for well in excess of $1,000,000 annually, and employ over 100 participants, indicating a fairly high level of responsibility is required. The diverse skills and responsibilities required to fulfill the tasks required to manage a properly functioning CDEP far exceed that of the typical middle management position drawing a similar salary in some town-based enterprise.

Skills Required of CDEP Coordinators

Task Skills

  1. High Degree of Computer Literacy:  including fluency in Windows, Word, Excel, CDEP Manager,  PC Anywhere, Computer Accounting, etc.
  1. Bookkeeping Skills: to be able to keep computer accounts and do financial returns.
  1. Purchasing Skills: knowledge of products and prices, coupled with sufficient interest and drive to spend prudently and seek out sensible bargains.
  1. Business and Enterprise Skills: to set up and maintain businesses that are relevant and well run.
  1. Organising Skills: to integrate the many diverse activities into a cohesive well functioning, integrated whole.
  1. Crisis Management Skills: to cope and successfully deal with the many crises that will occur, and turn then into opportunities.
  1. Problem Solving Skills: the ability to seamlessly integrate the entire infrastructure, and to sort out any problems that occur in any aspect of it.
  1. Planning Ability: to detail how the plan can unfold in the best all round way.

People Skills

  1. Ability to Relate to Local People Responsibly: and deal with them openly, with honesty and integrity, in ways that do not take away their dignity, nor favour some over others.
  1. Ability to Develop Participants: to become more responsible, capable, committed and skilled.
  1. Empathy: to put his or herself in the participants position, to understand and appreciate others needs and aspirations.
  1. Ability to Liaise: with Govt Departments eg ATSIC, ATO, Centrelink, etc.

m.  Capacity for Consulting and Facilitating: to draw the aspirations and best ideas from participants, and not make the project into one’s own desires or fantasies.

  1. Training Skills: the ability, and the commitment, for non-Aboriginal coordinators to train Aboriginal staff for their own replacement.
  1. Conflict Resolution Skills: to bring together and reconcile conflicting parties and keep the project moving ahead harmoniously as planned.

Personal qualities

  1. Adaptability:  Be able to adapt oneself to the many varied situations, clerical and practical, as required during the course of each day.
  1. Proactivity: to be up to date, functioning in real-time, disarming problems as they begin to arise, scanning options as they emerge.
  1. Determination: to keep the project on track despite obstacles and obstructions, without going off on tangents or getting bogged down in inactivity.
  1. Practicality: Capacity to solve practical problems, and design practical solutions that are simple, economical, efficient and effective, service computers and keep them running, etc.
  1. Honesty and Integrity: to be above-board and beyond reproach in all financial dealings. Aboriginal money should be accorded the respect of a sacred site.
  1. Fairness: to treat everybody without favour or disfavour, and according everybody equal rights and opportunities.

  1. Community Spiritedness: to be able to work cooperatively, with all people, and bring together apparently diverse elements of community life.

Competent coordination will ensure financial responsibility and accountability, and high levels of employment, with successful activity outcomes in the best interest of the community. The purpose of coordination is to enable an organisation to utilise resources efficiently in order to achieve effective outcomes. Efficient means doing things well. Effective means doing the right things.

CDEP has never been properly funded for coordination, possibly because CDEP first began in well established organisations, such as Land Councils, where adequate coordination was deemed to have already existed. Today, CDEP has eclipsed the complexity and level of funding of all other Aboriginal funding programs, and will require a greater level of coordination skills than is likely to exist in a grantee organisation. Many organisations have been incorporated specifically for the purpose of operating a CDEP, and have no existing coordination structure. Proper coordination of CDEPs is probably the greatest unmet need regarding ATSIC funded programs.

As things stand today, the first task of a CDEP coordinator, is to find his/her own salary, which can become a pre-occupation, distracting from the larger task of ensuring that the CDEP is fulfilling its true funding obligations. Possibly,  the reason is to orientate the coordinator towards income generation. If this is true, an excercise should be conducted to discover the efficacy of such a strategy. This could be done within the confines of ATSIC using readily available data.

Consideration should be given towards ensuring that nobody, including participants, governing committees, coordinators and ATSIC project officers do not gather any unintended impressions that CDEP is being funded to fail, as such a misimpression, could produce seriously adverse effects on performance.

Competent, professional coordination of CDEPs requires a national award, with adequate levels of secure funding. Salary levels should be based on an award similar to that of ATSIC Project Officers with similar salary levels, and subject to the same increments. Many CDEP Coordinators positions are deemed to be temporary, as non-Aboriginal persons are required to train Aboriginal persons to take over. Salary increments should therefore be portable, so that each time a new job is undertaken, any earned increases reflecting greater experience are maintained, and the Coordinator is not funded at the lowest level, as if a novice. Superannuation should likewise be portable. The level of remuneration should correspond to the duties and responsibilities undertaken, and for a coordinator assuming full responsibility, without the need to engage and fund an accountant, would probably, in most instances, be that of an ASO6.

Such an award would have the effect of both building up and freeing up the CDEP coordination market, helping to ensure that recruiting good coordination can be the expectation of all Remote and Urban CDEPs throughout Australia.

Even before the axing of CTP and CYS programs, their makeshift use to fund the coordination of CDEPs was never satisfactory, because it was always lacking in the following ways:

  • There has never been a minimum detailed duty statement established.
  • There has never been a standardised salary structure for the Coordinators, Assistants or Trainees of CDEPs.
  • There has never been a guaranteed means of paying salary increments.
  • There has never been a means of carrying any earned increments to another,  similar position.
  • There has never been a career structure to encourage skilled and experienced persons to remain in the industry.
  • There has never been a way of ensuring adequate training is given to Aboriginal trainees and assistants.

This means there exists no well-thought-out, standardised statement of duties and  responsibilities, or skills inventory as minimum standards for the coordination of CDEPs. Some consequences of this have been described above. It is unreasonable to expect the governing committee of any remote or even most urban CDEPs to be able to have detailed understanding of what is required, to then articulate that on paper, and assess those abilities in an interview.

Recommendation 17:

That ATSIC create an Australian wide award for the coordination of CDEPs. This award should include basic Job Description, basic Duty Statement and Selection Criteria, and have defined Salary Structures comparable to ASO, including annual and merit-based increments.

6. Training Standards for Coordination Trainees & Assistants

The need for proper training of Aboriginal persons to take over CDEPs which still employ non-Aboriginal coordinators, has never yet been addressed.

One urban CDEP employed a skilled trainer, in the position of CTO, who was unable to pass on the necessary skills, because the trainee coordinator had no interest in being trained, and was unwilling to learn computer accounting. Instead of accepting guidance from the trainer, who had considerable accounting skills, the trainee periodically engaged a consultant to update and clean up errors on the computer accounting program that the trainer was not permitted access to. The CDEP became very run down, and the trainer eventually accepted a position in a City based CDEP where his talents were appreciated. The CDEP was inspected by an examiner on behalf of the Registrar of Aboriginal Corporations, who found, amongst other deficient matters, that the trainee had granted herself significant pay increases, and had been in collusion with the consultant to cover that as well as other questionable expenditure.

A couple of points are worth noting here:

  1. The Trainer’s responsibilities to the overall CDEP had not been clearly defined, and in dealing with a confusing power struggle, he interpreted his role in the narrow definition of his title CTO, rather than accepting the greater responsibility of coordinator of the overall scheme.
  1. The limits of the trainee’s authority had not been clearly defined, and in the absence of such definition, had entered a power struggle for unquestioned authority beyond her abilities and responsibilities.

Much of this problem would have sorted itself out if:

  • the CTOs coordination responsibilities were clearly defined.
  • Check lists defining competencies had existed for the trainer to fill out on the trainee’s progress in developing those competencies.

Until a CDEP is able to define these responsibilities and competences for itself, some measure of suggestive guidance should be offered for consideration.

Recommendation 18:

That a standardised training package, including pay levels, training requirements and competency audits is developed, to ensure adequate training is given to those Aboriginal persons being trained for CDEP coordination responsibilities.

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