Basic Principles

Part One:

Basic Principles

1. Background

CDEP is a low-cost, part-time, labour-intensive, multi-purpose work scheme designed to empower selected Aboriginal communities and their participants. According to the ATSIC Annual Report (1993-94), the objectives of CDEP are to provide employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in locations where there are no, or limited, alternative employment prospects.

According to the ATSIC CDEP Participant Information Booklet (Jan, 1995):

  • You can use CDEP to improve your community by fixing things or building new things.
  • CDEP can give your community or group the chance to do what you have decided is important.
  • You can bring money into your community by selling things or getting people to pay for things you do (contracted labour).
  • CDEP can help you to learn new skills and to do things better.
  • CDEP gives individuals and communities a sense of pride and confidence in what they have done.

The initial ATSIC Annual Report (1990) expressed these points succinctly:

Communities choose to participate in the scheme for a number of reasons:

  • as an alternative to entrenched unemployment;
  • as a means of achieving community development;
  • as a means of enhancing the economic status of participants
  • as a means of receiving on-the-job work experience.

2. Brief History

CDEP was created by the Frazer Coalition Govt in 1977, and began in 7 remote communities. By 1990/91, the program had grown to fund 17,772 participants in 170 organisations or communities.

In 1994/95, there were 27,041 participants in 252 organisations or communities. This represented an average participant growth of around 11% per year. As of February 1996 there were 262 CDEPs employing around 27,803 participants, making the average size CDEP about 106 participants.

At around the same time that the CDEP program started, preliminary sounding remarks were made about trialing a similar scheme in the wider community, for the general youth population. After the media took a basically negative stance by presenting to the public that it was undignified for unemployed people to work for the dole, any movement towards this end was abandoned. This means that only Aboriginal Organisations are able to benefit from such a program.

3.  Funding

The CDEP program funds an Aboriginal organisation to employ a specific number of participants. It allocates to the organisation (as at 1/1/97):

  1. $164.05 per participant, per week, as urban wages, or $182.15 pp., p.w., as remote wages, to employ those participants,
  2. plus 19% of the wage allocation as recurrent, to maintain the project,
  3. plus $1223 per participant, per annum, as capital, to develop the project.

These funds are paid quarterly, in advance.

4.  Administrative Tasks and Financial Commitments

In using these funds, the organisation must create a work scheme employing the number of participants that are funded for. This requires the organisation to:

  • develop, each year in advance, work plans and budgets for the project;
  • Revise work plans and budgets during the year, whenever changes arise in the project’s planning or expenditure, or funding to the CDEP is altered;
  • recruit, employ and maintain the requisite number of participants;
  • form the participants into a work force of specific activity-orientated work groups, and appoint supervisors;
  • develop a pay structure to accommodate differing ages and responsibilities;
  • Record and pay participants for hours worked, on a weekly basis;
  • deduct income tax from each employee, and remit as group tax at the end of each month;
  • pay worker’s compensation and all insurances pertaining to the project;
  • pay superannuation for all full-time staff;
  • purchase budgeted materials and equipment as needed throughout the year to enable each work group to carry out its planned activities;
  • keep auditable account of all expenditure;

5.  Expenditure Requirements

In order to accomplish the above tasks, the organisation must:

  • open credit accounts with suppliers;
  • seek competitive prices for all purchases above $2,000;
  • supply materials and equipment to each work group so that they may maintain a constant flow of work, in accordance with approved work plans.
  • keep all expenditure within budget guidelines;


6.  Reporting Requirements

To ensure continued funding, each CDEP must provide to ATSIC:

  • an application, containing budget and work plan, to account for all intended expenditure. This must be lodged some seven months in advance of the following financial year;
  • a quarterly list of participants. This must be provided to ATSIC one month in advance of the beginning of each quarter;
  • quarterly financial statements for each grant, including expenditure against budget, list of capital purchases, debtors and creditors and bank statements. These must be provided within two months after the end of each quarter.
  • revised budgets and workplans for all variations in expenditure, including any revisions to funding from ATSIC.
  • a full set of audited accounts for the year, to be provided annually, within three months after the end of each financial year.

7.  Break-even Point

Major recurrent outlays for a small CDEP are worker’s compensation, insurance, superannuation for all non-CDEP salaries. In a small CDEP, these overhead expenses alone can account for half the Recurrent budget, before any recurrent funds are spent on driving the project. Funding for Coordination on its own will absorb more than half the Recurrent funding of a 50 participant CDEP, or a quarter of the recurrent funding to a 100 participant CDEP.

Since the cancellation of the CTP and CYS programs, ATSIC considers around 100 participants, depending on the circumstances of the individual CDEP, to be borderline in generating enough Recurrent and Capital funds to cover the cost of staying solvent.

8.  Urban CDEPs

CDEP began as a way for members of remote Aboriginal communities to improve the quality of life. In many of these communities, precisely because of their remoteness, it is unrealistic to expect that they should become highly self-funding, simply because they do not have the client base to whom they would market products and services.

The advent of Urban CDEPs, some 10 years ago, brought with it the expectation of income generation through the setting up of enterprises. This added a whole new dimension to CDEPs and greatly increased the duties and responsibilities involved in the coordination of the project. Funding to start up such enterprises may be provided through the CEIS program. Unfortunately, the CEIS program has suffered a 10% funding cut as well.


9. Creative Work

One of the great benefits of CDEP is that it can easily lend itself to workplace democracy, and be free of the complications inherent in the usual work scheme or business. It is the participants scheme, and it is important that they experience a sense of ownership. This allows participants to gain pride in workmanship and achievements.

Creative and constructive work, as well as being highly therapeutic, is probably the most effective way to empower Aboriginal participants and through them, their communities. Work that is designed properly and done well is an excellent medium to tap the highest potentials, develop the abilities and fulfill the aspirations of Aboriginal people, whilst at the same time improving their economic base, living standards and material well-being. Other benefits that accrue from good working are improvements to the health of participants and a lessening of criminal offences and incarceration.

One town-based CDEP owned a house that had become run down and, after the residents left town, trashed by some of the children. With assistance from the local TAFE, the CDEP ran a building repair and maintenance course in the house,  which was completely repaired and renovated. After completion of the course, participants formed a work group that then progressively renovated many of the other houses. Some of the keener course attendees, not wishing to wait until their own home was repaired, carried out their own repairs in their spare time with materials supplied by the CDEP.

This was a good example of a Community, through their CDEP, changing direction so that housing improved, instead of becoming progressively run down and trashed.

CDEP can significantly improve the quality of life in the community by creating the opportunity, as well as developing the skills within individuals, to raise the living standards of all community members through making improvements to the community.

10.  Personal and Community Benefits of CDEP

A properly run CDEP can empower participants by giving them:

  • self worth,
  • a sense belonging to their communities,
  • the development of personal skills and abilities,
  • the honest earning of an income,
  • the opportunity to set up and run a community business,
  • a general sense of achievement, purpose, meaningfulness and fulfilment in one’s life.

As individual participants become more and more empowered through developing these personal qualities, an uplifting community spirit develops, whereby these qualities become more regarded as normal. Such a spirit is infectious, and once the monentum has been created, can inspire and draw others into living more constructive and creative lives. In communities where such a spirit exists, harmony and social cohesion happens by tendency

One remote Community operated a beer canteen that was considered by many residents to be the greatest source of community difficulties. After a CDEP was started in the town, drinking diminished, with many participants not drinking after work, until the end of the week. The canteen atmosphere, which had been very raucous, quietened down and improved until eventually, patrons would discuss the next week’s activities over a quiet beer on Friday evenings after the pays were given out.

CDEP can deliver these personal and community outcomes, and is clearly the best vehicle to do so. The simplicity, elegance and flexibility in the basic design of the scheme is makes it wholly adequate to the task.

11.  Cost of CDEPs to Taxpayers

CDEP Wages amount to around 2% (urban) or around 14% (remote) more than the Adult Jobsearch allowance.

Recurrent adds another 20% to this of which 1% is retained to set up new CDEPs.

Capital adds around another 13%. All up this amounts to around 35% more than the Adult Jobsearch for urban CDEPs, and around 45% for remote CDEPs.

Around 9-10% of the Wages budget is paid back to the Govt. as income tax, reducing the cost of the work scheme to around 24% (urban) and 33% (remote) more than would be outlaid for the equivalent numbers of people on Jobsearch.

Further savings are made to DSS and DEET budgets by having around 28,000 participants removed from their files, thus reducing case-management and other staffing needs. Despite such low funding, many very successful and highly creative projects do exist.

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