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Modern slavery in remote Australia?

2nd November 2017

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At the broadest level Professor Altman’s research focuses on social justice and human rights for minority groups globally. More particularly, appropriate economic development and associated policy for Indigenous Australia

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In a recent article in Arena, RegNet’s Jon Altman reviews the design and effectiveness of the Community Development Program (CDP) and explains why it should be abolished.

What is the Community Development Program?

In the words of the Australian Government, the CDP is a “remote employment and community development service”. “The CDP supports job seekers in remote Australia to build skills, address barriers and contribute to their communities through a range of flexible activities. It is designed around the unique social and labour market conditions found in remote Australia and is an essential part of the Australian Government’s agenda for increasing employment and breaking the cycle of welfare dependency.”

Why is it the subject of an inquiry?

In March 2017 the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee was referred a wide-ranging inquiry into the appropriateness and effectiveness of the objectives, design, implementation and evaluation of the Community CDP. One term of reference for this inquiry focuses on the impact of the CDP on the rights of participants and their communities, including the appropriateness of the payments and penalties systems.

Professor Altman explains that the CDP has been referred for inquiry because since its launch by the Abbott government in December 2014 and its implementation from 1 July 2015, it has proven to be highly controversial.

Why should it be abolished?

Professor Altman explains that:

  • The CDP is a form of involuntary servitude, because if people do not turn up for work and exercise their basic human right to withdraw their labour, they are punished with financial penalties.

  • Those on the CDP are classified as unemployed, yet they are required to work for income support at an hourly rate of about $11, well below the legal minimum wage of $18.29.

  • This is a program that is more effective in penalising participants than in finding them meaningful work. The level of penalising is higher than for any previous ‘employment’ program for remote Indigenous Australia, and it is over twenty times higher than for the corresponding ‘jobactive’ program for mainly non-Indigenous people in non-remote regions.

Read the full article in Arena by Professor Altman.

This article also appeared in abbreviated form in Open Democracy on 6 November 2017.

Updated:  10 August 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, RegNet/Page Contact:  Director, RegNet