The extent to which social policy should foster economic adaptation and compensate the 'losers' from economic forces is of growing concern to policy makers in the 1990s. From an Aboriginal policy perspective this concern is familiar. The recent endemic levels of unemployment experienced by the non-Aboriginal population have been a long-term experience for Indigenous Australians. The paper explores an approach from the Aboriginal affairs social policy arena - the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme - and considers both its ability to compensate disadvantaged Indigenous Australians and its applicability in the wider community.
The concept of Indigenous 'losers' is critically examined in the light of the considerable cultural, economic and geographic variation within the Aboriginal population itself. The current level of Indigenous disadvantage also reflects complex historical processes. The CDEP scheme is a community-oriented approach which offers a potentially radical economic adaptation; the most significant being the 'Aboriginalisation' of work and a high degree of local control over setting employment outcomes and work schedules. However, the paper argues that the longer-term employment and income improvement outcomes from the scheme are far from clear. The CDEP scheme does not appear to be particularly effective in reducing poverty and in some regions it may perpetuate an employment enclave for the disadvantaged. Finally, it remains unclear whether the scheme has the capacity to compensate especially disadvantaged individuals at the community level, or to move unemployed Indigenous Australians towards equality with other Australians. The scheme appears to suit the particular circumstances of many Indigenous Australians, but any moves to introduce the scheme more widely would need to proceed cautiously.
ISBN: 0 7315 17210