The Department of Social Security (DSS) treats Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme participants in a unique way, partly as employed low-income wage earners and partly as income-support recipients.
Treatment as income-support recipients derives from the multiple entitlement exclusion in relation to Newstart Allowance at section 614A of the Social Security Act and from the equivalence between CDEP and various social security payments expressed in CDEP guidelines.
Treatment as low-income wage earners probably derives from the social security system's highly legislative base and from the fact that CDEP was not, until 1991, alluded to at all in the Social Security Act. It also reflects the fact that CDEP participants do work for wages for Indigenous organisations.
Treatment of CDEP participants as low-income wage earners is sometimes less favourable than their treatment as if they were Newstart Allowance recipients (their direct equivalent). This has sometimes led to allegations of racial discrimination.
Another reason for allegations of racial discrimination has been the abandonment in recent years of any attempt to identify precise social security entitlement equivalents in the administration of the CDEP scheme. Average per participant rates of payment have been relied upon and this allows perceptions of working for less than one's social security entitlement to flourish and to be difficult to refute.
Whether DSS's treatment of CDEP participants is racially discriminatory is a technical legal issue, which has not been authoritatively adjudged. Even so, there is a worrying duplicity in DSS's treatment of CDEP participants.
DSS could resolve this problem by treating CDEP participants entirely as low-income wage earners or entirely as income-support recipients. However, whether either of these courses would be good for the CDEP scheme and in the interests of CDEP participants is open to question.
In its final section, this paper attempts to foreshadow some consequences for the CDEP scheme of moving in either of these two administrative directions. It suggests that the way to resolve these administrative issues is not yet clear and that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) needs to take more of an interest in DSS's administrative problems. These two organisations, with very different administrative cultures, need to work together far more on these issues.
ISBN: 0 7315 2584 1