'If it wasn't for CDEP': A case study of Worn Gundidj CDEP, Victoria

Author/editor: Madden, R
Year published: 2000
Issue no.: 210


The Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) is a scheme where working-age Indigenous people forgo their welfare payments to take up employment in their local Aboriginal community organisation. The variations on this basic outline are many, ranging from the provision of full-time work fulfilling private contracts, to CDEP as an income support mechanism where participants receive the same remuneration as they would on welfare. Often these poles of CDEP participation are to be found within the one community organisation.

This case study discusses a corporate or regional CDEP scheme called Worn Gundidj. The scheme is located in Warrnambool, a rural city with a population of 28,000 people. Warrnambool has a rich agricultural hinterland and services a wide area of south-west Victoria through its light industry, retail outlets, government services, and educational facilities. Worn Gundidj has rapidly, and successfully, expanded over the last four years from a single-location CDEP scheme working out of rented premises to a corporate, multi-site CDEP scheme with its own large, well equipped central office and workshops. Worn Gundidj now also has a set of five attached 'satellite' schemes.

In the same period there has been a general decline in funding to other Aboriginal service delivery co-operatives in the region. Worn Gundidj has become an organisational hub in south-west Victoria, linking with Aboriginal service delivery co-operatives and providing them with administration staff on CDEP wages. Indeed, across Victoria, CDEP schemes are integrating with training providers and other Aboriginal service delivery co-operatives. This has ensured the survival of co-operatives that might very well have closed if it were not for the expansion of CDEP.

Worn Gundidj's central office has also become strongly linked to Technical and Further Education (TAFE) accredited trade and craft courses, and is in part reliant on ABSTUDY as a form of top-up money for participants who undertake these courses. The overall picture shows a complex set of organisational and funding interdependencies being developed over south-west Victoria.

The work programs undertaken by Worn Gundidj include three horticultural programs which offer opportunities for participants to undertake a TAFE-accredited horticulture course (Level II) or a horticulture apprenticeship. There is also a carpentry program that takes on private contracts, and maintenance around Worn Gundidj. This program offers participants either a place to undertake a carpentry apprenticeship, or basic training in building skills. Worn Gundidj has a textiles program and this stream of work can, like the horticulture, be combined with TAFE study in an accredited textiles and screenprinting course. The final Worn Gundidj work program is a garden maintenance program which offers rubbish collection, and gardening work in the local area.

Worn Gundidj's satellites are located throughout south-west Victoria, and their relationship to the central office is important to understanding the overall picture. The satellites are pre-existing Aboriginal co-operatives or trusts which have used CDEP wages to fund their own administrative functions and maintenance work. There is flexibility of staff movement between the satellites, when the need arises, and the localised autonomy over the day-to-day work as exercised by the satellites is an advantageous structure. In this way Worn Gundidj and its satellites can accommodate the need for short bursts of intensive labour on some jobs, while maintaining pre-existing political and territorial boundaries.

The participant interviews conducted as part of the research for this paper give the impression that there were a variety of reasons that CDEP was considered important. These range from flexible work hours to the ability of some work programs to provide full-time work using 'top-up' money. For most participants, the most important aspect of Worn Gundidj was its role as a place where people could acquire new skills for the future (further work will need to be done to ascertain if the training being provided matches job opportunities in the area). The view that Worn Gundidj was an education and training facility (with access to ABSTUDY) as much as it was a work place, was the salient issue in the data collected through participant interviews.

The management and directors at Worn Gundidj, like the participants, see the organisation as a training and education institution, as well as a place of employment. The textiles work program is popular because participants can access ABSTUDY after coming into that work program, and gain a TAFE accredited certificate. What is true of the textiles is also true of the horticulture streams-the access to ABSTUDY dollars has made these programs very popular. In sum, CDEP in these three work programs is closely linked to third-party education and training providers, and is partly dependent on ABSTUDY dollars as a form of top up.

This paper concludes that a corporate CDEP scheme like Worn Gundidj, which has the ability to marshal resources, staff, and work opportunities over a region, is in an advantageous position compared to four years ago, when it was a stand-alone, single-location operation. However, the regional and organisational interlinking has exposed Worn Gundidj to a set of funding interdependencies that make the scheme vulnerable to changes in policy in regard to such things as ABSTUDY, training, and definitions of CDEP work. Policy makers should recognise that the Aboriginal labour market landscape is now peopled by heterogeneous CDEP schemes with 'socio-economic diversity' undertaking various activities, from work to education, in pursuit of improved quality of life for CDEP participants.

ISBN: 0 7315 2645 7

ISSN:1036 1774

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