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Opportunities and problems astride the welfare/work divide: the CDEP scheme in Australian social policy
Author/editor: Sanders, WG
Issue no.: 141
Australian social policy is characterised by a program and institutional divide between welfare income and work income.
ATSIC's CDEP scheme sits astride this divide and has done so for 20 years.
This position astride the welfare/work divide has been a source of both opportunities and problems for the CDEP scheme.
Opportunities relate to different players, or stakeholders, operating at different levels with the scheme.
For ATSIC (and the DAA before it) the CDEP scheme has offered the opportunity of a budget item which is directly offset against social security expenditure.
For participating organisations, the CDEP scheme has offered the opportunity of a grant which is notionally linked to a legislative entitlement and hence less discretionary than many other grants.
For individual participants, the CDEP scheme has offered the opportunity of not having to comply with two-weekly social security procedures in order to maintain eligibility and the ability to earn larger amounts of additional income without loosing eligibility.
The CDEP scheme has also allowed flexible workplace practices to be developed incorporating Indigenous values and social practices.
Problems with and criticisms of the CDEP scheme over the years, have included undermining award wage employment, substitution for the funding responsibilities of other government programs, the creation of secondary labour market conditions and a bias towards Indigenous men rather than women.
Although these problems and criticisms have, to some extent, been addressed, new versions of problems and criticism tend in time to arise and persist. This is related to the CDEP scheme's position astride the welfare/ work divide.
Here the focus is on allegations of racial discrimination in comparison to NSA/YTA recipients, which have arisen in recent years. These allegations have considerable prima facie credibility and this too relates to the position of the CDEP scheme astride the welfare/work divide.
Frequently the DSS and other government organisations treat CDEP participants not as NSA/YTA recipients, but as low income earners. Where this is to the disadvantage of CDEP participants, because of the links between CDEP and NSA/YTA in CDEP guidelines, allegations of racial discrimination can legitimately be made.
The paper also notes that there is one instance in which DSS does treat CDEP participants as the equivalent of NSA/YTA recipients.
The final section of the paper suggests that the basic lesson from the CDEP scheme is that a government program can survive astride the welfare/work divide, but that it is likely to be beset by fairly considerable ongoing problems as well as opportunities.
It suggests that the Howard Government's work-for-the-dole scheme will face similar problems and criticisms about how participants ought to be treated, though not allegations of racial discrimination. These problems and criticisms will differ slightly from those encountered by the CDEP scheme because the work-for-the-dole scheme participants are being placed more on the welfare side of the welfare/work divide.
It also suggests that, in the longer term, interaction between the two schemes may be a two way phenomenon, with the work-for-the-dole scheme possibly having more effects on the CDEP scheme than vice versa.