The short and troubled life and sudden death of the Community Development Program

Terry Ngamandarra Wilson, Gulach (detail), painting on bark, private collection © Terry Ngamandarra, licensed by Viscopy, 2016

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'To envision a better future we must start by properly looking at the past’ Fara Dabhoiwala, New York Review of Books, 1 July 2021

The Abbott government’s Community Development Program (CDP) was announced as a replacement for the Gillard government’s Remote Jobs and Communities Program in December 2014. The program’s design was controversial from the outset as it was based in part on recommendations contained in the Review of Indigenous Employment and Training Programs Creating Parity chaired by mining magnate Andrew Forrest. The program operated in 60 regions in remote and very remote Australia and has had between 25,000 and 40,000 participants, over 80 per cent Indigenous. The key innovative feature of the program was its heavy-handed deployment of mutual obligations and financial penalties: the CDP architecture and co-opted providers were far more efficient in penalising the unemployed for non-compliance than in creating employment opportunities. Its sudden demise in the 2021-22 ‘Covid’ Budget context was unexpected and largely unexplained despite CDP’s broad unpopularity.

In response to these events, a small workshop was convened at the ANU in July 2021 to explore future options after CDP. Subsequently, the four of us co-authored a discussion paper quickly published by The Australia Institute in August that looked to outline some principles that might guide the development of a new livelihood and work program in remote Indigenous Australia. In September we presented our paper at another workshop convened with Indigenous stakeholders. We present the findings from our research and a subsequent jointly authored submission to a Senate Inquiry over two seminars.

In this first seminar we provide a reflection on life under CDP including the period in 2020 and 2021 when CDP was suspended, and various COVID-19 supplements were paid to participants in this program. It is our intention to critically engage the recent past under this program to envision a better future with a new co-designed program.


Jon Altman is Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University in the School of Regulation and Global Governance. Jon established the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the ANU in 1990 and led it as foundation director for 20 years. Jon’s focus has been on enabling forms of lifeway practice that advocates for the need to recognise the right of Indigenous peoples to live differently, while simultaneously ensuring equality of treatment as Australian citizens. Jon has written on a wide range of issues including land rights and native title, appropriate forms of economic development, Indigenous communities and mining, tourism and the arts and the homelands movement.

Francis Markham is an economic geographer and Research Fellow at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the Australian National University. His research interests lie at the intersection of Indigenous public policy and Indigenous-state relations, focusing on issues such as land rights, wealth and reparations. Since 2019, he has been teaching Indigenous public policy to undergraduate students. Francis is currently engaged in a three-year participatory evaluation of the NSW Government’s flagship self-determination initiative, Local Decision Making.

Elise Klein is a Senior Lecturer of Public Policy at the Crawford School, ANU. Dr Klein has a DPhil in International Development from the University of Oxford and held a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR) at the Australian National University. Her research interests include the rise of therapeutic cultures in policies, neoliberal subjectivities, economic rights, and decoloniality. Dr Klein has held various roles including working on the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Development and the Human Rights Committee within the United Nations General Assembly. She was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2019.

Zoe Staines is a Research Fellow with the School of Social Science, University of Queensland. She previously held research and policy positions in the Queensland public sector and, most recently, in the not-for-profit sector, as a Senior Policy Officer and Manager of Research. Since completing her PhD in criminology, she has published in the areas of policing, social policy, welfare conditionality, and rural/remote crime and governance. She was recently awarded an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) (2020–2023) to further her work into remote community experiences of social policy and crime, and is also an Associate Editor of the Australian Journal of Social Issues.

Date & time

Wed 06 Oct 2021, 12–1.30pm



Jon Altman, Emeritus Professor, School of Regulation and Global Governance, ANU
Francis Markham, Research Fellow, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, ANU
Elise Klein, Senior Lecturer, Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU
Zoe Staines, ARC Decra Fellow, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland


Tracy Deasey
02 61252053


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