Sarah Collard

20 Oct 2020 - 6:53 PM  UPDATED 20 Oct 2020 - 6:53 PM

The federal government’s controversial Community Development Program resumes this week but advocates are calling for the total ‘suspension’ of the program.

The work for the dole scheme disproportionately affects Indigenous peoples with an estimated 80 per cent of people on the scheme being Indigenous.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, mutual obligations and community programs were suspended by the federal government.

The CDP program is aimed at increasing opportunities and removing barriers to ongoing employment in remote and rural areas.

The member for Lingiari, Labor's Warren Snowdon told NITV News the program needed a "radical" rethink.

“The whole program is flawed," said Mr Snowdon.

“It is a failure and needs to be scrapped. It is a punitive system which entrenches poverty for some of Australia’s poorest people.”

Mr Snowdon said creating opportunities and thriving communities in remote Australia should be an urgent priority.

"This is about individuals, families and communities and what meets their needs wherever they might live. It can be done - it is not beyond our wit and wisdom," he said.

Mr Snowdon said the program had entrenched disadvantage for some of Australia’s most vulnerable people.

A CDP recipient can have their payments suspended for four weeks if they do not attend an appointment, activity or job interview, or for failing to sign a job plan or to accept a suitable job.

The latest federal government data found that more than 90,000 people across the country had their payments suspended - compared to just over 26,000 for people on Job Seeker.

Greens Senator, Rachel Siewart said the CDP program was far more punitive than Job Seeker and the system was "broken" and in need of urgent reforms.

“It’s a discriminatory program and it isn’t meeting the needs of First Nations people’s communities - it’s not generating employment and it penalises them unfairly,” she said.

But the CDP program is considered beneficial by others in the communities where it is in operation. 

Nina Puruntatameri and her family have called the Tiwi Islands just off Darwin home for generations and said the program could be positive if it is designed with the needs of the community in mind.

A talented artist, she is part of the CDP program in her Pirlangimpi community where she paints and sells her works as well cleans and tidies the local Munupi art centre in Melville Island.

“It has to be for the good of communities and we are all different and not everything works the same everywhere," she said.

Ms Puruntatatameri said since the pandemic and the suspension of many CDP programs there had been an increase in tension and fighting in her community.

“There is nothing now. A lot more drinking and fighting going on at the moment because there is nothing to do and lots of people don’t have anything to fill up their days with,” she said.

“A lot of the youth programs have been suspended and that’s been very difficult for the young ones.”

Opinion: The policy of income management continues to fail First Nations communities
Opinion: More than a decade after the start of the Intervention, the policy of income management continues to fail First Nations communities, writes Rachel Siewert, Greens senator for Western Australia.