• Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion with workers at a Community Development Program provider in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory in May. (AAP)Source: AAP
Robert Burton-Bradley

23 Oct 2017 - 4:31 PM  UPDATED 23 Oct 2017 - 4:35 PM

A group of Alice Springs Community Development Program workers have released a powerfully worded statement calling the CDP a 'racist scheme' that keeps Indigenous people in poverty.

The statement was drawn up after workers expressed their frustrations at a meeting of the First Nations Workers Alliance which was set up to help unionise Indigenous people on the CDP.

“We have been suffering under the NT Intervention for 10 years now. This is a very racist policy that takes away our freedoms as Aboriginal people and puts us into deep poverty. It is having a serious impact on emotional and cultural wellbeing. The Intervention needs to end now,” the workers' statement read.

“Under CDP we have no rights to workers’ compensation, superannuation, holiday pay or other rights many workers take for granted. We are paid well below minimum wage, half of it on our Basics Card. We need proper wages, paid in cash and equality between black and white workers.”

A spokesperson for the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Nigel Scullion, defended the CDP for creating job placements since the program began as well as 6000 six-month-job "outcomes".

"The system also has strong protections in place for job seekers – and any penalties can be waived if it is assessed they will cause financial hardship," he said in a statement.

Scullion did, however, acknowledge that "that more can be done to improve our employment services in remote Australia".

"The Minister has been actively discussing CDP and consulting with a wide variety of stakeholders, including CDP providers and remote communities, over the past 18 months."

Under the CDP workers receive $11.60 per hour for working for 25 hours a week.

The program replaced the previous Community Development Employment Program, which had allowed communities the discretion to allocate federal funds to communities for work.

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The spokesman for Senator Scullion blamed this change on the former Federal Labor Government.

"It is not correct to say that the Northern Territory Emergency Response removed the Community Development and Employment Program. This program ceased under the Labor Government in 2013 when then Minister Macklin introduced the Remote Jobs and Communities Program." 

The workers said they were being pushed out of communities and into towns where Centrelink offices were based. 

“With the new CDP scheme, we are being pushed to move into town to report to Centrelink and look for work,” said the workers.

“This has taken many of us away from our homes, it has taken away pride in communities. We need rights to live and work on our own lands, with resources to build a better future for our children," they added.

Why the Australian Council of Trade Unions opposes the Community Development Program:  

A spokesman for Senator Scullion said requirements were placed on all Centrelink recipients.

"All job seekers, no matter where they live in Australia, have mutual obligations for receiving income support." 

The statement also criticised the Commonwealth Basics Card, which restricts welfare payments to certain essential items, which can only be paid for through a card with Centrelink funds loaded onto it.

“Under the Intervention, we are on the BasicsCard - we call it the racist card. This is about control of black people, it’s very restrictive where we can shop and what we can buy. We have been pushed back generations, to the days of working for rations and not having citizenship rights.”

The statement also linked high rates of imprisonment of Indigenous Australians with a lack of proper employment and the harsh penalties applied for any breaches to CDP requirements.

“Very often, people are docked $50 for missing a day’s work and can be cut off for eight weeks. This causes problems not only for us but to our families. We can’t access basics like food and power and we are threatened with eviction from our homes,” it said.

“There is a strong connection between the large numbers of Aboriginal people going into prison under the Intervention and problems with employment. People are often locked up for no good reason.”

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