Reforming work and livelihoods in remote Australia

A new discussion paper published by The Australia Institute makes a case for major reforms to how livelihood and work programs operate in remote Australia.

The paper was developed by eight leading researchers with decades of research experience on remote Indigenous unemployment.

“We welcome the Federal Government’s acknowledgement that the Abbott-era Community Development Program (CDP) has failed and support Minister Wyatt’s moves to consult on a replacement policy,” said Dr Zoe Staines of University of Queensland, lead author of the discussion paper.

“Under CDP, poverty rates increased, and remote Indigenous employment rates remained stagnant.

“CDP targeted over 30,000 remote-living jobless, over 80 per cent of whom were Indigenous. The program imposed heavier mutual obligations on participants than for non-remote unemployed and saw over 500,000 impoverishing penalties enforced for non-compliance.

“The COVID-19 supplements to social security payments and a relaxation of mutual obligations showed that improvements in livelihoods and wellbeing can be achieved.

“This discussion paper looks to provide input to the co-design process for a new approach to remote work and livelihoods.”

The discussion paper proposes seven principles for remote work and livelihoods policy:

  1. Avoid discrimination and uphold Indigenous rights
  2. Ensure a stable economic floor to alleviate poverty
  3. Acknowledge that there is not sufficient waged employment in remote areas
  4. Make suitable paid work available
  5. Support those who are unable to work
  6. Ensure a flexible response to social fluidity
  7. Properly support the Indigenous community-controlled sector

“These principles are in line with the 2020 Closing the Gap agreement,” said Dr Staines.

“CDP failed because it was unprincipled and inequitable; any new program that will help to improve outcomes must address such fundamental shortcomings.”

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