The Community Development Program (CDP) is failing vulnerable individuals and communities, a Senate committee has been told during a visit to Palm Island and Townsville.

The Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee is conducting an inquiry into the operation of the CDP. At a hearing and site visit yesterday, CDP participants, providers, and local leaders explained to the committee that they were experiencing many of the same problems that CDP was inflicting on remote communities across the country.

The committee was told that:

  • Centrelink inappropriately breached participants, often going against advice from Aboriginal supervisors with core cultural understanding, leaving families in hardship and children going hungry;
  • the funds from CDP were not sufficient for providers to offer proper training in remote areas;
  • the training that was provided was usually not linked to formal qualifications that would enable participants to find meaningful employment; and
  • the local job market was not sufficiently developed to be able to place participants even if they were properly skilled, and the CDP was doing little to fix this.

The Mayor of Palm Island Aboriginal Shire emphasised that a long-term investment is needed and short-term changes have just left his community members with very little agency to make decisions impacting their own lives.

Committee Chair, Senator McAllister, said: “We have spoken to communities across the country and have heard a consistent message – CDP is failing. It is all stick, no carrot – it pushes vulnerable people into desperate situations, and doesn’t give them the jobs or skills they need to escape.”

Senator Lines said: “We heard today from the Palm Island community that they are ready to step up and already have a number of solutions that will give their members the crucial training and skills to secure real jobs.”

Senator McCarthy said: “This government will never find a solution that works for communities until it starts working with communities. The CDP must change. This program entrenches poverty amongst our most disadvantaged – Indigenous Australians.”

Senator Dodson said: “This program is pushing families in remote Australia into despair and frustration.  This Government program is not helping our people.  It is hurting and harming them in ways that must stop.  We need to find ways of delivering real jobs with real wages and conditions.”

Local member, Cathy O’Toole, said: “People on Palm Island are particularly disadvantaged by the CDP. There are simply not enough meaningful opportunities for people to engage in to develop work-related skills. The Council and Community elders need to be intrinsically involved in the planning and delivery of these programs. There is no evidence to support the dollar spend on the Island in terms of financial sustainability on the Island.”


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