OpinionGeneration One13 Mar 2019

CDP v CDEP: Why Australia’s labour market programs need a shakeup

Neither the CDP or CDEP have effectively addressed the disparity in employment levels between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Something needs to change.

Meaningful jobs and training for all Australians is crucial to close the gap. Photo Credit: Generation One .

Two of Australia’s most recent labour market programs have failed to adequately address the disparity in employment levels between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

With the federal election looming this May, it is time to re-think the Community Development Program (CDP) and the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP) which have proven ineffective, costly and disappointing to Indigenous job-seekers.

Here we explain the difference between the CDP and CDEP and why we think they have both been unsuccessful. In the lead up to the federal election, both sides of government need to work to establish a new program that provides tailored training to properly support Indigenous job seekers and is structured around the needs of the local community.


The current CDP was introduced in 2015 and has faced criticism on numerous fronts. From an independent review that called for a radical overhaul of the program, to mounting pressure from NGOs and advocacy groups labelling it inefficient and discriminatory, the program has been controversial since its inception.

Cost is a key issue for the program. Since it began, $1.3 billion has been spent on the scheme, averaging approximately $300 million per year, with 70 cents of every dollar spent on administration. The CDP currently costs five-times more per participant than JobActive, a similar program run by the Department of Jobs and Small Business aiming to connect unemployed Australians with employers.

According to the Australian National Audit Office less than one in five participants meet the desired employment outcomes and only one in 10 participants retain their acquired role for longer than six months.

Additionally, the Australian National University (ANU) found in 2016 that the program’s penalty system for non-compliance is fundamentally flawed. When penalised, CDP participants’ welfare payments are docked a certain percentage per missed day of employment. The ANU report documented 27-times more CDP penalties then JobActive in a similar timeframe.


The federal opposition has highlighted its support of the previous Community Development Employment Program (CDEP) and discussed potentially reinstating it if elected in May.

The CDEP was funded by pooling unemployment benefits, ran in remote communities and saw participants’ welfare payments topped up by a job payment component.

The Centre for Independent Studies’ 2008 report found that under the CDEP, there was a dual economy in remote communities that resulted in Indigenous Australians being relegated to low-level jobs. There was little opportunity under the program for Indigenous workers to boost their education and long-term career prospects.

Despite its long and evolving history, the CDEP did not address the crisis in Indigenous education, nor did it prepare participants for long term mainstream employment. At final review, only 5 per cent of CDEP participants had been successful in acquiring and retaining permanent employment.

Let’s get it right

A fresh start for Australia’s labour market program after the imminent federal election is the way forward, according to Generation One chief executive Tim McDonald.

“To return to the old days of CDEP would be a backward step and would fail to meet the aspirations of Indigenous people seeking long term careers,” Dr McDonald said.

“We need to ensure we avoid the creation of an Indigenous economy that is dependent on welfare measures and limits participants to menial work. For real change to occur, Indigenous Australians must have the same level of access to jobs and business creation as non-Indigenous job seekers.”

Both the CDP and CDEP have been ineffective in addressing the disparity in employment levels between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

In the lead up to the federal election, both sides of government need to invest in developing a labour market program that addresses the issue holistically and learns from the shortcomings of its predecessors.

Establishing a program that provides tailored training and is committed to preparing and supporting Indigenous Australians long-term is essential to successfully close the gap.

Ann Mills
by Ann Mills
Having worked over a decade in a range of strategic and supportive roles in remote communities in the Kimberley, Ann is passionate about creating parity in partnership with Aboriginal people through place-based strategies, innovative solutions and key economic development. As a long-term CEO in the not-for-profit sector, Ann appreciates the need to consult, commission and convert opportunities that are transformative and produce positive results.
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