Community Development Program — The impact of penalties on participants

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The latest report from the National Social Security Rights Network, ‘Community Development Program — The impact of penalties on participants’ considers the operation of CDP penalties in remote communities.


The Community Development Program (CDP) is the Australian Government’s employment and community development service for people who receive unemployment social security payments and live in remote Australia. The CDP was introduced in July 2015. It was an amendment to the Remote Jobs and Communities Program introduced in 2013 by the then Federal Labor Government.

In light of the increase in legal need witnessed by the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency following the introduction of the CDP the NSSRN and NAAJA (an associate member of the NSSRN) decided to undertake a research project exploring the impact of the CDP penalty system on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in the Northern Territory (NT). The research involved asking current and former CDP participants about the effect that financial penalties had on their financial security, ability to purchase essential goods, legal problems, employment opportunities, family life, cultural life, health and wellbeing.

The experiences of CDP participants and their lawyers interviewed during the course of this research highlight the various structural barriers to social and economic participation faced by people living in remote communities, including limited access to job opportunities, technology and communications, and essential goods and services.

Research findings

The research interviews expose the reality for many CDP participants and their communities that the CDP program, rather than alleviating these structural barriers, appears to be creating further obstacles. For those interviewed, the CDP penalties system:

  • Creates financial hardship for families and broader communities which negatively impacted on their food and housing security, physical and mental health and well-being
  • Is little understood by the people subject to it
  • Seems to have little relevance to participants’ hopes of finding paid work
  • Does not adequately take into account the cultural, geographic and historical context of the overwhelmingly Indigenous participant population
  • Does not provide participants with the same rights as other workers
  • Is racially discriminatory, requiring participants to engage in more job activity hours than jobseekers in non-remote areas and subjecting participants to strict non-compliance measures

The report recommends the abolition of the CDP and its replacement with the comprehensive alternative model originally prepared by the Aboriginal Peak Organisations NT (APONT), the Fair Work and Strong Communities: Remote Development and Employment Scheme (RDES).

While the existing CDP program continues to operate, the NSSRN makes a number of recommendations to improve the operation of the program in light of the issues arising from the research interviews with NAAJA clients and lawyers.

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