Labor’s national conference has committed to abolishing the Abbott government’s controversial Indigenous work-for-the dole scheme and replacing it with a fairer program.
The Community Development Programme (CDP) forces unemployed people in remote areas to work up to three times longer than city-based jobseekers to receive welfare.
Introduced by the Abbott government in 2015, the CDP has been criticised as a “racist” and “deeply flawed” scheme, with figures showing hundreds of thousands of fines have been handed out in its first three years.
Labor’s assistant Indigenous affairs spokesman Pat Dodson opened the second day of Labor’s national conference attacking the scheme as “discriminatory, punitive and ineffectual” and promising to replace it.
“A Shorten Labor government will abolish the current CDP and replace it with a new program,” he said to applause in the audience.
“A program that creates jobs, meets community needs and delivers meaningful training and community development and proper working conditions.”
ACTU president Michele O’Neil hailed the commitment as a win for the tens of thousands of participants who had been, “racially discriminated against for the last three years”.
“This program discriminated against people on the basis of the colour of their skin and the place they chose to live,” Ms O’Neil said.
This scheme is an appalling example of state-sanctioned racial discrimination and worker exploitation and Australia will be a better place without it.”
Currently, CDP participants can be fined about $50 a day – or have their payments suspended for up to eight weeks – for missing activities, turning up late to work or repeatedly failing to meet appointments.
Since it began operating in 2015, more than 400,000 financial penalties have been issued to people enrolled in the CDP, about 75,000 more than other, city-based jobseekers.
Those participating in the scheme must complete jobs and activities to receive their Newstart Allowance in remote New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
No end to offshore processing, boat turn-backs
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has implored Labor to stick with its hardline border-protection policies while offering a lot more money for the United Nations’ refugee agency and a boost to the humanitarian intake.
Addressing the second day of the ALP conference in Adelaide, Mr Shorten made it clear he would stare down any push to end offshore processing or turning boats back.
“We cannot, we must not, and we will not permit the reopening of their trade in human desperation and the drownings and the irreplaceable loss of life that it brings,” he told delegates.
Bill Shorten stands in front of a colourful backdrop as he speaks at a podium.
In keeping with that theme, Mr Shorten promised to give the UN’s refugee agency an extra 500 million over five years, and increase the Community Sponsored Refugee Scheme from 1,000 places to 5,000.
“If we are elected, Labor will offer policies that are strong, compassionate and sustainable,” he said.
“It means pursuing regional resettlement, turning back boats where it is safe to do so and maintaining off-shore processing.
“But keeping our borders secure and keeping the people smugglers out of business … has never meant leaving men, women and children to languish for years and years in indefinite detention in substandard facilities and unacceptable conditions.”
Number of Australian police deployed overseas would triple
The number of Australian Federal Police officers deployed overseas would also be tripled under a Labor government, to help disrupt people-smuggling activities in countries like Indonesia.
Mr Shorten sought to address the issue and frame the debate before delegates vote on amendments to Labor’s asylum-seeker policies this afternoon.
While any attempt to get rid of offshore processing and boat turn-backs is set to be defeated, a cross-factional group of MPs has been working behind the scenes on less-contentious changes including enshrining the principle of medical transfers from offshore processing in the party’s platform.
Mr Shorten did not directly address that issue in his speech but took aim at the Coalition for, “fighting every step of the way against medical advice which says that more needs to be done to treat people”.
“Because after all, on the current Government’s watch, there are 800 asylum seekers in Australia who have been transferred here eventually for medical treatment,” he said.
“That’s far more than remain on either Manus or Nauru right now.”
With an election due in just five months, Labor leaders are working hard to present a united team and resolve any policy fights behind closed doors.