s Intervention and the Community Development Employment Program
Before I begin, I want to acknowledge the invaluable assistance and guidance
that Jon Altman, Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research
at the Australian National University has given me in preparing this talk.
Up until fifty years ago, Aboriginal stockmen worked cattle stations for clothing
and rations, not wages. White Australians believed that Aboriginal people weren't
"ready" to participate in a cash economy. Finally, in the 1960s, it was recognized
that feeding and clothing workers, while providing them with no money, and
chasing after them if they ran away and refused to provide labor under those
circumstances was indeed a peculiar institution. Consequently, laws were passed
to insure equal pay for equal work.
The result was large numbers of Aboriginal
stockmen found themselves unemployed, bereft now not only of cash but of food
and clothing as well.
Since that time cash has found its way into Aboriginal hands, in the form of
unemployment benefits, payments to elderly pensioners, and support for women
with children: through, in a word, welfare.
Or in the more direct parlance of its
recipients: sit-down money.
In 1977, then, to provide employment and as an alternative to "sit-down money,"
the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP) was born. The
program was instituted "at the request of several remote Communities as an
alternative to receiving unemployment benefits”
The program takes the form of block grants to Indigenous communities for
development, income support and employment creation.
It supports activities as
environmental monitoring through a program of land and sea rangers,
packing and crating of art works for sale in urban galleries,
operating community shelters for women and young people and,
night patrols that help to keep safe tiny communities that have no police
In the community of Titjikala, south of Alice Springs, CDEP workers ran an
Outback tourist resort: like many CDEP ventures, it offered on-the-job training in
addition to providing the only significant employment opportunity in an isolated