Better Than Welfare?

Better Than Welfare?

Work and livelihoods for Indigenous Australians after CDEP

Edited by: Kirrily Jordan

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The end of the very long-standing Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme in 2015 marked a critical juncture in Australian Indigenous policy history. For more than 30 years, CDEP had been among the biggest and most influential programs in the Indigenous affairs portfolio, employing many thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. More recently, it had also become a focus of intense political contestation that culminated in its ultimate demise. 

This book examines the consequences of its closure for Indigenous people, communities and organisations. The end of CDEP is first situated in its broader historical and political context: the debates over notions of ‘self-determination’ versus ‘mainstreaming’ and the enduring influence of concerns about ‘passive welfare’ and ‘mutual obligation’. In this way, the focus on CDEP highlights more general trends in Indigenous policymaking, and questions whether the dominant government approach is on the right track.

Each chapter takes a different disciplinary approach to this question, variously focusing on the consequences of change for community and economic development, individual work habits and employment outcomes, and institutional capacity within the Indigenous sector. Across the case studies examined, the chapters suggest that the end of CDEP has heralded the emergence of a greater reliance on welfare rather than the increased employment outcomes the government had anticipated. Concluding that CDEP was ‘better than welfare’ in many ways, the book offers encouragement to policymakers to ensure that future reforms generate livelihood options for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians that are, in turn, better than CDEP.


ISBN (print):
ISBN (online):
Publication date:
Aug 2016
CAEPR Monograph No. 36
ANU Press
Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR)
Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR)
Business & Economics; Social Sciences: Indigenous Studies, Social Policy & Administration

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Better Than Welfare? »

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  1. From welfare to work, or work to welfare? (PDF, 0.2MB) – Kirrily Jordan and Jon Altman doi
  2. Reframed as welfare: CDEP’s fall from favour (PDF, 0.2MB) – Will Sanders doi
  3. Some statistical context for analysis of CDEP (PDF, 0.6MB) – Boyd Hunter doi
  4. Just a jobs program? CDEP employment and community development on the NSW far south coast (PDF, 0.2MB) – Kirrily Jordan doi
  5. Looking for ‘real jobs’ on the APY Lands: Intermittent and steady employment in CDEP and other paid work (PDF, 0.2MB) – Kirrily Jordan doi
  6. Work habits and localised authority in Anmatjere CDEPs: Losing good practice through policy and program review (PDF, 1.8MB) – Will Sanders doi
  7. Bawinanga and CDEP: The vibrant life, and near death, of a major Aboriginal corporation in Arnhem Land (PDF, 0.4MB) – Jon Altman doi

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