Australian Human Rights Commission Submission to the Discussion Paper: Remote Employment and Participation
- The Australian Human Rights Commission (the Commission)1 welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in relation to the Discussion Paper on remote employment and participation.
- While the Community Development Programme (CDP) involves around 33,000 participants, this submission will focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who comprise an estimated 84 per cent of CDP participants.2
- The Commission commends the Government’s commitment to developing a new employment and participation model to improve outcomes for remote job seekers and communities, in partnership with Indigenous peoples.
- Given that this new model of employment and participation is still in the development stage, it is pertinent to consider how a human rights based approach may be applied to the proposals and options contained in the Discussion Paper. Such an approach will help to ensure that the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are respected in the development and implementation of a new CDP model.
- The Commission has previously raised concerns that the CDP is inconsistent with Australia’s obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These concerns relate principally to the right to social security, and the right to equality and non-discrimination. The Commission has also raised concerns that the CDP may breach the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth). The Commission continues to hold these concerns in relation to the CDP and its consistency with international human rights standards.
- This reform process presents an important opportunity to replace the CDP with a model that moves away from the current top-down, short-term and inflexible approach, and moves towards a programme that is placed based, flexible, Aboriginal community-controlled, and that would foster long-term economic, social and cultural development. As noted by the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee:
The committee is of the view that CDP cannot and should not continue in its current form. A new programme needs to be developed which moves away from a centralised, top-down administration in which communities are told what to do and move towards a model where the local communities are empowered to make decisions that are best for them. The programme also needs to move from a punitive, attendance-focused approach towards one which rewards participation in activities that are selected and valued by the community and, in turn, provide skills and experiences which improve the job-readiness and quality of life of all participants. 3
- This approach was echoed by the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, following her country visit to Australia in 2017. In her report to the Human Rights Council, she noted that the requirements under the CDP are discriminatory, as they are substantially more onerous than those that apply to predominantly non-Indigenous jobseekers, and recommended that:
The Government reform the Community Development Programme in consultation with indigenous communities, remove discriminatory and punitive measures and reconstruct the unemployment scheme in remote areas around positive incentives and long-term opportunities.4
- A core component of the CDP is not just job creation but also community development, which takes into account the social, economic and cultural conditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, their families and communities. In recent times the Government has focused predominantly on the ‘job-readiness’ of individuals, at a time when the number of CDP participants in remote locations exceeds the number of jobs that are available.5
- A central challenge for the CDP reform process is to ensure that the system not only enables an individual to be ‘ready for work’, but also creates suitable economies and job opportunities in remote locations. To achieve this, the Government should focus on a dual strategy that implements structural reforms to target systemic inequality, discrimination and full-time employment opportunities, while also involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in programme design and delivery.
- A new CDP model will take time to develop and implement, and extensive community and stakeholder consultation should underpin this process. In particular, it is critical that the development and implementation of a new model is based on effective consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Government has an obligation to consult and cooperate in good faith with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.6 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples also have a right to participate in decision making in matters that would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures.7 Participation in decision making is one of the core principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
- This submission first provides an overview of a human rights based approach to a new model for remote employment and participation, followed by an outline of the main issues with the current CDP model. It concludes with an assessment of how the proposed options in the Discussion Paper address these issues, as well as factors that should be considered in the transition to a new approach.
1 The Commission is Australia’s national human rights institution with ‘A’ status accreditation, and is established by the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth). The Commission has responsibilities under the AHRC Act to examine the enjoyment and exercise of human rights by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Commission also has responsibilities to report on the effect of the Native Title Act on the exercise and enjoyment of human rights of Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders. See s 209 of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth)
2 Lisa Fowkes, ‘Background Note on CDP’, the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University, April 2017, 1. At https://www.clc.org.au/Remote-Employment-Program/CDP-Background-briefing-April-2017.docx (viewed 25 January 2018).
3 Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee, Inquiry in to the appropriateness and effectiveness of the objectives, design, implementation and evaluation of the Community Development Program (CDP), (December 2017), 105.
4 Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples on her visit to Australia, UN Doc A/HRC/36/46/Add.2 (8 August 2017)
5 Dr Janet Hunt, Submission 10 to the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee, Inquiry in to the appropriateness and effectiveness of the objectives, design, implementation and evaluation of the Community Development Program (CDP), 14 December 2017.
6 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, GA Resolution 61/295, UN Doc A/61/L.67 (2007), art 19.
7 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, GA Resolution 61/295, UN Doc A/61/L.67 (2007), art 18.