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Legacy of a “cruel and heartless” government

The STEP ERS program, administered by the Redfern Aboriginal Corporation, has been introduced to replace the successful Community Development Employment Program, which was axed by the Howard Government in mid-2006 reports Carissa Simons in the South Sydney Herald of February 2008.

The differences between the two programs are stark. CDEP paid Indigenous people for approximately 15 hours work a week in areas such as screen-printing, catering, rubbish and furniture removal, and lawn mowing. These businesses were administered by the Redfern Aboriginal Corporation. Many of the participants were unable to find other employment, due to their age, criminal convictions or addiction. They gave up welfare payments in

return for the opportunities given to them by the CDEP program. According to Redfern Aboriginal Corporation CEO Dennis Weatherall, the program fostered a work ethic amongst its participants, many of whom had a welfare mentality, and gave people a sense of community and stability. He says that the previous Government was a “cruel and heartless” one, which let down the people who had long relied on the Redfern CDEP.

The STEP ERS, or Structured Training and Employment Projects & Employment and Related Services system, focuses on training and development for participants and providing support for employers. The Redfern Aboriginal Corporation is responsible for helping people enrolled in the program to find suitable employers and providing them with adequate training. Participants are expected to remain in these jobs for at least a 12-month period. At present, only two people from CDEP have enrolled in the STEP ERS program.

Those involved in CDEP, which gave participants structure, stability and support, are sceptical about the success that the mainstream STEP ERS program will have. “Until racism is stamped out, mainstream approaches aren’t going to work,” says Vicki Ashton from the Redfern Aboriginal Corporation. “I feel like the Government wants them to do crime.”

Weatherall and Ashton are hopeful that the new Labor Government will live up to its election promise to reinstate the CDEP program, although both expect that new restrictions will be placed upon it.

Source: South Sydney Herald February 2008 -