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Labor vows to replace indigenous work-for-the-dole scheme

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Labor has promised to abolish a controversial work-for-the-dole scheme meant to help indigenous people in remote Australia if it wins the next federal election.

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A Shorten government would scrap the Community Development Program and replace it, as part of the ALP’s new Reconciliation Action Plan unveiled at its national conference in Adelaide today.

Labor’s assistant indigenous affairs spokesman Pat Dodson said the new scheme would create jobs, meet community needs, deliver meaningful training and economic development.

“The Community Development Program put in place by the current government in remote communities is discriminatory, punitive and ineffective,” Dodson told delegates.

“The current government is not committed to ensuring that First Nations Australians get fair treatment, equal wages, and job security.”

More than 80 per cent of participants in the CDP are indigenous, with the scheme dogged by concerns its participants are hit with repeated financial penalties and forced to work much longer hours than city-based job seekers.

Dodson said Labor was committed to establishing a voice to parliament designed by indigenous people and enshrined in the constitution.

He said the reconciliation plan set out a significant challenge for the party to become the party of choice for indigenous people.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said he wanted to see more indigenous people in parliament and enrol to vote to make their issues a national priority.

“We want to deliver and make Labor a party of choice for the first Australians, but we need to earn that right,” Shorten said.

Linda Burney, who Shorten confirmed would be a cabinet minister if Labor wins government, said the reconciliation plan would develop practical ideas for change.

“These goals have eluded us as a nation for more than two centuries. It is time for that to change – and Labor wants to lead this change,” she said.

ACTU president Michele O’Neil said the CDP had discriminated against people based on their skin colour and where they chose to live.

“This scheme is an appalling example of state-sanctioned racial discrimination and worker exploitation and Australia will be a better place without it,” O’Neil said.

Also at the national conference today, Labor promised to take 4000 more refugees a year and give $500 million to support the United Nations’ efforts on asylum seekers if elected to government.

But the Opposition’s commitment to hardline measures, including boat turn-backs and offshore processing remains, leader Bill Shorten confirmed.

“You can have secure borders and you can live up to our humanitarian obligations. You just require leadership,” Shorten told delegates in Adelaide today.

The Community Sponsored Refugee Program will over time be expanded from 1000 to 5000 places annually.

The program allows state and local governments, community organisations, businesses, unions and faith-based organisations to sponsor humanitarian entrants into Australia.

“I believe that Australia can meet our international humanitarian and legal responsibilities without compromising our national security or a commitment to strong border protection,” Shorten said.

A Shorten Labor government will give half-a-billion dollars United Nations High Commission for Refugees over five years.

Shorten said he would look to take up New Zealand’s offer to resettle refugees from Nauru and Manus Island immediately on similar terms with the United States agreement.

The policy announcement appears to have sunk any prospect of a damaging debate on the issue when it’s raised at the conference this afternoon.

Shorten took aim at the Coalition Government for telling ‘lies’ about Labor’s border protection policies, saying they were doing the dirty work of the people smugglers.

“The Liberals are acting as spruikers for the criminal syndicates,” the Labor leader said.

“Every time they get up and say that there will be a change in terms of border security, they are signalling criminal syndicates to try their hand again.”

The ALP has also committed to appointing a special envoy for refugee and asylum seeker issues to help with resettlement, develop an Australian Refugee Commission and provide advice for the humanitarian program.

– AAP

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