Peter Costello plays football with Aboriginal children in Coen, on
Queensland's Cape York Peninsula.
Peter Costello yesterday heard an impassioned plea from elders in remote Cape
York communities to support tougher welfare rules aimed at forcing parents to
take responsibility for their children.
Aurukun elder Rebecca Wolmby told the Treasurer she was driven to despair by
the neglect of some parents, saying some children opted to sleep on the streets
rather than at home.
"Nowadays, mothers and fathers, they don't worry about their child. I've seen
this with my own eyes and every one of us here will see it," she said during the
Aurukun justice group's meeting with Mr Costello.
Support for changing rules to divert payments to responsible family members
was also expressed by community leaders at Coen, where Mr Costello was shown how
a program that helped families manage their incomes had contributed to a 40 per
cent drop in violence.
He vowed to ensure that funding for this $1.3 million program in six
communities, provided by Prime Minister John Howard when he visited two years
ago, continued when the agreement expired in March.
"We'll make sure that we keep that program running," he told The
Age. He also said that pleas from the elders for welfare payment changes
"What they were saying is, if parents were wasting their payments on grog and
not caring for their kids, that . . . the money could be given to
Mr Costello was given an assessment of the extent of substance abuse and
passive welfare in remote communities, as well as a demonstration of how some
approaches were making a big difference.
The family income management plan in Coen had reduced alcohol consumption and
crime, while parents had also agreed to allocate $20 of their wel-fare payments
each fortnight to fund their children's education.
"I've been here 11 years and I've seen so many programs come and go, but this
one is working," said resource worker Megan Irving.
But there was also evidence that drug abuse and gambling remained serious
problems and petrol sniffing had seriously damaged some children.
Last night Mr Costello tasted local culture when he went fishing with
indigenous leader Noel Pearson and they caught their dinner - a haul of
"grunters" and mangrove jacks that were cooked on a barbecue.