Communities on Cape York are ready for radical changes,
says indigenous leader Noel Pearson.
Indigenous communities cannot wait until the rest of Australia
is ready to embrace profound welfare reform, according to
influential Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson.
Yesterday he dismissed concerns that punitive measures such as
diverting family payments from irresponsible parents to other
family members could be tested in remote communities.
Elders in Cape York communities have backed Mr Pearson's appeal
to Treasurer Peter Costello to introduce a more radical assault on
Mr Costello is sympathetic to the call after spending three days
examining indigenous issues at the communities of Coen, Aurukun and
Napranum in far north Queensland.
Mr Pearson, director of the Cape York Institute for Policy and
Leadership, was with Mr Costello. He said the Treasurer had seen
the scale of the problems but also the reasons for optimism.
The most radical idea canvassed is to divert welfare from
parents who spend payments intended to support their children on
alcohol and gambling. The money would go to responsible family
members, particularly grandmothers.
The idea faces serious logistical and even moral hurdles, but Mr
Costello believes it may be part of the solution to dysfunction in
remote communities, with elders or justice groups deciding if a
payment should be diverted. A precondition would be strong
One option would be to restrict the move to payments intended to
Critics argue it would be a form of racism if applied only to
indigenous communities, but Mr Pearson told The Age: "I
don't want to wait for reform in my communities until the rest of
the country is ready to move on welfare reform."
Although a concerted effort by teachers had boosted school
attendance at Aurukun by 10 per cent, it still needed to be
increased by a further 30 to 40 per cent. "You won't move the
really hard cases until some real consequences (of bad behaviour)
kick in," Mr Pearson said.
He was encouraged by Mr Costello's response and buoyed by
communities' determination to tackle passive welfare and embrace
projects to build economic capacity, including eco-tourism
Among the ventures Mr Costello examined near Weipa was Lynette
Adidi's bus service for Aborigines from nearby Napranum community.
A hostile attitude by some taxi drivers and exorbitant charges of
$33 for the short trip between the town and the community were the
catalyst for the business. She charges $6.
Mr Costello, who returned to Melbourne on Saturday, was told
that the number of alcohol-related deaths on the cape was 21 times
the Queensland average. He said the trip had demonstrated that some
long-standing programs had not worked, while some new approaches
were achieving results.
"It would be smarter if we took programs that are working and
put our resources into them," Mr Costello said.