Government defends 'revolutionary' Indigenous welfare reform model

Government defends ‘revolutionary’ Indigenous welfare reform model

Cape York Institute director Noel Pearson has hit back at a Queensland Opposition MP who questioned the value of welfare reform trials in Indigenous communities.

The State Government defended the work of the Family Responsibilities Commission (FRC) in Indigenous communities at budget estimates hearings at Queensland Parliament yesterday.

The FRC deals with welfare and school attendance in Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge, north of Cairns in far north Queensland.

Acting commissioner Rod Curtin told the hearing the FRC are coping with a big caseload.

But Opposition education spokesman Dr Bruce Flegg told the hearing yesterday the results do not stack up against large amounts of money being spent on the FRC.

At the hearing yesterday, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships Minister Curtis Pitt told Dr Flegg good things were happening and the statistical outcomes do not tell the full story.

“You quite rightly said this is an expensive model,” Mr Pitt said.

“We make no apologies for this model being what it is – this is a revolutionary model.”

Mr Pearson says progress is being made in those four Indigenous communities where welfare management programs are being trialled.

He says the income management trials have led to reduced violence and improved school attendance.

Mr Pearson says the statistics Dr Flegg quoted about school attendance at Aurukun are only part of the story.

“The most disgraceful thing about what Flegg has done here is that he only references Aurukun,” he said.

“He’s just very selectively zeroed in on a school attendance rate, firstly in Queensland’s most disadvantaged school – secondly, in a school which has made a lot of progress.

“When the other three welfare reform communities are considered, the school attendance rate at Coen is higher than the Queensland average.”

But Dr Flegg is standing by his comments.

“I understand that well-meaning people might be concerned about comments that question some of these programs,” he said.

“But the reality is we do have to have a long, hard look at the plethora of highly expensive programs which in some cases are producing either short-term or questionable results.

“It may well be that there have been certain improvements under this expensive program, but the real question here is whether this is a lasting benefit.

“The program, having spent $15 million, ends at the end of this year.

“Will there be an ongoing benefit? I’m not convinced that there is.”

Aurukun Shire Council chief executive officer John Japp says the community wants more fullt-time local services and fewer fly-in fly-out ones.

Mr Japp says progress is being held back because of high unemployment of up to 80 per cent in the community.

He says many services are provided by staff flying in from Cairns for a few days a week.

“One of the arguments that Council has put forward in the community of course is could not community people be employed and trained and deliver that service, not just three days a week, but five days a week? he said.



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