An independent review of an indigenous welfare program, dumped last week by the Queensland government, has found there is “good evidence” the reforms have helped communities and should be continued.
A Queensland University of Technology assessment of the Cape York program found it cut “harmful consumption of alcohol”, “drug abuse, violence and crime” and improved children’s welfare including their health, wellbeing and attitudes to school.
The 112-page strategic review, obtained by The Australian, was designed to assess the success of the 10-year-old Cape York program and Family Responsibilities Commission, the initiative of indigenous leader Noel Pearson.
The conclusions of the QUT report include that the programs, which encourage parental obligations and responsibilities in indigenous communities through restricting welfare payments to essentials, “addressed many of the issues it was designed to address”.
There was also “good qualitative evidence” the programs “contributed to a reduction in alcohol, drugs, violence and crime”.
“There is also evidence that outcomes have improved in terms of children’s overall health and wellbeing, and engagement in school,” the report found.
The report also recommended the Cape York model be used as a template for the introduction of similar schemes across Australia.
Importantly, the report found that efforts in managing money and reducing spending on alcohol had “improved the welfare of children” and there was less evidence of neglect.
“There are some instances where this has meant children have been able to remain with their families, rather than be removed,” the report said.
The federal Minister for Families and Social Services, Paul Fletcher, last night called on the Queensland government to reverse its decision to kill off the commission and continue the program.
“The federal government is a strong supporter of this program and it is clear it is helping the local communities,” Mr Fletcher told The Australian.
Queensland Deputy Premier and Indigenous Affairs Minister Jackie Trad last week said the state government wanted to change the program, which was formed with the support of the Howard Coalition government and the Bligh state Labor government.
Mr Fletcher said the commission had been supported by all sides of politics since it began and called on the Palaszczuk government to return to bipartisan support for the scheme.
Ms Trad said the federal government had not committed money beyond this month for the scheme, but Scott Morrison said the federal funds could not be committed until the Queensland government continued the scheme.
Mr Pearson said he was “sick to the stomach” because of the decision that rolled back attempts to get indigenous people off welfare. Tony Abbott, as the special indigenous envoy, said the program was vital to an ethos of responsibility.
In The Weekend Australian, Mr Pearson said the program in Cape York was designed to “tackle poverty and enable families to break the cycle of disadvantage”.
He said federal welfare payments needed to be dependent on people meeting their responsibilities, such as protecting children and getting them to school, to break welfare dependence in communities and between generations.