Cape York leader Noel Pearson has criticised the progressive side of politics and the Aboriginal “industry” as being massive with too much of the $30 billion-plus spent annually going on costs and not helping indigenous people.

Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership Mr Pearson founded had an “empowerment agenda” to promote economic and social development in the region and “close the gap” citing his past statement that “we have a right to take responsibility”.

“That is a strong belief that government can never do anything for us that we are unwilling to do for ourselves,” Mr Pearson said at the Garma Festival in Arnhem Land.

“Our friends on the progressive side of politics have not understood our argument in this respect but it is a basic argument that nobody is going to save us except ourselves.

“We are told every other week that $36 billion is spent per annum in the name of blackfellas in this country.

“Of course we’re not seeing it with the massive industries within government and within non-government around that money. We need structural reforms to make sure that the majority of that money hits the ground and enables the development of the type of capabilities we are talking about.”

Much of the focus at Garma has been on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s rejection of last year’s Uluru Statement, calling for a First Nations Voice in parliament “enshrined in the constitution”.

However that has prompted some, including former NT public servant and co-ordinator general of remote services Bob Beadman, to say that there also needs to be a focus on social disorder, highlighted by the rape of a toddler in Tennant Creek this year that received national attention.

Mr Pearson, who maintains that a constitutional voice is indigenous Australia’s biggest priority, also says the Cape York Institute for Policy is pursuing a 15-point plan that will “compress the gap” around Aboriginal people’s health and welfare.

It covers everything from prenatal care to reforming the current education system, building a lifelong work ethic and creating sustainable industries, not locking up the land as the “Greens want”.

More negotiations with government around self-determination and sovereignty would take place, with Queensland already having the nation’s most autonomous indigenous councils.

“We have had a strong if controversial emphasis on that, a staircase to a better life embarked upon by mum, dad clutching the children climbing with their own legs to a better life,” Mr Pearson said.

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said at Garma that he believed people were by and large pretty happy with the process including the fact that 55 per cent of services to Aboriginal people were now delivered by indigenous organisations, which had a positive impact.

“We are on the cusp of significant change, a number of things will be resolved before the next Garma, the Closing the Gap agreement will be in place …that won’t be just targets but targets with a plan and resources.”