Indigenous community leader Noel Pearson has challenged the views of Senator Nova Peris on the issue of Aboriginal income management, warning that a failure to intervene could see more children taken away from their parents.
Speaking on ABC’s Q&A program, broadcast live from Arnhem Land, Mr Pearson said he supported the Aboriginal income management proposals made by mining magnate Andrew Forrest in his Creating Parity report.
The report proposed the extension of a “healthy welfare card” to “manage… income and liabilities” of all people on welfare in the Northern Territory.
The card would replace the existing BasicsCard system, which is widely used by people in NT Aboriginal communities and which the report said was “very expensive to deliver and unaffordable on a large scale”.
“I am personally in favour. I am concerned about vulnerable people,” Mr Pearson said.
He continued: “I just know with the problems afflicting some of our communities… income management is the crucial first step.”
On Monday, Senator Peris – Australia’s first female Indigenous federal MP, who was also on the Q&A panel, recalled her experience of income management, introduced by the Howard Government in 2007 and continued by subsequent Labor and Liberal governments.
She said she visited a supermarket in Alice Springs soon after income management, part of the Northern Territory Emergency Response policy – also known as “the intervention” – was introduced.
“There was a queue there… the queue had a sign; ‘BasicsCard’… you looked up and it was all Aboriginal people,” she said.
“In the other queue, people happily went through and used their ATM cards to purchase whatever they wanted.”
Senator Peris said it was indicative of the “intergenerational discrimination since 1788” against Aboriginal people.
‘Another’ queue leads to gambling, addiction, neglect: Pearson
Mr Pearson – who is a community leader in QLD’s Cape York – mentioned another queue.
“There’s another kind of queue I’ve seen. It’s the queue in front of the ATM, in front of the bowls club where the poker machines are. What do we do about that queue?
“What do we do when the kids aren’t getting a feed, they’re being neglected… should we intervene?
“Or do we stand back and say, ‘no, we wont intervene’, and let the child protection authorities intervene and take the kids away?”
Mr Pearson says Indigenous children made up 3 per cent of the population but 60 per cent of the children in child protection.