Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson has urged indigenous communities to take greater care of their children, warning that the quest for self-determination is being undermined by continued neglect and abuse.
Mr Pearson, a long-time campaigner for indigenous rights and futures, yesterday confessed to a “downward trend in my assessment of where we are at in this struggle” to break free of dependence on government services.
Speaking at the Batiba Guwiyal Conference in Brisbane, Mr Pearson said he was “dismayed” that the self-determination debate continued despite Aboriginal people, and their communities, so clearly failing to meet their obligation to care for children and keep them safe.
“We must tackle these social problems,” Mr Pearson said, condemning those who felt they could live a “liberal, cosmopolitan life” drinking and gambling while children remained at risk.
“We must insist on taking special charge. We have to … be prepared to be maternalistic in relation to our children. We must be prepared to be paternalistic in relation to our grandchildren, because if we don’t take charge, who is going to?”
Mr Pearson, the founder of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership, said he was one of the community leaders who many years ago had convinced churches to “retreat”.
“But the problem with the retreat of the paternalistic regime is we may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater because it fell to us, finally, to maintain the moral structure of our village,” he said.
When churches left a social and moral vacuum in Aboriginal communities, government departments sought to fill the void with services, followed by non-government organisations, creating an “industry” in child safety that is sustained by continuing abuse and neglect.
“Cape York is providing a steady flow of children into that industry,” Mr Pearson told frontline workers, public servants, academics and community representatives at the conference.
“There’s no sign of the thing going southward and the industry stabilising and retreating.”
Batiba Guwiyal translates as “Extinguish the Flame” and refers to efforts to prevent child abuse and address the harm it has caused in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.