Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson says welfare entitlement has been “a tragic disability” for his people.
Mr Pearson has backed comments by indigenous academic Marcia Langton that a sense of entitlement had poisoned Aboriginal society.
“It’s been a tragic disability,” he told ABC TV on Monday.
“The flipside of the opening up of the doors of citizenship to our people, was the provision of welfare. What should have been provided was opportunities to engage in … the mainstream economy.”
Australia was now “reaping that tragedy”.
He also echoed Professor Langton’s statements about mining being a quiet revolution for indigenous people.
“The revolution she is talking about is one that is absolutely tectonically happening,” he said, adding that it was a strange irony.
Mr Pearson reflected on his “bitter” negotiations with Rio Tinto in his early years of work in the Cape York and how the changed paradigm was now creating a new Aboriginal middle class.
“We’ve got to embrace Aboriginal success,” he said.
“Money and materialism shouldn’t be an anathema to Aboriginal people.”
He said indigenous people needed to be striving for a better life.
“We still haven’t gotten out of the mindset of Aboriginal people being the poor, benighted victims in Australian society,” Mr Pearson said.
Mr Pearson is frustrated his far north Queensland Cape York welfare reform trials had not been able to achieve home ownership for any indigenous people in the trial communities.
“There are complexities of home ownership on Aboriginal land involving tenure,” he said.
“Many of the Aboriginal people in these communities earn full-time wages, work for adjacent mining companies, but they can’t own a home on their own land.”
The federal government was yet to heed his message that the focus on social housing should move to home ownership, Mr Pearson said.
The trials, under way in Coen, Aurukun, Mossman Gorge and Hope Vale, aim to restore local indigenous authority and improve living conditions and the local economy.
Mr Pearson is in remission from lymphoma and says 2012 was his “descent into hell”.
“But I had the great joy to spend 12 months with my youngest child,” he said.