Pearson envisages end to passive welfare

Pearson envisages end to passive welfare

Time for blackfellas to be treated like whitefellas – those are the words of Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough in response to a plan for a radical overhaul of Aboriginal welfare.

The architect of the plan is the Cape York Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson.

Mr Pearson’s Cape York Institute has handed a report to the Federal Government, calling for an end to ‘passive welfare’.

Both the Government and the Opposition are giving ‘in principle’ backing to his ideas.

The Pearson plan recommends a trial in four North Queensland communities that would see conditions attached to all welfare payments.

If children were neglected or did not go to school, or if there was alcohol and substance abuse, then benefits would be cut.

Mr Pearson says the problem is what he calls ‘passive welfare’, and he believes it is having an insidious and destructive effect in Aboriginal communities.

“It takes the vigour and vitality out of individual striving,” he said.

“It takes the hunger out of the search for a better life.

“Because the $10 you get free is not the same as the $10 you’ve earned – it’s an incredible fact that two $10 notes can be profoundly different from one another.”

Radical recommendations

Mr Pearson came to Canberra to present a report called ‘From hand-out to hand-up’.

It was paid for by the Federal Government and has taken the Cape York Institute a year to complete.

Within its 350 pages lie some radical recommendations that its authors want trialled in four Cape York communities.

All welfare payments would come with conditions attached: school attendance for children, and no neglect or abuse; adults would not be allowed to commit drug, alcohol, gambling or family violence offences; public housing conditions like paying rent would be enforced.

A family responsibilities commission would be set up, made up of elders and a retired magistrate, to give warnings and directions to help and treatment, and finally to decide when welfare payments should be cut.

Mr Pearson argues that the proposal is about changing behaviour and restoring social norms.

“The social norms that our grandfathers and fathers had have crumbled and they’ve got to be rebuilt,” he said.

Child sex abuse

The Cape York Institute report comes after major study into the sexual abuse of children in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.

Mr Pearson charts a different way forward from that of the authors of the NT report.

“In many respects our blueprint is, from my reading of the Northern Territory report, quite different about the way ahead,” he said.

“We have a very strong emphasis on rebuilding social norms.

“You can’t just educate people that a 12-year-old is not a prospective sexual partner.

“That’s not a question of education; that’s a question of moral norms.”

Other Aboriginal leaders from Cape York sat alongside Mr Pearson in Canberra to give their backing.

Coen cattle farmer Alan Craig, who worked on the report, spoke of young people on welfare, with nothing to do but drink and use drugs.

“One of my big fears, if that’s going to continue we ain’t going to have many Indigenous people left in Cape – because it’s not only Coen, it’s every community, people are nearly dying like flies,” he said.

Govt support

A trial on Cape York would need Commonwealth legislation to go ahead.

Mr Brough has given his ‘in principle’ support, saying he has some well developed ideas to put to Cabinet in the near future.

“They’re sick of welfare killing their people, they want the chance to own their own home, they want to make their own future, they want land tenure, and they want real jobs and they want their kids to go to school,” he said.

“Blackfellas to be treated like whitefellas – it’s not too much to ask.

“This report gives expression to that; I commend it to everybody and I thank them all for the work that they’ve undertaken. Congratulations.”

Whoever wins this year’s federal election, Mr Pearson’s ideas are likely to be implemented, at least on Cape York.

Opposition Indigenous affairs spokeswoman Jenny Macklin is giving her support to the ideas too.

“Let’s see how the trials go, but the principle of reciprocal obligation, the principle of ending intergenerational welfare dependency, is one that I strongly support,” she said.



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