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Issue #1664      November 12, 2014

Is this the end of Pearson’s Cape York “welfare trap?”

The Queensland government appears to have conceded the Noel Pearson-inspired Cape York Welfare Trial is over after more than $220 million of federal and state government funding has been committed to the Trial.

Noel Pearson.

When the Trial was first launched five years ago Pearson and the then Federal Labor and Queensland governments declared the Trial would be extended throughout Queensland and perhaps nationally.

However, five years later and after an assessment by the former federal government department of FaHCSIA (Department of Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) revealed doubts about the effectiveness of the Trial and there had been a lack of material for it to complete a detailed analysis of where the funding had been spent and which elements of the Trial, if any, had achieved acceptable outcomes.

Queensland’s Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Glen Elmes, announced last month the Queensland government would not be extending the Cape York Welfare Trial to any other communities within the state except for one element under the Family Responsibilities Commission (FRC) which would be introduced to the Doomadgee community and this was only happening in that community because the community members had agreed.

Elmes appeared to indicate in his announcement the Cape York Welfare Trial would continue with the four communities of Coen, Mossman Gorge, Hope Vale and Aurukun although he did not reveal what level of funding would be provided in future.

Question mark

There also remains a question mark over whether Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, a strong supporter of Noel Pearson and his programs, will insist the federal government continues funding the Trial after the Indigenous Affairs Minister, Senator Nigel Scullion refused to answer questions from the National Indigenous Times.

The state’s Assistant Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, David Kempton, said after so much money had been put into the Cape York Trial “the tap” could not be immediately turned off and there needed to be a transition to autonomy.

“It’s a bit like the Family Responsibilities Commission. This is a slow transition and you can’t just chop everything off and start something new,” he said. “I think there’s a transition out of that process into a new process and the funding has its role in that transition time.”

The prospect of any further extension of the Family Responsibilities Commission to communities other than Doomadgee is also questionable after Kempton declared there would be no extension of Cape York-style welfare reform other than Doomadgee in his electorate.

Kempton, whose electorate of Cook covers Cape York in far north Queensland said while ‘’a Family Responsibilities Commission would be set up and operate in Doomadgee”, no further communities would be included “without prior consultation and informed consent from the community members”.

“There won’t be any communities, certainly in my electorate, Cape York, included in the Family Responsibilities Commission process without prior consultation and informed consent. It will not happen,” Kempton said.

Despite the decision by Glen Elmes not to extend the Cape York Welfare Trial anywhere else in the State he maintained the $220 million poured into the Cape York Institute by the federal and state government was money that has been well-spent.

“I think, overwhelmingly, it has. I think if you went back and looked at it again and asked could we have done some things better? Of course we could have.

“But I’m convinced we’ve changed lives, I’m convinced the outlook that communities have now is different and that is not just in those four communities, I’m talking about across all of our Indigenous communities,” Elmes said.

Kempton also agreed a lot of good had happened in the four Cape York Welfare Reform Trial communities but he believed “it had had its day”.

“I don’t detract from the role it’s played. I just think we’re moving on and it’s a different ball-game now,” Kempton said.

Kempton said he was also “still very keen” to see a proper assessment of the Cape York Welfare Reform Trial that has run since 2007 in the four Cape York communities involving fewer than 3,000 residents and will have cost $220 million in state and federal funding by 2015.

“It is something I’m still very keen to see but with all, respect to the Cape York Institute, the Welfare Reform Trial and its proponents have done a great job of raising awareness around the paternalistic approach of government to Indigenous communities over generations,” Kempton said. “So they’ve really highlighted the fact there needed to be a change but that has come and gone now and it is time to move on.”


Kempton said the Cape York Institute now needed to relinquish control back to the local communities. “I just think welfare reform has had its day, I think it’s just time to move on with more community autonomy and far greater self-determination within the regions and within the communities,” he said.

As the federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion continues his task of finding $500-odd million of savings from services and programs for Indigenous communities throughout the continent he appears unwilling to look to the expensive Cape York Welfare Program as an option.

Child care, education, legal, violence prevention, housing and employment are all under the Scullion microscope to see what he can cut but amazingly the Minister was not prepared to respond to questions from the National Indigenous Times about whether the federal government intends to continue funding the Noel Pearson Cape York initiative.

We sent the Minister 11 questions about the Cape York Welfare Program in light of the Queensland government announcement the Cape York Welfare Program would not be extended throughout Queensland.

But the Minister obviously thinks not. His only response via a spokesperson to the questions was “the Minister was not available to comment”.

The questions put to Senator Scullion were:

  1. From 2008 through to 2015 the Cape York Welfare Reform trial will have received in excess of $220 million in federal/state funding, with the majority coming from the Commonwealth. In 2012 there was a review of the CYWR trial by the then federal Department of Indigenous Affairs, which gave a less than glowing assessment. Has there been any assessment of the Cape York Welfare Reform trial since the 2012 FaHCSIA report?
  2. If so, what were the findings of the report, where is it available and what did it conclude from its assessment of the Cape York Welfare Reform Program in terms of achieving meaningful returns from the $220 million invested?
  3. If there has been no evaluation since the 2012 report (cited above), what evidence is being cited for the continuation of those levels of funding going to just four communities in Cape York?
  4. Why has there not been a complete and detailed assessment identifying what has worked and what has not?
  5. If the CYWR trial has been deemed a success why has it not been extended to other communities in Queensland and across Australia?
  6. On Tuesday of last week the Queensland government amended the Family Responsibilities Commission legislation to allow it to be extended beyond Aurukun, Hope Vale, Coen and Mossman Gorge announcing it would be extended to Doomadgee. Does the figure of $220 million from 2008 until 2015 include funding for the Family Responsibilities Commission program or is that funded separately?
  7. What federal funding, if any, goes into the FRC program?
  8. Are there other initiatives that would have been a more, or equally, beneficial spend of the approximately $220 million?
  9. Given the federal government is undertaking a detailed assessment of all programs and services to determine which should continue to receive federal funding why has the Cape York Program been excluded from that same process?
  10. Does the Minister intend to continue federal government funding of the Cape York Welfare Reform program after the 2015 commitment? If so will he be recommending funding will be at the same, less, or higher levels?
  11. Does the Minister believe the $220 million invested to date in the Cape York Welfare Reform program from both federal and Queensland government achieved meaningful outcomes which will deliver improved outcomes for Indigenous Australians? If so, what areas precisely from the program are they and why has the Minister not therefore instructed those elements of the program deemed to have achieved appropriate outcomes to be implemented throughout Indigenous communities throughout Australia?

National Indigenous Times

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