Cape York Welfare Reform Trial - Ministerial Statement

Hon. GW ELMES (Noosa—LNP) (Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Multicultural Affairs and Minister Assisting the Premier) (9.51 am): Happy birthday, Madam Speaker. The Newman government is committed to alleviating the disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Queenslanders across so many aspects of life. We are committed to doing that in conjunction with Indigenous people and their elected representatives at all levels of government through responsible programs, services and actions. Welfare and other similar government payments are not the answer to alleviating Indigenous disadvantage. The Newman government’s Indigenous agenda is focused on ensuring that state government programs and funding are directed towards improving the stability and sustainability of Indigenous communities.

For too long in Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy has been driven by intentions which have not been adequately translated into achieving better outcomes. Despite the injection of increased funding from both state and federal governments, it cannot be said that substantially improved outcomes corresponding to that level of funding have been achieved for Indigenous people in areas of housing, education, health and employment.

An example of significant funding which has gone into Indigenous communities is the Cape York welfare reform trial, which commenced in 2008. Since then, a little over $100 million has been injected into the four communities of Aurukun, Coen, Mossman Gorge and Hope Vale. While there is no clear agreement on outcomes, there are indications that the trial has been responsible for a number of improvements in the communities. The aim of the welfare reform trial was always, as the name suggests, to trial options for increasing sustainability in communities and reducing their reliance on welfare. One positive outcome of the trial was the work of the Family Responsibilities Commission. With the support of local communities, the commission has helped increase parental responsibility and restore social norms which, in turn, has assisted to create sustainable employment opportunities.

The Newman government is looking at finding practical support mechanisms for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to improve the lives of individuals and families. The FRC is one area that we could look at modifying, and there is the option with federal government support of adopting the model throughout the state. Now that we finally have the evaluation report—more than 12 months late from the federal government—we can begin to assess the success or otherwise of initiatives under the trial. To allow a smooth transition from the current trial to what benefits from it might flow to other communities, the government has allocated $5.65 million to continue the trial for a further 12 months. That will allow time for a proper assessment of which elements have been successful.

I will be meeting with the trial partners, the Cape York Institute and the federal government, during coming months to decide what form the trial should take during the 12-month extension. I will also be talking to all mayors to involve them in the process of devising longer term initiatives coming out of the trial. Many Cape York councils have publicly expressed the wish for all communities to have the opportunity to share in the benefits of such initiatives. It was always the intention that what has been learnt from the trial should be applied more widely to benefit all Indigenous communities, and that remains the intention of this government. We will take the time during the next 12 months to properly assess the report and plan how the trial can benefit more Indigenous communities from 2015 onwards.