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Treasurer considers radical changes to Indigenous welfare even if they're still seen as politically incorrect.

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Friday 22 July 2005

Treasurer considers radical changes to Indigenous welfare even if they're still seen as politically incorrect


MARK COLVIN: The Treasurer Peter Costello indicated that he'd consider radical changes to Aboriginal welfare, as he visited Aboriginal communities on Cape York today. 


The Cape York Aboriginal leader, Noel Pearson, has suggested, among other things, redirecting family allowances for parents who consistently fail to send their children to school. 


He says Indigenous communities need Federal Government muscle to change welfare payments. Mr Costello says he's happy to discuss ideas that for the past 10 years have been considered taboo, even if they're still considered politically incorrect. 


Lisa Millar reports from Cairns. 


LISA MILLAR: Peter Costello is this morning flying to Coen and Aurukun on Cape York. It's the first time he's ever travelled north of Cairns, the visit coming at the end of a week-long trip to Queensland. It could be a critical two days with Indigenous leaders. 


Noel Pearson and his Cape York Leadership Institute want fundamental changes to Aboriginal welfare and he has high hopes the Treasurer will back them. 


NOEL PEARSON: It's absolutely fundamental, and we in Cape York have this conviction that welfare reform is our overarching reform goal.  


LISA MILLAR: At a three-hour briefing yesterday afternoon with the Treasurer, the message was delivered loud and clear. 


PETER COSTELLO: I guess the main outtake of it was the importance of welfare reform, that welfare in many respects is destroying opportunity in communities and that incentives have to be heightened to engage in education and real economic development.  


LISA MILLAR: Truancy continues to be a widespread problem across many Indigenous communities, and Noel Pearson has suggested parents who don't send their children to school should lose their family allowances. 


NOEL PEARSON: We need a much more effective way of reallocating responsibility for that income away from deadbeats to people who are actually taking the responsibility. In too many circumstances it is the grandmothers who are taking that responsibility, but they're paying for this out of their pensions. 


LISA MILLAR: And you need the muscle of the Federal Government to help you do that? 


NOEL PEARSON: Because it involves fundamental rule changes in terms of welfare payments. 


LISA MILLAR: The Federal Minister for Family and Community Services Kay Patterson has previously ruled out docking benefits. 


But Mr Costello says ideas that might have been taboo over the last 10 years should be considered, that people have to be honest enough to discuss them to try to solve the problems. 


PETER COSTELLO: The problems are now so great we've got to be honest enough to do things that work, even if they don't sound all that politically correct. 


LISA MILLAR: But a leading Aboriginal academic, Boni Robertson, says the approach is too simplistic and Mr Costello is hearing from a narrow range of people. 


BONI ROBERTSON: To take away the payments from communities and families - parents that are already impoverished, that are already in critically financial dire situations - without dealing with all of the issues that we all know impact on why some of these children aren't going to school and why they aren't participating in education system to the degree that we are, is absolutely, I think, criminal, it's remiss, I think it's very, very short sighted, and I think it's wrong. 


MARK COLVIN: Associate Professor Boni Robertson, leading Aboriginal academic, ending that report there from Lisa Millar in Cairns.