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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26349

Senator CHERRY (3:30 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Family and Community Services (Senator Patterson) to a question without notice asked by Senator Colbeck today relating to social welfare.

The minister claimed that welfare reform and employment have been successes of the Howard government. The difficulty with the issue of employment and welfare is that that success is not shared equally across our country. If you look at the unemployment rate for Indigenous Australians, it currently stands at 20 per cent, nearly four times the national average. But if you take into account CDEP correctly, as equating to unemployment, the unemployment rate of Indigenous Australians rises to 41 per cent. What that means is that for those Australians who are stuck in a cycle of boredom and despair, there is—particularly in more remote communities, such as those in Cape York—very little chance of getting employment in a community and very little chance of new economic opportunities being created under current government policies.

That cycle of boredom and despair which comes out of chronic unemployment in the communities inevitably leads, for too many people, to substance abuse. Our Queensland Premier, Mr Beattie, is touring the cape today, and I think it is worth noting, as we talk about questions of welfare dependency and alcohol abuse, that both state and federal governments need to do better by the Cape York communities. What we need in Cape York is not governments going in and telling the communities how they can and cannot deal with their problems and claiming successes where there are no successes; rather, what we need is government working with the communities to find solutions and work their way through to get programs and service delivery which will help on the ground.

Mr Beattie has made a great play in particular about imposing alcohol management bans on the communities of Cape York. I visited nine communities of Cape York in late July, talking with community leaders and with justice groups, trying to get an idea of those plans. In all of the communities I met with, there was a firm belief that there must be alcohol management plans and that they must deal with the issues of substance abuse. What also came through quite strongly in all of those communities was an anger about having that imposed on them by the state government in a way that did not take into account their community concerns. What one of the communities said to me was that, as so often happens with government policy, they had gone for the cheap, populist, easy option; that rather than dealing with what happens next after imposing a ban, they dealt only with the issue of the alcohol bans but did not take it further.

What the Cape York communities now need from the Beattie government and from the Howard government is an idea of what is going to happen post the imposition of an alcohol management plan. Where are the treatment programs and the alcohol rehabilitation programs? True, the federal government has tipped in some money but there has been not a single cent from the Beattie government for alcohol rehabilitation on the cape. Where are the plans to not only get tough on alcohol but also on where it is coming from? What we need in the cape is a government committed to getting tough not just on alcohol abuse but also on the causes of alcohol abuse, and that means addressing issues like overcrowded housing, the lack of employment opportunities, the lack of training opportunities and the lack of activities for young people of the cape to engage in. In particular, the Beattie government can afford, as can the Howard government, to deal with the issues of overcrowding on Cape York, which currently has the highest rate of housing stress of any region on the east coast of Australia. In fact, there are up to 25 people living in houses in some parts of Cape York, such as Aurukun. If we are going to deal with the traumatic stress that is inherent in those communities and that is leading to substance abuse then we need to deal with the causes as well as with the substance abuse itself.

We need to ensure there are support mechanisms for people on the ground to do good things. If welfare reform is going to be successful in the cape, if we are going to see reform of alcohol management programs, if we are going to see reform regarding the stresses and violence in those communities then we need government programs which are more supportive, better housing, better health, better education, more employment opportunities and a government that is prepared to listen to the community and work with them rather than imposing solutions from outside. Community development must go hand-in-hand with alcohol management. You cannot have success in one without having success in the other, and that is the bit that is missing from the Beattie government's policies and also those of the Howard government. It is time to put the element of community development back in and get tough on the causes of alcohol and not just on alcohol itself.

Question agreed to.