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The Cape Experiment

Four Corners last night (‘The Cape Experiment’) examined the effects of welfare dependency in Cape York aboriginal communities. It also showed what a wily, articulate and intelligent spokesman for indigenous Australians Noel Pearson is. Pearson is selling what might seem to be an unpopular message well.

The left think of Noel as a Liberal stooge because he dares to talk about the need for aboriginals to learn to stand on their own feet and because he dares to talk with Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mal Brough. I disagree emphatically – Pearson is simply doing what he can for his people and his sentiments on welfare are heartfelt and based on his life experiences. Its a tough job expressing the views he does because the message is ‘tough love’ therapy.

Pearson is a great leader – what a great Federal parliamentarian he would make – and Brough is an excellent minister.

The bottom line is this: Aboriginal kids must be fed properly and must get an education. The widespread sexual abuse of children must stop. Aboriginal people must build themselves a future that involves more than sitting around for a social security check. The cheque itself should not be begrudged by anyone – but it is a seductive poison for aboriginal (or indeed any other) communities.

Pearson said:

‘If they don’t take responsibility then we will step in. We want the system to work so that when people don’t take responsibility we’re able to step in … you could lose your freedom if you don’t abide by the conditions’.

Excerpted from the program blurb:

For years Pearson has warned that welfare payments – sit down money – have encouraged irresponsibility and a hand out mentality in indigenous communities. Now he is trying to tackle the situation head on.

In 2006 Pearson’s Cape York Institute began a trial project to rehabilitate several communities on the Cape. Coen, Aurukun, Mossman Gorge and Hopevale have all been ravaged by addiction and abuse. The most controversial aspect of the plan is to link behaviour to welfare payments.

Over the past eight months Four Corners has had unique access to these communities as Pearson and his team have battled to get their vision accepted and implemented. The program tracks both the resistance to these reforms:

“No-one’s going to come from outside and tell me how to spend my dollar. You know I worked hard, drank hard and I still supported my family.” Clarence Bowen, aboriginal elder.

As well as the enthusiasm and determination by others to turn their lives around:

“We have to start putting obligations, rules in place in order to see a change here.” Mathew Gibson, Mossman Gorge.

The program also shows Pearson’s pragmatic manoeuvring in an election year and his close contact with Brough.

Pearson talks candidly about the tough political choices he has to make: “I harbour my own views but … it doesn’t stop me from seizing opportunities and seeing angles and trying to work the angles to get a result.”

Four Corners have usefully put together a useful set of links to various perspectives on aboriginal welfare here. The transcript for this excellent show is here.

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