Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Extending the Cape York Welfare Reform Trial

The Australian Government is providing $16.1 million to extend and expand the Cape York Welfare Reform trial which is making a real and lasting difference in the lives of Indigenous people living in the Cape.

To ensure the trial continues to meet the needs of local people, the Queensland Government will lead a process of consultation with Cape York communities on the extension.

It is proposed the trial will continue until 31 December 2012.

The trial has shown community-driven initiative can change lives. Since it began in July 2008 the Cape York communities of Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge have seen improved school attendance, care and protection of children and community safety.

A partnership between the four Cape York communities, the Australian Government, the Queensland Government and the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership and regional organisations, the trial aims to restore positive social norms, re-establish local Indigenous authority and support community and individual engagement in the ‘real economy’.

As part of the expansion of the trial, $2.7 million will be provided to promote home ownership. The funds will be used to help connect new blocks to water, sewerage and electricity, develop land administration systems for secure land tenure and help local Indigenous people obtain a mortgage.

This additional investment will allow the Government to continue existing measures, including:

  • employing attendance case managers who work closely with families in partnership with the Family Responsibilities Commission to remove barriers to school attendance;
  • providing income management through Centrelink when recommended by the Family Responsibilities Commission;
  • providing Student Education Trusts, run by Cape York Partnerships, which help families save for their children’s educational needs. More than 610 trusts have been set up across the four communities with all children in Coen and Mossman Gorge signed up to the program; and
  • contributing to the operating costs of the Family Responsibilities Commission.

The Australian Government is determined to improve parental responsibility, combat welfare dependence and ensure welfare is spent in the best interests of children.

Through the Cape York Welfare Reform trial an integrated package of initiatives to support vulnerable families is currently being delivered, including:

  • voluntary and compulsory money management to ensure that welfare payments are spent in the best interests of children and on life essentials such as food, clothes and bills;
  • making welfare payments conditional on behaviours that support the wellbeing of children;
  • more coordinated service provision between all levels of government and non-government organisations; and
  • encouraging strong participation of local leaders as decision makers.

A key plank of Cape York Welfare Reform is the Family Responsibilities Commission, which is made up of Local Commissioners, who are respected local people, and a retired senior magistrate.

The Local Commissioners hold conferences with community members, refer people to support services and when necessary income management assistance.

An independent evaluation of the Cape York Welfare Reform, released in November 2010, found it had led to improvements in school attendance, care of children and community safety.

The Cape York Welfare Reform trial will continue to be evaluated throughout this year, and future directions will be informed by its findings and further consultation with the four communities.