Pearson: Welfare Reform Welcome but Indigenous Issues Lacking

By Robert Wild
Robert Wild
Robert Wild
August 7, 2010 Updated: August 7, 2010

QUEENSLAND, Australia—Cape York Indigenous leader Noel Pearson says he is pleased Opposition Leader Tony Abbot is adopting some of his ideas on youth unemployment but notes that it is the first time Indigenous issues have been addressed by either leader of the major parties in the election campaign.

“This is really the first substantial mention of Indigenous issues in this election. People talk about the great moral challenge of our time: Indigenous inequality in this country is the real moral challenge and it has been for a long time. And it still isn’t resolved,” he told The Epoch Times.

Tony Abbott, who has previously praised Mr Pearson as Australia’s “most significant and visionary Indigenous leader,” said Mr Pearson’s ideas for dealing with youth unemployment “are worth further exploring.”

“If we are serious about attacking the entrenched welfare subculture more generally I think we do have to look at some of these visionary ideas,” Mr Abbott told Fairfax News.

Noel Pearson is the director of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership based in Far North Queensland.

He said he was “very pleased” that the Opposition Leader was committing the Coalition to Commonwealth government support for the Australian Employment Covenant.

The Australian Employment Covenant is an initiative aimed at securing 50,000 sustainable jobs for Indigenous Australians. It is backed by a three-way commitment between Australian employers, Government and Indigenous people.

The Cape York Institute had first put the idea forward a couple of years ago in regards to youth unemployment in indigenous communities, Mr Pearson noted.

“We argued that there needed to be active government support for the jobs covenant. It has taken a long time to get the bureaucrats and politicians to take our ideas seriously,” he said.

According to a report conducted by the Cape York Institute, employment is extremely low in Cape York and there are very few ‘real’ jobs. Personal incomes are around 60 percent of the Australian average, and passivity is very high, the report said.

The youth welfare reform, suggested by Mr Pearson, would see young people volunteer to give up unemployment benefits for a guaranteed job as part of a process of moving from passive welfare dependence to engagement in the real economy.

“We need a concerted government and business commitment to guarantee jobs to young people. Not just promises but guarantees that if young people put their hand up they should be given the opportunity,” Mr Pearson said.

The Cape York Institute website describes Cape York Indigenous communities as being socially underdeveloped and having significantly deteriorated social norms in areas like “ sending children to school, respecting others, and taking care of one’s family and one’s house.”

Unemployment rates are 29 percent among Indigenous young people aged 15 to 24, three times the national average compared with 9 percent of non Indigenous young people.

“We are making progress with various reform initiatives in Cape York, in particular education. But we need jobs and we need opportunities for home ownership and enterprise development,” Mr Pearson said.


Robert Wild