A full-frontal assault on drug and alcohol abuse in the east Kimberley aimed at ending family violence and a failed era of passive welfare will be unveiled today, as part of a new government alliance with the region’s indigenous leaders.
The sweeping reform package will include trials of a new cashless welfare card that will stop government payments being spent on alcohol and gambling, a revamped jobs program, resources for early childhood development, and a new $1.3 million support package for rehabilitation and detox services to help people move away from drug dependency.
In a radical new approach to the management of indigenous affairs, the government will also announce today that the East Kimberley leadership of northern WA will oversee the new reform agenda as part of a shift to the “Empowered Communities” model advocated by Cape York leader Noel Pearson.
As capacity is developed, the government will delegate more power to Aboriginal leaders to shape government policy on the ground and determine where resources are allocated.
After months of intense consultations, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister Alan Tudge and community leaders from Wyndham and Kununurra have agreed to push ahead with the so-called Healthy Welfare Card first advocated by Andrew Forrest in his review of the welfare system last year. The region is the second test site for the card, joining Ceduna on South Australia’s west coast in 12-month trials to start early next year.
Under the new approach, 80 per cent of a person’s government payment is quarantined to a bank card that cannot be used to buy alcohol and gambling products, or converted to cash. The remaining 20 per cent can be accessible as cash.
Both indigenous and non-indigenous welfare recipients will receive the debit card and aged pensioners and workers may volunteer to opt in.
About 1400 people are expected to be covered under the trial in the region, but Halls Creek will initially be excluded because of some resistance among the community.
The card differs from the Basics Card allocated in the Northern Territory in that it operates like a normal Visa debit card and cannot be differentiated from the card of someone who is not on welfare. The region has a high rate of alcohol-fuelled family violence, with hospitalisation rates for assault 68 times the national average.
Mr Tudge, who has secured the support of Labor for the trials in up to three sites across Australia, said the government wanted to support local leaders taking responsibility for the health of their communities.
He has also flagged that the shake-up of welfare delivery in the east Kimberley could serve as a model for other indigenous regions to follow.
“When community leaders stand up and call for reform, governments should listen. This is exactly what we have done,” Mr Tudge told The Australian.
Under the Empowered Communities system of indigenous management top-down government intervention and passive welfare delivery is replaced with indigenous leaders taking responsibility for their own affairs.