• Pat O'Shane has been critical of Cape York's income management strategies, likening them to the Northern Territory intervention. (AAP)Source: AAP
Pat O'Shane says Noel Pearson won't be dictating her new role as head of the Family Responsibilities Commission (FRC) - a key body in the Cape York Welfare Reform program.
Ella Archibald-Binge

24 Jun 2019 - 4:03 PM  UPDATED 24 Jun 2019 - 4:03 PM

Former New South Wales magistrate Pat O'Shane says she won't be shy about making "fundamental change" when she takes up a new role overseeing a key element of the Cape York Welfare Reform scheme. 

The ABC reports Ms O'Shane has been appointed head of the Family Responsibilities Commission (FRC) - a statutory authority that empowers locally-elected Indigenous elders to place welfare recipients on the BasicsCard if they don't send their children to school, fail to uphold tenancy responsibilities or break the law.

The program is jointly managed by Noel Pearson's Cape York Institute in collaboration with the state and federal government. 

Despite her fierce criticism of the income management scheme, the 78-year-old says she has "no intention" of entering into a battle with Mr Pearson. 

"I’m not going to tolerate him trying to tell me how to do my job," she told ABC radio.

"The Queensland Government actually invited me into this position and they must have done that for a reason."

The income management scheme currently operates in Aurukun, Coen, Hopevale, Mossman Gorge and Doomadgee, with plans to expand to more Far North Queensland communities.

Ms O'Shane has slammed the program, describing it as "almost identical" to the Commonwealth intervention in the Northern Territory.

"I’ve heard many complaints about that system," she said.

"To inflict or impose a monetary penalty on people who are impoverished and who already have very limited income is an extreme punishment indeed."

Her comments have caused a stir amongst local Family Responsibility Commissioners in Cape York, who fear the dismantling of the system could send communities backwards.

In a letter to the Queensland Government, commissioners in Doomadgee and Mossman Gorge have rejected Ms O'Shane's comparisons with the NT intervention as "totally false". 

"The interview shows that Ms O'Shane has no understanding of our work and is biased against it," the letter reads.

"If Ms O'Shane has not yet been appointed, her interview this morning clearly demonstrates that she should not be."

Ms O'Shane admitted she hadn't met any local commissioners, but said she would soon tour the communities to hear from them directly. 

"I won’t be imposing my ideas on them, I will be asking them what changes they would like to see and in particular how they can change their roles to affect greater, better, more satisfactory outcomes," she said. 

The ABC reports Ms O'Shane will begin her six-month contract next Monday, but the state government is yet to confirm her appointment. 

The future of the Cape York Welfare Reform program remains uncertain. 

The federal government has offered to fund the program for three years, but the Queensland government has only committed funding for one year as it moves to remodel the scheme as part of its Thriving Communities plan. 

NITV News has sought comment from the Cape York Institute and the Queensland Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, Jackie Trad.

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