Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has continued to criticise the Queensland government two weeks after it abruptly announced it will cease support for Noel Pearson’s welfare programs.
The Cape York Welfare Reform Trial and the Family Responsibilities Commission has been in force for 10 years in five remote Aboriginal communities - Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale, Mossman Gorge and Doomadgee.
Welfare recipients who do not send their children to school, fail to uphold their tenancy responsibilities or break the law can have their payments quarantined by being placed on the BasicsCard.
Mr Pearson, who believes welfare payments should require recipients to meet basic responsibilities, said the program was designed to “tackle poverty and enable families to break the cycle of disadvantage.”
But Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad said the programs had “mixed success” and cited a productivity report when she announced it would be superseded by a new welfare model called Thriving Communities.
This has made the future of the Family Responsibilities Commission uncertain because the commissioners’ current terms end on December 31.
Mr Scullion, who previously described the programs as expensive but important, has accused the Queensland Labor government of attempting to impose a “Brisbane-centric agenda”.
“It appears they are totally against FRCs and seem hellbent on imposing their so-called Thriving Communities initiative which they developed without consultation with Cape York communities,” he told The Australian.
“We are committing to another three years’ funding, yet Queensland is only prepared to extend the FRC commissioners’ appointment and funding for another three months.”
An independent review made public last month by the Queensland University of Technology concluded that the initiative “addressed many of the issues it was designed to address”.
The 112-page strategic review found “good qualitative evidence” the programs “contributed to a reduction in alcohol, drugs, violence and crime”.
In an opinion piece, Ms Trad has cryptically suggested that the Queensland government may not entirely abandon the FRC.
“There is a clear place for the policy agenda advanced by Noel Pearson’s welfare reform trial and the Families Responsibilities Commission,” she wrote.
“While the federal government remains distracted by internal turbulence, we are committed to working with communities to give them the self-determination they need.”
Meanwhile, Indigenous landholders in Cape York have voiced widespread opposition to the Pama Futures proposal - a blueprint for moving beyond the "trial" of Mr Pearson's welfare programs.
Debbie Symonds, CEO of the Olkola Aboriginal Corporation, said it was only able to obtain details of the plan after submitting an access to information request.
“We are horrified to learn that the PAMA Futures Proposal will try to lock in long-term agreements for development and attempt to water down environmental protections across the region,” she said in a statement.
“We are particularly concerned that giving control of Indigenous Land use agreements to PAMA futures threatens to take away our right to self-determination.”