Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Ken Henry on aboriginal welfare: "We must deal honestly and analytically with the underlying causes"

Another excellent speech from the head of Australia's Treasury.

It is not the first time Ken Henry has tackeled aboriginal issues.

The head of the Treasury has entered the debate over aboriginal welfare, claiming that Australia’s social security system has helped consign aboriginals to economic and social exclusion.

Delivering a speech to the Cape York Institute in Cairns at the invitation of aboriginal leader Noel Pearson Dr Ken Henry said that he was aware that his statements were controversial, but that “we will never make progress – in any area of policy – unless we are prepared to deal honestly and analytically with the underlying causes of the problems we face”...

“Indigenous welfare has been provided passively. It has encouraged a state of dependency. And that dependency has contributed to the undermining of Indigenous development,” the Treasury Secretary said.

“Governments have allowed many income recipients to receive support without being required to seek work. For instance, in the past, many Indigenous Australians were granted Remote Area Exemptions, people with disabilities could avoid work obligations unless they were assessed as being able to work for 30 hours a week at award wages for two years, and parents didn’t have to seek work until their youngest child was aged 16.”

“Governments that designed these policies were no doubt
motivated by compassion. In practice, they were consigning many Australians to a life of economic and social exclusion. And there is increasing evidence of these impacts affecting successive generations in some families.”

Dr Henry spoke of the need for a changed set of incentives where aboriginal parents were rewarded for ensuring that their children stayed at school. For its part the government had to provide good education and health care and do what it could to provide good jobs.

But in communities without jobs, indigenous Australians needed to be encouraged to move, at least temporarily.

“I know this is controversial, but it can’t be ignored. Where remote locations simply cannot produce sufficient job opportunities for local people, there is no point in relying on miracles. A better strategy is to ensure that people have the opportunity to move to take up work if that is what they want to do.”

The Treasury secretary said a sensible model would be for indigenous people in remote locations to spend part of the year earning income in other places, returning to live part of the year on their country.