The Cape York Welfare Reform Project aims to develop reformed incentives and appropriate enabling supports at the community level which catalyse the restoration of social norms in the Welfare Reform communities and ultimately in the whole Cape York region. The future that the Institute envisages is one in which the people of Cape York Peninsula internalise a set of revitalised social norms, which mandate personal responsibility for work, education and the welfare of children, so that they become free from dependence on passive welfare and so that child neglect and abuse cease.
If the policies recommended by the Institute in this report are supported, then a trial should proceed in the four communities. The objective of the trial should be to test the policy principles described in this report. If the trial is successful, the policy principles may be used to inform policy across Cape York Peninsula and potentially in other regions.
The starting point of the Cape York reform agenda is that the problems of Cape York Peninsula are interpreted not only as symptoms of dispossession and racism, but to a large extent are caused by a social norms deficit. It is significant that the deterioration of norms in Cape York Peninsula corresponds with the passive welfare era.
The core of the Cape York social and historical analysis is the contention that a distinction must be made between historical explanation and policy prescription in the light of such explanation. Historical explanation does not by itself confer or suggest a solution. Epidemics of dysfunction and abuse that have historical roots may have become autocatalytic phenomena. Therefore, they probably cannot be effectively addressed through attempts to ameliorate the circumstances that originally triggered their outbreak. In fact, deeply engrained social problems may frustrate conventional programs for social and economic development.
The core principles of Cape York welfare reform therefore seek to deal with dysfunction and poverty as behaviours. The three basic policies are:
• All welfare should be conditional.
• Further government investment in capability building is needed.
• Incentives need to be fundamentally changed to encourage people to engage in the real economy.