Indigenous welfare reform in the Northern Territory and Cape York: A comparative analysis

Aboriginal Australians Welfare reform Australia Northern Territory

Immediately following the June 2007 release of Pat Anderson and Rex Wild’s Little Children Are Sacred report into child abuse and neglect in Northern Territory Indigenous communities, the Howard Government declared a ‘national emergency’ in Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. This announcement subsequently brought about the most radical legislative and policy shifts seen in the past 30 years in Indigenous affairs. Among the many changes was the introduction of an income management regime for residents living in Northern Territory communities that were deemed ‘prescribed’ - or controlled - by the Federal Government. While the Rudd Government achieved power at the November 2007 election, bringing about some fundamental changes to the initial Northern Territory Emergency Response laws, the most enduring part of the legislation is the progression of welfare reform for Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

This paper examines those welfare changes and the potential outcomes of legislation targeted at one section of Australian society, in one jurisdiction. The paper also examines the Queensland Government’s recently passed Cape York trial legislation, which, for a four year trial period, similarly targets perceived social dysfunction in four Cape York communities. Principally, both the Cape York welfare reform trial and the Northern Territory intervention assume a link between social dysfunction, child neglect and substance misuse on the one hand and ‘passive’ welfare on the other. Both reforms aim to make welfare conditional upon responsible behaviour which includes ensuring that children are enrolled for, and attending school. The welfare reforms also target substance misuse by limiting income available for expenditure on alcohol. Further, both reforms aim to restructure labour market activity in remote communities by changing the rules for the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme, Work for the Dole and other labour market programs.


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