MP calls for cuts to Aboriginal welfare

John Bowler, MP
John Bowler, MP

Independent Kalgoorlie MP John Bowler has raised the prospect of withdrawing benefits to Aboriginals as the State Government admits it has no idea how to close the growing divide between WA’s indigenous and non-indigenous communities.

Mr Bowler, whose electorate takes in Kalgoorlie-Boulder and Laverton, said years of indigenous policies had clearly failed and the Government needed to look at a “tough love” approach.

“I don’t know if that’s the answer – it may make it worse,” he said. “But what’s happening now isn’t working.”

Mr Bowler’s controversial comments fly in the face of established tradition on Aboriginal affairs and suggest a radical rewriting of indigenous policy to cut welfare and make payments conditional on work in a bid to re-energise an Aboriginal population crippled by alcoholism and despair.

It comes after Regional Development Minister Brendon Grylls said that despite money being pumped into the growing crisis, the Aboriginal situation – including alcoholism, violence and sexual abuse – was worse than ever.

Mr Bowler said Aboriginal communities had fallen into a cycle of dependency which needed to be broken if there was any hope of improvement. “There is no incentive to work,” he said.

Mr Bowler said the indigenous crisis was getting worse at a time the State was going through a boom and there was unprecedented demand for semi-skilled and non-skilled labour.

“What’s going to happen when we eventually have our cyclical turn? What happens then,” he said.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Peter Collier said he understood the approach but it had to be looked at cautiously.

“There is an appetite across the community and in a number of quarters for that sort of punitive action,” he said.

“But you’ve got to be careful that if you do do that, you’re not throwing the baby out with bathwater because what that does is create a multitude of social issues that evolve as a result of that.

“In some instances some Aboriginal people in the community will respond accordingly, but you’ve just got to be careful that you’re not creating a rod for your own back and causing a further cycle of despair, particularly in communities that don’t have access to other forms of revenue or other support material.”

Child Protection Minister Robyn McSweeney said she supported income management. She said voluntary and forced income-management was operating in the Kimberley and parts of Perth and was tied to the welfare of a person’s children. Ms McSweeney said she would like to see it expanded to Kalgoorlie and the Murchison.

~ Steve Pennells, The West Australian, 11 June 2011

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