Say YES to cultural leadership in Cape York

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We are mothers, grandmothers, structural and cultural leaders who care deeply and passionately about our people and the lives of our children.

We are women of Cape York communities who have dedicated the last ten years to innovating and implementing reform and we are making a difference.

The Queensland government is overriding our successful grassroots cultural leadership and abandoning our Indigenous led Family Responsibilities Commission.

Saying YES to cultural leadership and you will help to change the future for our children. 

Help save our Family Responsibilities Commission

Our journey

Ten years ago our local leaders of Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge went to Queensland and Commonwealth governments with a reform agenda, a plan that would help our people to take responsibility for their families.

Despite good intentions, government efforts to Close the Gap on Indigenous disparity had not worked. The general inability of our welfare system to mobilise individuals and families to break the cycle is unacceptable, in both human and financial terms. Governments themselves know this and have recently been working to ‘refresh’ Closing the Gap.

At the core of our reforms was the establishment of the Family Responsibilities Commission (FRC), legislated by Premier Anna Bligh in 2008 and supported by the Commonwealth. Local cultural leaders were provided powers to help community members meet their family obligations.

This reform has changed lives and saved lives.

Together with a suite of CYWR reform initiatives, the FRC represents Australia’s most effective, comprehensive, joined-up effort to tackle entrenched disadvantage, based on the principle of rebuilding and empowering local Indigenous agency and authority to support Cape York families to take control of their lives and build their future.

Our cultural solution works

The FRC provides a unique bridge connecting the State service support system and the Commonwealth income support system, which usually operate in isolation from each other. The FRC establishes a connection through complementary state and Commonwealth laws, and coordinates the service system and the income support system to provide maximum support to disadvantaged families.

In a recent review in to the FRC and Cape York Income Management (CYIM)—the Strategic Evaluation of Cape York Income Management, conducted by Queensland University of Technology, commissioned by the Department of Social Security—provides evidence for building upon the progress of the past decade.

Report author Professor John Scott said the Cape York Income Management was unique. “It is delivered by local Commissioners from the Family Responsibilities Commission (FRC), a factor that sets it apart from other income management programs in Australia.”

He said the delivery is more culturally appropriate and we found evidence it can promote the restoration and rebuilding of Indigenous authority and is uniquely matched to the individual circumstances of the FRC clients

A reduction in harmful alcohol consumption, drugs, violence and crime are among outcomes of 10 years of the Cape York Income Management program, a strategic review of the program by QUT School of Justice has found.

Professor Scott also noted that the CYIM model had inbuilt flexibility which allowed it to be tailored for each person.

Prof Scott found that as well as reduced alcohol and drug use, children’s school attendance and overall health and well-being had improved.

The Evidence

The report showed that community members felt more empowered to make positive changes in their own lives and act as role models for their families. 

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There have now been three independent evaluative exercises with a focus on the FRC since its establishment. The conclusions in each have been very promising.

See the 2012 CYWR Evaluation and the KPMG Implementation Evaluation

The 2013 evaluation provides linked data analysis showing the FRC’s conferencing interventions of clients are followed by an increase in school attendance of the children of those conferenced in the period after. This type of linked data analysis sheds light on the mechanics of change at the individual and family level. The FRC is a restorative justice model that works.

Similarly, the 2018 review shows FRC intervention extends the time between breach notifications for individuals notified to the FRC.

An Indigenous design

The reforms were co-designed on-the-ground over more than 18 months of intensive engagement. The level of local leadership support and involvement in both the design and implementation of the reforms is a stand out in Indigenous affairs.

A clear message from the ground from those who engaged in the 2018 Queensland Government led consultation process on CYWR was overwhelmingly support for continuation of community-controlled welfare reform. Cape York communities do not want government deciding their futures for them.

Conditional and voluntary income management have proven to be highly effective tool used by the FRC to ensure that quarantined income is used to meet basic household needs.

The problem

The Federal government supports ongoing broadening and renewal of our FRC model. The Queensland government is walking away from our community led approach in 2019 and replacing it with an unknown, undescribed government system.

We need the Queensland Government and Minister Jackie Trad to have faith in our capacity as Indigenous people, as Indigenous women who understand what will work and make the changes needed amongst sour families.

Who are we?

We are the best chance for change. We are local Cape York women who unflinching in our dedication to our communities and uplifting our people to enjoy a better life.  Our children drive us to ensure they live happy and fulfilling lives with purpose.

Doreen Hart, Hope Vale Commissioner

“The FRC was set up to give our families options, options to change their lives, options to have support to be able to change their lives, for the first time community people at the grassroot level lead the change, we had legislation to back us. We created an environment, a safe environment for our communities and our future generations, it is important; it is very important to understand that we need to lead the change ourselves in our communities. Our communities, there are complexities within our communities that only the people from that community understand.  

I’ve been with the FRC for ten years, I was one of the original commissioners … and we have provided the tough love, it is very hard because we deal with our own families. It is really hard. We have changed the social fabric within our communities by the work we have done; we have lifted the moral standards and we will continue to do it.”  

Keri Tamwoy, Aurukun Commissioner

“If the Family Responsibilities Commission discontinues our communities will suffer. Our communities. Children will suffer. Grandparents will suffer. Families will suffer. We have had enough of things being done to us. It is time for our voice to be heard…There is no quick fix or overnight remedy for all the social and emotional and not to mention the economic breakdown that we see on a daily basis in our community, in our communities. Good things take time… Take away the FRC and you knock down the strong pillars of the community.

 Vera Koomeeta, Aurukun Commissioner

“With the income management, people used to go against us, our clients, the community. We explain to these people, to our clients, to our community members, income manage is there to help you with your budgeting, financially to put food on the table for your children. Then we tell them send your children to school, you won’t be on income manage, come to our conferences, you won’t be income managed. FRC is not another magistrate or another court that you come to. We call you because we need to sit down and talk about your issues and how we can deal with these issues and people started to understanding the program… It’s not all about punishing people. We are directing people to live the right way as any Australian would live in mainstream.

We are the pillars of our community. If the Family Responsibility be removed from our communities, from our four communities who’ve been there for 10 years, I think we’ll collapse. We will go back to those days where we used to be and that will never stop. Implementing another program, project, whatever you call it, will also take away our pride, what we have done and achieved through the FRC. The emblem that we wear on our t-shirts is representing our community. Community is a family and responsibility is ours for the community not for anybody else to make decisions for us..”

Maureen Liddy, Coen Commissioner

“The FRC something that so very, very important to have. If it stops, I have no idea of where it will go.  The support is always going to be there.  We sit beside our clients, we walk with our clients, we mentor our clients, we do a lot of training with our clients. Bring in the training as well to keep our communities strong.”

 Ada Woolla, Aurukun Commissioner

“When Welfare Reform came in in 2008, it changed everyone’s life and to see what Family Responsibilities Commission had done to-date, still today, is very helpful to see our young ones going to school. Before 2008, we had kids who had never went to boarding school…

take Welfare Reform away from our community, all our communities will go backwards. We will all fail. We want to drive this Family Responsible ourself in our community because we are the grassroot people. We are the ones who should be making decisions for our community not anybody else.”

The clock is ticking

Given that in Queensland soon, 50% of children in out of home care will be Indigenous, the further need for policy innovation like the FRC to effectively and fairly coordinate the Commonwealth’s provision of income support, together with the state’s provision of social support services—to provide maximum opportunity for disadvantaged families to break the cycle—is very large indeed.

Say YES to cultural leadership and save our Family Responsibilities Commission