In early 2006 the Australian Government agreed to fund the development phase of the Cape York Welfare Reform (CYWR) trial proposed by the Cape York Institute. The Queensland Government also agreed to participate in the development and provided in-kind support and assistance throughout the development period.
The Institute subsequently released a design report titled ‘From Hand Out To Hand Up’ in May 2007 and a final report with the same title in November 2007. The report outlined the Institute’s proposal for the CYWR trial to be implemented in the communities of Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge. The objectives of the CYWR trial were to restore social norms and local Indigenous authority. The trial aimed to initiate and support a positive change in social norms and community behaviours in response to chronic levels of passive welfare, social dysfunction and economic exclusion within these communities.
In December 2007, the Queensland Government agreed to contribute $40 million and the Australian Government $48 million to finance the implementation of the CYWR trial over four years.
The reforms are designed with a strong emphasis on partnership, capacity building, respect and use of local authority. Emphasis is also placed on the enhancement of services and appropriate service delivery mechanisms. A range of policy, program and service delivery reforms and practical on-the-ground initiatives have been implemented to help reduce welfare dependency, promote social responsibility, provide pathways to participation in the real economy, improve school attendance and enhance educational opportunities. These include:
The reforms are designed to initiate early intervention in order to address issues and behaviours before they escalate. A key feature of the CYWR trial was the creation of the Family Responsibilities Commission as an independent statutory authority. The Commission is regarded as a critical mechanism to facilitate the rebuilding of intra-community social norms and to encourage behavioural change through attaching reciprocity and communal obligations to welfare and other government payments. The intention of the reforms and of this Commission is to enhance and complement the existing responsibilities of Queensland and Australian Government agencies, service delivery and community organisations.
This philosophy is grounded in the Institute’s view that historically policies have created a passive welfare environment in Indigenous communities which resulted in a retraction of positive social norms, and fostered the displacement of Indigenous responsibility. People in receipt of welfare payments, or who are participating in community employment programs, not only have an obligation to their community not to behave in ways which are detrimental but must reciprocate with economic engagement and actively support their community.
On 7 August 2014 Doomadgee was prescribed by regulation as a welfare reform community area. The decision to add Doomadgee by regulation was made following an extensive eight-month consultation process. The outcome of consultations was an overwhelming level of support and recognition that the Commission was needed in Doomadgee to address child safety concerns and high levels of school absenteeism.
Indigenous and non-Indigenous people living in the welfare reform communities receiving welfare payments are subject to the Commission’s jurisdiction. Jurisdiction may continue if the individual relocates from the community in certain circumstances.