The Cape Experiment


2007 July, 16

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: Well, ladies and gentleman, Mr Brough and I have called this news conference to announce a number of major measures to deal with what we can only describe as a national emergency in relation to the abuse of children in Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: The Government's intervention in Indigenous affairs surprised many but it had been in planning for many months. Tonight, an exclusive report on the origins and prospects of the national emergency plan. 

NOEL PEARSON, DIRECTOR, CAPE YORK INSTITUTE: In France, in Britain, in America, in New Zealand, everybody is moving from hand-outs to a helping hand up. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: For the last nine months Noel Pearson has been leading a revolutionary welfare reform program in the Cape York Peninsula. "Four Corners" has had unique access to track the progress of the Cape experiment. (On screen text: "The Cape Experiment", "Reporter/Camera: Matthew Carney") 

MATTHEW CARNEY: It's October last year. A trial project to rehabilitate the communities of Coen, Aurukun, Mossman Gorge and Hope Vale has begun. Noel Pearson tours Cape York to sell the project known as welfare reform. For Pearson it's the last chance to save his people from addiction and abuse. 

NOEL PEARSON, DIRECTOR, CAPE YORK INSTITUTE: If we don't get Aboriginal families reconstructed I think that we'll be kind of a crippled people really, a permanently crippled people. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Two months later and Pearson gathers the team that will run the trial and reveals the enormity of the task ahead.

NOEL PEARSON, DIRECTOR, CAPE YORK INSTITUTE (at meeting): I think we're waking up to these problems too late to is one of the things that I'm despondent about. The problems are so entrenched and so on that, and so deeply engrained that we have a huge challenge trying to get out of the hole that we're in. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: The aim of welfare reform is to move people into employment and education and ultimately to start rebuilding the rules and responsibilities that have been destroyed in Aboriginal communities. The most controversial aspect of the plan will be to take welfare payments from parents who behave badly. 

NOEL PEARSON, DIRECTOR, CAPE YORK INSTITUTE (at meeting, referring to presentation): So for us to shift from this position to this we'll be going against the whole current of the way welfare is delivered in Australia. Any reactions or thoughts? 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Under the proposal, if a parent is drinking or gambling and neglecting their children then a families commission made up of two respected elders and a retired magistrate will have the power to re-direct welfare payments. 

NOEL PEARSON, DIRECTOR, CAPE YORK INSTITUTE (at meeting, referring to presentation): Re-direct the money to another family member who's more responsible, maybe send them into income management on a voluntary basis, but then depends on what happens when they don't take up the opportunity to do it voluntarily, and then the fourth option is some kind of compulsory income management. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Two person teams have been placed in each of the four communities. The first phase of the trial is to get to know the people and then do detailed interviews with every household to identify the dysfunctions. The idea is to get the communities to own and take responsibility for their problems. 

WILLY NEWMAN, PROJECT SUPPORT OFFICER (at meeting): The big ones are school attendance, alcohol, gambling, housing, children, sniffing in two places and drugs, and not in that order, but with school attendance and alcohol at the top. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Five hours drive North of Cairns is Noel Pearson's hometown of Hope Vale. It looks like a lush paradise, but it's not. It was established by Lutheran missionaries as a self sufficient community with local cattle stations providing employment. Today Hope Vale has a population of about 1200 and the principle income is welfare. The worst part of town is called "Little Harlem" by local police. It's welfare payday - Wednesday - and the money for booze and drugs is flowing. Households of 15 people can bring in welfare payments of $5000 a fortnight. And with the flexibility of Centrelink payments across the week, the parties and dysfunction can rage for days. It's a cycle that's been going on for years. Raymond Coleman is about to start his third night of hard drinking. 

MATTHEW CARNEY (to Raymond Coleman): Do you think its affecting you health? 

RAY COLEMAN, HOPE VALE RESIDENT: Well I think it has now because I'm not like I was back in 10 year ago, you know?

MATTHEW CARNEY (to Raymond Coleman): How old are you? 

RAY COLEMAN, HOPE VALE RESIDENT: Oh I'm about nearly 40 now. 

MATTHEW CARNEY (to Raymond Coleman): Have you seen many of your friends die from alcohol? 

RAY COLEMAN, HOPE VALE RESIDENT: Yeah, a lot of my friends died. A lot of them died. A lot of my mates died. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: It's here where the enormity of the welfare reform challenge can be seen. Coleman knows that things have to change so the next generation can survive. 

RAY COLEMAN, HOPE VALE RESIDENT: Yeah, well, let me put that in perspective. You talking about blackfellas, Aboriginals. This is a dying race, the colour of my skin, it is a dying race. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: The next day and for several more, the party will go on at Coleman's house and many others in Hope Vale. Hope Vale has restrictions on the amount of alcohol that can be brought into the community but it's not working here. 

When the welfare money hits town school attendance drops as kids are left to look after themselves. Many roam the streets at night to escape the chaos of the parties or just to be with their mates. 

MATTHEW CARNEY (to children on the street): Do you think there's too much drinking in town? 


MATTHEW CARNEY (to children on the street): And what problems does it cause? 

YOUNG MALE: Fights. 

MATTHEW CARNEY (to children on the street): Fights? 

YOUNG MALE: Yeah, a lot of. 

MATTHEW CARNEY (to children on the street): Lot of fights? 


MATTHEW CARNEY (to children on the street): And what time will you stay out 'til? 

YOUNG MALE #2: I don't know, maybe 11 or 12. 

MATTHEW CARNEY (to children on the street): And then you'll sort of get the school bus tomorrow? 

YOUNG MALE #2: Yeah but sometimes I miss it though. 

MATTHEW CARNEY (to children on the street): Sometimes you miss the school bus? 

YOUNG MALE: He sleeps in too much. 

MATTHEW CARNEY (to children on the street): You sleep in? 

YOUNG MALE #2: Yeah. 

MATTHEW CARNEY (to children on the street): Yeah? 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Child neglect and abuse are rampant in Hope Vale. In just one six week period 26 children were removed from dysfunctional homes by government agencies.

Noel Pearson has called his hometown a "hellhole" and a "warzone". For 20 years he's witnessed welfare erode the spirit of the people. 

NOEL PEARSON, DIRECTOR, CAPE YORK INSTITUTE: Once we get back to that sense where we understand that the best protectors, the best solution finders, the best saviours for each of our problems and so on is ourselves, is the - and yes we need support, we need a hand up, we need opportunity - but if we don't understand that the first people to take responsibility must be ourselves, you can chuck all the opportunity you like at us and we'll squander that. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Estelle Bowen helps run youth programs in the town and lives in this threebedroom house. 

MATTHEW CARNEY (to Estelle Bowen): So this is your house? 

ESTELLE BOWEN: This is my house. 

MATTHEW CARNEY (to Estelle Bowen): How many people are living here at the moment? 


MATTHEW CARNEY (to Estelle Bowen): About 15. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Like other Aboriginal communities there is a chronic shortage of houses here. 

ESTELLE BOWEN: I'll show you out here then. This is where my other daughter Charmaine has to stay and you can see this is one room for 11 and a 12-year-old and the poor girl can't even have it tidy. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Estelle is married to Des Bowen, a councillor in Hope Vale. They're bringing up six of their grandchildren and that's typical too. Many parents are incapacitated by drugs and alcohol, but in the Bowen's case its different. Two of their children committed suicide. 

Before they're daughter Coralline killed herself, she wrote this plea for help. 

ESTELLE BOWEN (reading): My cousin hung himself at the age of 18. Two years later I lost another cousin at the age of 16, again alcohol, drugs, boredom, loneliness, sense (inaudible) direction, low esteem. Today we will bury my 15-year-old niece. She hung herself ... 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Coralline left behind two children, as did their only son Des junior. 

If welfare reform can bring change then the Bowens are interested. 

It's now March, three months later, and Noel Pearson's welfare reform team in Hope Vale has completed their interviews to identify the community's problems. 

DAVID MCILWRAITH, COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT OFFICER, HOPE VALE (to Aboriginal woman in office): If we end up with probably 140 interviews of the community then that should be a fairly good cross-section of what people are feeling and a sort of idea of how the community is I guess isn't it, in terms of what we're supposed to do. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Now they can move onto their first major town meeting know as the community engagement forum. It's a crucial process where the findings are presented to the community and solutions are discussed. 

The forum is about to start but already things aren't looking good 

DAVID MCILWRAITH, COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT OFFICER, HOPE VALE (on the phone): June's not there, Shirley's there, Shirley will be the only one. I can't get a hold of Paul, Derrick.

Probably only a handful of people will turn up, who knows? Yeah, alright. So you want us to definitely go ahead? 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Worse still the Mayor Greg McLean won't be coming. He's in Cairns at another Cape York Institute meeting. 

DAVID MCILWRAITH, COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT OFFICER, HOPE VALE (hanging up the phone, speaking to Aboriginal woman in office): He didn't tell me that yesterday, but anyway. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: David McIlwraith is determined that the forum goes ahead. 

DAVID MCILWRAITH, COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT OFFICER, HOPE VALE: If we just go through that formal process that's all we need to do. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Shirley Costello is the only one of the seven Hope Vale Councillors to show up for the meeting. 

SHIRLEY COSTELLO, HOPE VALE COUNCILLOR: Well here is something very small that that we can't even coordinate together. We've got almost the same ideas happening in both Hope Vale and Cairns and yet we can't even get a meeting together with everyone on the ground. If we can't do that well then, we have to stop and think more seriously of how we are going to re-direct the future. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: It looks like no-one else is going to show up. 

But an hour later Des and Estelle Bowen arrive. They're joined by another councillor - the four others don't attend. 

People from an unrelated meeting next door are brought in to boost the numbers. McIlwraith starts his presentation. 

DAVID MCILWRAITH, COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT OFFICER, HOPE VALE (giving presentation at meeting): And so during the welfare era, which we say is finished here in Hope Vale, if people choose it to be. And at the same time as the welfare era you have the dependency on grog, dependency on alcohol and drugs. And during this era, you know, people become passive. If you know what passive means, it's people don't care anymore. 

NOEL PEARSON, DIRECTOR, CAPE YORK INSTITUTE: Well you know, they just, people are, have become very numb with all the different programs and solutions and plans and you know, initiatives. You know people have seen these things come and go and so on you know. So there's a great deal of just fatigue in terms of the plan - plan fatigue is a big issue, you know? 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Des Bowen came away from the meeting confused about welfare reform. 

DES BOWEN, HOPE VALE COUNCILLOR: Well I haven't fully understand it so I don't expect the people in the street to understand it because they don't - they only hear bits and pieces of it and they're still trying to put the jigsaw together. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: To many here the term welfare reminds them of the old days when they were paid in rations and their children were taken from them. 

DES BOWEN, HOPE VALE COUNCILLOR: A lot of people are suspicious of this welfare reform because just the word itself, "welfare", makes people suspicious. They're thinking it's going to take the rights away from them and all that sort of thing. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: With suspicion and fear growing in the community, this delegation of men approached us to express their views.

FRANKIE DEEMAL, HOPE VALE TRADITIONAL OWNER: Welfare Reform is a very, very hard topic for people to not only comprehend but grasp, because many of the followers you see with me today, they don't need welfare reform, they are people who are very responsible, they have bills which they pay, they have children and grandchildren who they feed with their money, they are people who don't drink all their money, or drug it or whatever. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: The message that there's nothing to fear is not getting through. Most want Noel Pearson to come back and clarify the situation. 

Tim McGreen and Clarence Bowen are traditional owners of Hope Vale and they say they haven't been consulted about the process. 

CLARENCE BOWEN, HOPE VALE TRADITIONAL OWNER: My whole feeling is no one's going to come from outside and tell me how to spend my dollar. You know I worked hard, drank hard and I still supported my family. That's my whole feeling about the whole issue anyway. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Back at the Cape York Institute in Cairns the news from the most remote community in the trial, Aurukun, is not good. The welfare reform workers have been pulled out due to safety concerns. A major riot in the town has shaken their faith. 

PHILIP MARTIN, COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT OFFICER, AURUKUN: I do believe in the vision, I believe that there's profound problems in implementation of that vision and, you know, the gaps between radical policy change and people who live through those radical policy change are vast and I think policy makers often forget that. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: The other community "Four Corners" has been following is Mossman Gorge. It's an hour's drive north of Cairns with a population of just 170. 

The community sits right next to one of the most popular tourist destinations in the far north. Each year about 600,000 people come to the National Park to swim in the river and walk in the rainforest. 

Mossman Gorge has a young and united council and they're firmly behind welfare reform. 

ANDREW GIBSON, SECRETARY, MOSSMAN GORGE BAMANGA BUBU NGADINUNKU INC (speaking at meeting): We have to wake up to our responsibilities too as well. Children see these things in our community and they grow up to do these things as well, drugs, alcohol, everything, gambling, and do the same things. So this has been sort of a new thing and it's going I suppose open up to a new chapter to all this stuff here that's going to happen and it's really good being open. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Here they're further down the reform track than Hope Vale. They've already held a successful community engagement forum. 

MATHEW GIBSON, CHAIRPERSON OF MOSSMAN GORGE BAMANGA BUBU NGADINUNKU INC: Alcohol's the main problem, that's top of the list because when you get alcohol, right, and then you go through all this other stuff here, like child protection, school attendance, housing, now gambling. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: The 10 councillors know things have to change. But to achieve it they'll have to battle their own community. 

MATHEW GIBSON, CHAIRPERSON OF MOSSMAN GORGE BAMANGA BUBU NGADINUNKU INC: We have to start putting obligations, rules, yeah, in place in order to see a change here, you know. If we're going to give you this money. That's what the Government should be saying. If we're going to give you this money then your kid's got to go to school with lunch, a uniform. ROY GIBSON, KUKU-YALANJI DREAMTIME TOURS (speaking to tourists on a guided walk): Okay folks, yous all ready now? In we go ...

MATTHEW CARNEY: There's another advantage in Mossman Gorge 

ROY GIBSON, KUKU-YALANJI DREAMTIME TOURS (speaking to tourists on a guided walk): This is where I come from, this little world of mine here. This is where I born and bred, down at the hospital down here. And this is where I love my country, in here. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: There are now plans to expand this tourism venture into an $11 million project creating 60 jobs for the community. The development will be central to the welfare reform process. 

ROY GIBSON, KUKU-YALANJI DREAMTIME TOURS: So this tree is for initiation for young boy to be men. They stay here for one week as they get initiation, initiated here by an elder and actually he'll have to stay here for about a week and then go back to the tribe later on until he learn about the forest properly. So this is why this tree is so important to our tribe here still to this day. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: But the welfare reform team in Mossman Gorge faces a massive job to get this community work ready. 

Out of the 17 houses here only three are alcohol free. Like Hope Vale the parties rage from Wednesday to Sunday. 

Part of the challenge is to make sure the children get to school. Only four people in the community have finished high school. 

DONNA HENNING, COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT OFFICER, MOSSMAN GORGE: The children need to attend school because they're our future, they're our future to run the new, to be part of the business. And one of the saddest things with Mossman Gorge is literacy and numeracy is really low here. 

MATTHEW CARNEY (to Donna Henning): How low? 

DONNA HENNING, COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT OFFICER, MOSSMAN GORGE: Very low. That our children by the time they get to grade eight they can barely really read and write. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Another reform priority is financial literacy. Family Income Management or FIM is one way the welfare reform agenda is being delivered. The workers here take control of family incomes and divide welfare payments into different accounts to make sure there's enough money for food, rent and children's education. 

ROBERTA HENNING, FIM OFFICER, MOSSMAN GORGE (to client): So lets say if Uncle Raymond wants to pay Sugarland Meats to get meat. What we do is we transfer money into Sugarland Meat's account and we print off a receipt so that we pay it into the account and we fax it to Aaron and he'll arrange on that same day. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: The program is voluntary but Roberta Henning say it's the best way to get the community to change. 

ROBERTA HENNING, FIM OFFICER, MOSSMAN GORGE: If they put it into FIM they'll have money there for their kids for school, formula, so it's a good thing. 

MATTHEW CARNEY (to Roberta Henning): So otherwise what? The mothers would be drinking a bit or gambling? 


MATTHEW CARNEY: Henning's latest recruits to FIM are Vanessa Carmen, Lawrence Gibson and their Aunt Judy.

ROBERTA HENNING, FIM OFFICER, MOSSMAN GORGE (speaking to Vanessa Carmen, Lawrence Gibson and Aunt Judy): I want to come and see if you're interested joining our FIM program. In our FIM program we try to get everyone in your house to help pay for the bills and everyone to pay for rent. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Twelve people live in this three-bedroom house but these three say they pay for all the expenses. 

Vanessa Carmen is joining FIM so she can protect her income and spend it on her three children. 

VANESSA CARMEN: When I get paid people come up to me and say, "Can I get some money off you?" Or, "Can you shout me this and that grog? I want a cask or a six pack of rum," or, you know. 

MATTHEW CARNEY (to Vanessa Carmen): If you don't give them money what do they do? 

VANESSA CARMEN: They just still keep on asking and asking all the time. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Carmen and her family live in just one bedroom here, but it's a real struggle for them to live normally when there is so much chaos around them. 

VANESSA CARMEN: I can cook for the whole lot of us but it's hard to sleep and when you get up in the morning you got to rush around for my oldest daughter to go to school early in the morning and to clean up. It's hard for me to clean up in the morning with people still laying around. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Mossman Gorge, like other communities in Cape York, has chronic health problems. Three-quarters of the residents here suffer from obesity, high blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes. 

The clinic here is open only two mornings a week. This man has just collapsed from renal failure. 

If residents want specialist treatment then they have to spend much of their week being ferried around to far off hospitals. 

It's the only way Aunt Judy can get dialysis. 

AUNT JUDY: I like to be in rainforest back where I grew up, in my young days. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: It's a month later, and Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough is on his way to Hope Vale. The Federal Government wants to be part of Pearson's plan. 

The minister goes straight to Noel Pearson's house near Hope Vale and overnight their plan is fixed. The Government is coming through with the cash to fund the construction of at least 30 new houses on freehold land that the council owns. 

Later with most of the Hope Vale Council present the plan is laid out for their approval. 

MAL BROUGH, INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS MINISTER (speaking at meeting): If there's a will to do so, then we can actually set a whole new agenda that the people of Hope Vale can have a part in driving their own future, owning their own homes, managing their own property, being in their own businesses. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: If the deal is accepted by the residents it will be the first agreement of its kind for any Aboriginal community. It will mean their tenancy can be converted to home ownership. 

But first they'll have to control their drinking, get the kids to school, and manage their income. 

MAL BROUGH, INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS MINISTER (speaking at meeting): You must be part of the FIM program, and if you want your house done up etc, so that we actually get some of that disposable income being used for what it's supposed to be, not what it's not supposed to be.

GREG MCLEAN, HOPE VALE MAYOR (showing Matthew Carney while driving): That's the property straight ahead, and it goes right up from our main roads ... 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Greg McLean the Mayor of Hope Vale and Noel Pearson will work overtime for three weeks to finalise the plan and sell it to the community. 

GREG MCLEAN, HOPE VALE MAYOR (speaking to Matthew Carney while driving): This is huge. This is exciting and this is an exciting time for me. It is one of the, it is something that I thought would not happen in Hope Vale, well not in my time as councillor. It will work. We're going to have some people who say: oh no, it's not going to work; it's going to be this way; it's going to be that way; only these people, this is only for them. This is for everybody. 

GREG MCLEAN, HOPE VALE MAYOR (at public meeting): Just want to introduce Mal, this is our work overseer, our work foreman ... 

MATTHEW CARNEY: At McLean's first public meeting to discuss the housing project Estelle Bowen is present. 

ESTELLE BOWEN: I hope it will continue. 

MATTHEW CARNEY (to Estelle Bowen): Do you think it will? 

ESTELLE BOWEN: It will, but we just got to get it happening in this 10 months. 

MATTHEW CARNEY (to Estelle Bowen): And it might solve some of your problems. 

ESTELLE BOWEN: Overcrowding with 20 staying in one house. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Pearson sees this progress as a major step towards welfare reform here. 

NOEL PEARSON, DIRECTOR, CAPE YORK INSTITUTE: For the first time people understood what we meant by welfare reform in that, you know, there's opportunity here and, you know, they understand that these opportunities come with responsibility, you know? 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Three weeks later, on the morning the housing agreement is to be signed there's a setback. The traditional owners of Hope Vale who approached us earlier with their concerns are now threatening to boycott the deal. 

CLARENCE BOWEN, HOPE VALE TRADITIONAL OWNER: They came through the back door without even consulting. 

MATTHEW CARNEY (to Clarence Bowen): Who came through the backdoor? 


MATTHEW CARNEY (to Clarence Bowen): So you were never consulted? 

CLARENCE BOWEN, HOPE VALE TRADITIONAL OWNER: We were never consulted that they were going to purchase this because there is a lot of sacred sites in that area. 

MATTHEW CARNEY (to Tim McGreen): So why have you got the banner? Tell me what the problem is. 

TIM MCGREEN: This is for our rights. you see because the traditional owners of Hope Vale didn't have any recognition. We want to get our rights back now. 

NOEL PEARSON (speaking to the public in Hope Vale, outdoors): With today's agreement that has the potential to solve the housing problem for the people of Hope Vale. We've got to have home ownership ...

MATTHEW CARNEY: For Noel Pearson it's the day to confront his community with some hard truths and to take on those who oppose his plans. 

NOEL PEARSON, DIRECTOR, CAPE YORK INSTITUTE (speaking to the public in Hope Vale, outdoors): Everybody knows the seething undercurrent. Why do you think the Government is taking 80 children per month to the Child Safety Department, across Cape York Peninsula, including from this community? 

And you think I am going to sit back? Sorry, I am not yielding to anybody, because this is as much my home as yours. I am not going to allow my grandfather's and godfather's achievements to just be washed down the toilet. There's got to be some leadership. There's got to be community leadership. We can't be all gutless. We can't all agree that there are these problems, but not have the courage to deal with them ...

MATTHEW CARNEY: Pearson says the $15 million deal is not going to be a handout - people will have to change. 

NOEL PEARSON (speaking to the public in Hope Vale, outdoors): But I can tell you that you have within your reach here in this community the potential to be great again, the potential to live up to the achievement of your grandfathers, because at the moment we are an embarrassment to their heritage. We are a pale moral shadow of their original achievement. We are a pale shadow of their achievement. 

They didn't have two cents to their name but they never neglected their children. They never have 10 cents to rub together and they brought up their children and sent them to school.

MATTHEW CARNEY: This speech is a turning point for Noel Pearson and his community. It's potentially a new start for the people here. Later, the traditional owners sign up to the deal. 

MATTHEW CARNEY (to Tim McGreen): Tell me why your happier now. 

TIM MCGREEN: After Noel's speech he made it clear what it was all about you know. Finally we get over it and get on with life you know. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: By the day's end at least a dozen families sign on to the plan including the Bowens. 

ESTELLE BOWEN: We'll get to solve a lot of our problems if we have got homes for our young people so they can live by themselves. 

NOEL PEARSON, DIRECTOR, CAPE YORK INSTITUTE: I'd always dreaded the day when the hard conversation had to be had, you know. I'd always dreaded that and I'd always sought to avoid the day. I was hoping that maybe we could finesse things such that we didn't have to have the day when the fact of welfare reform and what that involved would have to be very explicitly put out there. 

The people and the place have been very generous to me and I've got a deep sense of obligation and responsibility for it. Personally I made a break through with my own feelings about the place and so on, you know.

MATTHEW CARNEY: It's mid June when "Four Corners" receives a surprise phone call from Pearson's people in Canberra. The report on the trial phase of the project is ready early. Originally scheduled for September, it's now being delivered to the minister in a few days' time. 

This next step for Pearson is to secure more federal funding for an expanded welfare reform program. It's been a long walk for Pearson to be finally in a position to get full Government backing for his project.

NOEL PEARSON, DIRECTOR, CAPE YORK INSTITUTE (speaking in Canberra): Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen for joining us here for this important occassion for us for us, which is the handover of our welfare reform report for communities in Cape York Peninsula. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: For Pearson it's a sense of relief and for the Federal Government, a valuable ally is on side. 

NOEL PEARSON, DIRECTOR, CAPE YORK INSTITUTE: We've finally now got the Federal Government thinking about changing the system. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Two days later the Federal Government does exactly that. 

JOHN HOWARD (speaking at press conference): Are we ready? Well ladies and gentlemen, Mr Brough and I have called this news conference to announce a number of major measures to deal ... 

MATTHEW CARNEY: And it's welfare reform that is a major part of the model for action. 

JOHN HOWARD (speaking at press conference): ... We're going to introduce a series of welfare reforms designed to stem the flow of cash going towards alcohol abuse and to ensure that the funds meant to be used for children's welfare are actually used for that purpose. 

NOEL PEARSON, DIRECTOR, CAPE YORK INSTITUTE: Firstly I support the guarantee of safety for children and community members, but secondly if the peace is to be won, if the peace is achieved and if the peace is to be won then it's going to require the Government to understand the importance of community ownership and it's going to require Indigenous leaders to put aside their criticisms about the fact of unilateral action and start engaging so that the Government does the right thing. 

Because at the end of the day the price of failure is born by us and by our people.

MATTHEW CARNEY: Pearson sees welfare reform as a work in progress. Fixing broken down communities in the Cape could take a generation. 

While Pearson admits his process hasn't been perfect, the key messages the Government should take from his project are that trust and consultation have to be built into welfare reform.

NOEL PEARSON, DIRECTOR, CAPE YORK INSTITUTE: The police, the army, the bureaucrats cannot hold responsibility forever. There's got to come a time when it is the Indigenous people themselves that hold the responsibility and you've got to have a strategy for the transference of that responsibility and you know, I'm confident about the initial stage, I'm not confident about that process of transition. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Meanwhile on the Cape, there's more trouble with Aurukun, one of the trial communities. The two welfare reform workers have been pulled out again - the program is now stalled. 

For Philip Martin the divisions and disruptions in Aurukun raise doubts about the Cape York model being applied Australia wide. Martin resigned last Thursday.

PHILIP MARTIN: The problem is that the communities have moved at very different processes and have had very different and mixed results and mixed responses to Noel's initiatives. Some people have suggested they might work, some people have suggested they won't work. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Martin also believes that the report on the trial period was rushed and says the real world of politics dictated the timing of the release. 

PHILIP MARTIN: The mantra around Cape York Institute became: let's get this done in time for the election. Lets make sure that this is in front of people that can make the yes decision before, god forbid, someone's in power that won't make the yes decision.

MATTHEW CARNEY: Noel Pearson says the trial will continue on the Cape, and a further report will be prepared for September. He says it's his responsibility as a leader to seize the opportunities politics can present. 

NOEL PEARSON, DIRECTOR, CAPE YORK INSTITUTE: You can't just say alright we've taken the community on a journey here and we can disregard the fact that there's a political contest going on here, there's an election coming up and so on, you know. But because we can come up with the grandest plans but if we've got no way of our grandest plans hitching onto a wagon or, you know, then we will have produced something that's never going to see the light of day you know. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Over eight months now "Four Corners" has seen communities taking the early steps towards welfare reform. But the biggest test awaits the communities in the next phase, when the power to take welfare payments from people becomes enforceable through legislation. 

NOEL PEARSON, DIRECTOR, CAPE YORK INSTITUTE: I've got no illusions that this is going to be a very um challenging time for us who propose these changes, and for the community members, you know. But, and even those community members who support the change are going to find it hard to adjust to the changed rules and the changed conditions and so on. 

MATTHEW CARNEY: In the communities the parties are still going on. 

But at Vanessa Carmen's house in Mossman Gorge the parties have ended. She's responding to welfare reform and is now saving money for the future. 

But she's still struggling with the dysfunction that surrounds her.

MATTHEW CARNEY (to Vanessa Carmen): So how long will they party for, do you reckon, over there? 

VANESSA CARMEN: Probably tonight and tomorrow. 

MATTHEW CARNEY (to Vanessa Carmen): And tomorrow? Three or, how many days? 


MATTHEW CARNEY (to Vanessa Carmen): They'll party for four days still? So things haven't changed around here? 

(Vanessa Carmen shakes her head.) 

MATTHEW CARNEY: Carmen says she's changed and is waiting to see if the community will move ahead with her.

The Cape Experiment