Thank you very much Tony for that kind introduction.
Let me thank the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations for this very great privilege to deliver this third lecture in honor of Bishop Kevin Manning. I want to also acknowledge the indigenous people of Sydney.
I'm often reminded about what happened when the first fleet arrived here and the East Coast of Australia was annexed on behalf of the British crown without the consent of its indigenous peoples. It was indeed, to use the Prime Minister's word; ‘a defining moment for the nation’ but it was obviously a very salutary moment for its indigenous peoples. And I remonstrat it with the Prime Minister in relation to his nomination of that date as the country's most defining moment, urging him to view those events through the eyes of the indigenous peoples of this beautiful harbour. And I urged in him a better perspective on what he might have said were the defining moments of Australia's 50,000 plus years of history. I urged upon him that he might have nominated three events. He should have arrogated the right to nominate three important events in our long history.
The first being the crossing of the land bridge by the original Australians some 53,000 plus years ago.
Secondly, it would then be appropriate to say that the landing of European settlers here in Sydney Harbour 200 plus years ago was indeed another defining moment.
And I thirdly urged upon him the idea that the ridding of the White Australia Policy might have been a third event in our history that might justly be called a defining moment.
I've been a very strong advocate of the High Court's decision in Mabo, as a once in a nation's lifetime opportunity to deal with grievance and justice. More than two decades after the High Court's decision I am still somewhat dismayed that we as a country have not embraced the full meaning of Mabo and I might very briefly remind you of what I think is so important about that decision and Prime Minister Paul Keating's understanding of its importance when he defended that decision and enacted the Native Title Act in 1993.
You see, the High Court was grappling within Mabo an issue that convulses nations around the world. What are most conflicts about if not about territory, and about history? Nations across the planet are convulsed by historical grievances and these grievances never go away if they're not properly confronted and dealt with. As much as we might urge a forgetting, people never let go of grievance. And of course, the indigenous grievance in relation to the unilateral annexation of the Australian continent by the British settlers in 1788 is a grievance that still roils our country.
And the High Court had to determine in Mabo, a fundamental conflict between the law of England and the facts of history, because the High Court had to look at all of the jurisprudence of the common law of England enacted across the world by common law courts and it could not avoid the truth that in the British colonies in North America, in Asia, and Africa there were numerous Mabo type decisions that had been ruled upon over two centuries.
Because the truth is, that the English common law tradition includes a fundamental respect of the rights of those who occupy land. The English legal tradition is based on the idea that the occupant must be presumed to be the possessor. The doctrine of Native Title has its source in the common laws respect of the rights of the possessor. And if that law had been applied in 1788, there would have been universal recognition that the natives of this continent were the comprehensive owners of all of the land. But of course, that recognition was not afforded, and there were 204 years of dispossession based on the wrong law.
And on 3 June 1992 the court had to reconcile the truth of the law with the facts of history and those facts of history were indeed bloody facts. Because the incorrect application of the law had led to murder, dispossession, and in some cases the utter annihilation of entire groups of traditional owners in different parts of the continent.
And so, the court proposed with the concept of Native Title two principles. And these were laid out in the Mabo decision. The first principle was that the settlers and their descendants could not have their entitlements alienated from them. These titles accumulated over two centuries were indefeasible. They could not now be taken away and restored to the traditional owners. That was the first principle of Mabo. In shorthand, I explained to people that the first principle of Mabo is white land rights. The entitlements of the settlers could not now be disturbed. And the second principle of Mabo is that whatever is leftover should be the entitlement of the original owners. And that was the deal proffered by the court to put paid to injustice. To put paid to grievance. The white fellas keep everything they've accumulated and the indigenes should get what is left over.
And in a subsequent case in which I was involved, the Wik case, the High Court articulated a third limb of native title which is to say that there are some categories of land, pastoral lease and national parks in which the native title and the crown title subsist together. They coexist.
So, if you really want to understand the structure of Native Title law, its essence are those three principles: The settlers and their descendants get to keep everything they've accumulated notwithstanding the circumstances of them coming into that land. Secondly, the indigenous people should be entitled to whatever is left over. And thirdly, there are some categories of land where the two titles sit alongside each other, and there should be coexistence.
And in my mind as an indigenous leader at the time of the negotiations with the Keating government, I thought that history would not serve us a better foundation for putting paid to grievance than that. Who can imagine a more just way of dealing with history than that? If we as a nation embraced Mabo, we could possibly have the foundation and the cornerstone for peace. But of course, we didn't do that. Our children have not learned that Mabo is a cornerstone for peace. We have not counselled our younger generations that this kind of fundamental moral question and legal question and political question has been offered. The prospect of resolution through the institution of our law. At some stage Australians are going to have to come to grips with the meaning of Mabo.
Instead, in one instance, out in Western New South Wales, a town common dedicated for the aboriginal reserve inhabitants - land that should have been immediately acknowledged as leftover land that should forth width have been accorded to its traditional owners and the Aboriginal community resident upon it - it took more than a decade to settle that case. It took longer than the original Mabo decision to settle that case in relation to a postage stamp-sized piece of land. We are still begrudging about Mabo. And the nation is still begrudging notwithstanding the first principle of Native Title law which is that the non-indigenous Australians can never be deprived of anything they have accumulated.
Let me now turn to the subject of my lecture which is the post-Whitlam project for equality. In my original oration in honor of Prime Minister Whitlam, I went on to discuss where I depart from my fellow Whitlam-mites in relation to the post-Whitlam agenda for equality. I said, the post-Whitlam project for equality for the most disadvantaged must abandon much of the accumulated progressive theology on how the poor need not always be with us.
So, tonight I want to talk about these ideas that have been very bracing for my friends on the progressive left. It is the point at which I have parted ways in relation to social justice and equality. My thinking has diverged from the weight of progressive opinion and practice about how it is that we might rise above misery and disadvantage. And I want to try to urge those views once again tonight because I've not had cause to change my mind yet.
The fundamental reason why I part ways with the middle-class left, is that like them I believe my primary loyalties are to the poor. My parents were not just working class, they were in a state of servitude in their working lives. They weren't just the working class. And so, my primary loyalty is to the people at the very bottom end of the Australian pyramid. And like many of you I hold a fundamental visceral sense of loyalty to their prospects.
But I have to acknowledge that I am middle class. Whilst my loyalties might be with people from the bottom, I am socioeconomically bourgeois. And all of us who possess these native loyalties to the class of our fathers and our grandfathers and great-grandfathers, must first face the fact that we are not working class. They may have been, but we are not. In fact, we are significantly advantaged. There is not much difference in the class situation of myself and a fellow from the conservative right who comeS from a more advantaged background. In class terms, I occupy the same class as people who came from privileged origins. And of course, the old intellectual analysis of the Labor left understood that we should first look to the actual class condition, rather than our putative loyalties.
So I'm always trying to remind myself that I come from now a privileged class. I'm a member of the middle class. And much of my thinking is very much influenced because of my class position. And I often remonstrate with my friends on the left in relation to this matter. I actually think that in the old intellectual tradition of the left, a middle-class left is in fact a misnomer. It is intellectually impossible to be part of an actual middle-class left.
And tonight I want to take you through some ideas that I think from our point of view in Cape York Peninsula and my own thinking about these things, that in fact a lot of social progress is impeded by those of us from the middle class left who have not woken up to the fact that we advocate a certain set of policies that actually make the project for equality harder. And we've turned those about whom we are most concerned - the poor and the disadvantaged - into our own industries. We have cast ourselves as the saviors of the poor rather than as compatriots in the battle for development. And the battle for the poor and disadvantaged to enjoy the advantages we do. Let me explain.
When we came to the view in 1999 that indigenous policy was continuing to fail our people in Cape York Peninsula, we understood that we could not continue to do the things that were compounding that failure. For example, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody had recommended, following a long inquiry, that the fundamental condition leading to large numbers of indigenous people dying in custody was not the fact that our people died at a greater rate than other prison inmates. We in fact die at a lower rate compared to other prisoners. The problem is that we are over-represented in the prison system. In Queensland something like 30% to 40% of the prison population is made up by the 3% percent of indigenous people. And this story is right across the board. 3% of the country is contributing 30% of the prison population. 60% of those in juvenile detention. And of course, the numbers in child protection are just as egregious.
So, the Royal Commission recommended 330 recommendations and hundreds of millions of dollars in pursuit of those recommendations saying we must reduce the over-representation of indigenous people in the criminal justice system. And at the halfway mark when we came to reconsider our policy thinking in Cape York, those numbers after 10 years of pursuit of those recommendations - the prison numbers are doubled. We could set ourselves national recommendations and goals and throw money in pursuit of them and the prison numbers still go up.
So we forced a rethink of our position in Cape York and the question we asked ourselves was: how does progress happen? How do people become more equal? How do people rise up in the world? What is the formula for success? And our analysis led us to what we call the staircase theory of advancement. We think the world works like this: the staircase has these three elements. In the gigantic pyramid of society where our people occupy the bottom most ditch in that pyramid, how could we conceive a way forward? We thought the staircase explained how we might do it.
And the staircase has three components. The foundations of which are social and cultural norms within neighborhoods, within communities, amongst peoples. Where communities have expectations of one another and every individual exercises their responsibilities to their families, to their children, to their neighbors, to their community. There's responsibility and respect. And those norms that we should bring up children to nurture them and develop their talents so that they can have fulfilling lives. All of those norms we felt served people well.
And we looked at Asian Australians, we looked at Asian Americans, and we saw people poorer than us coming to this country with even less material advantage than we had and yet served with strong social and cultural norms, they prospered. They went shooting up the stairs of opportunity because they bequeathed to their children very strong norms that serve them well. So we thought: stairs need strong foundations.
The second part of the stairs is the infrastructure underpinning the stairs. Staircases need strong support. And in our view that represented opportunity - the structures of our opportunity that underpin the staircase. And in fact, our thinking went beyond the idea of opportunity to what Amartya Sen the Nobel laureate called capabilities. The idea of capabilities according to Amartya Sen is the idea that everyone needs capabilities in order to choose lives they have reason to value. And that became our catchcry. We loved Amartya Sen's formula. We liked the idea that we should put all of our people in a position where they can have the capabilities to choose lives they have reason to value. We don't know what kind of lives individuals will value, but we do want them to have the capabilities to choose. And you don't really have choice. And this was where Sen was so perspicacious in relation to the liberal conceit that somehow choice is just a great power by itself.
You see, Sen pointed out that in order to really have choice you have to have capabilities. And he meant by capabilities: good health, a good education, access to good infrastructure, good social support. And it's only when people have those capabilities that they're then able to employ the liberal power of choice. So we liked Sen’s formula about capabilities being the good infrastructure underpinning the stairs.
There was a third part to our metaphor and that is the runs of the stairs itself. People climb stairs for good reason. They do so because they can see better prospects further up the stairs. And in our most crudest moments, we imagine that the dollar signs get bigger as you ascend the stairs. People are motivated by something better for themselves. There's a better salary further up the stairs. David Hume said we wake up every day with self interest in front of our noses. That was our Eureka moment really. When we understood that humans are motivated for something better for themselves and their children. You don’t climb stairs for something worse, you want something better for yourself and for your children.
That is when I stopped being a social justice lefty, and I understood the power of self-interest. I am all for social justice, absolutely, but I came to realise that the motivation for development and the motivation for progress - the Liberals have it right. The engine of progress burns within the breasts of individuals, because they want something better for themselves and they want something better for the child that they're clutching in their arms. The mother wants something better for her child because she wishes for a better future for her. For all of those years prior to that point when I had abjured self-interest. When I had misunderstood the liberal argument, came to me as a great regret. I'd swallowed this misapprehension about Adam Smith's argument about self-interest. The Liberals have got a point and a half, because at the end of the day who climbs stairs? Real human beings climb stairs. Real families climb stairs. Your grandparents who came out of the mud holes of Ireland and the coal mines of England bereft of anything in their bank accounts, no privilege accompanying them, rose up in the world in pursuit of a better life for themselves and for their children, and they bequeathed that. They climbed a few rungs up the stairs and the next generation climbed a few more and then the next child ended up in university. And regularly now our children go to university. As a matter of course they partake of privilege.
This is, for many of us, distasteful conversation. This is for many of us an equivocal conversation because we equate self-interest with selfishness, but in my view the two are not to be equated. I'm here to sanctify self-interest. I'm here to sanctify self-interest because I know every each and every one in this room pursues self-interest and has pursued self-interest in their lives. We want better careers. We want more pay. We want a little bit better for ourselves. That doesn't abrogate any filial importance that we attach to our neighbors and our communities. That does not mean we do not also have other regard as Adam Smith called it. It is to fairly and squarely face up to the fact that self-interest is a human motivation. And to the extent that we counsel the disadvantaged to reject self-interest, we are basically saying to them: you should follow a different prescription than the prescription we follow.
And it is that hypocrisy that most disturbs me about the social policies people from our class preach. It is that hypocrisy which I most viscerally reject when it comes to social policy thinking. I hate it. I hate it when advantaged people counsel disadvantaged people that they should not pursue their own self-interest when we routinely do. When we do as a matter of course. Real humans must climb stairs and when all of us are climbing, when all of us in the village, when all of us in the community, are climbing to a better life, and we will climb at a different rate of knots - we're not all going to climb at the same speed and at the same time. The world doesn't have a formula for that to happen. And I realised when the Eureka moment happened that real human beings and their families climb stairs, I realised what kind of millennial daydreaming I've been indulging in, in relation to the concept of social justice.
You know, I went to university. I did all the sociology and history subjects. And I harbored at the end of all of this this vague idea that social justice was something in Canberra that only needed the best political leadership to unlock. And if only we had the right kind of governmental leadership, social justice would one day prevail.
I may be offensive in this idea but the idea I have is that a consequence of my university education was that I ended up thinking that there was this big forklift. A massive forklift that could be mobilised by the government to restore the poor and the oppressed to a better place. To lift an entire community to a better position. And what kind of daydreaming was that? When you look around and you see these other peoples climbing stairs in pursuit of their own self-interest. And yet in relation to my people I was hoping that the government would mobilise this massive forklift of social justice and all we needed was the right kind of leadership that would kick over the big diesel engine of the forklift and lift people to a more exalted life. Well, we would be waiting till kingdom come for that forklift to materialise.
When we looked at how the world really works, the world works by families taking their children a few runs up the stairs in pursuit of something better for themselves. And the day someone councils those families to wait, to pause, because there's some salvation around the corner, is a day I really think that those of us who say we are concerned about the poor have come to be their prisoners. We are imprisoning themselves in a perpetual state of disadvantage, because we are applying to them a double standard. We think that they're going to advance by another set of rules from the ones we advance by.
And therefore, the policies that we pursue in Cape York Peninsula are about sanctifying the mother that wants something better for their child. That it is not wrong. If you want the poor and the disadvantaged of Cape York Peninsula to share in the fruits of this nation then it will be via those people grabbing their own opportunities and climbing with all of the support - they're not going to do it by themselves. There is a role for social provisioning in the distribution of opportunity. Of course; we need capability development.
So, our concept of how the world works - and excuse my use of this word - it is kind of ideologically promiscuous. We borrow from the conservatives in relation to norms and responsibilities. We borrow from the Social Democrats in relation to redistribution and opportunity, and we borrow from the Liberals in relation to the power of choice. And the motivation for a better life. And we've got to combine those three political traditions together if we're going to make a way forward.
I don't cling to either of those three schools, or any of them. I believe that a proper society has a good dose of conservatism, has a good dose of Labor social democracy, and a good dose of liberalism. And we've got to combine those three traditions together in the right way rather than being hidebound in relation to a narrow idea of opportunity that condemns people to no progress at all. Let me tell you what I mean by that.
You can have all of the opportunity of penicillin of your life down at the clinic. You can have the best school on offer down the road, but if a mother and a father are not going to take their child up to the clinic for the penicillin, how is she going to avoid lifelong deafness? How is she going to avoid rheumatic heart disease? We can supply a good clinic and good nurses and good doctors and all of the medicine in the world but if the parents don't take personal responsibility how are we going to pull it all together? If you have a good school down the road with the best teachers and a good program, if mum and dad don't take personal responsibility, how are you going to turn it into capability?
So, we join the idea, the conservative idea, of personal responsibility with the social democratic idea of equal opportunity and we say that that is how you build capability. Responsibility plus opportunity equals capability.
And of course, our friends in different parts of the political argument are distressed about us borrowing from all political traditions. They’re distressed about the idea of personal responsibility. And when we talk about responsibility, our old friends become antagonistic and they resist our argument and the policies we have in relation to personal responsibility. But I say to you; you have never lived a night. You have never lived a night in circumstances where a breakdown of personal responsibility produces such tragedy.
And we've gone in the welfare era from a strong people that survived a racist history of exclusion and discrimination. We survived with some very strong things that have begun to unravel on us.
The imprisonment rate in the Kimberley's in the early 1960s was lower than the Western Australian average - think about that. The imprisonment rate of indigenous people in the Kimberley's was lower in 1963 then it was for white fellas. And yet now, indigenous people - such a small percentage of the population - are brimming in the prisons. And we trace the breakdown of social norms and social structures in our community with the passive welfare era. Four decades plus of money for nothing and exclusion from the real economy of Australia, has produced an intergenerational breakdown and a rise of social problems.
And I reject utterly the prescription that we have a right to welfare. Let's have a think about that idea. Let's say to the indigenes of Australia who occupy the very bottom of the social and economic pyramid of Australia, let's say to them ‘you have a right to welfare’. What does that really mean when you say that? Is that a measure of your compassion? Yes, perhaps, you think it does. We all think that when we say that the poor have a better right to welfare, that it is a measure of our compassion. But might it also be an idea that when we say the poor have got a right to welfare that they have a right to remain at the bottom of the pyramid? What else has it meant? We’re virtually saying to indigenous Australians you have a right to remain at the very bottom of the Australian pyramid. You don't have a right to partake equally with every one of us in the advantages of being an Australian.
And that is why I have so firmly rejected the ideology that we have a right to welfare. No. We have a greater right - we've got a right to a fair place in this country, and a fair share of this country. Don't tell me we've got a right to remain at the bottom, with barely enough money to get by. We've got a greater right. We've got a right for our children to have jobs, and to participate in the economy in this society. And we particularly have a right not to be perpetually managed in a state of dependency.
You can imagine that these ideas are not fully and warmly embraced in the debates we have about indigenous policy. But in our first principles to return to the idea of the meaning of social justice, we had to abandon the millennial dream that somehow someone was going to restore us to a better place in this country via a different formula than that which applied to advantaged Australians. And we've had a long debate about this in our part of the world and it is a debate that, might I say in these confines, we have not won. I think the consensus is still largely against us. I think the weight of Australian opinion is that welfare is a right and the implications of reforming welfare are too hard to contemplate, and therefore the indigenes - no matter how much welfare is unraveling their communities - we can't really in a full way address those problems at this time in our history.
We've trialed the idea of conditional welfare. It is an idea I have not had cause to change my mind about. I think welfare should be conditional. There should be conditions attached to welfare. It's different from self-earned money. When you earn your own money, you should be free to apply it in the way you choose. In our trial in Cape York Peninsula, we said there should be some basic conditions attached to the receipt of welfare. And these conditions were: you should send your children to school as a basic responsibility if you're getting money on their behalf - to send them to school to ensure that they're not neglected. And you fulfill all of your responsibilities as a parent. They seemed to me to be conditions that ought to apply to everyone that receives welfare. And of course, a large proportion of our people, they fulfill those responsibilities as a matter of course and that's a good thing. It is a great thing that people don't need to be reminded about their responsibilities. But I'm concerned about those children whose parents are not taking heat for those basic responsibilities. I'm concerned about the children whose parents blow all their money.
The other weekend I was in my hometown and I saw all these children pelting at these mangoes up the tree, and the mangoes are not yet ripe, they're quite green, and the kids are eating them. And we're telling them ‘those mangoes have got sap running out of them’ and they turn around and say ‘we're hungry’. We are hungry because our parents have blown the money at the pokies in Cooktown. Or they've been drinking all night. It is those children that I'm concerned about. Those children whose parents receive money from the government and don’t spend it for their benefit.
I fear that our argument for reform of welfare on behalf of the most disadvantaged communities in the country is an argument that we are yet to win. But unless anyone here can tell me of a better way of guaranteeing that kids don't go around searching for food, I'd like to hear of a better idea.
Finally, I argue in favor of the politics of the radical center. When we search for the right ideas of the Social Democrats, the Conservatives and the Liberals, we hunt for the radical center. And unfortunately, the idea of the third way politics has fallen by the wayside. Those social democratic parties of the 80s and 90s that pursued third way thinking, that agenda has been exhausted. I don't think it should be. At the end of the day, I don't think an ultra-left politics has got any good for us. Or ultra-right politics. At the end of the day, the two big tribes, it's a combination of the ideas from both that will produce the right kind of ideas.
I'm interested in how we achieve left wing objectives through right wing means, and so on. I want a better society. I want a more equal society. I want a society where everybody's got chance and opportunity. The Whitlam budget for equality is one I hold sacrosanct, but how we achieve that is where I part ways with much of the thinking of the educated left that benefited from those original policies.
And my charge against my friends from that era, my charge is that you have forgotten how it is that you came about being advantaged. You've forgotten how it is that you have yourselves become advantaged. You've become advantaged. You now own good homes. Your real estate prices have risen. Your children go to good schools. And yet you pursue a set of prescriptions in relation to the disadvantaged that when you look at it objectively, could not be more calculated to keep the disadvantage down.
We pursue educational theories and ideologies that could not be more calculated to keep disadvantaged children illiterate. Even though we show time and again how the explicit instruction of reading can produce kids from the bush who can speak English like anybody else. Notwithstanding that we pursue a certain set of educational ideologies that produce generations of my grandchildren and nephews and nieces that can't read like my father did. They cannot even read like my grandfather did in the mission. It is as if we’ve pursued a project for the last 30 years that was about making it harder for the disadvantaged to rise up in the world. And I make that charge against ourselves. I most make that charge against ourselves.
And one of the explanations for that phenomenon is that we've kind of created industries around the poor. The great African American intellectual who coined the phrase ‘the poor are a gold mine’ had this point very much in mind. We have created industries around the disadvantaged, and the problem with those industries that we often call ‘service delivery’ and ‘social services’ - the problem I have with many of them is that it's about us. It's about our jobs and our programs and our organisations and our careers. It's not really about raising people up from disadvantaged.
Daniel Moynihan, the famous American senator, in 1963 said in his advice that too many of these social programs are about feeding the sparrows while feeding the horses. The sparrows were the disadvantaged and the horses were the service providers. Moynihan was on to this problem decades ago. That too much of what we do in the field of Social Services is about feeding the sparrows while feeding the horses. And there is a lot of legitimate social service and support, but I reject the idea when people from the housing department come to our communities and say homeownership is not for you people. We will be setting these people up for failure if we pursue a policy of encouraging homeownership amongst these Aboriginal families. And then I turn around to the meeting room and I ask everyone around the table which of you is paying off a mortgage? And all of the hands go up.
We prescribe one thing for the disadvantaged and we have another policy in relation to ourselves and it is that hypocrisy which most grates with me. I have a very challenging thing to say to compassionate people about social services. You have to ask yourself a hard question: is our program about helping people to rise up in the world and take their fair share? Because if it's not about that then what is it about? Is it about perpetuating disadvantage? We should be about social change and social uplift, not managing disadvantage.
And I challenge everyone involved in the work that we're all involved in - I challenge myself - I ask myself; is what we're doing really just servicing an ongoing problem? And that we don't really have a genuine vision and a program for uplift? Out of the most humble beginnings great things can come and we've got to stop having a low belief in those whom we serve. I know many illiterate mothers like my own, could not speak a word of English, horribly traumatic youth, and yet she gave me things that are more valuable than gold. A mother that sends you to school every day, washed, fed to the best of her ability. Out of those humble things great things grow if you have belief in people. And my charge against the university-educated left that is in the field of compassion is a charge to the effect that: are we holding the poor back? Have we made the poor our business?
In indigenous Australia we have come to this state. We are in the state in indigenous policy where all of the action, all of the activity, all of the responsibility, is in the hands of the social service providers. Our entire destiny is tied up in 25 billion dollars’ worth of social service delivery. The aboriginal patient is near catatonic on the table. And we have an active industry, employment and child protection.
I sat with some child protection people and during the course of the conversation they told me how a group home gets five thousand dollars per week per child. Five thousand dollars per week per child to provide a group home facility for those children. And then they start using words like ‘our industry’. ‘Our child protection industry’. And of course, the government has outsourced child protection to ex-bureaucrats from the department who've set up their group home facilities for children in need of protection. We have this mushrooming of service delivery programs that are premised on the aboriginal patient being completely passive. The aboriginal patient is only good for the budgetary allocations it justifies.
And so finally this evening, I want to say to those who are concerned about the question of the post-Whitlam project for equality that we have got to do some serious thinking about the future. These problems I see in my own community are not merely all that different from problems I see in the white community. These disadvantaged white communities exhibit the same problems. Intergenerational welfare dependency results in very similar problems and if we're really concerned about the future of these communities, then in my view at some stage we're going to have to decide that service delivery and social welfare programs have got to be rethought.
We’ve got to come to a point that this stuff just doesn't turn things around. We have to have a development approach. We've got to apply the rules of development in our most disadvantaged communities - white and black. Not a social welfare approach. We've got to apply a development approach.
And I say, only half in jest, that we've created third and fourth generation programs in support of dysfunctional and broken-down families. The Health Department in Queensland long ran a program and still does today called ‘The Life Promotion Program’. And you can understand a program called Life Promotion. Yeah? Problems of suicide and everything else. Ill health, early death, low life expectancy - you can imagine how a title like that might come about. Life promotion.
But have we not reached the absolute dead end of service delivery when we're about promoting life? The only other program beyond life promotion is breathing promotion. We've got to realise that we have gone down this cul-de-sac and we're now faced with the idea that we've exhausted all that we can do through social welfare provisioning thinking. And instead, we have to understand that we have a development problem in these communities. And we need these communities to partake in the opportunities that the rest of us routinely enjoy. And I see this as a desperate requisite not just for indigenous Australian communities but for the most disadvantaged immigrant and white communities in this country as well.
Of course, there's a role for social services - that is not what I'm saying. But we've got to be very clear that this set of social programs are important, they're about building capabilities within the family and supporting them to get back on their own feet. If we intervene on behalf of families where there's a child protection issue, we must run as fast as we can, and as hard as we can, to support those families to take care of their children. And if we have to oblige them to do it, isn't it better to oblige a family to put money aside for the food in the fridge, for the blankets and the bed, isn't it better to oblige that than the kids getting carted off?
And yet with all of our compassion we step back and say ‘no, we don't want to intervene to support the family to get their act together, we would rather see the child protection services attend at the very end of the day and take the children into protection’.
I thank the Catholic Commission for this very great privilege of giving this year's address in honor of Bishop Manning. I have come here with a very deliberate intention of provocation and incitement. I think you understand sufficiently that my argument that man shall not live by service delivery alone. It is obviously an important qualification, service delivery is important, but we can't continue to build new generations of programs on the back of the failing ones.
And the best social welfare program is the functioning family. The supported family and there are ways in which we can intelligently support families in an intimate way. In Cape York Peninsula you know the first program we do is a budget. We say a better life begins with a budget. Because you know you can’t have food without a budget. You don't have a blanket without a budget. You can't have a fridge without a budget. And yeah, you might be a welfare recipient, but if you've got a budget, you’ve got a chance. And your father might be on welfare, but if he's got a budget, and he's got food for you to go to school, you've got a chance.
There are ways in which we can intelligently support families to get their act together. One of the programs that is the most successful is families putting aside money for their kids' education. We say four sponsors please. Aunty, uncle, grandmother, mother - four of you put five dollars aside. Twenty dollars a week, a thousand dollars a year. And when the young mother comes to sign up to the account, her child when she's five, has got five thousand dollars in the account. And so when the bookfair comes to town mum buys two hundred dollars’ worth of educational books and toys. And when the year twelve girl graduates from college in Brisbane, from the Marist Brothers no less. When our boys graduate, they pay for their graduation suits out of their parents’ account.
If you support low-income people to get their act together, they readily take up the opportunity. And there are many ways in which we can intelligently support families to get their act together. But, my great criticism of those of us who work in the stony field of compassion, my great criticism is that too much of it is about us. Too much of it is about our organisations, and too much of it is about our careers, and our plans and projects. It is not enough hard-headed questioning about whether what it is that we are doing is truly producing family rebuilding and social change.
Thank you very much.