These reforms will work only if first Australians themselves are involved in the design and implementation of the reforms. Evidence shows that when leaders refuse to support any sense of entitlement within their communities, and strongly encourage a culture of independence and development among their people the community grows in both prosperity and social standards. We have developed the ideas in this report with first Australians and modified our recommendations according to their advice.
First Australians everywhere want a strong future for their children supported by educated, active or working parents as positive role models and they will make the sacrifices to get it. They want to nurture each individual’s talents to their full potential rather than be viewed as a burden of disadvantage (where governments try and fix problems when it’s too late). First Australian parents everywhere told us they can have no better reason to get and keep a job than to provide a better future for their children.
First Australian leaders, particularly in remote communities, yearn for the authority to require young people to earn or learn and not tolerate idleness. They believe that young children should have strong role models so they can thrive in safe and well-functioning communities. They need the government to back their cultural authority to set and enforce social norms and job seeker obligations. This will empower local people to step up and take responsibility for managing their own lives in a way that strengthens family and community wellbeing and vitality.
Instead of the crippling government oversight of thousands of small projects and funding agreements, I propose that service delivery be consolidated in responsible, properly-governed first Australian organisations with a system of verification to ensure probity and accountability.
Many Indigenous leaders who spoke to me during the course of this review believe it is essential that they take responsibility for delivering these reforms. Local leaders are willing to be held accountable, be responsible for dramatic change in the behaviours of their communities, and ensure that disparity is ended for their children’s sake and the sake of generations to come. They need governments to devolve the authority for decision making to them on the basis of trust and robust accountability. As Professor Fiona Stanley recently pointed out:
We have got a juggernaut of spending that is wasted because Aboriginal people are not appropriately engaged with the solutions. When Aboriginal people are engaged with the solutions, not only do they work but the self-esteem within the Aboriginal community rises because people are proud and that affects things like adolescent suicide and mental health.39