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Tuesday, 24 October, 2000, 20:13 GMT 21:13 UK
Aborigines attack welfare culture
Man
There are 360,000 Aborigines in Australia
Welfare dependency is the major cause of the poverty and alcoholism which has destroyed Aboriginal society, indigenous leaders have told a conference.

Aboriginal lawyer Noel Pearson said the current system had failed and Australia's Aborigines must be encouraged to take responsibility for their own finances, health and education.


All our people are on [benefits], with no opportunities to aspire to the great Australian dream

Joe Ross, Aboriginal leader
He also called for a "relentless, active intolerance" of drinking, drug addiction and petrol sniffing now widespread in indigenous communities.

Mr Pearson recently said that fuel sniffing was so endemic that "crying infants are silenced with petrol-drenched rags on their faces".

Woman
Aborigines have far lower life expectancy than others in Australia
Many Aborigines are almost completely dependent on unemployment and other welfare payments.

With no job prospects, they turn to alcohol and other drugs, which in turn adds to domestic violence, their leaders say.

The conference, attended by indigenous leaders and senior government officials, focused on how the Aborigines' strong family structures could be used to help build economic independence.

Culture

Aborigines, who number around 360,000 people, remain the poorest and least healthy section of Australian society.

Aborigines in chains
Injustice has spanned generations
They die on average 20 years younger than the rest of the population and are 26 times more likely to end up in jail.

But community leaders said welfare cheques were exacerbating, not solving, the deprivation.

Evelyn Scott of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation said welfare had almost totally destroyed Aboriginal culture and an educational process was needed to get them off it.


Our outrageous social problems and our current widespread unemployability followed passive welfare

Aboriginal lawyer Noel Pearson
Mr Pearson, leader of Cape York Aboriginals, said said what Aboriginal people needed most was not more welfare, but "an immediate dismantling of the passive welfare paradigm and an end to the permissive drug policy".

Another Aboriginal leader, Joe Ross, said the current situation has starved communities of hope.

He added: "All our people are on [benefits], with no jobs and no opportunities to aspire to the great Australian dream."

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See also:

05 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Australian minister sparks race row
25 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Australia rejects UN racism report
28 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
Reconciliation deadline dropped
10 Aug 99 | Asia-Pacific
Lost childhood of the 'stolen generation'
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