A Kimberley indigenous economic development organisation boss says the federal government's cashless welfare card is the best way to bring his people out of disadvantage, but he admits not many locals agree.
Wunan Corporation executive director Ian Trust gave evidence to an inquest into a cluster of suicides by young Aboriginal people in Western Australia's far north on Friday.
Mr Trust said the Coalition's income management strategy, which has been trialled in the East Kimberley since April 2016, has helped tackle addiction and problem gambling.
These elements were present in the lives of the 13 youngsters who took their own lives in the region over three-and-a-half years.
"People have noticed a difference... I think it's the pathway to empowerment," Mr Trust told Coroner Ros Fogliani in Kununurra.
"The Cashless Debit Card is the best chance we have for bringing about societal change in the East Kimberley."
The Turnbull government is continuing the scheme indefinitely in the region and will soon roll it out to two new communities.
The cards quarantine 80 per cent of welfare payments to be used on essentials, while the remainder is free to be withdrawn as cash.
Mr Trust said it would be irresponsible to return to the "cash handouts" policy of the past.
"The system we've had in place for the past 50 years is a guaranteed failure," he said.
"Do we want our people to be second class citizens? If not, something has to change."
Mr Trust admitted his views are in the minority among his people, and said a wholistic approach incorporating better education, jobs, child care and mental health services was needed to combat social dysfunction.
An academic this week told the inquest the "punitive" compulsory program started without proper community consultation and has made money management "much harder" for families already living below the poverty line.
Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Local Aboriginal Medical Service details available from www.bettertoknow.org.au/AMS