Call for action to close Aboriginal disadvantage
WA Indigenous Person of the Year (2013) Ian Trust. Picture: Steve Ferrier/The West Australian

WA's indigenous person of the year, Ian Trust, says the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians will not be closed without "radical" action.

Mr Trust, who is seeking State and Federal government support for a potentially groundbreaking welfare reform program in the East Kimberley, said the lack of progress in eradicating indigenous disadvantage showed conventional thinking had not worked.

"We have to do something we haven't done in the past 40 years," he said. "I think we have to do something radical."

Mr Trust's comments came after the release of the Federal Government's latest Closing the Gap report, which showed mixed results. Targets to halve the gap in child mortality and for Year 12 attainment were on track but progress on employment and life expectancy was less successful.

The Mr Trust-chaired Wunan Foundation wants to trial a program in Halls Creek that would allow a panel of community leaders to reward or penalise residents based on whether they met certain responsibilities, such as school attendance and paying rent.

If successful in Halls Creek, the program, a WA-first dubbed Living Change, could be rolled out to other remote communities.

Although it has in-principle State Government support, some elements of the program are yet to be agreed to, most significantly whether the community panel would be a statutory body with power over income management.

Mr Trust said he would be disappointed if the panel was not a statutory body because it risked being undermined.

"We don't make any bones about this: this is tough love," he said.

WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Peter Collier said the Government was still considering options and sought legal advice on the role, function and operations of the proposed community panel "and how it might operate within existing legislation".

"Despite significant investment and reform over a number of decades, outcomes for many Aboriginal Western Australians remain unacceptable," he said. "These challenges are faced by governments of all political persuasions across Australia.

"The WA Government is committed to improving economic, environmental and social benefits to Aboriginal people. That's why we have committed significant resources to planning for the Living Change program."

The West Australian

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