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4.1 Holistic, community-wide reform in Cape York

The most established and well-known recent reform

in Indigenous Australia is Cape York’s welfare reform,

a change movement with many parts working

together to leverage social transformation.

Cape York leader Noel Pearson’s 2000 publication

Our right to take responsibility

was a call to arms to

Indigenous and non-Indigenous society

. 30


change was necessary to break intergenerational

welfare dependency cycles threatening Indigenous

Australian society. The Cape York Agenda was

born in 2000 as Jawun (then Indigenous Enterprise

Partnerships) came into being.

In 2002, Jawun began sending secondees to help

the Cape York Agenda promote people’s capability

to choose ‘a life they have reason to value’—in the

words of Noel Pearson, acknowledging economist

Amartya Sen

. 31

From founding corporate partners

including Westpac, BCG and KPMG, support grew

until well over 100 secondees had lent skills and

expertise to the reform efforts. In July 2004, the

Cape York Institute (CYI) was established as an

organisation dedicated to welfare reform through

policy reform and leadership support.

Through secondees, particularly long-term

secondees from BCG, Jawun supported the concept,

positioning, funding and launch of CYI (see vignette

on page 33). KPMG describes how the institute’s

operating structures, processes and the capacity

of its management and leadership, was built and


Secondments were structured in the following way:

with approximately 70 per cent of time focused

on discrete projects, 25 per cent of time dedicated

to developing the corporate capability of the

organisation; and 5 per cent of the time spent

directly transferring skills to CYI employees

. 32

The next stage, from 2005 to 2007, applied more

targeted secondee support to specific policies and

programs designed to implement reform based on

family responsibility:

Jawun secondees helped formalise and present the

leadership’s reform ideas as implementable policies,

and through their commercial and consultative

approach gave them greater confidence in the

efficacy of the reform process and the likelihood of

gaining government support. Whereas Cape York’s

leaders had been able to lobby government before,

with Jawun’s support they had the capability to

construct clear business cases, with a level of

evidence and rigour that has given greater clarity

to their arguments and helped strengthen

government connections

. 33

The approach exemplifies what Jawun refers to as

its enabling role, and what Cape York Indigenous

leaders attribute to successfully using external skills

to drive a truly local agenda:

In the beginning, Jawun was a significant

lever. It wasn’t about money, it was about

having the best of the best thinkers

working with us to fast track our agenda.

Through that, our reforms have been

accelerated, Indigenous employment

has increased, local people are running

their own agendas—and that is true


If we’d been left to do it ourselves we might

be five years behind where we are today





CYI now has strong internal capability and highly

skilled staff of its own. An enduring example of an

Indigenous-led approach to complex social change, it

has for years influenced government policy through its

welfare reform agenda, including a major trial project

in four Cape York communities. Different components

of individual, family and community development are

addressed in Hope Vale, Mossman Gorge, Coen and

Aurukun, to transition individuals and families from

welfare dependency to responsibility and self-reliance.

Fiona Jose, former CEO of CYI, said, ‘We knew that

without trying to change behaviour and social norms,

nothing would change’.

Soon after the formation of CYI, Cape York Indigenous

leaders resolved to find a solution to chronically low

rates of educational attendance and achievement.

In 2009, Cape York Partnerships published a

position paper titled ‘The most important reform’

. 34

It described a new model for early childhood and

primary education focusing on attendance, teaching

quality and results.

Jawun secondees helped bring together the

elements of education reform. Many were from

Westpac, including highly skilled members of a BT

Financial Group leadership development program,

the David Williams Fellowship. They looked at

global best practice and supported the creation

of the Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy

that would reform primary education in Cape York