Leaders in welfare plea
Aboriginal leaders have called for control to be given back to the people as hopes for a Pilbara cashless welfare card were doused last month.
Newly formed Aboriginal consultation group Strong Leaders has responded to Town of Port Hedland Mayor Camilo Blanco’s public challenge to bring him a solution to the drug and alcohol-related issues in the town.
As revealed by Seven West Media last month, the highly debated cashless welfare card is set to be next rolled out in the Goldfields, bypassing the Pilbara despite being heavily pushed for by Mr Blanco.
Strong Leaders member Raylene Button said while community members had different views on the cashless welfare card, they were unified in finding a new solution to the drug and alcoholrelated antisocial issues among the local Aboriginal community.
“We say, let us take care of our own affairs,” she said.
“If you want to save our people and get their life back in order, then give back our communities and give back our support there.”
Ms Button said having to come into Port Hedland to access health services made accessing drugs and alcohol easier than in remote communities, which was the reason for the increased social issues in Port and South Hedland.
“We had our communities closed and services taken away, so then everyone came into town and problems escalated in town,” she said.
“So the Government created problems for our local towns here, and that then started all the talk about the welfare basic card. It just went from one extreme to the next.
“So we say let us take care of our own affairs.
“Your solutions are great, but let us try ours now.”
The call for control comes after Mr Blanco said in an interview no one had a working solution to the issues in Port Hedland after he released CCTV footage of social issues in the South Hedland Square.
“Give me a solution that will actually work,” he said.
“Every time I ask that question to someone that opposes the cashless welfare card, they come up with nothing.”
Mr Blanco said when he met with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull earlier this month, he was told representatives from the offices of Federal ministers Alan Tudge and Christian Porter would be coming to the Pilbara to consult about the card trial.
Aboriginal language groups from across Port Hedland have joined forces in an effort to have a strong, unified voice in the Pilbara.
Spearheaded by Raylene Button, the group has named itself Strong Leaders and consists of elders and leaders from among the different Aboriginal language groups in the Hedland area.
Ms Button said she formed Strong Leaders as a way for there to be consistency among Aboriginal people in Port Hedland.
“We want to become the voice of this region, work in collaboration with Government and agencies and make better and informed decisions for our people,” she said.
“We also want to bring accountability to the services and the people as well.”
Ms Button said she came up with the idea after realising agencies around Hedland advocating for Aboriginal people were not effective because they did not directly deal with people on the ground, unlike leaders and elders among the different language groups.
“These agencies deal with the Government and the Government funding but they’re not actually servicing on the ground,” she said.
“We went to the meetings and the forums and asked how many of them actually went out to the people on the streets, telling them about what services are available, and not one had.”
Ms Button said while the services many agencies provided were beneficial, they were rarely communicated to the people, which rendered them futile.
“We want to make these people and agencies accountable, because they’re accessing all the funding and they’re setting up these programs,” she said.
“If you want people to get to your programs there needs to be consistency with people following through and we want to ensure that consistency.” Since its inception last month, Strong Leaders has started to make its presence known.
Meeting with representatives from various ministers’ offices, South Hedland magistrates and South Hedland police in the past week, Ms Button said the group was quickly gaining traction.
“We’ve been attending forums and making more of an impact and since starting, people now know this is who we are and our contact details,” she said.
“We’ve been having calls nonstop. People have been ringing asking who to talk to, how to contact different communities, so we’ve been on the go constantly.”
Strong Leaders has contacted the Town of Port Hedland to help develop mission and vision statements, and grow to become the central contact for all levels of government and agencies when tackling issues and growing the town.
“At the end of the day the goal is to better services and better the life of our people,” Ms Button said.
“That’s what we want.”
Some of the members of Strong Leaders, a united group representing different Aboriginal language groups in Hedland.