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Can Palm Island survive as an 'out of sight - out of mind' welfare dependent community?

By Peter Lindsay - posted Thursday, 2 December 2004

The shocking events of last Friday on Palm Island underscore a dysfunctional community in disarray, a community that must be helped.

In all of the words that have been said and written about the riot on Palm Island I have not been able to find any that talk about the real solution that has to be faced.

A community of 42 different tribes that have lost their cultural heritage will continue to spiral downwards if Indigenous leaders and governments do not face this core problem.


With 86 years of experience, just how long is it going to take all Australians to conclude that Palm Island is not viable and never will be while it sits as an “out of sight - out of mind” welfare dependent community. It will remain a community where alcoholism, domestic violence, drugs, health problems, unemployment, housing, sense of self worth and literacy standards may be the worst in the country.

The 42 tribes and their leaders on the island have had ample time to do something about the hopelessness that pervades the community. They have had more than enough money, yet nothing changes - year after year after year. Since 1998, after I came to understand Palm Island, I have been supporting an integrationist model - a model that has worked well on the mainland.

There are 8,000 Indigenous Australians in my electorate, the majority living in the cities of Townsville and Thuringowa. Those on the mainland do not share the lack of self-esteem, the domestic violence, the lack of job opportunities, the lack of housing and poor education that typifies the Palm Island community.

Premier Beattie’s five point plan announced this week has to be seen for what it is - a recipe for just more of the same. The Indigenous people of Palm Island do aspire to be better and I believe the key to that is the current review of the Queensland Government Aboriginal Lands Act. I strongly support making changes to land tenure on Palm Island. It is the key to improving the self-esteem of islanders and to bringing about local integration.

It will provide an opportunity for economic participation and home ownership, something that islanders cannot even dream of under the Deed of Grant in Trust tenure. Presently islanders cannot own their own home or their own land so that they don’t have any equity, and so they can’t get a loan.

The Queensland Government will say, “This is all too difficult. How would they ever handle freeholding the township areas? How would they handle the tenure on the balance of the island?” But I remind the Queensland Government of two things:

  1. failure to act will see Palm Island stay the way it is;
  2. Aboriginal people I talk to want this to happen.

The most costly mistake we can make now is to continue to think that the provision of infrastructure and the introduction of co-ordinated program delivery strategies on Palm Island will solve the social, political, cultural and economic issues impacting upon the residents who live there.

Palm Island was first established in 1918 as a government reserve under the 1897 Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act. This enabled local Police Protectors throughout Queensland to remove Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples to reserves.

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This is an edited transcript of the Grievance Debate from Hansard November 29, 2004.

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About the Author

Mr Peter Lindsay MP, is the Liberal Member for Herbert (Qld).

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