WELFARE, NOT WORK: CRITICAL RURAL SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE AND THE HISTORY OF THE WORK PLACEMENT SCHEME

By Milton James

Paperback in colour

AU$55 rrp + postage

One of Australia’s leading anthropologists, Peter Sutton, wrote in his book, The Politics of Suffering—Indigenous Australians and the End of the Liberal Consensus:
         In the 2000s the media gave good-news exposure to  
         young men from Cape York who went fruit picking on
         the Murray River as part of a Noel Pearson scheme to
         get them orbiting between the ghettos and the real
         economy. It was fresh news. It had also been done
         before in the 1960s … And whoever followed up those
         experiments to see where they led?


Presented here is the history of that highly successful project, named the Work Placement Scheme. Whilst Noel Pearson got the credit for it, the scheme was actually the brainchild of Milton James, a professional social work practitioner with over thirty years of experience. The scheme was established to help some of the most disadvantaged Indigenous youths living in remote welfare ghettos who were not responding to standard  approaches. As the name suggests, the scheme is premised on the fervent belief that the best way to help these young people is to get them off welfare and into real employment.

Recording this history takes the form of developmental notes. Readers will be given a front row seat to the ups and downs of the project as it unfolded, and experience what it can be like working with some of the most disadvantaged youths in this country and with one of the toughest and ugliest of industries—the Aboriginal welfare industry.

Much of this information has been shared with the public before, but much had been held back or played out behind closed doors. This book provides a window into the inner workings of the Aboriginal welfare industry, revealing the extent to which our senior government bureaucrats are so hopelessly disconnected from the situation on the ground, and largely incapable of distinguishing the chaff from the grain. These bureaucrats will talk about the need for a new approach, but at the same time will reject any new approach or innovation that does not conform to the current ideology and political framework. More worrying is that they have created an industry based largely around patronage rather than the ability of service providers to achieve real results. Is it any wonder that our country stands no chance of ever closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, particularly for the most disadvantaged?

Readers will surely find some of the notes riveting reading, particularly when James confronts elite bureaucrats and misguided welfare workers who never have to suffer the bad consequences of their so-called ‘progressive’ policies and practices. Throughout the book, you can witness James rubbing the faces of these bureaucrats into the muck they created, the burning of their idols, and the slaughtering of their sacred cows. It took twelve years—long after Pearson had moved on—for James to get the practice of his scheme right, free from government funding. What is left to be seen is whether or not its end will be history repeating itself.