Bishop comments a bit rough, Minister complains

Responding to criticism by Australia's bishops, Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough says they have "missed the point" if they characterise Federal Government plans as "racist or discriminatory" but bishops' president Archbishop Philip Wilson conceded he did not "have the answers".

Mr Brough was responding to criticism from the Catholic Church over the Commonwealth's plan to withhold welfare payments from Aboriginal parents, ABC News reports.

The bishops had described the plan as discriminatory and as a form of "institutionalised racism" but Mr Brough says it is easy to make such judgements from afar.

"When you actually confront people who are having to live with the stress, and the distress of having money literally taken off them by those who would use it for things such as drugs and alcohol and gambling, then they'd understand that the way you would discriminate against these people is to leave them in this circumstance," he said.

Mr Brough says a tough response is needed.

"A gentleman yesterday ... has six brothers and sisters, three of them are dead, from grog ... that's how it's torn families apart and that's what we have to try and break once and for all," he said.

"And if the bishops want to say it's somehow racist or discriminatory then I think they really have missed the point about what we have to achieve here."

But the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Archbishop Wilson as saying the federal government should be applauded for trying to tackle poverty and child abuse issues in remote Aboriginal communities.

"I think it is really wonderful that at last we have such a major commitment on the part of a government, that's supported by the Labor Party as well, that enables us to be really engaged with these problems and trying to do something about it," the Archbishop told journalists outside St Francis Xavier's Cathedral.

The Archdiocese of Adelaide on Sunday marked the beginning of NAIDOC Week with an Aboriginal and Islander Mass, which was attended by a number of Aboriginal leaders including professor Lowitja O'Donoghue.

Archbishop Wilson said a long-term plan was needed to tackle the problems in remote indigenous communities.

"A plan which involves lots of resources and lots of different ways of trying to cope with the issues that people are facing," he said.

When asked what a long-term plan should include, the Archbishop said steps needed to be taken to break the cycle of poverty in these communities but he conceded he did not "have the answers".

"I don't know whether there's anybody who has the answers completely but I think as a community, given all of the strengths that are ours as an Australian community, we certainly can make a difference."

Brough denies backflip on compulsory check-ups (ABC News, 7/7/07)
Indigenous welfare policy 'racist': Catholic bishops (ABC News, 6/7/07)
Indigenous plan gets church backing (Sydney Morning Herald, 9/7/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Mal Brough website
Archbishop Philip Wilson website

Work with Aborigines, bishops say (CathNews, 6/7/07)
Tackle Indigenous problems, not symptoms: Caritas (CathNews, 26/6/07)
Avoid "bullyboy" approach: Darwin bishop (CathNews, 25/6/07)
Wadeye Indigenous community appeals to Pell (CathNews, 21/11/06)
Aboriginal elder tells Catholics to challenge Indigenous injustices (CathNews, 15/9/06)
Bishops' social justice statement focuses on Indigenous disadvantage (CathNews, 14/9/06)

9 Jul 2007