Cape York Group chair Noel Pearson speaking at Catholic Health Australia 2013 national conference

The importance and power of the individual was a common theme highlighted in presentations by an indigenous leader and aged care CEO at Catholic Health Australia’s national health and aged care conference in Melbourne on Tuesday.

In a key note address on the challenges for the next stage of indigenous people’s advancement, indigenous law expert, activist and Cape York Group chair Noel Pearson said other regard alone could not lift a people, it had to be enacted by individuals operating in the interest of themselves and their families.

Mr Pearson asked why, despite much attention and goodwill, indigenous Australians were “perennially caught at the bottom of the pyramid” while other groups throughout Australia’s history have advanced and prospered.

He said they have come to realise that self-interest is a great driver for success but that notion has been anathema for indigenous people.

“Self interest in the breasts of individuals and parents desiring something better for themselves and for their children is the driver of progress,” Mr Pearson said.

He told conference delegates they had gained opportunities because their ancestors pursued self interest for themselves and their families.

However, in terms of indigenous policy and indigenous progress, this element that drives progress in the rest of Australians has been omitted.

“We think that indigenous progress can be achieved without indigenous Australians perusing their self-interest.

“I think that is a fatal flaw in our development thinking about indigenous policy.

“It is a fatal conceit on all those who aim to help the poor and down trodden that we advocate a double standard in respect to the question of self-interest.”

Further, advancement requires real human beings to climb, not just abstract societies or the work and goodwill of others, he said.

“If there is any lesson of the last 40 years in indigenous Australia, it is the lesson that other regard alone cannot lift a people.

“The stairs of progress in the world are ascended two-by-two by individuals and families. [They] are the actors in development.

“And when individual and indigenous families two-by-two vote with their feet for a better prospect for their children and more and more and more indigenous families join that pathway, the sum total of all of that progress I submit is called social justice,” Mr Pearson said.

Southern Cross Care SA/NT CEO Andrew Larpent

Also stressing the importance of the individual was Southern Cross Care SA/NT CEO Andrew Larpent in a talk on his perspectives from the frontline.

Mr Larpent, a Briton and 457-visa holder, said he was immensely proud to be part of Australian aged care but Australian aged care needed to be more proud of itself.

The Australian aged care kangaroo has lost its bounce, is how he described it, adding that the sector felt displeased and dispirited.

He called on the aged care sector to allow and encourage its workers to free their spirits and innovate.

“We need to let people do what they are capable of doing and what they are able to, to rise up to the standards they aspire to. The standards they wished to have when they first stepped foot in our system,” Mr Larpent said.

When people are working flat out to provide care of the highest possible quality and continually trying to raise the bar, it’s sometimes hard for them to recognise dispirited factors, he said.

“But we hear it often. We hear about stress in the system, we hear about fatigue. We hear about a regulation and compliance culture rather than a quality culture,” Mr Larpent said.

“But if we can free that spirit, let that innovation flow, we will put the bounce back into the Australian aged care system,” he said.

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