Monday, March 22, 2010

Summary of problems for women if current Bills to extend the Income Management to a wider population are passed

There is a very toxic change that is on the way for the welfare system and it has particular significance for women. The following is a brief summary of the effects of proposed changes on women. The Government is pushing the legislation through the senate in a couple of weeks and, as the Opposition has agreed, it will go through. The Greens have opposed it and continue the fight.

The income quaranting program has consistently been justified by Minister Macklin by claiming it is supported by women and protects them from violence. This is echoed in the majority (ALP Senators) report on the senate inquiry released last week. However, the evidence does not support these claims and both the original actions against prescribed communities and the proposed extension to the NT, and then the rest of Australia, have serious implications for women.

The Bills extend the income management system that was imposed on 73 communities in the NT. Now it will be applied to non-Indigenous welfare recipients as well, first in the NT and then in the rest of Australia. This will allow the Government to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act by putting unfair measures on other welfare recipients as well. The Government will be able, amongst other things, to impose compulsory income quarantining to non-Indigenous welfare recipients who live in certain areas, regardless of how well they are managing their income.

Sole parents, those on Newstart which now covers many people with disabilities and recently arrived immigrants, will have half their Government benefits put onto a plastic card that can only be used for approved products at approved (big) stores. This card will be administered by Centrelink. If they want to be exempted they have to prove to the bureaucrats that they are good mothers or good job seekers. This is deeply offensive and often difficult for women who already have to manage with limited funds and being scape-goated.

The Bill is in the senate, which completed an inquiry. This has reported full support for the Bills from the ALP senators, despite serious doubts about the effectiveness of the measures in the NT. The Greens dissented because the measures are both unfair and don't work. The
Coalition members originally opposed the Bills as it was seen as too soft because it omitted age and disability pensioners. They have now changed their mind because they want to toughen their welfare stuff further when they get back in.

It is puzzling that government members supported the Bill, except that it is government policy. There were over 90 written submissions to the Inquiry and many appearances at hearings, and almost all of these opposed the changes and/or were critical of the so called evidence that income management worked.

At best, 5 agencies supported the Bills, including the NT government and a couple of agencies from Central Australia. Most big welfare agencies, such as St Vinnies, Anglicare, ACOSS etc are very clearly opposed to the extension and the original program as were other women's groups such as a DV group and the Sole Parent Union.

They were very worried about its effects on sole parents and victims of violence and with NAPCAN, couldn't see how the changes did or would protect children

This is an example of both bad policy making, (ignoring evidence) and persecution of the vulnerable.

If you want to help stop this, please contact me on or make contact at the conference.

1 comment:

Lucy Honan, Jasmine Ali said...

New Intervention Laws - Still About Racism

Dear Eva,

This is a very important discussion to have, and hopefully there will be room to discuss this at the conference--

Its right to expose the government's hypocritical claims that the NT Intervention is about saving children and protecting women from domestic violence. The NTER measures actually cut domestic violence programs already operative in remote communities such as Yuendemu and recent government reviews show that rates of domestic violence have risen since the NT intervention. By all reliable accounts Aboriginal women have even less control than before over their own lives.

It's important to be clear that the Intervention was never about dealing with any of the social problems in remote communities but neither is the problem with the government's approach mere bad policy or even a more general attack on women in Australia. It has always been a deliberate policy-strategy pursued by Howard originally, and now entrenched and extended by Rudd and Macklin with the aim of assimilating Aboriginal communities in the NT instead of providing resources and funding for communities to manage and self-determine.

A major impact of welfare quarantines, as all of the submissions to senate inquiries make clear, has been to force and starve people away from homelands that were won in the 1970s into under-resourced hub-towns. The intention and impact of the entire intervention has been to mainstream indigenous-specific programs and undermine the power of Aboriginal run and controlled organisations. This is why the government is refusing to follow the direction of all of the submissions. This transparent racism is why Aboriginal communities have been so strong in their opposition to the policy and this is why people have been calling for the reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The new laws, as you point out, include the potential to extend the welfare quarantines to non-indigenous groups at the end of 2010. This development by Labor, for which Macklin and others have come under increasing fire, is a way for them to get around the criticism that the NTER is a racist attack. By nominally claiming that these Intervention measures can be applied to non-aboriginal people the government hopes to disguise this racist policy ie. that its 'not really about targeting aboriginal communities but dealing with welfare dependents' etc.

Of course, an extension of the welfare quarantines would hit women harder than men -- and income management has already hit Aboriginal women hardest over the last three years. But to believe that the government's new measures are an attack on women is not only to misunderstand the NTER and the history of Australian government's relationship to Aboriginal people, but also to let the government get away with continuing what is a very brutal racist attack on Aboriginal people.

Acknowledging that the new laws are about racism does not and should not deter women from prioritising the fight against the NT Intervention but in fact the opposite. Women are leading the fight both in the NT and nationally against this piece of racist legislation. The continued struggle against the government's racist attack will only build the strength and confidence of women to fight back against sexism and other forms of oppression.

in solidarity,

Jasmine Ali, Lucy Honan