Tuesday 1 December 2009

The future of welfare payments

Political commentator, John Robinson says in the two years since the Commonwealth intervention in the Northern Territory, one of the most galling factors to Indigenous Australians has been the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act enabled welfare payments to be income managed as part of the Northern Territory Emergency Response.

Income Management meant that part of a recipients Centrelink payments are managed by Centrelink to help pay for things “needed” by the recipient and to “promote socially responsible behaviour and help protect children.”

The following is an extract from the DFaHCSIA website:-
“Half of people’s welfare payments are set aside for the priority needs of individuals, children and their families. This helps to ensure that:

• money paid by the Government for the benefit of children is directed to the priority needs of children

• women, the elderly and other vulnerable community members are provided with better financial security

• the amount of cash in communities is reduced to help counter substance abuse, gambling and other anti-social behaviours that can lead to child abuse and community dysfunction.

Income-managed funds must be directed towards agreed priority needs and services such as food, rent and utilities. This process assists families to meet essential household needs and expenses.

Income-managed funds cannot be used to purchase prohibited items such as alcohol, tobacco, pornography or gambling products.

Income management affects all people (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) who receive income-support payments and who live in the 73 prescribed communities, their associated outstations and the 10 town camp regions of the Northern Territory. “
Rudd and Labor went to the last election promising to restore the Racial Discrimination Act and Minister Macklin has now introduced a legislative timetable to do this.

Income management was perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be applicable to Indigenous people only. At the time of its introduction I was working in a Central Australian Community that was the first to be income management. We were swamped by Centrelink and DFaHCSIA staffers getting the structure developed. At that time, in June 2007, I was told by Centrelink, that income management in the NT was just a first step and that “they” wanted to introduce income management to every welfare recipient in Australia.

Last week Minister Macklin brought that idea a step closer. To end charges of discrimination, as from next July, Income Management will apply across the NT to all welfare recipients regardless of skin colour or ethnic origin. Exempted will be Age and disability benefits but moist everything else is in the mix. Further, under the proposed changes, the Minister can determine other areas where welfare income can be managed. No doubt Cape York will feature in there somewhere; perhaps the decisions may even be at the level of the 3 M’s.

So how have these changes been greeted? Well the Minister Press Release was released the same time as Abbot, Minchin and company were resigning from the opposition front bench.
Such a shame that the announcement got buried – but a masterly political stroke of timely announcements of controversial policy! Even I was impressed.

Since then the focus has remained on the Liberal party turmoil and the local press has not really got a hold of the tail of the story. Several Darwinians have told me that “it’s great that the Government is now catching up with the Aboriginals in town – about time”. When I mention that this is being applied across the board to all welfare recipients the hoary old chestnuts of dole-bludgers and single teen mums rorting the system come out.

My personal view is that 'Joe Voter' still does have the perception that all welfare recipients are bludgers and that there would be broad community support for these changes.

It will be interesting to see what happens when the changes start to affect the way welfare payments are made in the rest of the country. I suspect that Cairns and Cape York will be one of the first.

I just wonder if these changes to welfare payments are a good thing.


nocturnal congress said...

In the United States, where food stamps are issued, unconscienable corporations like WalMart supply canned food passsed their expiry dates and "second harvest" fruits and vegetables to the welfare recipients.

Trinity American said...


Slanderous bullshit.

As an American, I am offended - the use of foodstamps as welfare support is a terrific idea that Australia should emulate.

And as anyone with half a brain knows, Walmart stores are so busy that there is no way "past dated food" would be available to them.

Bobimagee said...

Historically in Australia the use of foodstamps issued for suss or dole as it was known was rorted by businesses providing substandard quality foodstuffs and short measure.

I cant see the large corporations and small businesses for that matter not taking advantage of the poor and defensless, they always have in the past

Miss Chief. said...

I have a good really good friend who is a reporter with a newspaper in Alabama US. She tells me that in some stores, food stamps can be traded illegally, for cash at an exchange of about 60c in the $. Needless to say the money received isn't always used to pay bills! If you want to get around the system there's always someone willing to help you find a way. Oh and the crack dealers are doing really well.

nocturnal congress said...

Thanks Bobimagee....yep, you can bet your last dollar the big corporations will use this idea of quarantining welfare payments to increase their profits....