“The Government has shown absolute disregard for our wishes and our human rights”, Dr Djiniyini Gondarra, Yolngu Nations Assembly spokesperson, declared after “Stronger Futures” laws passed the Senate on June 29. The laws extend the Northern Territory Intervention for ten years and have been condemned by the Yolngu Nations and many Aboriginal, community and church organisations. 42,000 people signed a petition opposing the legislation.
One aspect of what many now describe as “Stolen Futures” is the expansion of the policy of Income Management or welfare quarantining. The Sydney suburb of Bankstown is one of five areas chosen for the expansion, although the Minister can now designate other sites at will.
The debate will go to the NSW ALP conference on July 14-15, with union leaders to ask the conference to condemn the expansion into Bankstown. Mark Boyd of United Voice and also ALP NSW vice-president has criticised “a Labor government continuing a Howard government policy”, and said the $21 million Income Management will cost should instead be spent on real social programs.
The depth of opposition in Bankstown was demonstrated forcefully at an 8.30am rally on the morning the measure came into force. After more than a year of organising, community organisations and unions have joined a boycott, refusing to cooperate with efforts to promote the program, and pledging to support any workers who join the boycott.
Sally McManus, Secretary of the Australian Services Union (ACT/NSW), described the “indignity and stigmatisation this system will create”. Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon focussed on the complete lack of evidence showing Income Management is effective.
Ninety five per cent of referrals to the NT’s similar “vulnerable” Income Management stream lacked any evidence for the decision. The government’s own progress report shows that child health, school attendance and employment outcomes have gone backwards since Income Management began in 2007.
Other speakers included Mark Boyd, NSW Secretary of United Voice, Chris Christodoulou of Unions NSW, Brett Holmes, General Secretary of NSW Nurses Association, Pam Batkin of Woodville Community Services and Randa Kattan of the Arab Council Australia. Kattan described the dismay within the Arab community in Bankstown, who feel the scheme targets and stigmatises them.
A two-week vigil outside Bankstown Centrelink to ensure that people were aware of their rights has worked: the Sun-Herald reported that half-way through only five people have signed up for Income Management.