A NEW report has damned Labor’s income management policy. The report is from the Equal Rights Alliance (ERA), representing more than 50 groups advocating for women’s rights.
Income management “quarantines” between 50 to 70 per cent of Centrelink payments. Mostly these funds are put onto a BasicsCard that can only be used to buy “essential items” at government approved stores and some is held back to pay bills.
The system was first imposed on Aboriginal communities under the Northern Territory Intervention. It has since been introduced in some areas of Western Australia, Cape York and expanded to the whole Northern Territory. Further expansion to five new “trial sites” across Australia is planned in 2012.
More than 180 women with direct experience of Income Management participated in surveys and focus groups, making this the most extensive study of the system. Seventy-nine per cent said they wanted to exit Income Management immediately.
The report blows apart key myths peddled by Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin about Income Management. Eighty five per cent of women said they had not changed what they buy since being put on the BasicsCard. Seventy four per cent said it had not made looking after their family easier and three quarters did not feel safer.
A key theme in the report is the discrimination and the shame of using the card. Ninety two per cent of people on Income Management are still Indigenous and a number of those included since the Northern Territory expansion have been refugees. There was a strong perception amongst those surveyed that BasicsCard was only for black people. Seventy four per cent agreed with the statement, “people aren’t as nice to me when they see I use BasicsCard”.
There report documents outrageous impositions on daily life—such as women wasting all their phone credit trying to check their BasicsCard balance, or transactions routinely failing due to lack of funds. In many cases Centrelink had failed to pay bills or rent on time, leading to a scramble for cash before services were cut off. Many had extreme difficulty obtaining medicine.
One woman developed a health condition due to stress from Income Management. Another reported her son saw no need to study maths at school because, “the government does it for you on the BasicsCard”.
Income Management epitomises everything that is wrong with the NT Intervention.
The racist assumption that Aboriginal people can not manage has provided the ideological cover for the seizure of millions of dollars of Aboriginal assets in the NT. Administering income management will cost $350 million over the next four years—while remote communities are branded “unviable” and their services and employment programs are slashed.
The campaign against the NT Intervention has initiated a petition demanding a moratorium on Income Management.
The petition is also sponsored by a new coalition in Bankstown, “Say No to Government Income Management”, formed following the announcement in May that Bankstown would be one of the five new “trial sites” for Income Management. Their founding statement, published in the local press, gained endorsement from more than 40 organisations, including Unions NSW, the Migrant Resource Centre, Catholic Care and Uniting Care.
The moratorium campaign is designed to tie together resistance to the Intervention with the growing strength of the Bankstown campaign. It demands immediate amnesty for the more than 15,000 people still on Income Management in the NT and the shelving of plans for further expansion.
Intervention Rollback Action Group spokesperson Barbara Shaw, from Mt Nancy town camp in Alice Springs, will tour Sydney from October 2. Protest action is planned at Bankstown Centrelink to take forward the moratorium campaign and demand Barbara is taken off Income Management immediately.