ACOSS has expressed deep disappointment that a Senate Committee Inquiry examining a national income management scheme has failed to recommend against the introduction of a policy that will cause shame and discriminate against low-income Australians.

“Given the overwhelming evidence presented to the committee about the detriments of the scheme, this is a very disappointing outcome for low-income Australians,” said Clare Martin, CEO, Australian Council of Social Service.

“The majority report reflects a single-minded pursuit of this policy, despite all evidence to the contrary. It is a case of the government experimenting first and evaluating later despite the risk of social harm.

“This scheme will see the government take unprecedented control over the finances of low-income Australians. The cost of the scheme alone should have demanded greater scrutiny. $4,400 will be spent each year on every person being income managed in the Northern Territory.

Delivering the 2010 Dame Roma Mitchell Memorial Lunch in Melbourne, Clare Martin described the government’s income management scheme as a major shift in Australian social policy which will bring back a ration system last seen in the Depression.

“Our modern social security system is now under threat from major reforms which are proposed to the social security system by the current Government.”

“While voluntary income management can be a useful tool for some services and communities, it must be a tool in their hands, not an instrument applied by government.”

“During the Senate Committee Inquiry, Aboriginal people spoke of their frustration at not being able to shop at their preferred retailers, of the burden of frequent contact with Centrelink and the shame of being stigmatised by the Basics Card.

“In some town centres in the Territory, separate queues have been established for income managed shoppers due to the delays caused by declined transactions. Because it is difficult to check the balance on the card, one in five transactions have been declined with embarrassed shoppers forced to return goods to the shelves.

Senate Committee figures reveal that in the Northern Territory when the scheme will first be rolled out, 5,600 people under 25 and 14,500 people over 25 will be affected.

The legislation would enable a compulsory income management scheme to be potentially applied to all long-term recipients of specified payments in declared disadvantaged communities. The Government is not able to say how many other people across Australia would be covered by the scheme; or the total national cost.

The speech is available here: Clare Martin, Address to the 2010 Dame Roma Mitchell Memorial Lunch

Media Contact: Clare Cameron, ACOSS – 0419 626 155