Wrong way, go back: Communities seek a change of direction on income management

Peak welfare bodies the Australian Council of Social Service and the National Welfare Rights Network and grass roots community groups are disturbed by the entrenchment of Income Management in the Northern Territory and its extension to five new areas from 1 July. The groups argue that to impose income management on communities without proper consultation and solid evidence on its effects is wasteful and demeaning to those people whose household budgets will be controlled by Centrelink. 

“We are extremely disappointed to see the Government’s ‘Stronger Futures’ legislation passed in the Senate in the early hours of this morning, that not only extends the NT intervention by another 10 years, but also now imposes the unproven income management model for people on social security payments to five trial sites outside the Top End. The Government committed to evaluate the Northern Territory scheme before extending it further but has now extended aspects of it anyway, both in the Territory and the five new sites, ” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie. 

“From this Sunday the communities of Bankstown in NSW, Playford in South Australia, Shepparton in Victoria, and Rockhampton and Logan in Queensland, in addition to the Northern Territory, will have an invisible fence around them and be treated differently from the rest of Australia, at a very high cost. Spending around $6,000 per person to manage people’s very low incomes just doesn’t make sense. Most of the people targeted are on Newstart Allowance or single parenting payments who are living on as little as $35 a day,” Dr Goldie said. 

Maree O’Halloran from the National Welfare Rights Network said, “The passage of the ‘Stronger Futures’ legislation makes us a weaker nation. Ninety per cent of people under compulsory income management in the Northern Territory are Aboriginal which should be a matter of national shame.” 

Pam Batkin, Executive Officer at Woodville Community Services and member of the Not in Bankstown Not Anywhere Coalition said, “Income management is a bad social policy. Rather than helping people look after their families better and manage their money better income management punishes and stigmatises people in our community who are already struggling. 

“When so many people across our community agree that the Newstart Allowance is simply not enough for anyone to live on, there is something profoundly wrong with the government spending so much to manage the spending of a single person on this allowance. We call upon the government to abandon income management across Australia and to act to ensure that all people in our community simply have enough money to live on,” Ms Batkin said. 

Ms Randa Kattan, Executive Director of Arab Council Australia and spokesperson for the Bankstown Coalition, visited NT communities late 2011 to see firsthand the impact of income management. “From the bush to Bankstown, people do not need income management. They need job opportunities, higher incomes and improved social services. But here in Bankstown ‘Stronger Futures’ means the same punitive approach that we see in the NT. Only $2.5 million has been allocated for community based programs, while $23 million will be spent on income management,” she said.

David Tenant, CEO, Family Care, in Shepparton, Victoria said, “It’s absolutely vital that the people who are referring clients to income management ensure they are not making difficult situations more difficult for those people. Too much of welfare reform is focussed on what is wrong in communities. The Commonwealth needs to work harder on building strength and opportunities and that work has to be done in partnership with communities.”

Terry Stedman, Chairman, Logan Indigenous Community Justice Centre in Queensland said, “We are very concerned about the absence of any way of evaluating decisions made to refer people onto income management and the lack of an appeals process. Instead of punishing people the government should be spending this money on ensuring enough support services for these families – such as more mental health services for children and adults, more advocacy services (particularly for migrant families), domestic violence perpetrators programs, drug and alcohol diversion facilities and others – which are sorely missing or lacking in Logan. Local businesses are worried too about the impact this will have, especially when you consider that there was no economic impact statement done in our community.

“I fear where this is all going when we start to treat people differently like this. We’d like to see a Families Responsibility Commission set up in Logan so we don’t have bad decisions and so targeted individuals and families have some sort of recourse. This seems to work well in North Queensland where the FRC can properly assist people and even be critical of government where support services for our society’s most vulnerable families are simply inadequate,” Mr Stedman said.

“Despite any evidence that income management is effective, $117.5 million will be spent to fund a mini-bureaucracy to micro-manage the spending of 4000 Australians living on poverty-line payments,” Ms Maree O’Halloran said. “As discriminatory social policy, welfare quarantining has pervasive and far-reaching impacts. For example, half of the Clean Energy Supplement and the Clean Energy Advance, as well as the proposed $210 per year Supplementary Allowance announced in the recent budget, will be quarantined on the BasicsCard.” 

Ms O’Halloran added, “With just days before the starting date we are struggling to obtain a comprehensive picture of how the rules will operate in the five new areas. The lack of clear information about how the schemes will operate is causing unnecessary anxiety. In some circumstances, the right to an independent appeal is effectively being stripped away. In light of the recent Commonwealth Ombudsman’s report on the experience in the Northern Territory, this is deeply concerning.”

Dr Cassandra Goldie said, “Neither Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory nor the communities of Bankstown, Shepparton, Logan, Rockhampton or Playford asked for income management. It was imposed by Government. As the peak national body for Australia’s community sector, we urge the federal government to rethink income management. The Government should work with local communities, peak bodies, and grass roots services on lasting solutions for the real problems that exist in these communities.

“There are good models available, including the Northern Territory’s ‘Every Child Every Day’ strategy on school attendance, the Cape York Family Responsibilities Commission model, and new investment by the Federal Government in local employment, family and support programs in the five regions targeted for income management, ” Dr Goldie concluded.

Media Contacts

Fernando de Freitas, ACOSS – 0419 626 155

Gerard Thomas, NWRN – 0425 296 882

Pam Batkin, Woodville Community Services – 0417 230 580

Ms Randa Kattan, Arab Council Australia – 0433 144 858

Terry Stedman, Logan Indigenous Community Justice Centre – 07 3372 7677

David Tenant, Family Care, in Shepparton, Victoria – 03 5823 7000