A Fortnight Of Financial Intervention


This article is part of newmatilda.com’s Urban Intervention experiment. For more information read this.

Day One

As a student I think I’ll be able to live on $300 for a fortnight, and I probably have inadvertently done it once or twice. But never have I been so aware of the money in my pocket as when I handed in my bank card to newmatilda.com’s editor. If I get stuck somewhere, out late, that’s it — I’m walkin’ home.

It’s holidays from university for me at the moment, so my daily schedule involves sitting around being a useless arts student, as well as catching Sydney’s malfunctioning buses
and trains to be with other useless arts students.

Ok. I did already have some food in the fridge. A bag of muesli, three eggs, half a serve of pasta, the remnants of a jar of vegemite, one tomato and six mushrooms — yes, they were shitake. No, I am not a wanker.

They were on special.

Apparently, one half of welfare payments under the Intervention are "quarantined for essentials", that’s one of the rules.

Minus the average fines and child support payments of $30 a fortnight each, my total payment would be $400, so $200 is controlled. With $100 being taken out for rent, I am left with a $100 tab at the Hoochie Mamma Café and Grocery store on Missenden Road in Newtown which I can only spend on food. I bought milk, bread and tuna. I’m already thinking about my budget, and I leave several cans of baked beans and some tomatoes sitting on the shelves.

There was a big, glossy $50 note sitting in the letter box when i got home. It has the small words "Not legal tender" printed in the top corner. It was a flyer for Civic Video. I threw it in the bin.

It’s already a very boring day. I can’t view porn, or drink alcohol in my local area (Newtown). Furthermore, even if I had a reason to use the internet now that I’ve lost my porn privileges, I can’t. Because there’s no way people in remote communities are zipping online to check footy scores or youtube. So internet is banned.

I have a friend staying the night — she had a fight with her housemates. She’s Aboriginal and thinks the story is a "totally f*cking stupid" idea. I explain that it won’t be a patronising vacation into ‘hardship’ to ‘understand’ people in the Northern Territory — or at least I hope it won’t be. It’s about putting a white, middle-class kid under these restrictions — someone who the government would never do this to — to see just how much it imposes on my freedom and lifestyle.

She nods understandingly, but isn’t really interested. Instead to lighten the atmosphere she sarcastically adopts the cautious voice of an older, richer woman tripping over herself in an
attempt to be liberal, "I just can’t believe you’re writing about … Black people … that’s so noble."

Day Two

I figure I should read the reports done on the Intervention and the effects of income management since I have some time on my hands. It’s worth noting that the Northern Territory Emergency Response Review Board Report — that’s the review that the Rudd Government undertook of the policy — recommended that mandatory income quarantining be scrapped. The Review Board recommended, essentially, that income management should be voluntary unless deemed necessary for the safety of the person and or their family by an independent committee possibly made up of police and community members.

But the Government opted to ignore this recommendation, preferring the blanket approach of the former Howard government for everyone in Aboriginal communities or town camps across the territory.

I mean, who gives a shit who needs it and who doesn’t, right?

The report states: "The blanket imposition of compulsory income management across indigenous communities in the Northern Territory has resulted in widespread disillusionment, resentment and anger in a significant segment of the community."

These are just some of the responses to compulsory income management that were collected by the review committee:

"It affects everything — I can’t even send money for my kids in boarding school and other expenses apart from nominated stores."

"I prefer my money in my account. We have needs — paying for a generator, use of a vehicle, fuel etc and you can’t pay for that with the [quarantined money]… "

"I want to do it monthly. I live in the bush and it’s too far to come every two weeks."

"We do shopping at their favourite shop (Woolies) and the money is all spend and we come out of Woolies and we don’t have any money for fares to take the foods home. If you think we don’t need money, why not provide a government bus to get the groceries home?"

It was very unproductive today. A lot of tidying and laundry. I’m fairly happy to have managed to not spend any money today. But it’s boring as piss. I’ll go out tomorrow and you’ll get to tag along.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.