26 Nov 2009

Macklin Announces Massive Changes To Welfare

By Rachel Siewert
In order to keep the NT Intervention without appearing racist, the Government has moved to give itself income management powers for the whole country, writes Greens senator Rachel Siewert
Late on Tuesday in Canberra, while the eyes of the nation were focused on a climate split in the Coalition party room, the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, quietly briefed a few selected journalists on controversial plans to roll out welfare quarantining nationwide.

Both the timing and manner of the release were highly suspicious — with the announcement being embargoed to minimise any coverage of negative reaction to the announcement from lawyers, human rights advocates and the Greens.

Although the plan announced by Macklin involves expanding mandatory welfare quarantining to the whole of Australia, it appears likely the Government's application of these national laws will be limited to a "trial" in the Northern Territory until after the next election.

If the legislation is passed, the Minister will be able to make any area in Australia a "declared income management area". The new measures will then apply to quarantine 50 per cent of the welfare payment of income recipients in three broad categories.

One of those categories is "disengaged youth", which means all those on Youth Allowance, Newstart, special benefits and parenting payments who are between 15 and 25-years-old and have been receiving payments for 13 out of 26 weeks, will be quarantined. Another category is "long-term recipients", which includes all Youth Allowance, Newstart, special benefits and both parenting payments who are over 25 but not yet of pension age and have received payment for 52 weeks out of the last 104 weeks. As well as these people, "vulnerable welfare recipients" — ie anyone on an income support payment — can be individually declared "vulnerable" or "at risk" under guidelines drawn up by the Minister.

Clearly this is an attempt by the Government to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) in the Northern Territory, while still maintaining the Howard-Brough Intervention measures.

The Government claims they have community support for income quarantining as a result of the consultation process recently carried out by FaHCSIA in prescribed communities in the Northern Territory.

However, it is now clear that this approach was not as open, transparent or fair as the Government would have us believe. The recently released independent report, Will they be heard?, found that there has been a failure to consult properly, and that claims of alleged support for the proposed measures are far from credible.

The transcripts from community meetings in this report seriously undermine attempts by the Minister to use these consultations to claim genuine "informed consent", as they clearly show they were not undertaken in good faith. Participants were merely asked to choose between a narrow range of options already formulated by the Government and were not given a chance to put forward their own ideas for reform. The consultations also demonstrated a lack of support for the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) within the community who resented the manner in which they had been singled out by these discriminatory measures.

Both the costs and the implications of this move are huge. This is the largest change in social policy by an ALP government in recent history and signals a massive shift in values from the ALP roots in the culture of "a fair go" to a highly conservative paternalistic social policy which singles out the disadvantaged and deliberately limits their choices "for their own good".

The ALP is apparently buying into the argument that single parents, the unemployed and other disadvantaged families waste their money, don't care for their kids and can't look after them, and need to be compelled to do the right thing.

Meanwhile, there is no evidence that this morally dubious, expensive and administration-intensive approach can deliver outcomes that justify its complexity and cost.

The Rudd Government's step is a signal that it is much more socially conservative than its rhetoric about social inclusion would have us believe. For a government that came to power on the back of a campaign for the rights of working families, they seem eager and willing to undertake massive experiments in public policy.

Through this change in policy, the Government is not so much moving away from discriminating against Aboriginal people as expanding its discrimination to include a wider group of low-income and disadvantaged Australians.

While there is no doubt that more resources are needed to address Aboriginal disadvantage and to close the gap on health, education and life outcomes, the punitive approach of intervention, of restricting and micro-managing the day-to-day choices of the marginalised and socially excluded is not the way to encourage and empower them.

Now, after so many years of insufficient resources going to improve the lives of disadvantaged people, the Government has chosen to blatantly squander a very large amount of money on unnecessary, ill-conceived and ineffectual measures while many successful programs and organisations still go begging.

Rather than attempting to punish struggling, low-income families, the Government should be dealing with the underlying causes of neglect and delivering proper support for families in crisis.

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GraemeF
Posted Thursday, November 26, 2009 - 13:37

A friend of mine who has worked for Centrelink for well over a decade made some comments when we heard this story on the news.

Unfortunately it would not be polite to reproduce that sort of language here.

othello_cat
Posted Thursday, November 26, 2009 - 14:42

Will the government dare to apply the same ham-fisted approach to middle-class welfare? It seems that it is perfectly acceptable for Mr and Mrs Doctor, Mr and Mrs Engineer and Mr and Mrs Lawyer to spend their $5000 baby bonus on a case of Grange and not a case of Veebs.

bywongbooth
Posted Thursday, November 26, 2009 - 16:28

The ALP government has continued and is planning to extend the Howard "Blaming the Victim" welfare strategy. Such a progressive leap forward to define a new series of targets for harassment by Centrelink.

To remove racial discrimination against aboriginals, Macklin has defined a new set of "non-aboriginal aboriginals". This is patronising stereotyping of classes of welfare recipients. What evidence is available to support this draconian right wing approach? It is wrong for the NT intervention and it is also wrong to extend the policy to all Australians.

Australia was once (in the 20th century) a leader in welfare provision. This new policy is a step back to the convict days when it was deemed that a lower breed of people can not fend for themselves and need the Government to decide for them what they do with their income.

A great leap forward? I think not.

Barry Healy
Posted Thursday, November 26, 2009 - 16:59

This is a perfect example of how repression directed at a minority becomes generalised across the rest of society.

Similarly, when Australian Aborigines win rights for themselves it lifts the whole of society.

It’s the great, undeclared secret about Australia: Aborigines carry a disproportionate load for the whole country. The Aboriginal Medical Service preceded Medibank, the Aboriginal Legal Service preceded the Australian Legal Aid Office.

There is a “perfect storm” of racism, xenophobia and discrimination against the “lower orders” looming in response to the climate crisis and the global economic crunch. Both Labor and Liberal are playing the game, each in their own distinctive manner.

ncar
Posted Thursday, November 26, 2009 - 17:39

Sure, there could have been more, or real, community consultation but I think the general principle is right: people who can't look after themselves do need to loose some of their freedom (1/2 their income, whatever it takes) to be helped along.

Help me help you. Why is this so controversial? Society has a history of removing freedom from people who, for whatever reason are not doing well with that freedom. Letting Aboriginal men in some places in the NT spend all their cash on whatever they want is a really bad idea and needs to be stopped- high-minded ideas of freedom, racial discrimination and so or be damned! Those ideas are just a million miles from the reality for those communities.

I have 2nd hand accounts of life in communities near Utopia (my wife's a doctor and has worked there) and they suggest that almost anything is better than the nothing that has been there until now.

When some form of functioning society is present in places like Utopia with assault, crime, anti social behaviour etc rates somewhat like the rest of Australia, the inhabitants can then have the same income freedom that the rest of us enjoy.

Barry Healy
Posted Thursday, November 26, 2009 - 18:58

ncar, I could rattle off first-hand stories of wasted money, violence and disgraceful behaviour in “the rest of Australia”.

Fact is, an alcoholic, dishonest wretch can be Prime Minister in Australia and no one bats an eye. Or they can be the richest man in the country and their perversions, drug addictions and tax avoidance rate no mention.

When Aboriginal people commit “assault, crime, anti social behaviour etc”, all Aboriginal people are condemned as criminals.

When a “mainstream” Aussie, say, lies through their teeth and sends soldiers to slaughter in Iraq and Afghanistan, that’s taken as a personal foible. Or if such a person presides over a massive example of corruption involving hundreds of millions of dollars, like the Iraqi wheat scandal, no one would suggest that half the entire community’s income should be seized as a consequence.

If you simply Google life expectancy rates of Aboriginal Australians compared to Maoris and North American native peoples you’ll be amazed at the difference that a treaty can make.

ncar
Posted Friday, November 27, 2009 - 00:30

Barry,

Granted, I think there are many things that we could do much better regarding the shameful (for Australians) conditions of out indigenous people and I fully support more money, attention, consideration and interaction (I will probably move to the NT to work with my wife next time she goes) but that still doesn't mean that a salary freeze is a bad idea.

What we are talking about is stopping dysfunctional people's behaviour in order to allow them to improve themselves. If a drunken PM was dysfunctional to the point of not being fit for the job, we would expect him/her to be removed from office. I don't think the situation Aboriginals are in is normal and that it should be dealt with in the normal way.

I'm not sure I'd have marched in to an intervention lead by the army but I personally would have reserved most welfare payments for food or even gotten rid of them altogether. Can we really say that cash handouts to Aboriginal men is a good thing? It's not earned or valued and it actually prohibits 'progression' by any measurement by paying for vices, mainly booze, that the remote communities don't have societal structures to deal with.

Nick

Gypse
Posted Friday, November 27, 2009 - 07:30

Clearly anyone who believes that cutting welfare payments is a good idea has never had to live on them - or particularly live on them and raise children.
Sometimes peoples circumstances make it almost impossible to get off of the welfare cycle.
These kinds of policies don't help people, they completely dissempower them. Those individuals or families with serious issues such as alcohol or drug dependancies are not going to be bullied into reform they will simply be stomped further into the cracks.

jjb
Posted Friday, November 27, 2009 - 11:00

The campaigns to re-install the Racial Disrimination Act have been laudable but few people have come up with constructive alternatives in how to deal with the problems.

I have not heard any mention of the fact that in NSW at least, people are directed to have financial management. The Guardianship Tribunal directs people who cannot manage their finances to look after themselves and their families to have a financial manager which is quite often a state institution. This applies to all people. It is likely that there are similar systems in other states and the NT which already exist.

How many of the above commentators have actually read the discussion paper provided for community consultation? In my view it was a reasonable and comprehensive document but with one fatal flaw. It recommended that people opt out of income management whereas, to be consistant with existing NSW legislation, they should be able to opt in.

Had the same heat and emotional energy gone into promoting this point it is likely that the government might have taken notice.

Unfortunately there has been very little rational discussion and constructive debate around the issues that the intervention is trying to address. Alas many people who have no experience of the complexities of the problems in remote communities are all to quick to condemn. Those who are now blasting off about the governments policies should get out there, work in remote communities, and find out what some of the issues are. Come up with alternatives that addresss the issues instead of picking up on media simplistic negatives.

Barry Healy
Posted Friday, November 27, 2009 - 11:05

Hi Nick,
I can see that you are putting yourself into the front line of trying to help Aboriginal Australians and attempting to find solutions to their problems, and that’s admirable.

However, the question isn’t “what quick-fix variation on business as usual will help Aboriginal people?” It’s “what is the nature of business as usual in Australia that keeps producing these outcomes?”

The point of my last post is that, while Aboriginal men (in particular) are being accused, among other things, of watching pornography to excess, there are pillars of "mainstream" society whose entire lives are pornographic.

There is a connection between those things. The inordinate wealth at one end of Australia is predicated on the dispossession of Aboriginal Australia.

Poor people lead difficult, dysfunctional lives. The Irish under the heel of the British developed a culture of alcoholism that is fearsome. There were people in the Warsaw Ghetto who preyed on others. Those societies were perverted by oppression.

The answer isn’t in varying the manner of oppression. It is in ending it.

Really, those simple statistics on life expectancy among native peoples in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA indicate the beginning of a solution. A Treaty, land rights and self-government are the building blocks.

Oh, and I meant what I said about seeing first hand degenerate behaviour in “mainstream” Australia. It’s so common that it passes without comment. How many alcoholics do you know who successfully hold down jobs, even rising to the top of their professions? How many gambling addicts?

In Aboriginal society those behaviours show up as critical issues, in “mainstream” Australia they cause nary a ripple.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. dazza
Posted Friday, November 27, 2009 - 12:50

Wonderful, is it not? We have a far-right wing so-called Liberal Party committing very messy suicide in public, with the Howard era thugs fighting to keep absolute control. At the same time we have the far-right wing Labor Party, with Krudd and Co. (in absolute control), riding high in the polls because of the perceived dissolution of the Liberal and National Parties and with lots of 'spin' and media manipulation (with Media willing support, I might add) trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the voting Public (and succeeding for the most part, it would seem) working through probably the worst Minister (including Brough) that Indigenous Affairs has ever had in the last 50 years or so (Macklin) to totally destroy any self-worth felt by any Aboriginal Person and now to continue this on, for ulterior motives, to the general welfare community, and still Jo/e Blow out there, mindless to the end, supports them.
Let the Libs expire with the s**t flying everywhere, let the Nats do so also (much needed euthanasia), let the Labs with Krudd and Co. in charge internally explode from the gases of puffery and rotting excretia, and let the Greens and Progressive Independents move on to the Government benches in all Houses...and FAST!
Otherwise, this island and planet of ours will be relegated to 'who cares' by the pollies controlled by Greed, self-ambition and Big Business. They all seem to think, nay believe, that some Higher Authority will step forward and save them (and probably JUST them!) at the last moment, and they do not have to do anything which may threaten their power, positions and incomes. Certainly, most in the Neanderthal wing of the Libs/Nats seems to have this idea, and it would seem that Krudd and most of his mob do so also.
Always these days, Krudd follows the Religious Right Administrations in America, and gets his photo opportunities in front of Christian Churches.
This always makes me want to spew!
KRUDD MUST GO! But what is the alternative????????

david grayson
Posted Saturday, November 28, 2009 - 18:07

I am on a DSP and get approx $20,000 in full benifits a year
The last pay rise the politicians gave themselves was near what I get for the year
Public servants, politicians and other government agencies are paid with tax payers money but do you see any body complaining about how they spend their money
Are we going to go back to the ration queues and green stamp set up
If this is what our government is all about lets have a revolution and change things once and for all
We are paying people to sit and monitor the little person on welfare more than what the person on welfare is getting
This is the idea of a fair go
If we didn't let the rest of the world own all our natural resources then there would be more than enough to share around instead all that wealth goes over seas
Thanks from
Dave

Mulga Mumblebrain
Posted Monday, November 30, 2009 - 19:13

Yet more evidence that the Rudd regime is virtually ideologically identical to Howardism. Same 'ETS', same slavish adulation for Israel as the white phosphorus fricasees the children of Gaza, same support for the neo-imperialist wars of mass murder in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the same contempt and hatred for Aborigines, now being extended to welfare 'losers' as well. Perhaps the most wretched aspect is the use of that vicious and mendacious euphemism 'tough love' to describe these humiliating, disempowering and contemptuous provisions, as used by the omnipresent Rightwing propaganda hate machine, which Macklin and the other members of this scurvy crew seem so intent on pleasing.
This is, of course, the same process we saw in the UK in 1997 and are seeing in the US under Obama today. After years of a vicious extreme Rightwing pathocratic rule, the suckers vote for an 'alternative' that promises different policies, but on gaining power, enacts the same, or worse, policies, as their predecessors. In all cases the ideology of the Right, 'neo-liberalism or market fundamentalism in economics, slavish obeisance to Israel and the US in foreign policy and policies of social regression and class hatred, is triumphant and persists despite an ostensible, but fraudulent, change in political power.
In the capitalist West politics and 'democracy' are now open frauds, shams with no substance whatsoever. The danger of the public wakening to this truth, despite incessant brainwashing by the Rightwing propaganda apparatus from birth, is so great that at times the ruling pathocrats and their media stooges openly panic. How else can one describe the recent cacophony of loony agit-prop over the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, where the media droogs fell over themselves to denounce the evils of Communism in increasingly hysterical terms, painting East Germany as a society of total evil without a single redeeming feature. And then, in an irony that escaped the media apparatchiki of the Western Rightwing media machine, we get two more reports,following scores of others over recent years,on the foul mistreatment of children in Australia and Ireland, two bastions of 'The Free World',that seem, in their revelations of foul cruelty and indifference to the suffering of children, to put all triumphalist claims of Western moral supremacism to shame.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. dazza
Posted Monday, November 30, 2009 - 19:54

Very well said, Mulga Mumblebrain! Right on the button!