7 Oct 2011

Income Management - In Western Sydney

By Adam Brereton
Community leaders in Bankstown are furious about plans to introduce welfare quarantining. They say it will stigmatise ethnic and migrant groups, reports Adam Brereton

Welfare quarantining similar to schemes operating in the Northern Territory and Western Australia will be introduced to targeted suburbs across the country from July next year, a plan opposed by local community leaders in Sydney's Bankstown, where a lack of consultation and engagement has left many feeling frustrated and stigmatised.

The scheme, termed 'income management' by the Federal Government, is based primarily on the Western Australian model that has been in place since 2008. Participants — some who volunteer, others who are compulsorily signed up — have between 50 and 70 per cent of their welfare payments locked into a 'Basics Card' that can only be used to purchase necessities, like food, rent, medical care and utilities.

New Matilda has published extensively on the inherent flaws of the scheme as it has grown over time. For example:

  • Income management does little to improve nutrition, with sales of fresh food in the NT failing to rise under the scheme.
  • Benefits to participants' physical health through quarantining are often counteracted by the psychological costs of stigmatisation and dysfunction.
  • Welfare recipients and the long-term unemployed who would otherwise be placed on the system have problems that stem primarily from debt, financial insecurity, mental illness and family breakdown, rather than reckless spending on alcohol, drugs or cigarettes, which constitutes around 4 per cent of their budget.
  • The studies used to justify the expansion of the scheme have been widely criticised for their selective nature and lack of quantitative research. One study in particular relied primarily on telephone surveys of NT store owners' perceptions of fruit and vegetable sales rather than hard data.

Also, because of the way the criteria for being subject to income management are structured, the most vulnerable are more likely to be locked into the system. For instance, Tracker reported recently that women suffering domestic violence who attend Centrelink for a crisis payment in order to escape an abuse relationship are often put on income management because they fall under the category of 'vulnerable recipient'.

Add to the criticisms then, that local communities in outer-suburban areas have had little input into whether the scheme is appropriate to their areas, or how it will be implemented.

Randa Kattan, the Executive Director of the Arab Council of Australia, represents a large constituency of Australians of Lebanese descent in Sydney's Bankstown, where, along with Vietnamese Australians, they form one of the largest and most concentrated ethnic enclaves in the country. Yesterday she held a forum for the "Not in Bankstown, Not Anywhere" campaign, of which she is an organiser, with other community leaders.

"When I'm on talkback radio within the community with SBS or others, the callers consistently say the same thing: "Because it is Bankstown, because it is highly populated by the Arab community — Lebanese people — and because of the reputation Bankstown has gained over the years due to the negative media feedback. People feel targeted." Kattan told New Matilda.

The first time she heard of the proposed implementation of income management was the day after the budget was announced in May, when the Sydney Morning Herald rang her for an interview on the topic. Jason Clare, the Federal Member for Blaxland, subsequently invited Kattan and others to a "round table" meeting with Minister for Social Inclusion Tanya Plibersek.

"When I was there, I said... this has totally wiped out all the good stuff that's going on. If you want us to be engaged, then you need to have liaison officers inside the community," Kattan says.

According to Kattan, Plibersek told the meeting that consultation with the community prior to announcing the scheme was impossible because of the requirement for secrecy around the budget release.

The lack of community consultation on the matter is a parallel with the experience of Indigenous Australians living under the scheme in the Northern Territory.

Barbara Shaw, an Indigenous activist visiting Bankstown as part of the campaign, told New Matilda the experience in Bankstown had its similarities.

"There's not a lot of engagement, especially when it comes to government policy. People hear the announcement and that's it," she said.

She has been visiting local Centrelink facilities in Bankstown, and says people aren't aware the changes are coming, and that welfare recipients aren't aware they'll be put on the system.

Shaw also questions whether the community needs it. "Bankstown looks nothing like Alice Springs — there's no camps here — and I can't see any drinking or violence on the streets here. It doesn't look like a disadvantaged community."

One of the consistent criticisms of income management is the way it stigmatises the Indigenous community. Both Kattan and Shaw say that the rollout of the scheme will have a similar effect on ethnic and migrant communities. "It's highly derogatory, highly patronising - all of it," Kattan says.

Shaw also claimed that aside from the ethnic community, Aboriginal people living in Redfern, being relocated to Bankstown, will be hit with the scheme.

"They expect Aboriginal people to get off the welfare system and stop relying on welfare, but when we work for the dole, we're really working for income management," she said.

The press release on the subject from Jenny Macklin, Minister for Families, Housing, Communities and Indigenous Affairs, stresses how important it is for Bankstown's residents to understand the overwhelming voluntary takeup of the scheme based on the WA model. Monetary incentives are offered to those voluntarily staying on the scheme for six months or longer, but participants must pre-commit to a six or twelve month period.

"They can't just get off it. If it's voluntary, why get people to stay on it? Their answer: It's a logistical nightmare. My answer is the whole thing's a logistical nightmare." Kattan said.

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Rob Inder-Smith08
Posted Friday, October 7, 2011 - 16:45

Income Management is about control and punishment. To cut to the chase, yes, some people - black and white and whoever else - need their income to be managed. Some people - such as traditional indigenous women - actually prefer it. Good. Then make it voluntary. C'link should be door-knocking on this, finding out who really needs to have their income managed because let's face it, implicit with the mere noun, income manage/ment, is the stigma that the person (IMd) is guilty of income MISmanagement. But that's the beauty of the legislation - C'link don't have to prove that the people it shoves onto IM are guilty of not managing their income.
In Bankstown, it's about control. In the case of they who have the gall to be long-term unemployed, it's about punishment.
It's a pox and history will show it as such.


Posted Friday, October 7, 2011 - 18:07

Yes Rob, it is about control and punishment! But it is also about fear and loathing. It is pandering to that unfortunately immense reservoir of deep-seated ethnocentricity and xenophobia and racism in Australian Society, not to mention socio/economic prejudices and divisions.
Policticians perceive an electoral advantage in being seen as "tough" (on Aboriginals, "dole-bludgers", "boat people" etc.).
Dog whistling John Howard's long tenure and Tony Abbott's poison being given any credibility at all, I fear, show that Politicians are probably right. This explains Australia's "me too" Twidledee/Twidledum political landscape, where the only shade comes from a few independent or green trees.
Where I live we are into our 5th.year of IM. Only recently has it become "voluntary" and the fact that many people have not come off it is being used to "prove" its popularity. This is disingenous, the majority of people I talk to that are on IM (around 85% of them) hate it. The reason they're still on it is that they have to jump through hoops to get off it, not to mention the bribes (they call them incentives)that are offered for people to stay on.

Rob Inder-Smith08
Posted Saturday, October 8, 2011 - 13:00

BTW Adam: good piece. But IM is older than three years, as the post above proves, and was actually the brainchild of Noel Pearson in Cape York. It came in with the Intervention - the so called NT Emergency Response, in 2007. While that was exploding like a nuclear bomb, the Basicscard was introduced and the rest of Australia was blissfully ignorant of this insidious side-light consequence, which they were largely, about the full horror ramifications of the Intervention full stop.
I discovered another sidelight consequence only yesterday: the $500 loan the unemployed used to be able to access, is now fully IMd, at least for those of us being IM'd. One last point: I call the Basicscard Elbop - for Evil Little bit Of Plastic.

Posted Saturday, October 8, 2011 - 14:11

"If you're not careful the newspapers will have you hating the oppressed and loving the people doing the oppressing."_Malcolm X

Going back to the sixties the story has always been the same in OZ. Punish and demoralize the unemployed, even though our capitalist system demands 5% of it's workforce be held in deliberate poverty in an attempt to keep wage demands down.

Gotta wonder some times if the permanent 5% are unemployed and hence oppressed into poverty in this country don't have grounds for court action against the govt.

Posted Saturday, October 8, 2011 - 15:09

It was the blanket application of IM on Prescribed Areas that was objected to. In Yuendumu it resulted in such injustices as an Aboriginal pensioner couple that had been awarded the Order of Australia for services to our community and two non-Aboriginal pensioner nuns being placed on IM.
The Review of the NTER released its report in October 2008, and didn't mince words, its first recommendation on IM:
•The current blanket application of compulsory income management in the Northern Territory cease.

In practice IM was a bureaucratic nightmare. For example one lady had to wait four hours for a fax from Hobart (whence the NTER IM is "managed") to purchase $50 worth of fuel from the locally owned organisation I manage.
When IM proved to be too inefficient, rather than scrap IM as the bad joke it was, the BasicsCard was introduced. The very purpose of IM (to prevent Centrelink payments to be used to purchase tobacco, alcohol, pornography or to gamble and to reduce "humbug") was seriously undermined by the BasicsCard. Alice Springs small businesses mounted a campaign to be included as "authorised" outlets (the Licencing system plus the little known fact that sections of the Trade Practices Act had also been suspended- had created a situation whereby some retailers had unfair advantage).
A situation arose whereby BasicsCard could be used at outlets where the card holders where unknown, so that anyone that had been "lent" a card with pin-number could use it. Another way the system was abused was that a card holder would go shopping for healthy food that he/she then proceded to exchange at a discount for cash to the person waiting outside!
The authorities tenaciuosly cling to IM and use flawed "research" and unsubstanciated claims and propaganda (Jenny Macklin's former claim that "Aboriginal children are putting on weight" being an example) to justify its continuation and now expansion to (surprise) other parts of Australia that happen to have relatively high populations of Aborigines and people of Lebanese descent.
The fact that IM is offensive, expensive, inefficient and counter-productive is not enough to overcome politician's fear of being seen to be "back-flipping" or "weak" on "welfare bludgers".

Posted Saturday, October 8, 2011 - 16:27

Yet still Indigenous women ask for it when I am out on field trips. Why is that, do you think?

Posted Saturday, October 8, 2011 - 17:03

How is it that in these supposed-to-be-enlightened times, the majority of white-anglo Australia is slipping further and further down the racist slope? I had some real hopes for this country and the world in 1993-95. The seeming end of cold war hegemony.... the seeming hope sprung from the Oslo accords... the end of South African apartheid, seeming progress in dealing with indigenous and migrant communities without the patronising paternalism of previous generations....

And now we are back in the 50's with the "yellow peril" replaced by "muslims/refugees" (always incorrectly implying islam is a "race") women's progress towards true equality being eroded daily, rights and freedoms erased and eroded in the name of "security" from an amorphous and ill-defined "threat" to "our" (meaning whites) way of life and the needs of the natural environment being subservient to consumerism and the almighty dollar......

What the f*** went so horribly wrong????

And instead of asking these questions, most Australians are more upset that there is "only" an iPhone 4S and not an iPhone 5!

Posted Saturday, October 8, 2011 - 17:29

Marcaspa posted "Yet still Indigenous women ask for it when I am out on field trips. Why is that, do you think?"
I suspect these field trips cannot be to Prescribed Areas. Whilst I concede that there is a minority here in Yuendumu that are happy with BasicsCard, the "Indigenous women that ask for it" cannot be from here, as here they were all placed on it automatically in the first place and hence would not need to "ask for it".

They have however to "ask for it" if they wan't to get off it, and some have.

Rob Inder-Smith08
Posted Saturday, October 8, 2011 - 19:23

Marcaspa, as I said in my initial post, some tribal women do prefer it, for good reasons. Some white honkies will like, too. The problem is gullibility - as in journalists' gullibility. It's also about lies, as in those sprouting from Macklin and let's not forget the member for Bankstown, Jason Clare, as well. Bess Price has also betrayed her people by fully supporting IM. Yet it is she, and not the likes of Jungarrayi, or those of us forcibly Elbopped, who are the media's go-to people.
Bess Price should be ashamed of herself for the way she has betrayed her people.
If asylum seekers and tsunamis and weather shifts and global protests against tyranny - co-incidence that - weren't so high on the agenda, IM would be the topic of conversation, as it should be be. Adam Brereton should be thanked for at least bringing this issue into the spotlight. But the fact that he got a) the date of IM's introduction, and b) its state of origin wrong, proves how muddied the waters are on IM.

Posted Saturday, October 8, 2011 - 19:58


I forgot another incidental IM related happening. When the "Stimulus Package" (the $900) was spread amongst the population "with no strings attached" no such freedom to assist with stimulating the economy was accorded those living on a Prescribed Area. Whilst the bulk of the population was free to (for instance) feed their $900 into a poker machine or spend it on mail order pornography from Canberra, for those on IM (50% of their entitlements)the $900 was 100% quarantined. The implication being that remote Aboriginals could not possibly spend the $900 jackpot responsibly.
I know of a few people that when visiting Victoria (on a Church related trip) spent hours at Centrelink trying to get money to buy food and clothes. The Centrelink people in Melbourne didn't even know about IM and certainly no shops in Victoria were licenced to accept the BasicsCard. Is this some of what is in store for the people of Bankstown?

Posted Saturday, October 8, 2011 - 22:48

On the date: I'm well aware that IM is older than 3 years - the model they're using for implementation is the 2008 WA one though as stated by macklin in the presser. Stay tuned for further articles on this topic though and thanks everyone for commenting!

Chris Emery
Posted Sunday, October 9, 2011 - 04:07

This is a lot of heat about something that is now voluntary? Or am I reading it wrong?

Posted Sunday, October 9, 2011 - 11:00

You're not reading it wrong. It is now "voluntary" indeed. What you're not doing, is reading between the lines!
It is not just about the arrangements to distribute the "safety net" it is also about stigmatisation of sectors of the population, it's about "dog whistling" it is about dishonest propaganda, it is about a waste of resources with a terribly inefficient and demeaning system.
And in the Northern Territory Prescribed Areas it is about several years of damaging the social fabric of entire communities.
Also in the NT if they had taken off everyone and then invited them to apply to get back on it, then it would have been truly voluntary.
As is, people on IM have to "prove" to Centrelink that they are worthy. Similar to the "dog Ticket" of half a century ago.
Recently I was at Kalkaringi during the anniversary celebrations of the Wave-Hill walk-off. During the speeches one of the surviving stockmen that had walked off 45 years earlier, held up his BasicsCard and asked "what is this rubbish all about". The next day I was woken by the sound of mustering helicopters, mustering cattle on Gurinji land for a non-Aboriginal company that has a grazing agreement. I believe that not one Aboriginal was involved in the muster, most are on IM.

Rob Inder-Smith08
Posted Sunday, October 9, 2011 - 19:20

If you 'fit the criteria', it's not voluntary at all. The only thing voluntary/optional about the whole evil scheme, is whether or not you take Elbop (the basicscard). My friend who has also been Elbopped and I advise everybody to REJECT Elbop. Get C'link to write cheques. If everybody did this the system would collapse through being too labour-intensive. It's easy for me, because I am childless, no dependents and pay nominal rent - at least for the time being. But the stigma is with me now, as it has been for the indigenous since they copped it.
Jungarrayi, is there something you know that I don't because there's no way it's optional for me, or my mate. We have exhausted all four levels of appeal - which took us right up to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal - to get off Elbop.
But we 'fit the criteria' and don't have a show.
Adam Brereton: If that's the official line (2008, WA) you've been lied to.
Ask the indigenous when they were Elbopped. IM was introduced with the Intervention and that was launched in June, 2007.

Posted Sunday, October 9, 2011 - 21:41

No Rob, there isn't "anything that I know" that you don't! I was using irony, note the quotation marks on "voluntary".
As a non-Aboriginal long term resident of a Prescribed Area, with a job and a nest-egg, I'm not directly suffering the Intervention. I am touched by it however by seeing this community (my friends and neighbours)unravelling under the multipronged ethnocentric assimilationist attack.
Irony is one of the few things that they can't take from us.
Neither can they pull the wool over our eyes with their slogans:
"Closing the Gap",Centrelink's "Giving You Options" (how's that for an oxymoronic motto!), "Food Security" , and all those still to come.
They might as well revive "Arbeit macht Frei".
And yes Rob,it was easier for the Minotaur to get out of the Labyrinth than it is to get off IM once they've got you.

Posted Monday, October 10, 2011 - 11:46

Thanks everyone for all the comments.

@Rob Inder-Smith08 - Would you give an interview? if you're happy to, can you email writeforus [at] newmatilda.com and the eds can pass on your details. I'm interested in the appeals process primarily. Cheers