Welfare Quarantine spreads

Income Management (IM), first applied to Aboriginal communities through the NT Intervention, will be extended to five “disadvantaged areas” from July 2012 following an announcement in the May budget.

The areas targeted will be Bankstown (NSW), Shepparton (Vic), Playford (SA), Logan and Rockhampton (Qld).

Anyone on IM has 50 per cent of their Centrelink payments “quarantined” onto a BasicsCard, which can only be used to buy “priority items” at government approved stores.

In the NT, IM has blanket application to whole categories of people such as “disengaged youth” (people under 25 on benefits) and “long-term unemployed”.

This was supposed to overcome the obvious racism when IM applied only to communities on Aboriginal land. But 94 per cent of people on IM in the NT are still Indigenous and 75 per cent of people granted exemptions have been non-Indigenous.

Softer forms of Income Management exist in Cape York Indigenous communities, in the Kimberly and some suburbs of Perth in WA. In WA, people are referred to the system by child protection authorities.

But everywhere it is applied IM stigmatises welfare recipients, wastes money on bureaucratic controls and discriminates specifically against Indigenous people. The WA Council of Social Services say the system there has cost an estimated $60,000 per family.

IM in the five new “trial sites” will also follow referral from child protection, along with being applied to people deemed “vulnerable to financial crisis”.

In the NT, “vulnerability” has been determined by phone interviews that ask questions such as, “How would you save for a washing machine?” and, “Do you have family members who ask you for money?”
The Stop the Intervention Collective is organising a forum in Bankstown to oppose the spread of IM. The Bankstown Aboriginal women’s group is preparing a statement of protest.

Jack Johnson, CEO of the Gandangara Aboriginal Land Council which covers the Bankstown region will address Sydney’s June 25 rally against the Intervention, demanding “No to Income Management: Not in the NT, not in Bankstown”.

By Paddy Gibson

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