The intervention (just a bit for now)

I’ve been super busy over the past week, following the racist NTI, the sham consultations, the threatened expansion and so on. I wrote a review of the CIRCA report (CIRCA monitored government consultations, and claimed to show they were satisfactory and honest. CIRCA’s report actually revealed the opposite), and will try to write it up in more media friendly form and see if anyone’s interested. In the meanwhile, here’s a quick reaction from a Greens senator to Macklin’s proposed nation wide expansion of income quarantining.

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 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 the 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 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.

Actually, full credit to the Greens (who couldn’t attend the protest I MCed today at the city). They’ve done and said a lot of good things. This is also to their credit (no link, it’s from an email)

The Senate today refused an Australian Greens’ motion to make available
transcripts of the Government’s Northern Territory reform consultation
meetings.
“I’m extremely disappointed that the Government and the Opposition
combined to vote down this motion. This information is very important as
the Government is using it to justify their welfare reform measures”
said Senator Rachel Siewert.
“An independent report has shown that deep flaws exist in the
Government’s consultation process. Yet the Government is claiming there
is support for continuing the use of discriminatory measures, which is
not consistent with the findings of the Independent Review.”
“It is essential that the Government make the transcripts of these
meetings publicly available so that we can see what the community really
said in the meetings and whether the government’s claims can be
validated.”
“The independent report identified significant problems in the manner in
which the consultation meetings they attended were conducted, and
released full transcripts that support these claims,” said Senator
Siewert.
“If the Government truly believes that these meetings aren’t
representative of the manner in which the rest of the consultations were
conducted, then they have nothing to lose by simply releasing the
transcripts to allow independent analysis.”
“Let the Australian community see for themselves and make up their own
minds.”
“For a government purporting to be undertaking an open, fair and
transparent process to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act in the
NT, it is concerning that they won’t agree to release this information.”
The Government is heavily spinning and selectively quoting the
consultations to swing public opinion in their favour,” she concluded.
This is exactly the right response. We should get indigenous communities to demand reports on their consultations. I’m sure they’ll find more distortions and lies about what they said.
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