Gov't to roll out welfare quarantining from July 1st

According to the government's logic, if some non-Indigenous people are subjected to income management they dodge the UN racial discrimination act before Australia's breach is tabled later this year.    20,000 people in NT are expected to lose control of half their Centrelink payments from July 1st 2010 and the legislation will open the door for other welfare recipients across Australia.

NT pensioners' dole to be docked

Related: Australia tweeking 'racist' policy Canadian Press

Misha Schubart & lindsay Murdock The Age June 17, 2010

Tom Calma and Jenny Macklin
Photo: Tom Calma and Jenny Macklin at the 10th anniversary of the Bringing them home report

Noel Pearson has his hands all over the card roll-out, whilst Tom Calma sits back and watches without a wimper
Dangerous changes to welfare
Call to set up a welfare camp

Some pensioners could have their incomes docked under hardline new welfare rules expected to be rolled out across the country, Families Minister Jenny Macklin has conceded.

But she insists it would only be in cases where people on the pension were vulnerable to being harassed for money or stood accused of neglecting children in their care.

In the Northern Territory, community organisations say 20,000 people will be shocked when they lose control of half their Centrelink payments from July 1 in a trial of the new rules.

The government will extend welfare quarantining from remote Aboriginal communities and town camps to most categories of welfare recipients across the territory, including predominantly white families in Darwin, Alice Springs and other urban centres.

Unless they can convince a Centrelink counsellor they should be exempt, half of a person's welfare payments will go on to a Basics Cards that can only be used to buy approved items in some shops, such as food and clothes.

Some advocates fear the scheme's extension, which the government wants to push through the Senate before it rises for the long winter break, could force pensioners to lose control of payments against their will.

Wendy Morton, executive director of the NT's Council of Social Service, said most people who would be affected had no idea about the move and most families receiving welfare payments would be disadvantaged.

"The truth is that most people receiving Centrelink payments are the best budgeters of money - they have so little they deal with it very carefully," she said.

"If the government is so sure it is the right model why don't they roll it out in Sydney and Melbourne as well?"

Community organisations across the territory say having to use the Basics Card will be humiliating for people, many of whom are already vulnerable.

Some shops in the NT have created special queues for 17,000 Aborigines who already use Basics Cards.

An estimated one in five transactions on the cards are declined, causing embarrassed shoppers to return goods to the shelves.

The government has signalled the scheme - which cost $4400 for every person being income-managed - will be rolled out across Australia after a two-year trial in the NT and smaller trials under way in Western Australia and Queensland.

National Seniors chief executive Michael O'Neill said "in principle we would not be greatly concerned" about pensioners losing access to cash. "If you have children in your care, the welfare of the child must be paramount there, and when there are harassers and humbuggers this is not an unreasonable way of dealing with elder abuse."


Australia tweeking 'racist' policy to restrict how Aboriginals spend welfare

Rod McGuirk (CP) Canadian Press 17th June 2010

Australia plans to reform a policy criticized as racist for restricting how Outback Aborigines spend their welfare checks by applying it to recipients regardless of ethnicity, the prime minister said Wednesday.

The government introduced so-called "income management" into Aboriginal settlements in the remote Northern Territory three years ago. The policy aims to reduce alcohol and drug abuse by withholding part of Aborigines' welfare checks so the money can only be spent on essentials such as food, clothing and rent.

It was part of a package of radical measures aimed at tackling rampant sexual abuse of indigenous children.

Aborigines are the poorest ethnic group in Australia, and many Aboriginal communities survive almost entirely on welfare.

The government wants to extend the spending restrictions to everyone — not just Aborigines — receiving welfare payments in Northern Territory from July 1, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Wednesday. People new to welfare will also have their spending restricted if social workers think they need help handling money.

The changes will depend on legislation proposed next week to the Senate, where the government holds a minority of seats.

The measures will "ensure that more welfare is spent on life's essentials like food, clothes and rent and less goes to alcohol," Rudd told Parliament.

It will "support and encourage families to make positive decisions about the critical things for their families like education, health and nutrition," he added.

The United Nations special rapporteur on indigenous human rights, James Anaya, last year described welfare management as "demeaning" and incompatible with Australia's obligations under indigenous and human rights conventions.

Irene Khan, secretary-general of the London-based human rights group Amnesty International, mirrored Anaya's criticisms after visiting squalid Outback camps last year, saying such measures targeting Aborigines compromised human rights.

Richard Downs, of the Alyawarr Aboriginal tribe in the Northern Territory, said he expected Aborigines would be disproportionately targeted under the loose rules of the new system.

"Indigenous people seem to be put in a class of criminals and people who can't manage their lives," Downs said.

Amnesty International Australia said in a statement that while the new regime would not be directly racially discriminatory, concerns remain that it would disproportionately effect Aborigines.

Aborigines make up about 2 per cent of Australia's 22 million-strong population. But almost 30 per cent of the Northern Territory's population of 200,000 is Aboriginal, the highest proportion in the country.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott told Parliament on Wednesday he supported the changes, indicating the legislation may pass in the Senate.