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The Government campaign against researchers who dared question income management

Croakey has previously reported on efforts by Minister Macklin and colleagues to undermine a study from the Menzies School of Health Research that casts doubts on the benefits claimed for income management in NT Aboriginal communities.

The campaign against the Menzies study has been hotting up, reports my Crikey blogging colleague Eva Cox, a prominent critic of the Government’s plan to roll out income management more widely. She writes:

“Yesterday a media release from Macklin and Snowden triumphantly claimed: The number of people being supported through income management has reached 17,000 under the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER). This compares with 1,400 people on income management in November 2007.

Supported?

The language of this document follows an extraordinary report and session of senate estimates last Friday when staff from the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) did a very suss demolition job on the Menzies data casting doubt on the value of income management.

This is the latest example of an extraordinary battle by the Minister’s Office and her department to defend a part of the NT Emergency Response that they now want to extend Australia-wide.

The Menzies paper concludes “Income management independent of the government stimulus payments appears to have no beneficial effects on tobacco and cigarette sales, soft drinks or fruit and vegetable sales”.

The authors of the research claimed that these results appear to contradict the store survey results quoted most frequently as evidence of purchasing improvements by the government.

A FaHSCIA response to the Menzies study spends several pages on a nit-picking demolition job, describing the paper as “unbalanced” and “puzzling”.

Interestingly, one of the bases of their attack on the research results is that the ALPA stores included were amongst the best run and were already promoting better nutrition. This factor, FaHCSIA claims, would mean that it could be expected that income management would have less effect than elsewhere.

This is an extraordinary claim because it suggests that income management may not be necessary to improve nutrition and food purchasing as similar results can be achieved, without needing to remove people’s controls, by good store management and local education.

They again shoot themselves in the metaphorical research foot when they claim that causality is the key to interpreting data and then fall into the trap of confusing correlation with causality.

Their main claim is that the Menzies data does show significant increases of fresh food purchasing across the period. The response by the Menzies researchers, which arrived after they were publicly castigated in Friday 4th senate estimates hearing, clarifies the careful way in which they eliminated outside influences that would confuse possible causal connections of income management.

These includes the extra access to money through the stimulus payment, whether income managed or not, and, most importantly, the evidence of steady monthly increases of fresh fruit and vegetables prior to income management, that could be assumed to continue.

In their response to FaHCSIA, the researchers’ case was quite clear:

“In trend analysis what one looks for in determining the impact of an intervention is a change in the underlying trend in association with the intervention (ie. a change in the slope of the trend line). In relation to fruit and vegetable sales and turnover, our results suggest that income management had no statistically significant effect on the underlying trend. The rate in month to month sales and volume sold of soft drink however did significantly change with the introduction of income management.’

The FaHCSIA arguments about this paper seem to be further evidence of both the lack of good policy judgement and evidence of the benefits of income management.

It is very odd that a Government department should both engage in such demolition of a single research paper and end up with an attack on the peer reviewing processes of a very legitimate journal. “…it is somewhat surprising that this work was published in a reputable journal,”  said the FaHSCIA analysis of the Menzies paper.

The Bill has not yet passed the senate, but it is unlikely that common sense will prevail as the Opposition will support it.

So on July the first, all welfare recipients in the NT will lose their right to control their incomes, with little or no evidence of other benefits.”

• Croakey has copies of both the FaHSCIA paper and the Menzies group’s response, and can send copies to readers who request them.

Comments 1

  1. Dinana says:

    I just rung Centrelink today to ask about these changes to income management. Neither of the people I spoke with (including a person from the income management line) knew what I was talking about. They “haven’t been informed” of any potential changes.

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