Croakey has put this question to a range of people across the health sector, and will keep you posted as the responses come in.
In the meantime, you can find out more about the Federal Government’s plans in its policy statement, titled “Landmark Reform to the Welfare Reform System, Reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act, and Strengthening of the Northern Territory Emergency Response”
You can also get some idea of the differing views about income management, based upon the experience in the NT to date, from this email that the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs has sent out to stakeholders:
“…The Australian Government is introducing a Bill into Parliament that once passed will provide for the
• re-design of NTER measures to ensure they are compliant with the Racial Discrimination Act
• reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act and Anti-Discrimination Laws in the NT & QLD
We will be referring it to a senate committee so there will be a chance for everyone to consider the detail and make constructive feedback.
NTER measures like income management and the alcohol restrictions are contained in the law so to change them, we have had to consult extensively with communities and draft legislation. We will need support from more conservative political parties to get it through the Parliament.
The Government was upfront with its thinking in the discussion paper, and listened very carefully to the views put by Aboriginal people in the NT. As a result, the Government has changed its original proposals.
Many people believed some form of compulsory income management was needed as the people who needed that help the most were unlikely to volunteer (either because they have an alcohol or gambling addiction; or because they would be pressured/humbugged to not volunteer when they at risk). But many people also found the targeting of this measure at Aboriginal people to be divisive, offensive and hurtful. Of course there were other strong views at the extremes on both sides but this was a common middle ground. The consultations also showed that income management was in many cases a very helpful tool for families. The evidence to support this is growing – I have included excerpts from the CIRCA survey in 2008, the Central Land Council Survey which are not dissimilar to the comments detailed in Government’s consultation summaries.
The Government has decided to extend a mix of compulsory and voluntary income management across disadvantaged regions in Australia, starting in the Northern Territory. The scheme will apply to all welfare recipients across the NT from July 2010, and those welfare recipients on the new scheme will be protected by the Racial Discrimination from day one.
There are some key differences with the scheme which are outlined in the press release below. Significantly, aged pensioners, veteran and disability support pensioners, will not be included in the new scheme. It will apply mainly to young people, long term unemployed and parenting payment recipients – with pathways for them to be exempt, either through study, training, work or for parents, showing their children’s regular school attendance and immunisation. There are also 2 triggers for compulsory income management – through the child protection system and centrelink social workers. Those people who are compulsory income managed will be supported to save money with a new matched savings program. There are also generous financial incentives and opportunities for people who wish to volunteer for income management (details below).
The Government has also listened carefully to concerns about the alcohol restrictions by enabling flexibility for strong community solutions to reducing demand and supply of alcohol….
Two reports from 2008 highlighting the diversity of views on income management.
The CIRCA report was commissioned by the independent NTER Review Board and is available on the website of the Department for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.
Consultations were conducted in four communities, namely Ali Curung, Hermannsburg, Nguiu and Galiwinku between August and September 2008. The methodology used in each location varied and was developed in consultation with local partners. In all four locations there was a range of meetings (there was not just one large meeting). In Ali Curung most people were reluctant to be interviewed in large groups.
People caring for others were the most positive about income management, especially women who were caring for young children (older and younger women), larger families and/or people with disabilities. Generally women tended to be more positive than men; however most people (even some who opposed the NTER) recognised the positive impact of income management on children. Single men tended to be the least positive about income management, especially were they did not have child care responsibilities.
Perceptions of the NTER were driven by only a few of the NTER initiatives, and in many cases the overall perception of the NTER seemed to relate to income management. Positive perceptions of income management were mainly related to increases in food consumption, with children being the main beneficiaries, increased saving which has enabled greater purchasing of household goods, ease in paying bills and a reduction in family tension through reductions in humbugging. Apart from positive comments about income management, positive feedback was also provided on school nutrition program (Hermannsburg) and improved stock in the community store (Ali Curung).
Significant negative perceptions also surround the compulsory nature of income management, There were also complaints about a lack of information and resulting understanding of the system. Other negative perceptions of income management included additional difficulties when travelling, perceived exploitation of older people by carers or nominees as these older people did not understand the system and difficulties in paying large bills and in managing debts. CIRCA noted that there was less consistency when discussing negative impacts of income management as the criticisms identified tended to have effects on small segments of the community, rather than being felt across the board.
Feedback from community members as to how income management could be improved included greater flexibility such as being able to use managed funds in smaller outlets like roadhouses when travelling, a simplification of the process for requesting the movement of funds and for accessing money in an emergency, greater education and assistance and consideration of existing debt contracts. Responses to a proposed voluntary income management model were mixed. Those who opposed a voluntary model argued that with that approach those who needed it most would be the first to opt out. The notion that communities themselves should decide who should be on income management was usually rejected.
Central Land Council – NTER: Perspectives from Six Communities
The CLC undertook this research to document the experiences and opinions of Aboriginal people in Central Australia in relation to the NTER. The research was undertaken from February to June 2008 with the assistance of local Aboriginal researchers. The research focussed on the main measures implemented in the first year of the NTER.
It is based on a detailed participatory evaluation survey of 141 Aboriginal residents in these communities. The research conducted demonstrates the diversity of opinion around the NTER measures across communities, as well as amongst community members resident in a community.
Responses across survey participants were almost evenly divided between people in favour (51%) and opposed (46%) to income management. Gender and age were not significant factors in influencing people’s level of support. However, income type influenced people’s support for income management: people on a wage were most supportive of income management.
Perceived advantages associated with income management included increased household expenditure on food and children, young men contributing to family shopping, and reductions in gambling and drinking. Disadvantages associated with income management included less discretionary cash and restrictions on the use of managed money, it being discriminatory, problems with accessing managed money, incompatibility with population mobility, difficulties for aged and disabled people, and perceived cost shifting to Aboriginal people and community staff to deal with the new arrangements.”