Government Slammed Over Bill to Expand Welfare Quarantining
23 November 2011 at 4:57 pm
|Flickr Image: Some rights reserved by Rusty Stewart
The Federal Government has introduced legislation to extend ‘welfare quarantining’ – a system introduced under the Howard Government’s highly controversial Northern Territory intervention – but peak welfare Not for Profits want the legislation withdrawn.
Some 26 Aboriginal peak bodies, community welfare and public health groups are calling on the Government to withdraw the income-management legislation and opt for a new direction in policies affecting Australian Aborigines based on cooperation, not ‘intervention'.
The groups say the Government’s own evaluation of the NT Intervention shows that welfare quarantining doesn’t work and has created a feeling of dis-empowerment and loss of community control among aboriginal communinties.
The Stronger Futures Bill, introduced into Parliament by Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin, would see parents forced to attend family conferences and welfare payments suspended if children are regularly absent from school. It would also link alcohol-related criminal offences with income management.
Introducing the Bill into Federal Parliament, Jenny Macklin said the Bill aimed to build a future for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory “where people live in good houses, and in safe communities. Where parents go to work, and children go to school each day.”
The groups opposing the move – including the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), the Aboriginal Peak Organisations of the Northern Territory, the Public Health Association of Australia and the Arab Council of Australia – say they support new investment in jobs for Indigenous Territorians, but are concerned about the proposed extension of a program that withdraws social security payments from parents whose children don't attend school regularly.
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie says some aspects of the Government’s announcement – including strategies to generate local jobs – are encouraging.
However, Goldie says “the proposed expansion of the SEAM (The Improving School Enrolment and Attendance through Welfare Reform Measure) program that withdraws income support payments from parents whose children aren't attending school suggests that a punitive, top-down approach to social problems is still being pursued”.
A joint statement from the groups says the strong message from recent consultations with Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory “is that people want reliable services, schools and jobs in their own communities, not that they think simplistic ‘get tough' policies are the answer.”
The groups point to the government’s own evaluation of the Intervention, the “Northern Territory Emergency Response Evaluation Report 2011”, which was released this month. The conclusion of the review include the statement:
“The compulsory nature of income management and its blanket imposition (in combination with other changes, such as local government reform, shire amalgamations and losses of local councils; changes to CDEP; the loss of the permit system; and changes in land tenure) are likely to have contributed to people’s feeling of a loss of freedom, empowerment and community control.”
The groups say they share the widely held concerns that too many children are missing out on a good education due to attendance – but policies should be based on what communities and government know actually works on the ground.
The SEAM trials in the NT and Queensland are yet to be evaluated, but the groups say “there is no evidence they have been effective yet the scheme is costing over $200,000 per school per year to administer.”
The groups also point to one of the key findings of the Australian Council for Educational Research’s evaluation of education outcomes under the NTER – which are included in the Government’s own evaluation report – which concluded:
“There has been no observable improvement in school attendance between 2006, before the NTER was introduced, and 2010, the last full year for which data are available.”
"It is deeply disappointing to see the Federal Government aligning itself with policies such as compulsory income management and SEAM,” said John Falzon, CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia.
“You don't build people and communities up by attacking their dignity and their right to self-determination”
The groups want the Government to engage with communities and their community organisations and peak bodies on whether they want to replace policies such as SEAM and income management that were imposed on them compulsorily, with voluntary or ‘opt in' income support arrangements and support services tailored to the needs of each community.
- View Jenny Macklin’s speech in parliament here.
- View the Government’s ‘Northern Territory Emergency Response – Evaluation Report 2011’ here [PDF].
The organisations calling on the Government for ‘Cooperation, not Intervention’ include:
ACOSS – Australian Council of Social Service
APO NT – Aboriginal Peak Organisations of the Northern Territory
An alliance comprising the Central Land Council (CLC), Northern Land Council (NLC), Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the NT (AMSANT), North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) and Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALAS).
NTCOSS – Northern Territory Council of Social Service
The Fred Hollows Foundation
AEU NT – Australian Education Union Northern Territory
NT COGSO – Northern Territory Council of Government School Organisations
PHAA – Public Health Association of Australia
St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia
Catholic Social Services Australia
National Welfare Rights Network
Professor Jon Altman, The Australian National University
Larissa Behrendt, Jumbunna IHL Research Unit
Michele Harris OAM, Concerned Australians
ANTaR – Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation
COSS Network – Councils of Social Service in Victoria (VCOSS) South Australia (SACOSS), Western Australia (WACOSS), NSW (NCOSS), ACT (ACTCOSS) and Tasmania (TasCOSS).
The Aboriginal Medical Service Cooperative Limited, Redfern
Arab Council Australia
Western Sydney Community Forum
TRI Community Exchange
Granville Multicultural Community Centre