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Issue #1675      March 4, 2015

Govt pushes ahead with welfare card

The Abbott government is working towards implementing 26 of the 27 recommendations made by billionaire miner Andrew Forrest in his report Creating Parity, including the controversial cashless welfare card – despite evidence from its own departments that compulsory income management is ineffective and can be harmful.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said the government agreed with the “general thrust” of the Forrest Review and was working through the report, recommendation by recommendation. “We are already implementing some of the themes of the report, for example, ending the decades-old cycle of training for training’s sake and refocussing training towards guaranteed jobs,” he said.

“Already, about 1,000 people have been trained into jobs guaranteed through Vocational Training and Education Centres (VTEC) and we are on track to exceed our target of 5,000 by December this year.

“The report will inform policy across a range of areas.”

Other contentious recommendations made by Mr Forrest include devolving the land council structure to more easily allow traditional owners to convert their land to 99-year leases with the federal government; stopping “distractions to education” by ensuring cultural ceremonies are only attended outside school hours, and penalising parents whose children don’t attend school by fining them or reducing their Family Tax Benefit.

The only recommendation the government has rejected is that tax-free status be granted to Indigenous businesses.

National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples co-chair Kirstie Parker questioned the government’s method of communicating its policies.

“We’ve seen this virtual bombshell dropped in a mainstream newspaper (The Australian) and with no conversations that I am aware of with our community leadership,” she said.

“Assurances”

“I would have thought that would be the first thing the government would do, especially given assurances by the Prime Minister when the Creating Parity report was released that the government was not interested in the most punitive measure contained in the report: the ‘healthy welfare’ card.

“This continues an approach of shifting sands beneath our communities which began when the scope of the Forrest Report broadened to every aspect of our communities’ lives. The report went way beyond its original scope of looking at employment and economic development, with no opportunity for our people to have input beyond those very defined themes.”

A report released by the Department of Social Services in December found that compulsory income management is ineffective and, in some cases, harmful.

“There was no evidence of changes in spending patterns, including food and alcohol sales, other than a slight possible improvement in the incidence of running out of money for food by those on Voluntary Income Management, but no change for those on compulsory income management. The data show that spending on BasicsCard on fruit and vegetables is very low,” the Government-commissioned study says.

Towards the end of last year, Congress and 30 other peak organisations, including the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, Secretariat for National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, and the Australian Council of Social Services, called on the government to reject any expansion of income management.

“Congress and indeed the great swathe of peak organisations from our communities have said clearly that punitive measures and one-size-fits-all responses haven’t worked,” Ms Parker said.

“Combined with evidence provided directly to the government on these issues begs the question why would the government pursue and ramp up what is essentially a failed approach?

“If there was one thing the Forrest Report rightfully highlighted it was the need for a cradle-to-the-grave approach, but it is the nature of that approach that will determine whether there is any success.

“Black lives depend on this.”

Koori Mail

Next article – Joe Hill (1879-1915) – “Don’t waste time mourning, organise!”

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