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Issue #1715      January 20, 2016

Gooda blasts card in annual report

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda has taken aim at the federal government’s new “healthy welfare” card and work-for-the-dole scheme in his annual Social Justice and Native Title report.

Social Services Assistant Minister Alan Tudge promoting the card.

Mr Gooda said the two programs, which came out of a review by mining billionaire Andrew Forrest, would not help Indigenous people and said a human rights approach was needed to welfare programs. He said both programs should be voluntary and allow people the choice to opt in.

In August, the government announced Ceduna in South Australia would host a trial for new debit card accounts that allow spending only on certain items.

Mr Gooda said the card did not address the underlying causes of alcoholism, drug use and problem gambling.

“These reforms will significantly impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples because of our overrepresentation in the welfare system,” he wrote.

“In the coming months, the Australian government must meaningfully engage with our people about the design and implementation of the healthy welfare card and the work-for-the-dole program in remote communities.

“Limiting people’s ability to access their welfare payments in cash does not address the reasons for this harmful behaviour, including poverty, trauma, and lack of education.”

Mr Gooda made 21 recommendations, including that the Western Australian government should not close any remote Aboriginal communities without proper consultation. And he addressed the anxiety and confusion caused by deep cuts to Aboriginal programs and organisations through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS).

Mr Gooda also considered some human rights issues for Indigenous people with disability, recommending that the Closing the Gap targets consider disability as an area for action and that First Nations disability support organisations ensure they are culturally competent, as the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) rolls out.

In the report, Mr Gooda calls for all states and territories to establish Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s commissioners and for child welfare targets to be added to the Close the Gap campaign. Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) chair Sharron Williams told the Koori Mail that Mr Gooda’s discussion of cuts to services through the IAS was spot on.

“If government cuts funding to services and SNAICC how can we continue to do the job we’re required to do?” she said. “SNAICC was created as a result of the Bringing them Home report, to speak for and have a strong national voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

“If you reduce our capacity to do so, and if you reduce the capacity of service providers in the community, our people are going to suffer. “Funding cuts have a profound impact on how we deliver services. The IAS was very destructive to many Aboriginal organisations, which were defunded or had to reduce what they were able to provide on the ground.

“It’s been a double whammy. The federal government has reduced SNAICC’s capacity to influence and removed community organisations’ ability to do their jobs.”

Ms Williams said that when Aboriginal children were nine times more likely to be in out-of-home care than other children, then you had to realise there was something “profoundly wrong” with current practices.

“We are not addressing the problems,” she said. “Government is continually saying, ‘This is really serious. We have to build faster ambulances,’ doing things in a reactive rather than preventative manner.

“We should be strengthening the capacity of families, so we can care better for our children at home and in our communities.”

Opposition Indigenous Affairs spokesman Shane Neumann said Mr Gooda’s report showed the need to refocus policies towards working with Indigenous people and creating meaningful consultation.

“We’ve seen a pattern of chaos, confusion and neglect, which Mr Gooda has made clear in his report,” he said. “The thing that really strikes me is the urgent need to increase genuine consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“The government needs to re-fund the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. Congress has two new leaders who are very capable, and the elected representatives. You have to listen to the people who are elected, not just a handpicked group.

“The trouble with this government is that it doesn’t listen to peak bodies.

“It picks and chooses who it listens to, rather than taking advice from those delivering front-line services.”

Koori Mail

Next article – Call for Solidarity – Samidoun (Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network)

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