The Federal Governments new Legislation has finally seen the light of day, and what an interesting thing it is. Given that it’s 500-odd pages, forgive me if I just deal lightly with only a small part of it here. The basic parameters of the much heralded welfare “reforms” can now be examined. At its’ core is the quarantining of welfare payments. According to the Mal Brough, it will be,
fifty percent of the welfare payments of all individuals in the affected [NT] communities will be income managed for an initial period of 12 months during the stabilisation phase.
Income managed is the key phrase. What is it? The Minister hasn’t made it completely clear, but it seems that a horde of new Centrelink workers will be required to sit down with every single person on welfare payments and go through their spending with them. Then the Centrelink officers will monitor each persons spending over the 12 month period. The basic mechanism is that 50% of peoples payments will go into the ‘Income Management Account’ (IMA), which appears to rest under the control of Centrelink. This can be increased to 100% for a number of reasons – if their child has poor school attendance, or is identified as being at risk of neglect. This portion in the IMA will have to be used for necessities, such as food, clothing, housing etc. Centrelink will provide vouchers or make payments directly from the IMA for these items. According to the Minister once these basics needs are met, Centrelink cannot “unreasonably” (wonderfully vague) refuse access to funds in this account as discretionary cash, though it is prohibited from being spent on “excluded items“, which are listed as alcohol, pornography, tobacco, and gambling. I wonder if Centrelink staff are looking forward to their new role as the Shopping Police? Are they going to follow people around and lurk behind trees to see if they go and play cards or buy a packet of fags?
The Government wants individuals to take control over their lives.
And how? By taking control of their lives for them? By having a Government official peering over their shoulder to watch every cent that they spend?
The Appropriations Bill supporting these measures makes me wonder at the some of the priorities. Remember, child abuse and alcohol are the primary reasons for all of this in the first place. The largest chunk of funding goes to FaCSIA ($212 mill) for a range of broadly defined items. A useful contribution is $30 million to assist remote stores. Exorbitant prices are a serious problem, with high freight charges being a significant factor. For instance it costs over $1000 (minimum) to get a single engine plane to deliver a load of supplies to a remote community. Unless this can be addressed, prices are unlikely to change significantly. On a specific child protection measure, $14 million is to go towards employing more child protection workers in the NT. $34 million is for temporary accommodation for “Australian government….staff“, probably all those Shopping Police. There is a small provision for an increase in alcohol treatment outreach programs, with the Minister emphasising assistance with withdrawal , but no commitment to on-the-ground addiction treatment programs.
Overall, it sounds like a great job creation program….for middle class white professionals.