The idea of income management is something that currently is very distant from the experience of most Australians. We expect that people in need of government assistance – the elderly, people with disabilities and those struggling to find work – will be treated as adults and allowed to decide how best to spend the meagre allowances they receive to get by.
Since 2007 this hasn’t been the case for people in remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. Despite employment opportunities in these communities being incredibly limited the Howard Government initiated a policy of income management there as part of its paternalistic and patronising Northern Territory intervention.
Under this policy residents of various remote communities in receipt of government benefits had a proportion of their income quarantined so that it could be spent only on things like rent, food and clothing. This required them to go through a humiliating ritual of presenting their “Basics Card” and announcing the fact the government considered them unfit to manage their own funds every time they went to the grocery store.
In an attempt to hide the blatantly discriminatory nature of this policy the Labor government later expanded it to the entire Northern Territory and parts of Queensland and are now thinking of taking it further. Last Saturday I joined Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, Alice Springs activist Barb Shaw and more than 100 other protestors in Bansktown, which has been slated as a potential trial site for this expanded program.
The rally was organised by the Stop the Intervention Coalition Sydney and was addressed by Aboriginal leaders and community service workers, who had experienced the system first hand, attesting to its failure. Income management in the NT has not improved quality of life there and there’s no reason to think this abysmal policy will work any better in the suburbs of Sydney. My Greens colleagues and I will be working hard to make sure the government hears sense and winds back this mess of a policy from the areas currently affected by it and drops any plans to impose it on the rest of Australia.