Extended welfare quarantining slammed

The decision to extend income management to all welfare recipients in the Northern Territory has evoked a heated, but mixed response from the wider community.

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Welfare quarantining was the cornerstone of the Howard government’s 2007 intervention into remote Aboriginal communities across NT.

The passing of draft laws in the Senate on Monday night, introduced to parliament by the Rudd government, will mean the scheme will no longer apply solely to Aboriginal welfare recipients.

The scheme, which requires welfare recipients to spend a certain percentage of their pay on basic human needs such as food, rent, bills and schooling, will be trialled in the NT and assessed at the end of 2011 before being rolled out nationally.

Many social groups, including the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), claim the large-scale roll-out will further alienate people on income support and do little to assist people to overcome social issues and gain employment.

From July, income management will apply to all disadvantaged groups in NT, including the long-term unemployed, young people on benefits, parents at risk of financial crisis or domestic abuse and individuals referred by child protection authorities.

People can apply for exemptions if they can prove they can manage their own affairs.

Clare Martin, former chief minister of the Northern Territory and now chief executive office of ACOSS, said the scheme was expensive and poorly targeted.

“The government is willing to gamble $410 million over the next five years to manage 20,000 people in the Northern Territory,” she said in a statement released on Tuesday.

“Per head, this is eight times the amount provided to an employment services provider to help someone find a job.

“It is disappointing that the major parties have approved such a radical and harmful change to our social security system with so little public consultation and debate.”

The Australian Greens were the only party to oppose the legislation.

Greens spokeswoman for community services Rachel Siewert said on-the-ground impacts on Aborigines showed that claims by the federal government that the scheme was about human dignity were hypocritical.

“There is no dignity in being subject to compulsory income management and having control of your day-to-day finances micromanaged by Centrelink,” Senator Siewert said in a statement.

ANTAR spokeswoman Janet Hunt said the government needed to revise the income quarantining guidelines and narrow the scope.

“Compared with other low income population groups in Australia, indigenous people are at highest risk of deprivation and hardship,” Dr Hunt said in a statement.

“Those in remote areas also face much higher costs of living.”

The scheme will not be mandatory for the short-term unemployed, students or pensioners.