Basics Card system fails

Issue 

In an example of the serious disadvantage caused by income quarantining, a technical fault in Centrelink's Basics Card system on January 16 rendered the cards useless for more than 12 hours.

Many Aboriginal people in communities in the Northern Territory endured a weekend without food or grocery essentials.

Many families travelled long distances to use their cards at designated stores, but were turned away at the checkout when the Basics Card, which quarantines half of their weekly income, failed.

According to store owners, Centrelink could not be contacted. The Alice Springs office was closed throughout the outage and stores were forced to turn Aboriginal people away.

In a January 19 Intervention Rollback Action Group (IRAG)media release, Barbara Shaw said that the system failure is yet another blow to Aboriginal people's rights and dignity. It has raised emotions and escalated calls for a complete end to the intervention, she said.

"Centrelink is always mismanaging funds and people are losing money", Shaw said. "My sister-in-law wasn't able to buy milk and nappies for her baby. How many others have missed out on feeding their children?"

Centrelink has blamed the outage on a "rare glitch" but IRAG and other Aboriginal rights campaigners say that Indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin must claim responsibility for the appalling malfunction and take immediate steps to restore people's control of their own money and lives.

"We need control of our own money", Shaw concluded. "This legislation is racist and must be repealed."

Marlene Hodder from IRAG said the disastrous welfare quarantine system is wasting money that "should be spent on programmes and services to help people who are struggling to survive".

IRAG is calling on supporters to take the demand for an end to the NT intervention directly to the federal parliament during a protest convergence in Canberra on February 3.

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