Migrants fear welfare quarantine expansion

Clients at the Fairfield Migrant Resource Centre heard on April 29 that people in disadvantaged areas, such as Fairfield, could have their welfare benefits "quarantined" as early as next year.

The public meeting at the centre featured Peter Davidson from the Australian Council of Social Services and Richard Downs, spokesperson for the Alyawarr people’s walk-off in the Northern Territory.

The walk-off began in July 2009, protesting against the effects of welfare quarantining, and other NT intervention measures, in the community of Ampilatwatja.

The NT intervention was imposed on 73 Aboriginal communities in August 2007 by the then federal Coalition government. Welfare quarantining means 50% of people's benefits is put on a card that can only be used for food, clothing and medical supplies.

Downs said it was a complete disaster, limiting people’s ability to travel or to pay for what the government deemed non-essential, such as funerals.

Davidson said community services minister Jenny Macklin was proposing legislation that would expand welfare quarantining to any area she deemed "disadvantaged".

Fairfield is an area of high disadvantage. Davidson said it was a likely target for the expansion of the scheme. This would severely limit the ability of migrants and refugees to send money to relatives overseas.

He said the scheme was extremely expensive and the money would be better spent on improving basic services. He also said that after almost three years, there was no evidence the scheme had improved any social indicator in the NT.

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