Indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin has dismissed the findings of a Menzies School of Health Research report that found “income management” has failed to improve the health and wellbeing of the people it targets.
Income management was implemented by the then Coalition government in August 2007 on 73 targeted remote Aboriginal communities as part of the Northern Territory intervention.
Under the scheme, 50% of welfare recipients’ income is replaced with a Basics Card, which can be used to only buy food, clothing and medical supplies, and only in certain stores.
The Menzies report, published in the May 17 edition of the Medical Journal of Australia, said income management had failed to deliver.
It said: “The government’s aim in introducing income management is to ensure that people receiving welfare payments use this money in a government-prescribed ‘socially responsible’ way, and in a way that makes money available to ‘feed, clothe, house and provide for the education of their children’.
“Our findings suggest that income management may not be associated with healthier food and drink purchases, and may be having no effect on tobacco sales’.
Australian Indigenous Doctors Association president Peter O'Mara said on May 16: “The health impact assessment findings speak for themselves and show that the intervention does more harm than good. The report's disturbing prediction — that the intervention will cause profound long-term damage to our Indigenous communities — should be of concern to all Australians, including medical practitioners."
Macklin rejected the outcomes of the report, saying on ABC Radio on May 17: “Income management is a useful tool.”
The only part of the report that the government did acknowledge was the high rate of consumption of soft drink in remote communities — noted as a contributor to common health problems among Aboriginal people such as diabetes.
A May 26 press release from Macklin’s office said: “The Australian government is requesting an urgent report from key departments on policy options to help reduce the consumption of high sugar drinks in remote communities. A new study from the Menzies School of Health Research has highlighted the need to lower the consumption of high sugar drinks in remote Indigenous Northern Territory communities.”
Macklin didn't say why she believed this aspect of the report but not the rest of it.
The Labor government has proposed legislation giving the minister of family services, another of Macklin's portfolios, the power to extend income management to any area deemed "disadvantaged". The legislation is scheduled to be tabled in the Senate in June.
If passed, income management would extend to other areas of the NT, and then the rest of Australia next year.
[The Stop the Intervention Collective, Sydney will hold a rally against the NT intervention and income management on May 28, at 5.30pm at Sydney Town Hall. For more info call Jean on 0449 646 593 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 0449 646 593 end_of_the_skype_highlighting.]