No to income management — not in Bankstown, not anywhere

August 5, 2011
Photo: Say No to Government's Income Management: Not in Bankstown, Not Anywhere/Facebook

A coalition of groups in New South Wales came together in June to campaign against the federal government’s plan to introduce income management for welfare recipients in the Sydney suburb of Bankstown.

The new coalition, called “Say no to government’s income management: not in Bankstown, not anywhere”, released the open letter below on July 27.

* * *

To ministers Tanya Plibersek and Jenny Macklin and to the local federal members for Banks, Blaxland and Watson.

We the undersigned are opposed to the Federal government’s income management. We are very concerned about proposals made during the federal budget in May to expand a system of income management into Bankstown and four other sites around Australia.

This system “quarantines” between 50 to 70% of Centrelink payments onto a BasicsCard that can only be used to buy “priority items” at government approved stores.

In Bankstown, it will be applied to people against their will who have been referred by child protection authorities or deemed “vulnerable to financial crisis”. Bonuses will be offered to people who join “voluntarily”.

We believe this approach is short sighted and bad public policy.

A system which dehumanises and punitively micromanages a person’s below-the-poverty-line income does not ensure that children are protected from harm nor does it stop people gambling, experiencing mental health problems or homelessness.

We know about the shame, humiliation and hardship caused by income management in Aboriginal communities living under the Northern Territory Intervention.

The United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has condemned this measure as a breach of fundamental human rights.

There is no evidence that income management is leading to improved outcomes for welfare recipients.

The Menzies School of Health reported in May 2010 that income management had not led to increases in sales of fresh fruit and vegetables in Northern Territory community stores, although a sharp spike was recorded when incomes temporarily increased through the government stimulus package in 2009.

Income management is a gross waste of funds. $117.5 million has been budgeted to roll the system out into the five new “trial sites”, including Bankstown, at an estimated cost of $4,600 per person per year.

This money is badly needed to raise incomes above the poverty line and provide services and employment opportunities that can actually support struggling people and indeed ensure sustainable outcomes.

We are concerned that the category “vulnerable to financial crisis” is extremely subjective and is being made on discriminatory grounds. Ninety eight percent of people in the Northern Territory deemed “vulnerable” have been Indigenous.

We fear a similar impact on already marginalised groups within our own community.

We are concerned about the arbitrary selection of Bankstown as a “trial site” for income management, without any consultation with local people or organisations. This stigmatisation is unnecessary and unwanted.

The Bankstown community has been working hard on rebuilding trust and social connectedness after years of negative stereotyping. This unfair policy will only erode all the good work that’s been undertaken and will increasingly marginalise Bankstown and its people.

We also fear that many small businesses and co-operatives will suffer losses because they do not have the means to accept the BasicsCard or advocate for a licence.

We strongly urge you to repeal legislation that allows for the imposition of income management and focus on programs that will help build a positive future for our community.

Endorsed by:

• Arab Council Australia
• Association of Bhanin El-Minieh
• Australian Arab Business Network
• Australian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Alliance
• Bankstown Area Multicultural Network
• Bankstown Community Resource Group
• CatholicCare
• Combined Pensioners and Superannuants of NSW
• Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (NSW Branch)
• Council of Social Service of NSW
• Ethnic Child Care Family and Community Services Co-op
• Ethnic Communities Council of NSW
• Fairfield Local Aboriginal Access Group
• Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia
• Greek Orthodox Community of NSW
• Green Left Weekly
• Greenacre Area Neighbourood Centre
• Immigration Advocacy and Services Network
• Inner South-West Community Development Organisation Ltd
• Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, Research Unit (UTS)
• Lebanese Community Council of NSW
• Lebanese Moslem Association
• Maritime Union of Australia (Sydney Branch)
• Metro Migrant Resource Centre
• National Tertiary Education Union (NSW)
• Network of Immigrant and Refugee Women of Australia Inc
• NSW Nurses Association
• Olivetree Women’s Network
• Pacific Island Women Advocate Support Service
• Sisters of St Joseph SA Reconciliation Circle
• South West Community Legal Centre
• Stop the Intervention Collective
• Tri Community Exchange
• United Muslim Women Association
• United Voice
• UnitingCare NSW.ACT
• Unions NSW
• Welfare Rights Centre, Sydney
• Western Sydney Community Forum
• Woodville Community Services
• Working Group for Aboriginal Rights (Canberra)

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