The Intervention was first instituted without any meaningful consultation with the Aboriginal people affected. Various aspects of that response were racially discriminatory.
Last year, the Australian Parliament passed amendments to that response — in part minimising the discriminatory effect of the law by extending compulsory provisions about income management of welfare payments to all Territorians and not just those living on nominated Aboriginal communities.
Most of the peak national bodies in the welfare sector have expressed principled objections to compulsory income management except for proven cases of recipients failing to discharge parental obligations. For example, Catholic Social Services argue that:
Adequate income support is an entitlement. It should not be a tool for governments or public sector managers to grant, withhold or modify in an effort to achieve 'outcomes'.
The government provided this rationale to Parliament, claiming to have conducted adequate consultation with those affected by these measures:
The Northern Territory Emergency Response Redesign consultations identified that income management had delivered discernible benefits. While there was a divergence of views, the majority of comments said that income management should continue. In the tier two meetings, people frequently said that income management should apply to all welfare recipients across Australia.
Critics of the legislation have been wary of government assurances about consultation. I have heard a variety of views in the Northern Territory. Some say their shopping trollies have never been so full, others that they must endure the shame of producing a welfare card in the supermarket checkout.
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