GOVERNMENT

Social security privatisation and income management profiteering

Last updated: 23/08/2019

The cashless debit card, or the Indue card, (I will call it CDC for the rest of this article), is about more than ‘helping social security recipients that are alcoholics, and, or drug and gambling addicts to get help’, narrative. Depending on which trial, or experiment that your postcode is in and if you’re on a disability payment, or a carer payment, or one of a long list of trigger and restrictable payments (listed at the end of this article), that includes the stillbirth payment, you will be put on the CDC.

This is about the privatisation of government services via taxpayer funded infrastructure, set up by private operator, Indue Ltd (Indue). It’s been set up to open up billions of dollars worth of income management, for the financial and commercial sectors. Income management has now become a product to sell. Whether that be from vendors charging fees to access their goods or services, or from the banks charging inward banking fees and overdraft fees. The Indue terms and conditions for the CDC absolves itself of hidden fees: ‘We are not responsible for any fees imposed by third parties.’

There is a litany of stories from those on the CDC about it not working at places where it is meant to and the fees involved, fees for rent transfers, fees for shopping at Coles, fees and defaults of up to $26 because Indue hasn’t paid loans on time. Despite all of this there is much more to come on the CDC agenda.

The ‘Cashless Debit Card Technology Report’, was a blueprint set out for the government in 2017 by Andrew Forrest, his Minderoo Foundation, and senior executives from the banking and retail sectors. It includes the CDC becoming a multi-issuer card opening it up for the banks to issue cards, for commercial tie-ins with reward partners such as AFL and supermarkets for loyalty schemes; CDC’s with commercial branding on it; CDC training rolled into the Responsible Service of Alcohol; and the monetisation of the data relating to the CDC; if there’s a buck to be made, it’s been thought of.  

It is also of note that the CDC is uncannily similar to a program in America, called SNAP, (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). It began as food-stamps for those on low incomes or on welfare. The food-stamps were eventually replaced with a debit card system called EBT, (Electronic Benefit Transfer), which is provided by private contractors under the guise of saving the government money with the printing costs. As an EBT vendor, Walmart in particular benefits greatly from the program with a guaranteed income stream worth 18% of the whole SNAP program, or $US 13 billion. It’s in their best interests if the amount on the card is raised and they provide lobbyists to keep tabs on any looming cuts to it.

I’m in no way ignoring that some communities don’t have real problems with alcohol, drugs, crime and violence in their towns that needs urgent attention. The purpose of this article is to create more detail and awareness than has been reported to date. Too much of the media reportage has been more about Liberal and Liberal National Party spruiking perceived benefits of the CDC in a seemingly attempt to manufacture the consent of the community rather than detailed analysis. Is a plastic card issued by a private company is really the answer? There are other initiatives in place such as justice reinvestment that is working and transforming towns such as Bourke, involving the whole community without government or private company intervention. More about that in the conclusion of this article.    

Indue Ltd is not a bank

It’s a payment transfer business. If you Google https://binlists.com/ for more details about the BIN (Bank Identification Number) for the CDC, which is: 438875. You will see that the card is issued by Mbna America Bank in Australia. If you look up the same number for more details via https://www.bindb.com you will see that strangely, Indue Ltd is listed as the issuing bank.

Screenshot (51)

Is Indue sending millions of dollars worth of social security payments out to an American bank and back to Australia again? Why is Indue exempt from the Anti-money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act?

Some background

The cashless debit card (CDC) is Andrew Forrest’s version of the BasicsCard, which started out in the Northern Territory (NT) in Indigenous communities. He also wants to put those that are currently on the BasicsCard onto his CDC, taking the management of the BasicsCard out of the hands of the government and into those of Indue. The CDC trials arose from the government accepting a key recommendation from Andrew Forrest’s 2014 review – ‘Indigenous Jobs and Training: Creating Parity’.

To start the CDC trials the government had to first get around Social Security Laws. These laws were designed to protect social security recipients from third parties taking payment from them without their consent. They did this by making changes to the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 inside of the CDC legislation with the: ‘Social Security Legislation Amendment (Debit Card Trial) Bill 2015’. Once the card is authorised by the cardholder it’s deemed as consenting not only to the CDC trial but also to Indue’s hefty terms and conditions. 

Those on the CDC receive 20% of their payment into their own bank account, while the other 80% is transferred to private operator, Indue, making it the legal property of Indue. It’s also important to know that because Indue is not a bank, they don’t have to answer to anyone, they’re also not signatories to the Centrelink Code of Operation or the ePayments code. 

John Howard also had to make changes within the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, for the NT Intervention to occur, which also led to income management there, more about this and the origin of income management in Australia, here.

The plan by the Liberal and the National Party has always been for the CDC to be rolled out nationally for those of working age, it’s articulated very clearly in both of Andrew Forrest’s  reviews. Billions of dollars can potentially become the property of Indue or the banks to dole out to social security recipients. His 2017 report also makes it very clear that government subsidies for businesses is expected for further implementation of the CDC. The Nationals also voted in August last year for every Australian under 35 years on a Parenting payment, Newstart Allowance and Youth Allowance to be put on the CDC.    

The National Party connection and their privatisation push with SERCO 

The CDC contract was won by Indue back in 2009. The Federal President of the National Party, and former Liberal National Party MP, Larry Anthony, helped set Indue up and was Deputy Chairman of their board until 2013. He also runs SAS Consulting Group (SAS), a political lobbying group that is registered with the federal government, Indue was listed as one its clients. Indue strangely disappeared off of the government register in August last year. SAS has amongst others, another private operator, Serco as one its clients. Serco won a pilot contract from the government in October 2017 to answer Centrelink phones as a solution for long waiting times. No doubt the 1,200 jobs cut from the Department of Human Services (DHS), in the 2017 budget made the situation worse, as well as the 1,300 that were culled in the 2018 budget. When you do the math, was it intentional? As of April this year, the government has now outsourced 2,750 DHS jobs to Serco. There are also connections with Larry Anthony’s family trust, Illangi Pty Ltd, in that they subcontract to Indue and the other one is Unidap Solutions, of which Larry Anthony is director, it provides IT and technical support not only for Indue, but also for the federal government. There are no individual shares owned by LNP members, despite the rumours. 

So, who are Indue’s shareholders?

It’s complex and not direct, Indue does far more than the cashless debit card. There are financial institutions such as credit unions, and building societies that are members of COBA (Customer Owned Banking Association), that use their financial services.

Indue’s clients: http://australia-banks-info.com/bsb-numbers/indue-ltd-bsb-numbers/

To be Indue shareholders though they must be using Indue’s Authorised Deposit taking Institution (ADI), services. They’re eligible for voting shares of no more than 15%, if they hold shares higher than this they’re converted to shares that don’t have voting rights. At one stage Indue looked into becoming a bank: ‘Indue is a mutual owned by mutual lenders and would need to change its constitution to be able to sell shares by itself.’ They have since changed strategy, preferring to focus on becoming a leading e-payment partner.  

How much are the CDC contracts worth?

In 2016 the cashless welfare card trials were originally slated to cost taxpayers a total of $18.9 million. According to the government tender, the original contract for Indue was worth $7,859,509 million, (media reports rounded it up to $8 million), it crept up to $13,035,581.16 million, a year later. That’s just the Indue part, if we add the remaining $10.9 million for the other contracts involved in the income management program, we get a total of $23,935,581.16.

There were 1,850 participants in the trial, so the cost of the total cost of the card works out to be $12,938.15 per person.

Using the maximum Newstart allowance of a single person as an example, which is $535.60 per fortnight; they would receive $13,925.60 for the year.

Add the Indue layer and the total is $20,971.86 per person, add the other contracts relating to the CDC and it’s $26,863.75 per person.

Update: 23/08/2019 – The initial $7,859,509 million contract (CN3323493) cost for the original cashless debit card trials, according to the online tenders to date, has now jumped to $38,786,915. There has also been recent amendments for two other Indue contracts: (CN3522852), which relates to card services, it was $3,683,026, it’s now $4,549,276; and the contract for the Indue cards (CN3398456), it was $840,000, it’s now $2,540,000. For context there are currently 11,600 people in the trials, pricey pieces of plastic. 

If we add the amended figures to the bold figure above we get $45,795,891

CDC trial costs and details, hidden behind commercial-in-confidence tender processes 

In September last year after the Senate came back after the Malcolm Turnbull spill and Parliament was shut down, Senator Fifield and his advisers represented the government in the Senate regarding the CDC expansion to Hinkler. The reason that I mention this is because Fifield up until that point had, had nothing to do with the CDC trials or policies, and it only added to the lack of transparency surrounding the costs involved. They claimed that the costs per participant was getting lower and was projected to be around $2,000 per person for the new trial, and that the oft quoted $10,000 per person was a running cost. When questioned further about the total cost for the new trial and the ones so far, they hid behind commercial-in-confidence, confidential tender processes and contracts not signed yet. They also said that they would release the Goldfield figures in full after 4-years or in 2022, well after the trials are due to finish. What was also revealed was that a cost-benefit analysis for the CDC was never considered, but that one was being done internally and that they don’t know when it will be finished. The government also doesn’t know what the profits are of the companies involved in the CDC trials.

Inadequate support services

Very little money has been set aside for services that are offered to communities to entice them onto the card. Using a recent example from the senate, the projected CDC cost of $2k per person in Hinkler amounts to $13.4 million, yet only $1 million has been set aside for support services. It is unclear how much money has been awarded to stakeholders or services that Indue has chosen to assist it with the CDC but there is one in particular that has been noted by people in Hinkler. David Batt of the Liberal National Party, is the State Member for Bundaberg. He is also the Chairman of Impact Community Services, which is a shopfront for those needing assistance with setting up the CDC, and a job services provider. I’m not suggesting that he has done anything wrong, just wondering what other indirect connections without tender processes are going on that are associated with the CDC.    

The CDC trials

The CDC began as trials in the disadvantaged and remote areas of Ceduna, in South Australia, and the East Kimberley, in West Australia in 2016. Anyone of working age and receiving the Newstart Allowance, Disability Support Pension, Parenting Payments, Carers Payment, and Youth Allowance, in these locations were forced onto the card. Nobody has really questioned why those on disability or carer payments need income management. Danny Ulrich, from Kalgoorlie, cares for his disabled 18-year-old brother, he doesn’t know why he has been given a CDC if it was designed to target alcohol-related behaviour.

“As a carer we’ve been put in with everyone else and put on the card,” Mr Ulrich said.

The trials have since been rolled out to the Goldfields in West Australia in 2018 and to Hinkler in Queensland this year. The differences with the latest trial being that it went ahead despite many in the community opposing it with many peaceful rallies and calling for the money to instead be spent on education, training and jobs. There is a big difference between politicians and stakeholders wanting the CDC for the community, and what the whole community wants.

The Hinkler trial is only for those aged 35 years and under who receive Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance (Job seeker), Parenting Payment (Single) or Parenting Payment (Partnered). Top-up income payments that people receive while under-employed have also been included in the Hinkler trial. Under-employment is a growing problem in Australia.

The numbers of those on the CDC in each region have increased with each trial. Ceduna began with around 800, East Kimberley with around 1,300, the Goldfields with around 3,600 and around 6,000 people in Hervey and Bundaberg (Hinkler). The original amount of those to be put on the CDC the trials was 10,000 it is now 15,000.

Trials that never end, assisted with a cherry-picked report

The 3-part Orima Report was commissioned by the government and is being used by the government, to not only extend draconian, income management measures, but also to quantify its success in the Senate and by Liberal and National Party politicians spruiking the CDC to the media and other communities. Social and political researcher, Eva Cox sums up the report perfectly in a Facebook post, on The Say No Seven page :   

“The whole data set of interviews, quantitative and qualitative, are very poorly designed and not likely to be valid data collection instruments. I’d fail any of my research students that produced such dubious instruments.”   

The reports includes a lot of spin, asks respondents for their ‘perceptions’ at times, and includes retrospective responses, for questionnaires. The Say No Seven page, has been following all three of the reports closely, they crunched the numbers at the start of this month, when the final Orima report was released. An example cam be found on page forty-six:

“At Wave 2, as was the case in Wave 1, around 4-in-10 non-participants (on average across the two Trial sites) perceived that there had been a reduction in drinking in their community since the CDCT commenced.”

This approach means that you focus on the minority of responses, rather than the majority of responses. 6-in-10 not perceiving any reduction in drinking around town. It reads a lot differently than the latter.

Another example used a lot and also quoted in the Minderoo Foundation report from 2017, is: ‘For card users at 12 months: 41% of drinkers said they were drinking less; 48% of drug users said they were using drugs less; and 48% of gamblers said they were gambling less.’ Again making the reader or listener focus on the minority of responses.

Independent analysis of the report by qualified researchers, found many serious flaws within the report. The Auditor General Grant Hehir, also wasn’t convinced due to the lack of analysis, monitoring and evaluation of the trial. He also found that there was a failure to properly measure baseline data (data collected at the beginning or before a research project to compare with data collected during and after), making it hard to know what impact the trial had really had. Doctor Elise Klein, Janet Hunt, Senator Rachel Siewert, ACOSS and so many others have made submission after submission to the government, about the negative responses from people on the CDC relating to increased financial hardship, and flow-on social effects, only to be ignored.

The CDC narrative changes

A baseline report for the Goldfields trial was finally released in February this year but it’s commencement is vague, it says that it’s from ‘around the time of the introduction of the CDC.’ The report found “levels of substance misuse were reported by many respondents to have reduced, and alcohol-related, anti-social behaviour and crime had also decreased”. The report also said: “However, there is some uncertainty as to whether these impacts were a direct consequence of the CDC [cashless debit card] or were linked with concurrent policing and alcohol management interventions.”

The report was by the Future of Employment and Skills Research Centre which is a research centre in the University of Adelaide. This is curious in that the CDC has been legislated to provide income support for those with alleged drug, alcohol and gambling problems, not for being unemployed. The narrative has shifted in recent months with the Minister for Social Services, Paul Fletcher announcing in a presser that the CDCT trial “…is being expanded to address unemployment.”

This completely changes what the Indue card policy was designed for, and what the government originally presented to the Senate. It’s also unclear how a minister can just announce a change in legislation like this. Below was the original goals of the CDC trials. To change it to be about unemployment makes you wonder what is the point of trials? To make it more palatable for the Senate to pass the legislation and for the public to accept over time?   

124PC  Objects

              The objects of this Part are to trial cashless welfare arrangements so as to:

                (a) reduce the amount of certain restrictable payments available to be spent on alcoholic beverages, gambling and illegal drugs; and

                (b) determine whether such a reduction decreases violence or harm in trial areas; and

                (c) determine whether such arrangements are more effective when community bodies are involved; and

                (d) encourage socially responsible behaviour.

It also means that all research and data collected by the government to date is redundant and that at the very least new legislation needs to be drawn up with what the government’s true objectives are.

Whole of community consent for the trials questioned, and paid community panels  

Claims by the government that the trial communities wanted it have fallen apart under questioning during debates in the Senate. In February last year Labor Senator Doug Cameron, asked Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, about the 86 organisations and stakeholders that were involved in the consultation process for the Goldfields expansion. It turned out that only 5 out of the 86 were positive about the CDC. Those that were positive about the CDC being introduced in their communities were given anonymity.   

IMG-6237

Every year since the CDC the government has introduced and mostly passed many amendments. Amendments such as the government establishing anonymous community panels that now include government officials in trial sites, taking it out of the hands of local councils and agencies. Paid community panels to determine whether those put on income management should be able to access more cash from their bank accounts than the 20% allocated by Indue. This also happened in the NT during the Intervention. Another one was the addition of one word, ‘was’ meaning that if you used to live in a trial area but have moved you could still be put on the card. Seemingly to stop people moving from a trial area to a non-trial one, or a welfare migration, control measure. Because the trials are rolled out by postcode it also captures those that don’t have drug, alcohol or gambling problems or are even in need of income support assistance. If you want to opt out of the CDC trial process is extremely difficult.

The latest amendment and trial expansion

Just last week the government passed another amendment in the Senate to extend all of the current trials till June 2020. Those in Ceduna will have been on the CDC for 4-years by this time. The Labor Party has also introduced an amendment that has been legislated and is now law, providing some hope for those that don’t need income support as a way to opt out off of the CD program. CDC recipients in all trial sites can exit the scheme from July this year if they’re able to demonstrate “reasonable and responsible management” of their financial affairs. Their amendment also makes the community panels more accountable for their decisions as to why someone can not be exempt from the CDC. They must provide a documented explanation.

The fear for many though is that if the government wins the federal election that they will not only repeal this legislation, but will expand and extend the trials everywhere. The government has also given an additional $70.8 million for the extension of the trials.

IMG-5989 People self-harming and suiciding due to the CDC

IMG-6234

Besides the information from the screenshot above there isn’t a lot of data relating to self-harm and suicides relating to the CDC. There was recently an ‘Inquest into the 13 Deaths of Children and Young Persons in the Kimberley Region’, and a coroners report that has a CDC recommendation that hasn’t been reported properly. Preceding Recommendation 22 the report states:

‘An evaluation of the Cashless Debit Card trial is outside the scope of the Inquest as is any recommendation that suggests a compulsion. The following recommendation is made, to be considered in parallel with, and not in substitution of, any relevant trial or program already in place, or planned.’

Followed by: Recommendation 22 – ‘That consideration be given to extending an offer of a voluntary cashless debit card program to include the entire Kimberley Region.’    

The Minderoo Foundation reported the recommendation as a reason to roll out the CDC across the Kimberley, no mention of consideration or it being voluntary. As the coroner stated the CDC trial was outside of the scope of the inquiry. Until we have one for the CDC trials we will never know how many people have self-harmed or suicided. One death or someone hurting themselves over a government policy is too many.

In conclusion

The social security and welfare of Australian’s doesn’t belong in the hands of private companies. Anyone of us can slip and fall into hardship, this is what it’s there for. There are other programs to explore that address alcohol and drug problems like in Iceland for example, where teenagers in the 1980’s and 1990’s had a huge problem with alcohol and drugs that could be tailored to fit certain communities in Australia. Unemployment could also be incorporated with the approach below.

  • They brought in curfews for teens under 16 being out at night with parents helping to patrol the streets to make sure that it happened.
  • Parents signed a pledge to not allow their kids to drink alcohol and to create more family time with them.
  • Kids are kept occupied with the government giving families a $500 voucher for after school activities.
  • Surveys are filled in by teens every year measuring different aspects of their lives such as their relations to their peers, family life, substance abuse and how they feel. A report is then created for each community within 2-months for their schools so that they can work out solutions within each community.
  • They also got politicians onside with the science with Reyjkavic spending over $100 million each year on youth activities.        

This model is now run across 35 cities in Europe and has been credited with bringing Iceland musical and sporting success.

Then there are justice reinvestment programs that I mentioned in the introduction where instead of money being spent on prisons, and law and order policies, the money is instead reinvested into the communities. The Australian Human Rights Commission has called it a “powerful crime prevention strategy.” The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee recommended 5-years ago for the Commonwealth to “adopt a leadership role” to support justice reinvestment projects and that it should fund a trial.

In the NSW town of Bourke, the Maranguka project is credited with cutting major offences by 18% and domestic violence and drug offences by 40%, and with school attendance up. This could work in communities such as Kalgoorlie, but for these projects to work they require involving the whole of the community, and the police. Brad Hazzard, the current NSW health minister, said in a Bourke meeting after marvelling at their success:

“I still shake my head in wonder as to why so much state and federal resources are coming into regional towns and not achieving the outcomes we want.”

Many people receiving social security assistance are already living in poverty, cutting them off from cash is not the answer. Let it be voluntary across the board, don’t let our capitalist society turn poverty and welfare into another money making scheme for the private sector, or to be used as a pork-barreling strategy for nonprofits in our communities. Do surveys, get to the core of the problems in each community, provide services that work, seriously look at ways to create jobs and for other ways for people to contribute back to their communities, if they’re able to do so. It’s also well overdue to  trial a universal basic income in Australia.    

These are the trigger payments that can land you on the card:

  • ABSTUDY that includes an amount identified as living allowance,
  • austudy payment,
  • benefit PP (partnered),
  • BVA, so long as the recipient has not   reached pension age,
  • carer payment,
  • disability support pension,
  • newstart allowance,
  • PgA (other than non-benefit allowance),
  • partner allowance,
  • pension PP (single),
  • sickness allowance,
  • special benefit,
  • widow allowance,
  • widow B pension,
  • wife pension,
  • youth allowance.

Here are the restrictable payments:

Many thanks to all of the sourced researchers, publications and artists involved in this article.

 

       

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Australian Super Funds wanting to invest in America’s infrastructure privatisation, is it ethical?

When I recently learned of the push for Australia’s superannuation industry to invest in American infrastructure, alarm bells rang. Neoliberalism is still very much in economical favour so what was this really all about? When I read articles about it from Australia a little closer, I realised that they were missing the meat of the story, all that I was reading was the bare bones.

Firstly there is no $US1.5 trillion infrastructure plan as such in the 2019 budget. The Trump administration’s infrastructure plan is basically a finance deal that includes deregulation, and the privatisation of America’s state and local government assets. $US200bn is all that the American government is willing to spend including $US100bn that has been allocated to an Incentives Program. These figures however, do not include $US178bn worth of cuts to be made in the state and local government’s infrastructure budgets. They pretty much cancel each other out. The deep cuts in funding, and the need to fix their infrastructure will leave many of these government’s no choice but to look at private funding and selling off its assets.

No matter where the funding comes from, privatisation requires taking over a government function at a lower cost than the government can provide it, and to make a profit, or it wouldn’t be worth its while.  

America has been undergoing privatisation since the Reagan administration through its neoliberal policies. These policies enabled private to take over energy infrastructure and utilities, but not roads, rails, ports and airports, they have mainly remained as state and local government assets. Privatisation though is not as popular as it once was due to American’s seeing and living with the consequences of privatisation; they know how it affects their lives, wallets, and their communities. In Chicago for example, parking meters were privatised 10-years ago with a 75-year lease that has cost the city $US974m in lost revenue, so far.

Privatisation in Australia under the guise of ‘asset recycling’ has been used to lobby American politicians for the last couple of years. It was introduced to Australia by former Australian Treasurer, Joe Hockey. Hockey in his current role as American Ambassador has led the charge with assistance from others, including former New South Wales Premier Mike Baird. In Australia it involved selling state assets to private to help pay for infrastructure projects, and the federal government paid an incentive payment to add to the funding. There were no big cuts or deregulation involved. The super fund’s think selling it to the American public as “workers capital” rather than private, to pay for public assets will do the trick. The super funds have even re-branded: Public Private Partnerships in America, to Pension Public Partnerships.

You might be asking yourself: ‘Why should I care where or how Australian Super is invested if it’s bringing back returns?’ That’s a good question. America has inflicted neoliberalism policies around the world for the last 40-years, this has led to the global decay of infrastructure. The global race to fix ailing infrastructure (or to gobble up what’s left of public assets), is being touted by Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, as the answer to sustaining economic growth. Neoliberal policies are profit driven, whereas things like infrastructure maintenance are not very profitable. Hence the decline. Pretty ironic when you think about it.       

Is it right or ethical for super funds to invest in a country that is also being deregulated within an inch of its life to make it easier for private with their investments? There are grave concerns for the plan to deregulate the country’s water supplies, some water utilities are already struggling to keep their water clean. Did you know that 16 million Americans get sick from dirty tap water each year? Deregulation, especially in regards to environmental restrictions designed to protect communities, will once again add to the monetary burden of cleaning it up onto the states and local governments. Even if super funds just invested in toll roads there like IFM Investors with their Indiana investment, wouldn’t it be better to invest in Australia’s infrastructure? In particular renewable energy, there’s a whole industry waiting to be untapped. Or perhaps the super funds could look to our neighbours in Asia needing infrastructure assistance, including being climate change ready. There is so much more to ethically invest in than road tolls and user charges around the world.

And on a final note, another concern that I have is if investing super into anything that makes a profit becomes the norm and accepted, what other ideas or policies that are unpalatable now, are lurking waiting for the right moment to be introduced? The privatisation of sidewalks in Australia? It’s already happening in Kansas City and Missouri.

There are only public assets (including public land), and services left to invest in or take over. If this were to happen what would the world look like? I don’t even want to imagine.         

 

SOS from Manus

In April 2016, the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Supreme Court, ruled that Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island was illegal. Their detention breached the PNG constitution, and their right to personal liberty. They’re detained on Lombrum naval base,  thirty-minutes away from the nearest town, Lorengau. After three-years of being held on the guarded base, they were now allowed to go, with restrictions, into town, by bus in daylight hours. The Australian and PNG governments, were ordered to start taking steps to end the detention of asylum seekers there.

It wasn’t until this year, that both of the government’s announced that the camp on the naval base was to be closed down. The deadline is this Tuesday, the 31st of October. Compounds housing asylum seekers on Manus have been progressively shut down since. They have been given four options:

Relocate to the East, Lorengau Transit Centre

Go home voluntarily

Settle in PNG

Resettle in a third country

During this time, locals have enjoyed employment and enjoyed earning money that most have never seen before. More than one-thousand locals have lost their jobs. Since the closure announcement, tensions have risen dramatically, with more robberies, and violence against the men held on Manus. To the point that many are too afraid to take the risk to go into town, they feel safer on the naval base. There is no point reporting anything that happens to them because the PNG police don’t do anything. Around 70 men are currently, at the transit centre, with over 600 cooped up on the naval base, refusing to move to the centre. They’re too terrified to go as it is not safe, the locals have made it very clear that they don’t want them there.  

Communications from Manus

I’ve been in communication with an asylum seeker on Manus, for the last few months. Out of respect for his privacy and concern for his safety, I’m keeping his identity anonymous. I will call him Rick. With the October deadline approaching, and anxiety building, a few days ago, he shared a few things with me.

He met an Australian man on Manus recently, and while discussing his situation, he told him that he wanted to go and have a look at the new camp, at the Lorengau Transit Centre. The man replied:

‘Don’t go there, locals are so angry, and they might do something silly to you.’

He said that a few days ago he was in a meeting with locals who told him that they hated the men and wouldn’t accept them, and that:

‘We don’t want any refugees around our neighbourhood.’

Rick also told me how he had met and spoken of his concerns with David Yapu, a local Police Commander, on Manus.  

He also shared his concerns and said that the police have been given:

‘No clear direction about your situation, if anything happens, we have no direction of what to do.’

Yapu apologised to Rick and said that:

‘We’re really sorry for what Australia is doing to you’.

He also said that what Australia was doing to them was:

‘Inhumane, and shouldn’t happen to any person in the world’.

The compassion from someone from a police force, renowned for their brutality, wasn’t lost on Rick.   

The new transit centre isn’t safe 

It was revealed in senate estimates this week, that the new construction at the transit centre being built in Lorengau by the Australian government, hasn’t even finished being built. Rick and his Australian friend, went together, to have a look at the new transit centre, but authorities wouldn’t let them in. The government says that it will be finished by tomorrow, the 29th of October. As the closure date looms closer, locals have threatened violence against builders working on the centre, as well as vandalising and blockading it. Landowners of the centre, don’t want any refugee centres in residential areas. They say they’ve had no warning or consultation by the Australian government, and the PNG government has also been kept in the dark about the new construction going on at the centre. There is also a petition being circulated around Lorengau calling for the Australian government to take the men to Australia, until a third country has been found for them. In one community meeting an elderly man said:

“I’m going to get the youths. We’ll get spear guns, knives, axes, spades, crowbars and we will block the road.”

Many of the refugees and asylum seekers have been locked up there for over four-years. Of the 718 men on Manus, most of the men have been found to be refugees. There is also a group of around forty men known as the ‘Forties’, that have refused from the beginning, to be settled in PNG if they were found to be refugees. They have been given negative results despite not being processed, including my friend Rick. When the option came up to resettle in America, Rick felt glad that he had stood his ground, because he felt that the Australian Border Force, was lying about PNG being the only option for him to resettle. He could see straight away that PNG was very dangerous and knew he wasn’t wanted, all of the men know this and feel this way. He has asked many, many times for over a year, to tell his story and to be processed, but they said that he’s lost his chance and he’s not getting another. They are threatening deportation.    

Broken men  

This week the men were given medical packs to last them for one-month, with no further assistance. Most of the men are on medication, to help them sleep. Also for physical and mental health problems, that require professional care. It’s alarming that they would give such a large of medication to them, without guidance, particularly when mentally unstable. Interpreters for the men are rare too, leading to miscommunications and misunderstandings between the different nationalities. The seeds of conflict were sown from the start, however. The locals were told that the asylum seekers were dangerous criminals, and the asylum seekers were told that the locals had deadly diseases, and that they were cannibals.                 

In mid-February 2014, a violent riot broke out in the detention centre, lasting two days. Many of the men had already been imprisoned for nine-months with no clue as to what was going to happen to them. No asylum seekers had even been processed yet, they were understandably demanding answers about processing their claims and resettlement. When immigration officers arrived and told them that they were going to be resettled in PNG, one of the men asked:

“Okay, you are saying you are going to resettle us, but your country is listed as 39 out of 40 notorious countries, and how – I mean you can’t even control your own people, how do you think that you could resettle us and give us a life here?”

G4S had the detention centre contract at the time (Broadspectrum took over the contracts, after the riot), and their staff and guards, warned against such an announcement. Based on intelligence, G4S was worried about the potential for conflict. Immigration on site agreed with the decision not to tell the men, but it was overturned by immigration in Canberra. The announcement, was the catalyst for the riot.

Violence and murder on Manus

Iranian asylum-seeker, Reza Barati, was murdered. Another man lost his eye, one man was shot in his buttocks, and another had his throat slit. Seventy-seven others were treated for serious injuries. It wasn’t until 2016, that a former G4S employee, and a former Salvation Army employee, (both PNG nationals), were arrested for the murder of Reza Barati. Their sentence was reduced because there were so many other people involved in the murder. The other people involved were local residents and local security guards. Nobody else has ever been charged for the murder, or for the other serious injuries, inflicted on scores of others. One of the men charged for the murder has escaped twice from prison. He is currently still on the run.   

On Good Friday this year, drunken PNG soldiers fired into the detention centre on the naval base. This time security guards, refugees and immigration officials were assaulted. Nobody has ever been charged for this incident either. Six men have died on Manus, two of the deaths have been in the last few months, both of the deceased, were found near the transit centre in Lorengau. It has been reported that the deaths were suicide due to mental illness, some have their doubts.        

A matter of human rights

The Australian government is currently trying to force the men off of the naval base and into the new centre by withholding medical services, emptying rain-water tanks, closing the mess and withholding fruit, sugar  and coffee cups. Interestingly the fruit, sugar and coffee cups were stopped from been handed out, but the men have started receiving them again. The men wonder if the Australian government is worried about being found to abuse human rights again. Lawyer Ben Lomai, is seeking orders from the court that food and water should be provided after the 31st of October.

“If there’s anything, food and water should be maintained because that’s their constitutional right,” he said to Radio New Zealand.

“So you can’t deny them food and water. So if they are allowed to stay there then those are the two services they can be entitled to. Other things can be subject to further negotiation.”  

He is also seeking orders to guarantee the men’s safety if and when they are moved to the centre and for a requirement that refugees are offered settlement in a third country.

The men have been given food-packs to last two days. Electricity is set to be turned off and the PNG military have been ordered to take over the base next Tuesday.  There should be a sense of urgency, not complacently seeing how it will all turn out, and a lets hope for the best, type of attitude.   

Fiji gets dragged into the political arena

Not only have PNG’s mobile squads been deployed to assist with moving the men from the navy base but Fiji guards have been employed by a PNG company to guard the refugees and asylum seekers for one-year as of tomorrow. This is already not going down well in Manus, locals are asking why can’t they have the forty-two jobs?  There has been pay comparisons too with the Fijians being paid a lot more than locals for the last four years. This will not bode well.

Time to end the political games

In my mind, we have moved beyond the blame game, or one-upmanship that both major parties have played. Beyond the billions of dollars spent playing these games. And beyond, even resettling asylum seekers like Rick in Australia, many of them don’t want to come here, and I don’t blame them. But they do want to be resettled in another country, that is safe, and they deserve to become, contributing members of society again.

We also can’t ignore the fact that this is being done for political reasons, especially when we look at the fact, that as of last June, there were more than 64,000 people overstaying their visas in Australia. Nearly 7,000 have overstayed for fifteen to twenty years. The most humane and sensible approach would be to bring them to Australia for processing, and to take it from there, for resettling them.

They’ve lost so much, stealing years away from them, means that when they do finally get resettled, the road ahead will be much steeper, especially in regards to gaining employment. We are heading towards the five-year mark of their imprisonment on an island in the middle of nowhere, the world has changed so much in this time. And of course so have they, but what strikes me the most about these men is how strong they are, and how kind-hearted they are, despite everything that Australia has put them through.

Updated: 29/10/2017

Many thanks to all of the sourced researchers, publications and artists involved in this article and in my series.

          

 

The standard that you walk past…

Last updated: 07/08/2019

Income management isn’t new in Australia, what is new, is the current government’s ideological push to enforce neoliberal policies on an unsuspecting Australia. In 2007, Professor Helen Hughes, wrote ‘Lands of Shame: Aboriginal and Torres Strait “homelands” in Transition.’ A few months before it was published, Hughes gave it to the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination (OIPC), the department responsible for indigenous policies. The Minister for Indigenous Affairs was Mal Brough.

The book was published by conservative think tank, the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS). It’s final chapter, reads like a blueprint for what occurs in the Northern Territory (NT) in June 2007. It calls for the closure of Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory (NT); a health audit of all children; the appointment of administrators; private home ownership; and the abolition of communal title customary law; the permit system and Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP). The book was also highly critical of policies relating to self-determination and land rights, branding them failed socialist experiments.   

The use of a book, research or reports produced by a think tank, or a foundation, for government policies isn’t a new tactic. The Ronald Reagan policies from 1980’s, were mostly from the Heritage Foundation, which has been heavily financed for years by the conservative elite, and the likes of the Koch brothers.      

Before we go any further, I need to provide some background, and a timeline of events. The Howard government, received many detailed reports about the escalating violence in Indigenous communities, but they were never actioned. With thanks to Chris Graham (current owner of New Matilda), Crikey and Michael Brull, for their succinct research over the last decade relating to the Intervention.

So many reports, not enough action

Indigenous academic, Boni Robertson, completed many detailed reports throughout the nineties. Robertson also led an inquiry in 1999, that actually involved Indigenous Australians, with fifty-senior women representing their communities in Queensland (QLD). In 1999, a shocking report about Indigenous violence, was released by Doctor Paul Memmott. The report was suppressed from the media and the public by the Justice Minister, Amanda Vanstone for eighteen months. By the time that the media got wind of it, it was old news and nobody really cared.

All of these reports and inquiries, warned of the numerous problems in Indigenous communities. The causes of family violence stem from a failure of government to provide adequate services, education and housing infrastructure. It’s also a failure from both sides of the political spectrum to acknowledge Indigenous culture and their relationship with the land. Neo-colonialism is still a problem in Australia, despite the fact that Indigenous Australians are the oldest known civilisation on earth.  They’ve hundreds of languages and their map of Australia is made up of many nations, not a handful of states. Wanting them to assimilate into a monolingual, mono-cultural society is one thing, the reality is another.       

In 2002, the Central Aboriginal Congress prepared a paper showing how the number of indigenous women being treated for domestic assault had more than doubled since 1999. A year later Howard staged a ‘roundtable summit’ of Indigenous leaders to address family violence. This achieved nothing.

An election was approaching in 2006, and for the government and the media, Indigenous violence was a popular topic. At one point, ABC Lateline had filed seventeen stories about it in just eight nights. Crown Prosecutor Nanette Rogers, was on the show in May that year and spoke of her experience with violence against children, including sexual violence in remote communities. What Rogers spoke about was exactly what Dr Memmott had detailed in his suppressed report, seven years earlier.

The media heats up

Minister Brough appeared on Lateline the next day and told the host, Tony Jones that: “Everybody in those communities knows who runs the pedophile rings.”

Jones: “You just said something that astonishes me. You said pedophile rings. What evidence is there of that?”

Brough said that there was “considerable evidence” but provided none. Claire Martin, the NT’s Labor Chief Minister, called on him to provide evidence of the allegation, he said nothing. Five weeks later on June the 21st 2006, Lateline had an anonymous male, former youth worker on their program. He backed up what Brough said:

“It’s true. I’ve been told by a number of people of men getting young girls and keeping them as sex slaves.”

The youth worker, claimed that he was once based in Mutitjulu, working in a joint community project for the NT and federal governments. The Mutitjulu community are the legal custodians of Uluru, or Ayers Rock.

His identity was hidden with his face shadowed and a digitised voice, and he cried as he detailed how he’d made repeated statements and reports to police about sexual violence, in Mutitjulu. He said that he’d withdrawn the reports after being threatened by men in the community, and that he feared for his life. He also said that young indigenous children were being held against their will, and that other kids were being given petrol to sniff in exchange for sex with senior indigenous men.

The next day, Martin announced that her NT government would hold a major inquiry into violence against children in Indigenous communities. Also on that day, Brough finally responded to calls for evidence of his accusations. He released a press statement, saying that information had been passed onto NT police, and that he’d been advised that “for legal and confidentiality reasons, I am unable to disclose detail.”

Questions asked too late, the damage is done

A few weeks later, the National Indigenous Times reported that the youth worker crying about his experience in Mutitjulu on Lateline wasn’t a youth worker at all. He was actually, Gregory Andrews an assistant secretary at the OIPC, and an adviser to Brough. He advised Brough about violence and sexual abuse in remote communities. Later it was revealed in parliament, that Andrews had never made a single report to police about women or children. He also misled a federal senate inquiry into petrol sniffing in 2006 and lied about living in Mutitjulu, he had never even set foot there.

All of Andrew’s allegations were thoroughly investigated and dismissed by the NT police. And the Australian Crime Commission, spent eighteen-months and millions of dollars, and also concluded that there was no organised paedophilia in Indigenous communities. 

Martin’s inquiry reported back to her in August 2006. The inquiries final report: Little Children are Sacred, was handed to the NT government, in April 2007. It was impressive and was more than 300-pages-long, with ninety-one recommendations. The authors, Pat Anderson and Rex Wild, didn’t have an easy job, but they said that they were:

“impressed with the willingness of people to discuss the issue of child sexual abuse, even though it was acknowledged as a difficult subject to talk about. At many meetings, both men and women expressed a desire to continue discussions about this issue and what they could do in their community about it. It was a frequent comment that up until now, nobody had come to sit down and talk with them about these types of issues. It would seem both timely and appropriate to build on this good will, enthusiasm and energy by a continued engagement in dialogue and assisting communities to develop their own child safety and protection plans.”

But before the Martin government could respond to the report and without any consultation with her, or even his own cabinet. Howard and Brough used the report as a catalyst to launch their Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), or the Intervention.

The Intervention

The Intervention relied heavily on shock tactics. Naomi Klein has covered these extensively in her book about disaster capitalism. It favours a multi-pronged, speedy attack, this helps to create cover to introduce unsavoury or neoliberal policies. The Intervention ticks all of the boxes.

The NT and the Australian Federal Police, were sent into remote Indigenous communities, and the army and business managers were installed into Indigenous communities. Signs were put up declaring bans on pornography and alcohol in towns. It was framed as a “national emergency” and while everyone was distracted, and with a senate majority, the federal government was free to pursue its agenda. NTER (Northern Territory Emergency Response), was a $587 million package of measures, and laws regarding human rights, had to be changed or suspended, to get the new legislation through, these included:

Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976.

Native Title Act 1993(Cth).

Northern Territory Self-Government Act and related legislation.

Social Security Act 1991.

Income Tax Assessment Act 1993.

As a result of the new legislation, regulations were introduced to ban access to alcohol, tobacco, pornographic material, and gambling services. Land was compulsorily acquired by the government in seventy Indigenous communities, this was to ensure that there were no interruptions by traditional owners. An income management scheme was introduced, the BasicsCard, which was actually born out of an Indigenous innovation.

The FOODCard was introduced by the Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation (ALPA) in 2004, the idea came about after community consultations. The main differences between the two cards are that one had community consultations, while the other did not. The terms and conditions for the FOODCard are available in Yolngu Matha and English for example, while the BasicsCard is in English only.

The other key difference is that the ALPA one is voluntary and you can set for yourself how much money to quarantine, whereas the government one is compulsory, and quarantines 50%-80% of income. The FOODCard was rolled out in 2007, but by then the government operated BasicsCard had taken over.

Neoliberal ideology

The government waited a month until it introduced its last measure, abolishing a program called Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP). The CDEP was one of the programs that was working, it allowed communities to pool all of their unemployment benefits together. This was then paid out as a direct wage for local jobs within the community, or within the CDEP organisations.

Participants were counted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as employed, even though the funds originated from unemployment benefits. A form of self-government, and a good solution for unemployment that empowered many communities, especially remote ones.

Communities were also sent pamphlets from Centrelink, explaining that they now had to do something in return for their Centrelink money, otherwise known as mutual obligation. The pamphlet also said that they had to call them with their contact details, or their payments might be stopped.  

Dr David Scrimgeour, told the Public Health Association of Australia conference in September, that year that:

‘Most of the recommendations … have been implemented by the Commonwealth Government in the NT under the guise of protecting children, despite the fact that the recommendations are not based on evidence, but on neo-liberal ideology.’

He also said that the think-tank, CIS, that published Helen Hughes’ book, received ‘significant support from large corporations, particularly mining companies, and has close links with the Government and the media, particularly the Murdoch-owned newspaper The Australian.’

Reports ignored or used as political tools

So what does income management look like in the NT, ten years after the Intervention? The authors of the Little Children are Sacred report have both said that the report’s recommendations were ignored and that it was used as a political tool to push for an Intervention. Wild said this year that:

“One of the threshold items of the report is that community consultation is needed to be able to best implement the report and that clearly didn’t happen.”

Since the Intervention, report after report gets written about socio-economic disadvantage, and the negative aspects felt by those on income management, only to be ignored. They all have a common theme, that there is no evidence of value behind income management programs, and that they didn’t change behaviours. Is it the government’s place to modify human behaviour with financial measures?  

How income management rolled out nationally

In the House of Representatives during the debate about the expansion of income management, Senator Nigel Scullion, a member of the Country Liberal Party, that sat with the National Party in federal government, said:

There is a fundamental thread through most of the feedback we get when we talk about consultation. When we get to most communities any observer would say that Aboriginal people more generally hate the intervention. They do not like it, it invades their rights and they feel discriminated against.”

Yet, he still voted with the Gillard government for its expansion. NTER was renamed, ‘Stronger Futures’. He went on to become the leader of the Nationals in the Senate, and Minister for Indigenous Affairs in 2013, until his retirement this year.   

Since the Intervention, the model has expanded from remote communities in the NT to the Kimberley region and Perth in WA; Cape York; all of the NT and selected areas of ‘disadvantage’. The areas that are deemed as disadvantaged are: Logan in QLD, Bankstown in New South Wales (NSW), Shepparton in Victoria and Playford in SA.

The six different income management measures:

  1. Participation/Parenting – NT only, when the government deems you ‘at risk’ if you’ve been on a welfare for a certain amount of time.
  2. Vulnerable welfare – When you’re referred to income management by a Centrelink social worker.
  3. Child protection income management – NT and some parts of WA, a child protection officer refers you to income management.
  4. Cape York measure – People there are put on income management, if they engage in    dysfunctional behaviour.
  5. Place based income management – For people living in five targeted communities that have been referred for income management.
  6. Supporting people at risk – People are referred for income management by certain state and territory agencies.

As of 25th March 2016, there were 26,508 on income management programs, 20,941 of those were Indigenous.

Following the Indue trail

The BasicsCard originally started out as a store card from merchants such as Coles and Woolworths; by direct deduction of funds set up by a merchant; or by Centrelink making a credit card or cheque payment. In 2008 the federal government started the process of procurement for an open tender of a new BasicsCard, to replace the clunky BasicsCard payment system. The new card needed to be able to be used for EFTPOS and would have its own pin number for protection. Five tender applications were received with two that were considered and the winner was Indue Ltd, because it offered a substantially lower price.

Indue started out as Creditlink, it changed its name in 2006 a year after Larry Anthony, former Liberal National Party MP became Chairman of its board. Anthony was the Chairman of Indue until 2013, and he’s been the Federal President of the National Party since 2015. Indue’s win was publicly announced in December 2009, their original BasicsCard contract was worth just over $11 million for three-years, it ballooned out to over $25 million.

A new cashless welfare card to replace the BasicsCard

A review of Indigenous employment was commissioned by the Tony Abbott government for mining magnate, Andrew Forrest to review. It was released in 2014: Creating Parity – the Forrest Review. Forrest and his Minderoo Foundation, wanted a new card that he called the: “Healthy Welfare Card” to replace the BasicsCard. They want it to apply to all working age Australians, around 2.5 million Australians, if you exempt pensioners and veterans. Out of this review sprang the beginning of the cashless debit card trials. The Healthy Welfare Card has since come to be known as the cashless debit card, or the Indue card due to the Indue branding on the visa card.

A snapshot of the cost of the cashless debit card trials

In 2016 the cashless welfare card trials were originally slated to cost taxpayers a total of $18.9 million. According to the government tender, the original contract for Indue was worth $7,859,509 million, (media reports rounded it up to $8 million), it’s already crept up to $13,035,581.16 million, a year later. That’s just the Indue part, if we add the remaining $10.9 million for the other contracts involved in the income management program, we get a total of $23,935,581.16.

There were 1,850 participants in the trial, so the cost of the total cost of the card works out to be $12,938.15 per person.

Using the maximum Newstart allowance of a single person as an example, which is $535.60 per fortnight; they would receive $13,925.60 for the year.

Add the Indue layer and the total is $20,971.86 per person, add the other contracts relating to the CDC and it’s $26,863.75 per person.

A lot of money provided by taxpayers for behaviour change, and of course a nice profit for Indue, especially if it rolls out to millions of Australians. Millions of dollars flying about without any oversight, and with political connections are a grave cause for concern.

The total cost of Indue contracts over the last ten-years – updated 07/08/2019

I’ve also gone through all of the tenders and contracts relating to Indue since they first won the original contract, there are fifteen in total to date. Out of those, nine of the contracts are limited, so none of the finer details are available of those for the public.

The total was $60,203,010.66 when I first wrote this in 2017.

The $8 million contract cost for the original cashless debit card trials, according to the online tenders to date, has now jumped to $37,936,382.

Bringing the grand total to $98,139,392.66.

That’s ten-years of income management with not much success to date.

Another dodgy government report

The three-part Orima Report is being used by the government to quantify its success. Social and political researcher, Eva Cox sums up the report perfectly in a Facebook post, on The Say No Seven page :   

“The whole data set of interviews, quantitative and qualitative, are very poorly designed and not likely to be valid data collection instruments. I’d fail any of my research students that produced such dubious instruments.”   

The reports includes a lot of spin, asks respondents for their ‘perceptions’ at times, and includes retrospective responses, for questionnaires. The Say No Seven page, has been following all three of the reports closely, they crunched the numbers at the start of this month, when the final Orima report was released. An example cam be found on page forty-six:

“At Wave 2, as was the case in Wave 1, around four-in-ten non-participants (on average across the two Trial sites) perceived that there had been a reduction in drinking in their community since the CDCT commenced.”

This approach means that the reader focuses on the minority of responses, rather than the majority of responses. Six-in-ten not perceiving any reduction in drinking around town. It reads a lot differently than the latter.

Star chambers and regrets

Which leads me to the anonymous, paid community panels that determine whether those put on income management should be able to access more cash from their bank accounts. Meddling in communities like this isn’t new, it’s been happening in Indigenous ones for years. Turning communities against one another is surely not the role of the government. It also allows them to neatly deflect any accountability for the program.  

Income management cards makes life harder for those already living in poverty, in that you’re restricted from buying second-hand items with cash, or something cheap online. It also means that things like how you pay your electricity bills for example, is decided by Centrelink, so no more payment plans. That’s what income management is, it’s not about just being put on a card as such.       

Two trial sites were chosen to trial the cashless debit cards for one-year in 2016, one in Ceduna South Australia, and one in WA’s Kimberley region. The trials were extended indefinitely this year, before the trials had even finished, and before the final Orima report was released just this month.

One of four indigenous leaders from WA that originally supported the scheme has since withdrawn his support for the card. Lawford Benning, chair of the MG Corporation, says he feels “used” by the Human Services minister, Alan Tudge. He met regularly with Tudge ahead of the cards introduction over a year ago, and helped drum up support for it. He said that services that were promised in return were not provided until seven-months later, and that what was finally offered was no good.

“I’m not running away from the fact that I was supporting this. But now I’m disappointed and I owe it to my people to speak up,” Benning said. “Every person I’ve spoken with said they don’t want this thing here.”

When Benning heard that the card was going to be permanent and about the roll out of the card at other sites:

“I said hang on, it sounds like you’re trying to get a rubber stamp on something already under way, in an attempt to legitimise something the community doesn’t support.”

“I said to him ‘your minister isn’t showing respect to us’. Prior to introducing the card Tudge was flying here every second weekend to meet with us. As soon as we signed up, we’ve never seen him again.”

More trial sites further afield than the original ones

Other places rumoured to be put on the card trial are Hervey Bay and Bundaberg in QLD. One peaceful rally against the card in Hervey Bay became strangely, heavy handed and involved armed police, with protest organiser Kathryn Wilkes saying:

“There were eight of us women aged between 40 and 60 … We were very peaceful.

“They’re afraid of a bunch of sick women on the (disability support pension).

“If you pushed me over I’d end up in hospital. Most of us couldn’t fight our way out of a paper bag.”

This approach is all too familiar…

Take a drug-test or no welfare for new recipients                        

The latest legislation currently before the parliament, involves a two-year drug-testing trial for 5,000 people in Bankstown (NSW), Logan (QLD), and Mandurah (WA). If it passes, new recipients of the Newstart and Youth allowance have to agree to be tested, in order to receive their allowances. If they refuse a random drug-test, their payments will be cancelled. If they test positively they will be placed on the cashless debit card program, with 80% of their income support going onto the card and 20% of their allowance paid into their usual bank account. Twenty-five days later they get tested again and if they test positively again, they will be referred to a privately contracted medical professional.     

There is no evidence that mandatory drug-testing will work on civilians despite what Social Services minister, Christian Porter says, this ABC fact-check puts that to rest.

‘Experts say that, rather than lots of evidence, there is no evidence, here or overseas, to show that mandatory testing will help unemployed drug addicts receive treatment and find jobs.’

The City of Mandurah has accused the Turnbull government of using dodgy data to justify being chosen for the drug-testing trial. City chief executive, Mark Newman wrote:

“One statistic used is that there has been an increase in people having temporary incapacity exemptions due to a drug dependency diagnosis rose by 300% from June 2015 to 2016.”

“The number of people concerned was a rise from 5 to 20 out of a total number of 4,199 people in Mandurah on either Newstart or Youth Allowance benefits as at March 2017.”

The standard that you walk past is the standard that you accept

To summarise, this is about neoliberal paternalism, and human rights being exploited for financial gain, under the guise of philanthropy. The Intervention, and other recent punitive measures (including robo-debt) imposed on us, wouldn’t fly if we had a charter of human rights. We need one desperately. Indigenous Australians need treaty, the right to self-determine, and a voice in politics, similar to what New Zealand has. Because if we don’t fight for our human rights, we won’t recognise this country in a few years time.

Statistics wise, Indigenous incarceration is sky-high, Indigenous youth suicide rates have risen by 500% since 2007-2011.

All that these measures are creating is a subclass of stigmatised Australians. At a time when many countries are talking about universal-basic-income or UBI, we’re still caught up in “dole-bludger” discussions. The reality is there is less paid work out there, and that this trend will continue.

Punishing our most vulnerable and those looking for work as though they’re criminals, with drug-testing, just isn’t Australian. We don’t need to follow America with a welfare system that’s littered with “food stamp” programs, and other neoliberal ideologies. I believe the abolished CDEP is also a model worth looking at again and not just for indigenous employment. Work-for-the-dole is just labour exploitation, and most of it is pointless when there aren’t any jobs to be found, in the first place.           

And on a final note, remember the fake youth worker? He’s still been around as a public servant, and even landed a cushy job with the Abbott government in 2014 as the country’s first ‘Threatened Species Commissioner’.

Many thanks to all of the sourced researchers, publications and artists involved in this article.

 

An example of media disunity

The sunset is seen through smog in Zhengzhou in the Henan province of China.

Image by: Reuters: Stringer

I surfed the ABC news website this afternoon and clicked onto this headline“China fights pollution: New environmental police squad to battle heavy smog”

The article seemed a little threadbare. When this occurs I search further and ideally for an article in the country relevant to the article, I like to get more details this way. I decided to try something different today and scanned the headline blurbs on the first Google page, and I noticed that all of the articles, bar two, started the same: “Officials in Beijing create a new environmental police squad in the latest effort to fight China’s persistent…”

The first one that differed was from The Indian Express, and it began with: ‘Beijing and dozens of cities in China spend many winter days under a thick, gray haze, with air pollution levels that…’

The second one was further down via the Deccan Chronicle and it began withBeijing will set up environmental police force to crackdown on erring factories and step up its supervision and enforce accountability in 16 districts to tackle the recurring pollution problem, officials said on Saturday.’ 

There was a bit more to the story than the basic Associated Press (AP) summaries that the media was reporting pretty much everywhere else in the news. In particular there was no mention of several other measures that were also announced at the same meeting, they included: ‘A target of cutting the use of coal by 30 percent in 2017 to shutting down 500 higher-polluting factories and upgrading 2,500 more. And about 300,000 high-pollution vehicles will also be restricted from entering the city starting next month.’ 

I also found an ABC news analysis that was posted around three hours later than the AP article, with the headline“China’s air pollution crisis shows no sign of ending as nation fails to lower coal use” It goes on to say:

“People are frustrated because air quality was improving in 2016 until coal production ramped up in September to service a mini stimulus package for heavy industries. Cheap coal has powered China’s economic miracle and still provides 70 per cent of the country’s energy. The Government is reluctant to wean itself off coal, fearing unemployment and unrest. In a rare display of anger, China’s rising middle class took to the Chinese social media website “wechat”, demanding the Government take action and protect the children of China.”

There is nothing in the analysis above to back this up in the article in the way of links, or footnotes unfortunately. The writer says further that:

“China’s addiction to coal shows no signs of slowing. China produces and consumes more coal that the rest of the world combined. In the winter its citizens use the most. Like many in northern China, Li Yuan said he had no choice but to burn coal to keep warm. He cannot afford electricity or gas — coal is a quarter of the price. “Using coal is not good. It’s dirty. You touch it and your hands get black,” he said.” 

What also isn’t included in any of the above articles is that China is also investing 2.5 trillion yuan, the equivalent of $US361 billion in renewable power generation by 2020. Fortune reports:

“The investment will create over 13 million jobs in the sector, the National Energy Administration (NEA) said in a blueprint document that lays out its plan to develop the nation’s energy sector during the five-year 2016 to 2020 period. The announcement comes only days after Beijing, the Chinese capital, and other cities in China’s industrial north-east were again engulfed in hazardous smog, caused largely by coal-fired power generation. The NEA said installed renewable power capacity including wind, hydro, solar and nuclear power will account for about half of new electricity generation by 2020.” 

Personally, I was aware of China’s five-year-planning but not of the lofty renewable energy target above until I started to write this. The current Australian government’s energy policies look dismal when compared to this news and it’s not right that the media has missed this, when so many Australians, especially Indigenous Australians care and value nature and worry about the repercussions of our climate changing. China is the world’s biggest investor not just in energy but in renewable energy. It’s citizens need to be able to breathe, just like the developed countries and the rest of the developing countries will follow too, naturally.

We can’t keep ignoring the ginormous elephant that is renewable energy in Australian politics and our economy, this is harming not just investment hopes within our country and overseas investors, but it’s also within our communities. The uncertainty and lack of long-term planning only opens us up to further exploitation by multinational corporations and or foreign countries. China is the world’s biggest producer and investor in solar energy now. Australia still has a chance, together, not on an elitist path, but closer to an egalitarianism one. One that questions authority and those that seek executive powers over us. If journalists can’t or won’t do it, we will just have to. It’s the pioneering Aussie way.

Australia has lost its identity

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The Australian cultural mindset has been eroded and is becoming predominately American. The size of the American population and its dominance in movies, television and music meant that influence was inevitable and it’s reflected in our fashion and in language with words such as “like”, “bro” and phrases along the lines of “you go girl”. American cultural imperialism has only exacerbated since Australia signed the American free-trade-agreement (AUSFTA) in 2004. Australia is losing its cultural identity. The Indigenous Australian culture actually has more in common with Australian culture than many may realise. The love and affection for Australian land is evident when so many Australians spend their time off from work and on holidays to do such things as swimming, sun baking, surfing, yoga, meditating, mountain climbing and hiking.

Australia’s history with Indigenous Australians is also not what many may realise with slave labour, stolen wages and stolen federally paid maternity allowances and child endowments from their trusts. Indigenous Australians not only built the pastoral industry for Australia but they also helped build it in other ways with wage, labour, allowance and endowment theft. They also worked in a wide range of occupations: interpreters, concubines, trackers, troopers, servants, nursemaids, labourers, stock workers and pearl divers. What is also overlooked is that they are the oldest living culture on earth with many achievements starting to come to light such as, superfoods knowledge, being the world’s first bakers and perhaps even being responsible for the world’s oldest astronomical map.

Australian television in the eighties and nineties is markedly different today with the likes of comedy shows such as The Comedy Company, Fast Forward and Full Frontal now fond memories. The reality television show Big Brother, began on Australian screens in 2001, along with a plethora of American shows such as Sex in the City, Law and Order and CSI. Many Australians including Indigenous have been raised subconsciously or subliminally with an American belief or values system. Calls get made to the American emergency number 911 rather than our own national emergency number 000 and “product dumping” is the norm with American businesses selling their television shows in the Australian market for below local cost or production prices. With an American population of around 325 million, it’s a lot easier to recoup your production and overall costs and it means that sales to other countries are essentially pure profit for America. This makes it harder for local industry to compete and it takes away any incentive to innovate or foster local production and talent. It also creates a deficit in our creative knowledge economy preventing innovation at a local level. More funding and tax breaks are needed to bolster confidence and to transition our creative knowledge economy for the future.

Between 1996 and 2000 Australia’s royalty trade deficit (including Information and technology) with America, increased by 84 per cent. In the book How to Kill a Country by Linda Weiss, Elizabeth Thurbon and John Mathews, they suggest an Intellectual Property Right (IPR) tax. They argue that governments have always taxed property as a principal source of avenue, so why not tax royalty flows? This book was written twelve years ago so it would be even easier for the government to look at royalty flows data and to put even a modest tax on it. For example, if Australian businesses paid royalties of AU$1 billion, the government could collect say 10 per cent or AU$100 million and use the revenue to reinvest locally.

Forced control over Indigenous Australian’s wages and savings (bank books) only ended in 1972 and they didn’t receive equal wages until 1986. Despite stolen wages, slave labour and stolen benefits they have fought wars for Australia without recognition and thanked only with discrimination when they got home. They have been portrayed as nomadic, hunter-gatherers but evidence shows that they were actually Australia’s first farmers.

Grindstones that are 36,000-years-old have been discovered in New South Wales (NSW), they were used to turn seeds into flours for baking. The Gurandgi Munjie collective is made up of a number other Indigenous Australians living along the NSW south coast and in east Gippsland in Victoria. They’ve been trialling native millet, kangaroo grass and murnong crops to increase harvests and begin selling bread soon. “One of our aims is to make sure our people earn a living out of it, as well as helping Australia learn about a natural Australian diet.” Murnong – is also known as yam daisy and is a tuber that can be eaten like a vegetable, the seeds of millet and kangaroo grass make up the healthy, gluten-free flours. Pascoe of Gurandgi Munjie’s baking experiments, says: “Kangaroo grass flour has got a really beautiful smell and a nutty flavour. We love making the breads simply because it tastes so good, but also because it makes the kitchen smell good as well.” And that “Environmentally it’s a pretty good deal,” says Pascoe. “They’re perennials, so once you get your crop established you don’t have to plough the land again or add fertiliser or pesticide. Your CO2 emission levels are going to drop dramatically because you’re not turning the soil over and releasing carbon into the atmosphere.”

Marnybi, Gugbinge, Kakadu plum, bush or billygoat plums have the highest natural vitamin C content in the world and can be found in abundance in Wadeye, the Northern Territory (NT). For Indigenous Australians it’s known as traditional Indigenous medicine. A local Wadeye woman explains: “It’s good for your headache. If we have headache at bush, we eat plum and it makes us feel good.” It is considered as a gift from the Dreamtime. It has taken off commercially as a powder for smoothies and to be sprinkled on to breakfasts as well as a good source of folic acid, iron and may even protect against Alzheimer’s disease. With this success comes bio piracy which locks up intellectual property around bush foods. Bush foods’ intellectual property is already being largely exploited by companies and individuals that are patenting intellectual property of native plant knowledge. Multinationals can come in and patent the use of products with little consideration for knowledge or history. The Northern Land Council is calling for a blanket moratorium on all patents over native foods and plants until a legal framework protecting Indigenous interests can be enforced. Andrew Forrest has been making noise again recently about a “premium” Australian brand to woo China, wouldn’t it be prudent for Indigenous Australians to have their own?

Australia may be home to an ancient astronomical stone formation that could be older than Stonehenge. The Wurdi Youang stone arrangement 45km west of Melbourne was formed using 90 blocks of basalt and clearly depicts the equinox, the winter solstice and the summer solstice. The Wathaurong people are the traditional owners. Geologists and experts have estimated it to be around 10,000 years-old, or 3,000 years older than the 7,000 year-old Stonehenge. They used the sky to help them work out weather patterns too and shared this knowledge with one another through song and dance, for example, if stars are twinkling rapidly it’s because of high-altitude trade winds. Another example is if the stars are twinkling fast and are bright blue, storms are on the way. They use dreaming and songlines as memory techniques to retain vast amounts of knowledge.

Indigenous are being included and recognised as such a lot more with Acknowledgement of Country becoming the norm as well as “Welcome to Country” ceremonies. Just about daily more stories and discoveries like the ones above can be found if you look, you won’t find them often in main-stream-media, but you will find cartoonists like Bill Leak. The social media campaign that followed with #IndigenousDads to counteract the latter’s cartoon was heart warming and shows that there is good will out there for each other. The ABC television show Cleverman also helped to educate and give insight into Indigenous Australian’s culture. Personally, I still can’t get Jesse William’s speech at the Black Entertainment Awards about racism in America out of my mind. In particular the last paragraph: “We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil – black gold, ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is though… the thing is that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.”

So much of the Australia that many grew up with and know is gone, owning your own home and endless summers at the beach have been replaced with longer working hours. That is if you can get work and aren’t dealing with underemployment. Now that America and other multinationals are snapping up Indigenous bush foods and medicine patents, I think it’s time that we united and fought for our countries independence from America Inc, it’s a corporation not a country. Call out the main-stream-media misinformation, ignorance and racism when we see it and hear it. Acknowledge the ugly side of Australian history as well as all that we have in common and share this knowledge with others.

The NBN is on the wrong path…

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Image from smh.com.au

After the coalition won government in 2013, the then Communications Minister and now current Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull promised that every Australian would have access to the National Broadband Network (NBN) by the end of 2016. This clearly won’t be happening and it’s understandable with such a large piece of infrastructure to get your cost projections wrong (including old Australian Labor Party (ALP) figures). Tasmania was to be the first state to have the NBN rolled out by the end of 2015, this has now been pushed out to September 2018. The coalition’s NBN main points of difference with their plan compared to the ALP plan was to roll it out sooner, with faster download speeds and cheaper.

The original budget for the government’s version of the NBN, which is a mixture of technologies and favours FTTN (fibre to the node) over FTTH (fibre to the house) was $29.5 billion this has blown out to $56 billion and counting. Now news is coming out from the less than 15% of Australian’s that do have the NBN, that it’s providing speeds less than the days of dial up or their ADSL2+.

Mr Bell, of Belmont North near Lake Macquarie, New South Wales lays the blame squarely at the feet of Malcolm Turnbull. He says:“My children are becoming cynical about promises made by…the Prime Minister about the fast FTTN NBN roll out. Could you please make enquiries of the appropriate officers or Ministers, as to whether the FTTN NBN will provide a worse service compared to the ADSL+2 it is replacing? At the moment that seems to be the case.”

Mr Alderton also lives in Belmont and is suffering the same challenges, He says:“What a joke, peak times download speeds around 4 Mbps, that’s less than my old ADSL2.”

Mr Wallace of Valentine, near Newcastle, thinks that the problem might be widespread. He says:“There are serious problems with the rollout across Newcastle due to the Fibre to the Node model used here…thinking about switching back to ADSL2+.”

There has been much talk about the copper wire network and how much of it needs replacing to achieve Mr Turnbull’s MTM (multi-technology mix) version of the NBN instead of the ALP version with optic fibre cable. Let’s not forget either that the ALP government had already paid Telstra $11.2 billion to essentially decommission the copper and HFC (hybrid-fibre-coaxial) networks. A figure of $55 million was given by the Turnbull government to replace the copper however a leaked document from late last year suggests a 1000% blowout with the cost being more like $641 million. The figure is so large because it’s for 8.5 million metres of copper of which is enough to lay down between Perth and Pakistan and back again. There has also been Optus HFC network documents leak revealing that the government will need to replace it to achieve it’s MTM at a cost of up to $375 million.   

So far the government and Mr Turnbull have failed in their promises with their alternative NBN. One of the reasons that Mr Turnbull has used in the past for favouring FTTN, is that AT&T also favour it yet they now offer GigaPower which is a complete FTTH network. It previously offered FTTN but it also already had mainly fibre optic cables running for most of the network, with just the last mile or so with copper cables.

It’s pretty clear that a simple roll out of fibre optic cabling replacing the old copper and pay TV networks as you went, would be easier than not only resurrecting old technology but attempting to mix it together. Fair enough if it achieves higher speeds, a cheaper budget and is delivered in a timely manner but it hasn’t to date. It’s bleeding money, yet creating profit for the likes of Telstra and Optus while Australian’s that do have the NBN are now worse off than what they were to begin with. A truly connected Australia would surely inspire further innovation and instead of the focus being on the cost it’s about time that it was looked at as an investment. An investment in the future of the people of Australia.