Human rights

The cashless debit card is part of authoritarianism creep, which affects us all – Part 1

For those that don’t know much about the cashless debit cards (CDC), or income management, here is an article that I wrote with some history about income management in Australia, and how the BasicsCard came about, and here is my most recent one about the Indue card here. For readers that have already read these articles, please know that I have updated and edited them to reflect changes since writing them, and so that they can be read consecutively. We can also forget about the propaganda relating to the government doing it out of love for those with drug or alcohol problems. Why? Because there is already a government program set up for vulnerable people that have these problems, and yet they’re exempt from the CDC trials. Now that you have this background knowledge, let’s look at the bigger picture, and what it means for every single one of us if these types of policies continue.    

Scratch the surface

What’s really happening is that the role of governing, and the public monies that fund governing, are being handed to the private sector piece by piece. Think about this, a private company, Indue, has not only been handed the power to dole out security payments for people, but also to decide what they can and can not buy, even whether to suspend or cancel a payment. Compare this with what is happening with human services that used to be run by the government, such as: job service providers, the ParentsNext scheme, the NDIS debacle, Centrelink call centres, even PaTH Internships. We must also consider how private consultants are taking over the role of public servants, as well as the outcome of the privatisation of: major banks, airports, toll roads, the NBN, the energy sector, detention centres in Nauru and Manus, public transport, prisons, and private security companies, et al, to really see the full picture.

The transfer of power over the people from government, to the private sector, is the corporatisation of governing by stealth. I say stealth because governments have rarely taken these issues to elections, nor asked what the people want, they’ve done the bidding of lobbyists, donors, and corporations. This has been done very successfully in America since the 1980’s, especially so with private security companies, it partly explains why they’re perpetually at war with other countries, there’s money to be made.           

The cashless society push

Yes, society is increasingly going cashless but we will always need cash as a backup plan with neverending online bank outages, emergency events such as bushfires, and because we’re not all digitally literate or connected, across such a vast continent. In 2016 Germany ended up deciding against introducing a €5,000 cash transaction limit. It’s also of note that early this year the International Monetary Fund (IMF), suggested that to keep central banks relevant and to make negative interest rates work, cash would need to be phased out. Imagine paying to keep your cash in the bank. Meanwhile our own government is currently pushing to ban cash transactions over $10,000 or more, this is being done under the guise of going after the ‘black economy’, despite IMF studies finding that our black economy has almost halved over the past 20-years. There are even  fines and a gaol sentence on the table by our government if you don’t comply. Quite the punishment when we consider continual corporate tax evasion, and the latest scandal by another one of the big banks, Westpac, which broke anti-money laundering laws 23 million times. All of this despite the Banks Royal Commission.   

Last month Dr Johannes Beermann, Member of the Executive Board of Germany’s central bank, made some valid points where he promoted the importance of cash in his speech to the Payment Asia Summit in China, stating that: 

Cash offers an easy way out” from being locked into electronic payment systems; cash gives “independence from social control and data collection”; and “Cash is the obvious choice of payment method when it comes to personal privacy. This strengthens individual freedom.”  

People should be able to have the freedom to do what they like with their finances, humans need autonomy to function healthily, it’s a human right of which the CDC and a cashless society takes away. 

CDC trial merchant expects cards to be rolled out for ‘all’ social security payments 

In case the screenshots are hard to read, here is the text from them, I can’t provide a link as the blog was pulled down once it started to get attention by CDC activists:

“We are currently looking to extend the number of sites so if you are interested in participating. We are very interested in talking  

In some areas now, over 60% of the people have these new debit cards. For most of them, it is their only financial means. If you are in these areas, if you cannot accept these cards, you cannot make much trade with these people.

Soon it is expected that the number of these cards will rapidly increase. It is likely that within two years, these cards will be Australia Wide as these will be I expect the primary means of paying social security.

By numbers, depending on how you count between 33% to about 50% of Australian households get social security payments and with our aging population, this is likely to increase in the future.

Plus I can also see many people with drug and gambling problems volunteering to go on these cards and the courts enforcing these cards too on people with problems.

If you want to look at it in dollar terms, we pay about $180 billion now in social security a year of which at least 80% plus will probably go through these cards. The adult population of Australia is around 18.2 million, so just with that, we are looking at about $9,000 a person a year.

For many retailers now these cards are significant and I am sure soon for many more

I feel very proud that in our market place we were selected to do these trials.”

Final thoughts

Is this person privy to information that the public is not? Time will tell. What we do know is that neoliberalism and ‘dole bludger’ propaganda, has over time, dramatically changed how many Australians view social security assistance. We are a resource rich country, it’s an obligation of the government to share the wealth with those that need it. You could also say that it’s an economic stimulus, not so much if it’s given to third parties like Indue, to manage. 

The next part will look at how Indue and the government is getting away with it, and the push to open up income management for the banks.

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

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.

 

       

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.