Northern Territory

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.

 

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