The Federal Government will shortly announce the extension of income management Australia-wide to black and white welfare recipients as part of its reintroduction of the Racial Discrimination Act in the Northern Territory, Crikey has been told.
In May this year, the Government committed to the introduction of legislation restoring the RDA and NT anti-discrimination laws in October, meaning either this week or next week. The Bill was not among those considered by Caucus earlier this week.
The Government has been grappling with how to restore the RDA while maintaining the income management system imposed on indigenous communities under the NT intervention. Currently, half of income support and family assistance payments, and all lump sums including the Baby Bonus, are set aside and accessible only via a “BasicCard” for buying essential goods and services. They cannot be used for products such as alcohol, tobacco, pornography or gambling. It currently applies in 73 prescribed areas in the NT and to people who live in town camps.
Last year the Government rejected a proposal to make income management voluntary, which would mean it complied with the RDA. Since then, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin has been involved in extended consultations with indigenous communities.
Some legal academics and indigenous community representatives argue that income management can only comply with the RDA if it is extended community wide.
According to Crikey’s sources, the Government will extend income management to welfare recipients, white and black, across Australia, as part of its restoration of the RDA.
While the RDA affects other Intervention measures like alcohol and p-rnography bans, income management is the primary stumbling block to the Act’s restoration.
In recent months, the Government has rolled out income management on a “free and confidential” voluntary basis in other areas, and earlier this month announced success in rolling it out across Perth.
As part of the Perth initiative, however, the WA Department of Child Protection will also obtain the power from early next year to recommend to Centrelink that income management be applied for the benefit of children.
Under those arrangements, “income managed” families would, on the recommendation of the Department of Child Protection, have up to 70% of welfare payments and all lump sums quarantined and accessible only via BasicCard.
The WA initiative may provide the template for a nation-wide, non-voluntary income management process that would empower child protection agencies to impose income management on any family where the safety of children was at risk. Such an arrangement would not be racially-based and would therefore comply with the RDA.
A nationwide rollout will mean considerable additional costs for Centrelink, which administers the BasicCard scheme. Centrelink is receiving $105m in 2009-10 for administration of NT income management.
Minister Macklin’s office was unable to provide a comment by deadline.