Menu lock

Federal

May 17, 2010

Macklin’s twists truth on income management

Jenny Macklin has dismissed a new study revealing the government’s income management policy is not making an impact on tobacco and health food sales in indigenous communities. The study's authors hit back.

We are the co-authors of a study published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, which shows that the federal government’s income management policy is not making an impact on tobacco and health food sales in remote community shops in the NT. Smoking and poor diet are responsible for much of the health gap between indigenous and other Australians.

We are concerned that indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin has responded to our study by highlighting the results of the government’s evaluation. She has told journalists that the government intends to press ahead with plans to roll out income management more broadly, and has appeared to dismiss our findings.

The evaluation cited by the minister was based on interviews with 76 income management clients in four communities, telephone interviews with 66 store operators as well as interviews with business managers and other stakeholders across several locations.

This is poor use of qualitative research to answer a question that essentially requires quantitative data: are people buying more healthy food as a result of income management?

Our study provides that quantitative data. It used sales data to measure how much was being spent each month across 10 stores in the Northern Territory, 18 months before and 18 months after income management was introduced. In contrast, the government’s evaluation report of income management and spending relied entirely on people’s perceptions in a large number of interviews.

We confirm store managers’ claims that there was no change in people’s spending on tobacco.

However, in contrast to the government report, we found that spending on food and drinks and fruit and vegetables did not change with income management. Soft drinks sales increased.

The one time during income management that spending went up for all store commodities was when people actually had more money: at the time of the government stimulus payment.

Telling people of low income how they can use 50% of their income may make no difference to their spending, but giving a lump of cash does.

100517_health2

(Source: Medical Journal of Australia — click to enlarge)

The government’s evaluation report claims that “the main benefit identified [of income management] was the increase in the amount of money spent on food for community members, especially children”.  This is now questioned by our evidence.

Even its minor claims of improved food choices, more fresh and more healthy food being purchased, are linked to the new licensing of stores in these communities — not income management.

Continued income management in remote NT Aboriginal communities and its extension to all welfare recipients does not seem to fit with the government’s credo of evidence-based policy.

Whilst the government’s defence of income management with only very shaky evidence has been controversial, gaining little support from public health experts, it has received applause for its work on prevention, and smoking in particular.

It has allocated $100 million to indigenous tobacco control, using the limited local indigenous research but extensive international evidence from other contexts.  Its recent decisions to increase the tax on cigarettes and to restrict tobacco companies’ advertising using cigarette packets are also likely to reduce indigenous smoking.

But attempts to tackle indigenous people’s poor diet have not been as coherent and are off to a shaky start.  There is no funding for either the COAG food security initiative or the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nutrition Strategy and Action Plan.  The government is yet to respond to the 33 recommendations of the Senate inquiry into remote community stores.

But store licensing, which is setting minimal standards in remote stores in the NT, and the funding of 100 new indigenous healthy lifestyle workers are welcome and positive steps.

Less welcome is the reluctance to consider food subsidies. Yes, they are expensive and difficult to monitor, but there is increasing international evidence that modifying price and monetary benefits, such as food stamps, help to improve the diet of economically disadvantaged groups.

As Amanda Lee and colleagues have stated, we need rigorous testing of economic solutions to increase access to healthy food in remote communities.

Skirting the real issue of affordability and poverty, while defending and extending income management policies, may delay improvements in indigenous people’s poor diet and the government’s pledge to  “close the gap”.

*Dr Julie Brimblecombe and Associate Professor David Thomas are from the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin

We recommend

From around the web

Powered by Taboola

83 comments

Leave a comment

83 thoughts on “Macklin’s twists truth on income management

  1. Jon Hunt

    I become almost furious when the Government deliberately tries to mislead the public regarding the “success” of its programs which purport to help Aboriginal people. Intuitively, even without the evidence shown here, income protection and other paternalistic programs can not work for the simple reason that such things are the cause of many of their problems in the first place. This is further evidence that nothing has changed since the 1700’s, and further evidence that nothing will change. The Government’s catchphrase “Closing the gap” is, putting it bluntly, a lie when it has no intention of doing so.

  2. Jon Altman

    I have carefully read the Brimblecombe et al. piece in MJA ‘Impact of income management on store sales in the Northern Territory’ and find it the most comprehensive and scholarly quantitative research available to date on the food and tobacco expenditure impacts of income quarantining before and after the Intervention. As Brimblecombe and Thomas point out in Crikey today it is quite inappropriate to compare this research undertaken by academic experts at arms-length from government from research undertaken by federal bureaucrats or their paid consultants; and to compare rigorous quantitative research that addresses a specific question of sales before and after income quarantining with qualitative research that asks general questions about expenditures on broad categories of goods in government-licenced stores post Intervention only. The Australian government is clearly embarrassed by these research findings for three reasons. First, $82.8 million have just been committed in the 2010/11 Budget to create a new scheme for income management, an investment in a process to regulate the behaviour of welfare recipients in the NT. All up $410.5 million will be committed in six years to what might prove an entirely unproductive expenditure. Second, legislation is about to be tabled in the federal parliament predicated on an assumption that income management is good for Indigenous (and other) subjects in the NT, something this research seriously questions. Third, the Rudd government has remained firmly wedded to this intervention measure since its election in November 2007; saying sorry for others ‘historical’ errors is clearly politically easier than saying sorry for your own ‘path dependent’ acquiescence and possible mistakes.

  3. Graeme Lewis

    Ten Stores out of 100 or more – is that a conclusive quantitative study. Which stores and where????

    How about taking in clothing for kids, health products and household items as well. These are just as important as food in the “quality of life” debate.

    One wonders whether these people, including Altman spend much if any time observing the actual issues that are clearly being addressed in these communities, and the income management programme is a vital part of the formula.

    Of course there would be little change in tobacco purchases – the price goes up all the time, so consumption may be falling. Who knows??

  4. Chris Twomey

    An excellent report (in a great edition of eMJA) and a good article. I agree with Jon’s comments.
    For anyone worried by the NATIONAL income management legislation currently before the Senate, you have 4 weeks to do something about it. We’ve had a reprieve – as the legislation was listed to go through the Senate (with the support of both major parties) last Wednesday but is now likely to come back in the week of 15th June.
    The thing that worries me is that this scheme has been so expensive to administer in the NT so far – rolling it out further in the NT or into other states will pull significant resources out of other social services which actually have a proven track record. Without putting major resources into financial counselling, case management, rehab and referral programs … and with there being no path ‘up and out’ of IM in the legislation it is just a recipe for making peoples lives much more miserable and producing far worse outcomes … particularly for disadvantaged people who are doing the right thing in caring for their kids and looking after their meagre incomes and are indiscriminately impacted by these silly laws.
    There is some more information and an action pack on Senator Rachel Siewert’s website at http://rachelsiewert.org.au/im

  5. SBH

    Graeme, I would have though that the behaviour in ten percent of stores would provide a sizeable sample of overall activity. Are you basing your comments about ‘actual issues’ and IM being a ‘vital part of the formula’ on a larger sample than ten stores?

    If you’ve also done some sound research work can you please share it with us?

    I should also point out the only place ‘conclusive’ appears is in your comments. The point was that the evidence of the study was of a higher quality that put forward by the Government.

  6. Liz45

    There’s a basic component of this aspect of the Intervention, and that is the Report by two experienced people from the United Nations, which upholds the views of many indigenous people, that the patriarchal and paternalistic attitudes that brought about the Stolen Generations is in force now. It is offensive and demeaning to publicly showing regret and remorse for these crimes, but instigate measures that treat aboriginal people as lesser persons entitled to respect and self determination.

    There’s a booklet available called ‘This Is What We Said’ which has input from elders and other people in many communities. The full transcripts can be found at: http://www.socialpolicyconnections.com.au

    ‘The Little Children Are Sacred report appeared to be leading towards community empowerment, which is a long way from current government thinking. Prominent Australians have spoken out against the Intervention in their call for genuine engagement with Aboriginal people.” (concerned Australians Feb 2010).

    “Not one person has been prosecuted since the Intervention was rolled out, clearly revealing what a farce this excuse was.” More to do with removing the Racial Discrimination Act and to have a five year grab of land to support the doubling of applications for mining and other leases. This seems to be the real reason for the present horrific racist attitudes of govts, both Federal and the NT!

    ‘Jimmy’ a man who’s worked his whole life in communities around Ti Tree spoke about disaster of the “bush orders” system instigated under the intervention:
    “We are getting food delivered which has been packed with detergent so can’t be eaten. The meat has often gone green. People are actually going hungry there now because they’ve had their rights taken away from them. They want to do their own shopping”.

    Due to the fact that aboriginal people can only purchase groceries etc at designated stores, they must travel long distances to get there. Many of the smaller community ‘stores’ have been closed. Some people pool money to pay for taxis – this costs hundreds of dollars each fortnight? There’s also no money left for community activities or essentials, such as funerals. The higher incidence of suicides and premature deaths results in too many funerals – the govt obviously didn’t factor in this reality.

    The overall feelings of too many aboriginal people have been ignored; their knowledge and expertise has been deliberately avoided, and too many lies are coming out of Macklin’s office!

    There’s lots more information; visit:http://stoptheintervention.org/ or http://www.antar.org.au/

    ‘antar’ stands for Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation.

  7. Jim Reiher

    The Rudd govt has been unbelievably disappointing when it comes to Indigenous issues and policies. To mirror much of the Howard govt on this (and so many other issues) is deeply distressing. The current Rudd govt is almost as bad as its predecessor. The tragedy is that if the opposition under Abbott got in next election, they would be worse still.

    I hold very little hope that any thing will seriously be done to genuinely assist indigenous Australians. Our two party system offers us just two big alternatives that are just way too similar. It is a stacked deck. Two oranges to choose from when you really want an apple….. Two mirror images on so many issues, when a real alternative is needed.

    More people have to start voting for smaller parties and independents who offer something progressive and compassionate in this, and so many other areas.

  8. Liz45

    @JIM REIHER – For several elections now, I’ve given The Greens or another person whose policies I like before the ALP – I always put the coalition last. It is indeed a sad situation re indigenous issues, particularly when even I thought that Rudd would be different – on many things. I feel madder than hell now, but still wouldn’t give a vote to the coalition – my arm would drop off I think?

    A few weeks ago I was privileged to hear Richard Downs from the Ampilatwatja(pronounded um-bludder-watch) community, who walked off in protest of the continuing policy of racist discrimination. This was after raw sewerage was allowed to run through their community without any intervention of Jenny Macklin. Richard has travelled around the country informing people of the farce of the intervention. There are now many unions who are supporting their intention to be self sufficient and separate to the federal or NT govts. In a few short months, and with community support, their first house has been completed. (in almost 3 yrs, and well over $600 million, the federal govt has managed to complete 3 houses – more for the ‘community managers installed by the Rudd govt?)

    “99% of all Aboriginal communities in the NT have no substance abuse service, and 99% have no dental service. Only 54% have state funded primary care services, and 47% have an Aboriginal primary health care service more than 50kn away!
    The AMA has estimated, that $700 million is needed to bring up to minimum standard the basic infrastructure needed to maintain health, such as water and sewerage. These stats have not improved under the intervention. Communities have the strength and will to administer themselves, but have long required the funds to impove their situation.”
    (some fact about the NT Intervention – authorized by the Sth Coast May Day committee(NSW)).

    Children who are lucky enough to have a school are not allowed to speak their own languages any more – at school. The teaching of reading is in English only, even though experts believe, that it’s best to teach children to read in their own language first, and then in English. It’s clear, that the intention is to remove their affinity and love for their own culture and language. Out of over 200 languages, only a relatively small number have survived. The practice now is just a little more humane than what happened to kids of the stolen generations – they were caned and bashed if they spoke in their own language, or cried for their mothers? Tell me why Howard/Brough/Rudd/Macklin shouldn’t also be charged with racism and child abuse? As a non indigenous person, I feel very ashamed – again? still? I wonder if our federal politicians watched First Australians on SBS(which is being repeated). I thought I was pretty well informed re this issue, but I was amazed and appalled by the history of white settlement!

    We’ve already had insight into Abbott’s views of indigenous language, history and culture, when he aserted, that acknowledging aboriginal ownership and history at official functions is ‘tokenism’? How insulting was that? Apparently, it doesn’t apply to non-indigenous people who are frequently acknowledged in similar circumstances – from the GG to the local mayor or???. I expressed my disgust to my now LIBERAL federal member Johanna Gash, only to receive a glib response. When I angrily responded to that, I was ignored? Fancy that? I find it most depressing, and if I feel like this, I can only imagine how soul destroying it must be for indigenous people!

  9. Eva Cox

    Through Jumbunna (UTS) we have prepared a paper that looks at the evidence all the reports that have been named by Macklin. FAHCSIA and others, including a scan of the 90 plus submissions, including from many welfare agencies that do not support the program. It shows that the claims by Macklin that they have evidence is not validated in their reports in any serious way. There are individuals and groups that have personally asked Macklin etc to continue the program because it suits a limited number of communities in the NT. This can be managed in other ways that do not change the nature of the welfare system A major deficit is that none of the official reports have included any measures of negative effects, so harms were not assessed. Copies of the paper are available if anyone emails me on eva.cox@uts.edu.au

  10. Scott

    Yeah, I agree a bit with Graeme on this one. There are a couple of flaws in the methodology

    1. Where are the turnover figures for tobacco? They have turnover listed for fruit and veg (in kg) and for Soft drink (in L). Why are the tobacco figures not listed?

    2. Without those figures, it is impossible to account for inflation. To not use “real” (or inflation adjusted) figures in this sort of analysis is unforgivable when you are comparing data over different time periods.

    3. The last issue is the transition between the AlphaFood card and the BASICS card. This occurred between December 2008 and January 2009. During this time, no restrictions were on purchases, so this will skew the figures during the “Government stimulation” period. Even the report itself says this probably resulted in the increase in sales of soft drink during that period.

Leave a comment