Does income management work to make children safer? The evidence is not clearly there in the various evaluation studies that have been done, but now the statistics from the Northern Territory suggest that reality testing is not working either. The current media fuss about the failures of the NT Government to improve the safety of children, fails to ask why these figures are not proof of the major failure of the income management program in the NT.
It was the April 2007 report on the problems of s-xual abuse in indigenous communities, Little children are Sacred, that was used by the Howard government to justify the intervention. Yet, despite massive expenditure, if mainly on delivery costs, the statistics suggest three years later the situation is worse for the children concerned.
There are many other reasons for the situation not being solved but what is interesting is that the NT report itself makes no mention of the federal Government policies and programs. It is very odd to read the massive summary and recommendations and find no mention at all of the elephantine presence of Commonwealth officers programs and major interventions that are being specifically promoted as improving the safety of children.
This gap is very odd and must have annoyed minister Jenny Macklin, who was just announcing how useful her extension to income management to cover those notified under child protection legislation would be. In a media release on 18th October , she stated:
As part of the current roll out of the new income management scheme in the NT, the Australian Government has introduced child protection income management to improve parental responsibility. Income management ensures that welfare is spent, first and foremost, in the interests of children on food, clothing and housing. NT child protection workers now have the authority to instruct Centrelink to income manage 70 per cent of parents’ income support and family payments to ensure welfare is spent in the interests of children. The Australian Government wants this measure to be used by NT child protection workers in cases of child neglect.
To support and encourage this measure, the Australian Government will provide an additional $25 million over four years for new family support services in remote communities. This funding is dependent on the NT Government’s increased use of child protection income management
Could this last sentence be seen as a threat to an obviously unappreciative NT government? The NT report certainly implicitly condemns the intervention ways of doing things. The report states “in order to bring about real and sustainable change for the Northern Territory’s most vulnerable, then Aboriginal people must move from being passive recipients, that is, from being consulted in a marginal, and disempowering way, to a position of influence in taking on the responsibility for the safety and well-being of their children and young people”.
This is not the Commonwealth model and may be the reason for their odd absence in any discussions proposed by the NT government on dealing with the abuse problems.