MARK M ALDRIDGE - "voice of the Community" Community Advocate

Income Management or social engineering   

The Australian government and their new policy of” income management”, currently operating in the Northern Territory will be trialled in a number of metropolitan locations across Australia. 

The concept is based on a form of increased social engineering, where government will tell you how and where you spend your money, the first five locations are: Bankstown, (NSW), Logan, (Qld), Rockhampton, (Qld), Playford, (SA) and Shepparton, Victoria. In addition, Kwinana in Western Australia, one of the other trial sites, has had Child Protection and Voluntary Income Management in place since April 2009. 

The Government has stated that these communities have been selected because of the high level of unemployment and disadvantage. The trials begin on 1 July 2012.   

The decision to extend income management into metropolitan areas has gone somewhat un-noticed. The initial trial will be based on high needs so the “big sell” of the program goes, starting with a determination by social workers and centre link itself, but where it will finish is anybody’s guess, the amount of money that has already been spent paints a picture of increased participation, and I doubt that will be by the will of the people themselves.   

The Media has yet to say a word, and the government are also remaining silent, and we all know why, the trial will be forced on those with the least ability to go public, so before we know it, this new social experiment will be in everyone’s lap, with reports of its great success, sound familiar? Also consider the timing, with the introduction of the Carbon tax we were promised we would not endure by the same government, being introduced on the very same day.  

A report by the “Women’s Equality Rights Alliance”, examining the experiences of more than 180 women on income management in the Northern Territory, shows that the vast majority of women surveyed wanted to exit income management. The report also documents a disturbing range of problems within the system.  

Those chosen to enter the “income management scheme” have no avenue to leave, so will fall victim to another’s choice, with South Australia already having extensive lists of businesses that are able to accept the new “Basics card” such an extensive list paints a picture of an expectation of increased numbers to be issued the new card, including in the most Coles, Woolworths and their many subsidiaries.   

Compulsory income management was introduced to many Aboriginal communities in 2007 in the Howard Government’s Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER). Income management works by quarantining a proportion of person’s social security payments which are directed to a special account. This money can only be used to buy ‘essentials’ such as food, clothing, expenditure on housing etc. 

The proportion of fortnightly payments allocated to the income managed account is said to be around 50% but roomers ensure it will quickly rise to 70%. Income managed funds must not be spent on prohibited items, such as alcohol, tobacco, gambling and the like. Recipients must negotiate arrangements with Centrelink to pay bills using the quarantined amounts.

The big issue confronting our future with socialist ideals like this is our ability to support both local business and producers, with smaller business possibly unable to make the list of accepted suppliers, will second-hand items and Red-cross shops, be able to accept the new card, let alone local producers who sell their produce at cheaper prices direct?  

The card is used like an EFTPOS card and is used to buy groceries and other items from approved stores using income managed funds. With only certain shops licensed to accept the Basics Card, many small retailers are not included in the scheme, which forces Centrelink customers to shop at larger retail chains such as Coles and Woolworths, the very same organisations that are already being exposed as having too much control over our dwindling suppliers and producers.   

At this stage, licensed stores are only listed on-line, which not only makes it difficult for people affected by income management to travel interstate for such things as visiting a sick relative or attend a family funeral. In order to check how much balance a person has on their card they must ring Centrelink or use facilities yet to be made available, these devises will somewhat resemble ATM machines, making the costs of this schemes introduction expensive to say the least, making the ideal of its expansion a definite long term goal.  

This Big Government measure, which is supported by both the Labor and Liberal party, comes at a massive cost. Estimates provided by the Government indicate the new trials will cost the Government $117 million over 5 years. The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has noted, for example, that the NT scheme (total expenditure of $402 million over 5 years) and covering about 20,000 individuals, amounts to a cost of $4,100 per person. Put in perspective, this is 1/3 of the allowance paid to unemployed people over a year ($11,600 per annum), or 8 times the amount provided to employment service providers to address barriers to work for long-term unemployed people ($500 per annum), money better spent on increasing services and employment, rather than Russian style social intervention.   

While the Government is committed to expanding the policy of income management across Australia there is very little evidence to show that it works. Despite what some conservatives may believe Government bureaucrats cannot fix complex social problems through punitive social measures. 

Rebates on what the government deems correct, baby bonuses, feed in schemes, home buyers grants and a host of recent ideals, are more so a case of being over taxed in the first place, and then handed money back when and for what the government decides, rather than allowing any genuine freedom of choice or rewarding those who put in the hard yards.  

So what is the likely outcome of this bureaucratic experiment? Well if I was to take an educated guess it will be yet another failed experiment. The millions of taxpayers’ dollars that have already gone into the pockets of lawyers, publicity experts, IT contractors and bureaucrats to get this system up and running and the usual can’t be wrong position of the federal Labor party, ensures this ideal will continue to rape the taxpayer bank balance far beyond any failures the system will undoubtedly expose.  

This is only likely to grow and the same supposed experts, who have developed the ideal, will come up with all kinds of reports about how wonderful the system works in order to keep the dollars flowing, and maintain their increased control of our Dailey lives. On the other side of the fence of course is the thousands of Centrelink customers already struggling to cope with their current circumstances who will be stigmatised and inconvenienced by the new rules and regulations, others will no doubt find ways around the rules, like making legitimate purchases then selling them for cash, let alone those with addictions like tobacco and alcohol, who will be forced to resort to crime. 

So what is the answer to complex social problems? Well that’s the million dollar question, but I can assure you that the best policies are always ones where the local community are consulted and involved, where respect and inclusion go hand in hand, If only the conservatives spent more time listening and consulting with we the people and less time moralising about our problems, just maybe they would get it right, and we the people would respect their hard work. 

Government is supposed to be about managing the economy and the supply of essential services, not about dictating every aspect of our lives, services to help those in need when in fact they want help is one thing, but forced social engineering and the abhorrent intervention in every aspect of our daily lives is unacceptable.

Mark M Aldridge 
Community advocate and Independent candidate 82847482 (08) / 0403379500  

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