Divine Intervention

Posted: May 12, 2012 in Politics

We all love being told what to do, don’t we?

Same sex couples love being told they are not normal and can’t marry. Asylum seekers love being told they are human scum by a vile opposition leader and his motley crew. Climate scientists love to be told they are tin foil hat wearing freaks, especially by those with no idea like Barnaby Joyce and Alan Jones. And us, well, we like to be told we are stupid for thinking things like this are important….

Well, maybe not…

Imagine being told then what you can and can’t spend your money on. I’m not talking about illegal things like drugs or guns, I’m talking about your groceries, and what you spend when you go out.

When The Coalition, under John Howard, initiated The Northern Territory National Emergency Response, better known as The Interventon, it caused outrage, both here in Australia, and abroad.

I am not going to go into the first intervention, as to be honest, I am not an expert, and there is plenty of material online about it for those interested.

I do not pretend to understand the first thing about the issues facing Indigenous Australians, so I won’t delve into that area. All I really know is that too many have delved into it before knowing little more than I do, and made a mess of it.

What I do want to talk about, is the “Stronger Futures” legislation that is due to be passed through the Senate soon. Many are referring to this as The Intervention Part 2….

What the “Stronger Futures” policy is about is income management. Government approval on how your money is spent.

Here is a brief rundown on how it all works….

 Income Management is a policy which “quarantines” 50 – 70 per cent of Centrelink payments onto a thing called a BasicsCard. The BasicsCard can only be used to buy “priority items” at stores in which the government has pre-approved.

Welfare recipients assessed by Centrelink to be “vulnerable to financial crisis” will have 50% of their payment quarantined. Parents and legal guardians referred to Centrelink by child protection authorities (Community Services) will have 70% of their income quarantined.

I would have assumed that most living off benefits would be considered “vulnerable”.

One question immediately jumps out at me. If someone loses their eftpos card, they can get another one quickly, or go to a bank with ID and access their account. If someone loses their BasicsCard, what happens? No groceries that week? Go without that medication?

I do hope replacement cards are available within 24 hours.

This scheme is to be rolled out to the following area’s over the next 5 years, affecting an estimated 20,000 people:

Bankstown, New South Wales

 Logan, Queensland

 Rockhampton. Queensland

Playford, South Australia

Shepparton, Victoria

One can only imagine the problems this will cause in these communities. It will create a black market mentality with people trading off necessities for things like cigarettes and alcohol. As everybody knows, little emergencies happen from time to time, unexpected visitors etc, this scheme does not allow for that. The damage done to these people’s self esteem will be beyond measure.

This is before you look at the doors this will open for corruption. Companies will compete to be approved on the BasicsCard will be tempted to offer bribes to low paid public servants.

Also, what impact will this have on small businesses?

For example, Coles and Woolworths are already approved places for the BasicsCard to be used. However, what about Joes Deli, or Franks Fruit and Veg, Pete’s Meat and so on? Is there a process to have these independent stores added on, or do they just lose a chunk of their business to the major chains? We should be encouraging small business in theses area’s, not sending their customers elsewhere. That’s the type of policy Clive Palmer would support.

And this is before you look at the costs involved with the schemes administration.

In Bankstown, according to Ms Randa Kattan, Executive Director of Arab Council Australia, only $2.5Million is being allocated by the govt to community resources, yet $23Million is being allocated on Income Management. I don’t know about you, but that seems just a little backwards to me….

In the Northern Territory, Income Management costs around $4,400 per person to administer, each year. That’s about $85 a week that would make their finances a bit easier to manage, it would also put that extra $85 a week back into the community.

Whilst I understand the good intentions of this scheme, it is my opinion that the big stick approach rarely works, and that is what this scheme really is. Whilst there may be the occasional success story, the overall result will be causing those in our society who are suffering more misery.

There are those out there who are trying to paint this as a racist policy, and it is easy to understand why. However, as tempting as it may be to leap to that assumption, I don’t believe it is true. Poverty does not choose a race. There are people of all races affected by this policy, Black, White, Asian… to go down the race path is to unnecessarily confuse the issue.

The issue here is education, these people need to be educated, not punished. For a fraction of the cost of this policies administration, the govt via Centrelink could provide incentives for those who find employment, or for those who improve their education. This, I believe would be far more effective than labeling them too stupid to look after themselves, and then taking away their freedom of choice.

Reward for making good life decisions, rather than punishment for bad decisions that the government assumes you will make. That sounds logical to me.

There could also be training programs put in place for the long term unemployed. Those who have limited skills could be better educated and learn new skills, with incentives for completing courses. Employers could be offered greater incentives for giving these people an opportunity, as many of these people would be grateful for an opportunity to better themselves, and would be extremely loyal workers.

I once read an autobiography of a man who goes by the name of Ice T. He is a well know rapper, and is also an actor, probably best known as one of the lead characters on Law And Order SVU. Ice T owned a large luxury and sports car dealership in Los Angeles. What set Ice T’s dealership apart is he only hired ex-prisoners, blokes most would not give a second chance to. According to the Ice man, he had never had anything stolen, ever. His workers were the most loyal and hardest working you could wish for, because they appreciate being given a chance. It is all about respect.

This policy takes away any remaining respect these poor people may still have.

What has really dismayed me, is that this policy may roll out under a Labor Government. As I said, I understand the good intentions, however you can’t unscramble an egg. Once this goes through it can’t really be taken back….

Even if this policy works well, despite its immorality, it still leaves us with a major problem.

With a Labor government in place we can be assured that the BasicsCard system will be run fairly, and with the minimum of distress. However, do we really want this in place for a Coalition government?

Can you imagine a poor Afghan family relying on someone like Sophie Mirrabella, or Scott Morrison’s goodwill when it comes to what they can and can’t buy? I shudder at the thought.

I hope we can stop this ridiculous policy decision before it is implemented.

I hate the cliché, but this one actually does smell a bit like class warfare….

You would think this would cause an outrage in our parliament, however what little debate there has been, has been done quietly. Those speaking out about it are coming from the Labor Left, and the Greens. I hope that the Independents will also speak out against it, and try to block it in the senate. After all, this policy looks to me like a disaster in the making.

Fairness and decency, it’s in our hands…..

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