The Prime Minister has a hand-selected committee of 12 people that are there to advise the Prime Minister on all things Indigenous. This is the Indigenous Advisory Council (IAC). In principle, I agree that it is a good idea to have a majority Indigenous committee to advise on how to improve the lives of so many of our disadvantaged, impoverished and disenchanted fellow people.

However, it is unclear how much the Prime Minister actually listens to the advice of the IAC. Since the inception of the Indigenous Advisory Council, there have been several controversial policies announced, such as closing remote communities and cutting Federal funding to front line Indigenous services. It would seem from this article though that the IAC, are themselves frustrated that most policies have been pre-determined and that their advice about such matters is being ignored:

I wonder if this same level of discourse applies to the implementation of the Healthy Welfare Card? My problem with the card rollout is it has already been proven as a failed social experiment and will lead to more welfare dependency rather than building capacity in disadvantaged people and communities.

I wonder if the policymakers have seen or thought about how these cards are disadvantaging Indigenous people in remote communities even more. For instance, the cards are not accepted everywhere, therefore, the cardholder has very little choice of where to shop and as a result are paying more for their goods as the store inflates the prices because they have a captive market. What happens when a remote based person on a Healthy Welfare card gets sick and needs to travel to the city for treatment, they need cash for public transport or taxis, some need to pay for accommodation, how do they buy food or necessities or find the outlets that accept the card for payment?

To me this card system is only disempowering the disadvantaged even more, why not build their capabilities to manage their own affairs responsibly instead of stripping them even more of their dignity? We need to start addressing the underlying issues of why people have ingrained problems and rebuild their hope, their confidence and their capacity to be contributing members of our society. Taking a humane and understanding approach will deliver more success than an extremely punitive policy. It’s a form of punishment purely for being on welfare.

To give weight to my opinions, in 2014 the Federal Government’s Department of Human Services commissioned an extensive report into the Northern Territory’s use of the BasicsCard, which had by that time been in operation for seven years. What the report concluded is that despite income management of 35,000 people:

  • The evaluation could not find any substantive evidence of the program having significant changes relative to its key policy objectives, including changing people’s behaviours.
  • There was no evidence of changes in spending patterns, including food and alcohol sales, other than a slight possible improvement in the incidence of running out of money for food by those on Voluntary Income Management, but no change for those on compulsory income management. The data show that spending on BasicsCard on fruit and vegetables is very low.
  • The evaluation data does not provide evidence of income management having improved the outcomes that it was intending to have an impact upon. Indeed, rather than promoting independence and the building of skills and capabilities, New Income Management in the Northern Territory appears to have encouraged increasing dependence upon the welfare system, and the tools which were envisaged as providing them with the skills to manage have rather become instruments which relieve them of the burden of management.

We have to wonder why the Government is determined to continue with a concept that their own report has determined is a wasted effort.