By ERWIN CHLANDA
How much accurate and relevant information is needed to start a protest campaign? The ratio is in indirect proportion to the distance from what is being protested about: The further you are away from the action, the less you need to know – and get away with it.
At least that’s what is suggested by the “Six years of the NT Intervention is six years too long” campaign by the St Vincent de Paul Society, ACOSS and the National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN).
In reply to a media release from them the Alice Springs News Online submitted questions (printed here in Italics). We received no reply from any of the three (Vinnies CEO John Falzon, via a spokesperson, explicitly said “no comment”), except that NWRN’s Gerard Thomas referred us to the University of New South Wales document “Evaluating New Income Management in the Northern Territory: First Evaluation Report of the Social Policy Research Centre”. We’ll call it “the report”.
It is a year old, has 352 pages including 77 tables and 37 figures, makes scant reference to the horrors of abuse, malnutrition and other neglect evoked by the “Little Children are Sacred” report to which the Intervention was a response, and is broadly misinterpreted by the protesting trio, at least so far as a reading of the conclusion chapter reveals.
They say the Intervention should be dumped in part because “compulsory income management punishes people who are already doing it amongst the toughest” and “should be replaced with a genuinely voluntary scheme”.
We asked: Scanning the last 40 years, which “genuinely voluntary scheme” has worked to protect women and children, and stopped rampant violence and catastrophic alcohol abuse?
The report found no clear evidence of the value of income management.
Who was being surveyed? What percentage of respondents were women and children in bush and town camp communities?
Each person subject to income management in the Northern Territory costs between $6,600 and $7,900 in remote areas, and $4,600 in the five trial sites.
Would assistance with the administration of income management not be a worthy task for [your three organisations]?
More than half a billion has been spent so far. The nearly $100 million per year would be better spent in partnership with Aboriginal people on programs that actually work in their communities.
How should that money be “better spent”? Give examples of initiatives, please.
For too long, the absence of real jobs and basic community infrastructure has been a blight on the social and economic life of many communities in the NT.
There is a chronic shortage of labour in Central Australia. There is no involuntary unemployment here. Please comment.
Compulsory income management unfairly and wrongly assumes that just because a person receives an income support payment, they can’t manage their own affairs.
Are you saying there is not pervasive evidence that welfare money is, to an unacceptable degree, used to buy alcohol, [and has been] for decades?
[Income management] should only be implemented as a part of an economic and social development plan negotiated with communities.
Have you examined the power men have over women and children in bush and town camp communities, and if so, what did you find? What conclusions have you drawn, if any, about the opportunities women would have to exercise informed consent free from undue influence about accepting income management if it was optional?
Alas, no response to any of these questions.
The trio’s apparent view that income management should be axed if the majority is against it deserves comment. The report acknowledges that for an unspecified number of people “income management is experienced as restrictive and frustrating, making their lives more difficult and complicated, and in some cases limiting their ability to fully engage in community life. Many in this group also find income management disempowering”.
The best answer to that, of course is: “Don’t put up with it. Get a job.”
But more tragically, there is the notion that the third of those surveyed who find in income management protection against hunger and violence, should be thrown to the wolves just because they don’t represent a majority.
Says the report: “People subject to [income management] expressed a diversity of views about the measure. When asked whether the program had made things better for them, 36 per cent of Indigenous people on compulsory forms of income management reported it was better, 26 per cent that there was no difference, and 27 per cent that it had made things worse.”
This result is not reflected fairly in the trio’s tirade. A few weeks of first-hand research in a town camp or a remote community could well change their views.