Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Welfare reforms and the reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act, ABC Darwin

Program: Breakfast ABC Darwin

E & OE – Proof only

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: Welfare quarantining, it might well have passed you by as an issue up until now, but it could soon become a reality for you or your family. Did you know that in just over a week your nineteen year old daughter or son, could have their Newstart allowance quarantined, be forced to use a Basics Card and therefore well not really be able to go shopping with her friends because she maybe can’t shop at the same places. That’s a reality facing up to 20,000 Territorians with the passing late last night of the income management Bill in Federal Parliament. Jenny Macklin is the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Families. She joins us to explain it all this morning. Jenny Macklin, good morning.

JENNY MACKLIN: Good morning Julia.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: Explain who this will affect in the Territory now?

JENNY MACKLIN: It will apply in the first instance in the Northern Territory as you’ve just said and then after a major evaluation after the end of 2011 will be rolled out to other parts of Australia. But in the first instance it will apply to those young people under the age of 25 on either Newstart payment or Parenting payment, who’ve been on the payment for more than three months, or for those aged over 25 on those two payments if you’ve been on the payment for more than twelve months. So they’re the two main groups. There are other groups to whom it will apply, people who are referred by Child Protection Authorities, people who are on welfare payments who are referred by the Child Protection Authorities to Centrelink where they’re of the view that it would be in the interests of the child. Or where Centrelink can see that a person is particularly vulnerable, might be somebody who’s homeless or who’s been badly harassed for money.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: And other people who are on welfare who’ve been, it’s been decided that they need support, or is it just people who are targeted by child protection authorities?

JENNY MACKLIN: In the case of other people who aren’t on either Newstart or Parenting Payment, it will be where they’re referred by the child protection authorities, or where Centrelink is of the view that people are particularly vulnerable. And I gave some examples of that a few minutes ago. We are also making sure that there’s an incentive for people to do the right thing by their children. People who are for example, parents who aren’t sending their children to school on a regular basis as all parents should be doing, they will be able to opt out of income management if they want to. People will be able to volunteer for income management and we’ve had a voluntary system operating in some parts of Western Australia for the last year or so and that has seen a few hundred people put their hand up and volunteer for income management because they said it is a useful tool.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: It won’t apply to seniors, people who are on a senior pension or disability pension?

JENNY MACKLIN: Not in an automatic or a mandatory way, only where child protection authorities recommend that that happens. So if they had a child in their care and there was evidence that the child was being neglected for example, or where the person is especially vulnerable, it may be domestic violence, it may be serious humbugging.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: Barb from Wulagi wants to know would it apply to fulltime uni students on a Youth Allowance?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, if students are studying it will not apply to them. Basically if people are doing the right thing, trying to get ahead by studying, or making sure that they’re engaged with the labour market, it won’t apply to them.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: At the moment, seniors and prescribed communities have their pensions quarantined, will that change now so that it’s a blanket, no, for seniors?

JENNY MACKLIN: Yes, it will change. Of course I do expect that a number of older people in communities where they’ve got used to income management will decide to stay on income management because they’ve found it useful and found that it’s particularly reduced humbugging. But it will be up to those individual older people to decide themselves, and one of the questions I know you had was what sort of information is going to be made available to people. There will be one on one interviews with all existing Centerlink customers so people will be informed of the changes and this will be rolled out over the next six months. It is going to take a little bit of time as we get around and have proper discussions with people.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: Another caller is asking what’s the process of opting out of quarantining, if you’re a single mother and on Family or Newstart payments?

JENNY MACKLIN: If you’re a single parent and you’re doing the right thing by getting your children to school on a regular basis and of course, every single parent should be doing that. The majority are doing it but we want to make sure that all those children in the Territory that aren’t even enrolled to go to school and not attending school on a regular basis, we do want to put an extra incentive into the system. If parents are doing the right thing and they can demonstrate their children are going to school on a regular basis, then they can apply to opt out of income management. Equally they can choose on a voluntary basis to keep going with income management. We’re also going to provide some incentives for people to have match savings arrangements, so to help people learn to save, there’ll be additional funding for financial counselling. So there is going to be additional support for people to help those individuals and families manage their money more effectively.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: When will this start?

JENNY MACKLIN: It will officially start from 1 July but it won’t actually be as you indicated in your introduction because it will take a little while for Centrelink to actually get around and discuss the issue with individuals. So I’ll let you know once I get advice from Centrelink about when it will actually start affecting individuals but the law of course will be effective from 1 July.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: And where can the BasicsCards be used?

JENNY MACKLIN: There are many places right across Australia where the BasicsCard can be used. As you know there are around 17,000 people in the Northern Territory already on income management. As at the end of May there were more than 3,000 merchants approved for the BasicsCard. Many of those are in the Northern Territory and, so there’s more than 500 in the Territory, and more than 600 in Western Australia. There are merchants in each of the capital cities, so right around the country.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: Angela from Fanny Bay asks what happens if the BasicsCard doesn’t work? She’s seen it happen at her local shop.

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ve certainly recognised that there have been problems with the introduction of the BasicsCard. When this all started a couple of years ago there certainly were difficulties, I acknowledge that. We are of course constantly improving the BasicsCard and that will continue.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: The passing of this legislation means you can now reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act, when do you plan to do that?

JENNY MACKLIN: The Racial Discrimination Act of course is reinstated with this legislation and that is a very significant commitment that we’ve now delivered on. We do think that we should have laws in Australia that affect people equally and not be based on race, and I do want to say that I particularly understand how important this is for Indigenous people. We know that many Indigenous people in the Northern Territory find income management helpful but they were hurt by the way it was introduced and also felt that it was discriminatory. So it will apply immediately to the new arrangements for income management but of course it’s going to take us a few months, we expect till the end of December to roll out all the changes. So it will effectively be reimposed from, right across the board, from the beginning of 2011.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: I’m talking to the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Families, Jenny Macklin, after the welfare quarantining legislation was passed in Federal Parliament yesterday. Jenny Macklin, an Indigenous listener has called in to say whenever she pulls the Card out at the shops people start talking slower and louder at her, and she feels humiliated and discriminated against?

JENNY MACKLIN: And I think that’s something that we’ve heard from many Indigenous people which is why I think the way in which we’ve developed this legislation to both reinstate the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act in the Northern Territory, and to introduce a system of income management that’s not discriminatory on the basis of race, is very, very important. We have heard from many, many people in the Northern Territory as a result of very extensive consultations about how people feel about income management, whether or not it’s been helpful to them. The majority certainly say it has been helpful, but people certainly have also said that they want a non-discriminatory system.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: And yet others are saying that the impact of it is, is just as racist if not more so, because the vast majority of Territorians on welfare are Indigenous?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think the important thing to recognise is that the system will apply to people across the board and not on the basis of race. And of course we do intend to roll this out in other parts of Australia where people who are disadvantaged will be able to benefit from income management. We already have the child protection approach to income management operating across Perth and in the Kimberley. It doesn’t apply in a discriminatory way, it applies to those families where the Child Protection Authorities think that, or that where they have evidence, that children are being neglected and where income management has been demonstrated to be a helpful tool to get food on the table for those children.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: Jenny Macklin thanks for your time.

JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you Julia.