Interview on income management, ABC News Radio – 10 June 2010
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TRACEE HUTCHISON: Well three years after the Federal Government intervention in the Northern Territory that saw the introduction of welfare quarantining, the Federal Government is set to expand the welfare quarantine program across the entire Territory. The legislation is currently before the Senate and it’s expected to return to the Lower House next week. Seventeen thousand people in the Territory currently have their welfare payments quarantined. But according to a recent report from the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin, income management had no impact on the spending patterns of welfare recipients. The study of ten stores showed no change in the sales of healthy food, particularly fruit and vegetables. Jenny Macklin is the Minister for Indigenous Affairs and she joins us now.
Minister what evidence do you have that expanding welfare quarantining across the Territory is actually in the best interests of all participants, all recipients?
JENNY MACKLIN: We have a number of pieces of evidence. One is a survey done of more than sixty community stores across the Northern Territory where we’ve seen increases in the purchasing of fresh fruit and vegetables and other essential goods. And we also have had a separate piece of work done that’s shown that right across the Territory talking with Indigenous people in remote communities, in the seventy remote communities that have been part of income management for the last couple of years, we’re certainly getting many, many people saying to us that they like income management, that they think that it’s helped their family get more food on the table for their children and make sure that less money is spent on alcohol and gambling. So it’s not the majority, I certainly would acknowledge that, it’s not everybody I should say, but certainly the majority of people are saying that they think income management has been helpful to them.
TRACEE HUTCHISON: So there’s no merit in the Menzies School of Health Research report?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well in fact my Department has done some analysis of the Menzies School report and are very critical of the way in which they’ve gone about that analysis. You might have seen a media release, a media statement put out by the Menzies School just this week saying that they don’t think that it’s possible to say that income management itself is not, is or is not helpful. So I think we have to be careful with their piece of research.
TRACEE HUTCHISON: All right, just in terms of extending the welfare quarantining to all welfare recipients in the Territory, what exemptions will there be and who’ll determine who’s eligible for those exemptions?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well, it’s probably best to start the other way around. The new system of income management if it gets through the Senate in the next couple of weeks, it will apply to a couple of different groups of people. It will in the first instance, apply to people who are long term beneficiaries of either Parenting Payment or Newstart. If you have been on Parenting Payment for a period of time and you do the right thing, make sure that you get your children to school on a regular basis, make sure they’re properly immunised, then you will be able to go along to Centrelink and ask, if you want to be, ask to opt out of income management. What we’ve actually found in Western Australia is that we’ve had a number of people volunteer for income management once that was made available because people understand the benefit of income management. But people will be able to opt out if they are doing the right thing by their children.
TRACEE HUTCHISON: And you’re not concerned Minister Macklin of the prevailing paternalistic flavour that extending this kind of program across the Territory actually sends that message?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well we’ve got thousands of children in the Northern Territory who are not attending school. Some of them, more than two thousand of them not even enrolled to go to school. Personally I don’t think it’s paternalistic to say to parents, it is your responsibility to make sure that your children get to school. We want to make sure that people’s welfare payments are spent in the interests of their children. And saying to parents that fifty per cent of their welfare payments should be spent on the essentials of life, food, rent, clothing, and not on alcohol and gambling, seems to me to be a very positive measure that’s in the interests of their children.
TRACEE HUTCHISON: Minister, we’ll look forward to seeing what happens with that Bill both in the Senate and in the event it hits the Lower House next week.
JENNY MACKLIN: Well it’s been through the House of Representatives, it’s due to go into the Senate in the next fortnight.
TRACEE HUTCHISON: Good to talk to you.
JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you.