Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

'Pushing Buttons': An Evaluation of the Effect of Aboriginal Income Management on Commercial Gambling Expenditure

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

'Pushing Buttons': An Evaluation of the Effect of Aboriginal Income Management on Commercial Gambling Expenditure

Article excerpt

Introduction

In June 2007, the Northern Territory Government released a watershed report on child abuse in Australian Aboriginal communities titled Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle 'Little Children are Sacred' (Wild & Anderson 2007). This report documented a legacy of policy failures towards Aboriginal Australians by successive Commonwealth, State and Territory governments that were reflected in widespread child abuse, poor education, poor health, rampant alcohol abuse, and problem gambling (Wild & Anderson 2007; Gulson & Parkes 2010). Consequently, the report recommended that child abuse in Aboriginal communities '... be designated as an issue of urgent national significance by both the Australian and Northern Territory [NT] Governments ...' (Wild & Anderson 2007: 22).

The enormous media and political attention generated by the report was used by the Howard Government as a political platform from which to introduce a series of reforms, more commonly known as 'the intervention' (Commonwealth of Australia 2007a). This involved the introduction of the powerful Northern Territory National Emergency Response (NTER) Act 2007 and amendments to the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Payments Reform) Act 2007, as well as exclusion of sections of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA) that protect citizens from racial discrimination (Commonwealth of Australia 1976; Commonwealth of Australia 2007b, Commonwealth of Australia 2008). It represented a far-reaching, dramatic and controversial attempt to regulate the lives of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner 2007; Commonwealth of Australia 2008; Gulson & Parkes 2010).

A cornerstone of the intervention was the Commonwealth's income management legislation. Under this legislation, 50 per cent of the value of welfare payments received by Aboriginal residents living in prescribed areas of the Northern Territory were to be solely used for what the Commonwealth designated as 'priority needs' (including food, clothing, housing, healthcare and education related expenses, among others) (Commonwealth of Australia 2007a). Various methods have been introduced to manage quarantined funds, including the allocation of funds to retailers (where the funds could only be used to purchase priority needs), store cards (where funds could only be directed to a specific store or grocery chains to purchase priority needs), and, most recently, the 'BasicsCard' (where Electronic Funds Transfer Point of Sale (EFTPOS) cards are restricted to purchases of priority needs).

The overt aim of income management was to 'protect children and make communities safer' by reducing the impact of 'anti-social behaviours' (AIHW 2009: iii). The idea was to divert a greater proportion of welfare payments to essential items like food and clothing rather than more risky or socially damaging forms of consumption. To this end, four 'excluded items' were identified as 'anti-social behaviours' under the auspices of the Act. These were listed in the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Payments Reform) Act 2007 under two categories: goods (including alcohol, tobacco products and pornographic material), and services (specifically gambling). Gambling was the only service listed as an excluded item.

Despite a change in government at the Commonwealth level, the intervention and its associated income management procedures have remained a policy platform. Indeed, legislation was passed on 10 July 2010 that introduced a new model of income management (NIM) which was implemented in Alice Springs and Katherine from 30 August 2010 (SPRC 2010: 7). NIM is based on wider criteria for inclusion, which transcend racial boundaries to include 'disengaged youths' (aged 15-24) who have received social security payments for three out of the previous six months, long-term welfare recipients aged 25 and above, parents and carers referred by child protection authorities, those deemed as vulnerable by a Centrelink social worker (this may include some individuals on aged pension or disability support pension for example), and a volunteer stream of people on income support (SPRC 2010: 7-9). …

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