Chris Twomey, The Greens 10-3-10
Chris Twomey, Policy Advisor - 10 March 2010
Senate Inquiry report on NTER reforms and reinstating the RDA
The report of the Community Affairs committee's inquiry into the changes proposed to the NT emergency response legislation was tabled in the Senate late this afternoon.
The Greens tabled a dissenting report where they argue that approach taken by the govt is deeply flawed - it is not possible to reconcile their commitment to restore the RDA and their election policy platform of social inclusion with the continuation of the negative and discriminatory aspects of the intervention, and with the desire to extend punitive conditional welfare measures nationally.
The committee heard consistent and compelling evidence from human rights and constitutional law experts and organisations that the proposed measures would not fully restore the RDA as promised and created legislative uncertainty to which legal challenges were almost inevitable. The government did not present its legal advice or seek to make its case, suggesting it would leave it up to the courts to decide.
The Greens believe that this is a waste of time and money and that parliament has an obligation to resolve legislative uncertainty rather than leaving it up to costly and time-consuming litigation.
The government was unable to provide compelling evidence for its claims that mandatory income quarantining can deliver on its claimed objectives of tackling child abuse and neglect, delivering better nutrition, or assisting people to improve their money management skills and financial independence.
The strength of opinion from the vast majority of social service providers and the professional body of financial counsellors was that the government's proposed indiscriminate approach to mandatory income management would actually decrease the financial independence of those affected and contribute to greater social exclusion.
The proposed scheme is indiscriminate and does not differentiate between those who are caring properly for their children and managing their money wisely and those who are not. It does not offer a clear pathway for those affected to improve their skills and turn their lives around but simply locks them in to increased welfare dependency.
The government is proposing to role out a complex and expensive scheme of conditional welfare without promising to substantially increase the welfare budget so that it can provide the services and supports that will be needed to offer those affected a pathway up and out. Without a substantial budget increase the roll-out of this scheme will pull resources away from existing social programs with a proven track record of helping the disadvantaged.
The Greens dissented from the committee report which they criticised for failing to discuss and address the serious concerns raised by the majority of witnesses and submissions, and for accepting at face value the bland assertions made by the minister and department with neither the evidence nor the arguments to back them up.
Here is the link to the inquiry:
Some excerpts from the Greens report:
The whole approach being pursued by the Rudd Government to the need to reform the problems of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) as reflected in the Government's bills is fundamentally flawed. The government is attempting to simultaneously pursue contradictory and incompatible policy objectives. It made a firm commitment in opposition to restore the application of the Racial Discrimination Act to the NTER legislation and went to the election advocating the progressive social policy of social inclusion. However, since coming to government it has become enamoured with a punitive model of conditional welfare targeting disadvantaged Indigenous communities (despite the enormous cost and a lack of evidence for its efficacy) which is incompatible with social inclusion and basic human rights. While these kinds of deep philosophical and moral contradictions can be glossed over in the short term with creative public messaging, the victory of spin over substance is always short-lived.
What is particularly concerning is the manner in which the government is proposing to resolve this contradiction by pursuing what is arguably the biggest change to Australia's welfare system since the Second World War - the introduction of a national scheme of indiscriminate mandatory income quarantining. It is particularly concerning that the Rudd Government has not sought and does not have a public mandate for such major reforms. This is very different from the social policy platform they took to the last election - in fact it seems to be at direct odds with their campaign about the rights of working families - and there has been no real effort made to inform the Australian public about these intentions. These bills were introduced in the last sitting of the year during a major public debate concerning climate change without even a press conference or a media release to announce them.
The best thing for the government to do at this point would be to drop this approach, continue on with reforming the negative aspects of the NTER and shift to a more consultative community development approach to addressing the underlying causes of disadvantage and social exclusion in Aboriginal communities.
The Government bills do not fully restore the operation of the RDA to the NTER. The bills represent an unacceptable fundamental shift in social security policy, an approach that there is no evidence to support and about which the Government has not consulted the Australian community.
- The legislative package is separated so that the restoration of the RDA is dealt with separately to changes to social security that expand income management.
- The Commonwealth amend the NTER Act to revoke the provisions relating to compulsory leases, and negotiate leases in good faith under the existing provision of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976.
- The legislation is amended to include a 'not withstanding' clause which clearly indicates that the Racial Discrimination Act is intended to prevail over the provisions of the NTER.
- All existing discriminatory measures are amended to ensure that they comply with the provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act, and that those intended to be special measures legitimately meet the requirements of 'special measures' through a process that ensures full informed consent in the development of new community-based measures.
- If these changes are not made, then the legislation should be opposed.
Senator Rachel Siewert
Australian Greens Whip, Senator for Western Australia
Social Policy, Indigenous Affairs, Agriculture, Water and NRM
Reproduced with the kind permission of Chris Twomey.