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senate vote 2012-06-28#8

Edited by Henare Degan

on 2014-11-22 10:46:00


  • Bills — Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2011
  • Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 - Leave schedule 1 as it is


  • <p class="speaker">Chris Evans</p>
  • <p>I table five supplementary explanatory memoranda relating to the government's amendments to be moved to the Social Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 and the other bills. The memoranda were circulated in the chamber on 20 and 21 March and on 27 June.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Scott Ludlam</p>
  • Senators agreed to [keep schedule 1 of the bill as it was](;adv=yes;db=CHAMBER;id=chamber%2Fhansards%2F77c820b8-ec44-4d61-a787-9d81d07e3ff0%2F0137;orderBy=_fragment_number,doc_date-rev;page=0;query=Dataset%3Ahansards,hansards80%20Date%3A28%2F6%2F2012;rec=0;resCount=Default) (without amendments).
  • <p>The Greens oppose schedule 1 in the following terms:</p>
  • <p class="italic">Schedule 1, page 3 (line 1) to page 13 (line 4), Schedule TO BE OPPOSED.</p>
  • <p>This relates to income management. I addressed the basic issue of income management in my speech on the second reading, but I would just like to make some remarks now on the way through. Just to be clear, this amendment removes the schedule relating to income management entirely. If this amendment fails and it is the chamber's view that income management should remain&#8212;it is strongly the Australian Greens view that it should not&#8212;I do propose to debate a number of amendments that Senator Siewert thought would be a wise way to go. There are some ways that we could certainly improve the policy. We may get to debate those, but if this first amendment is carried then that will not be necessary. This amendment simply abolishes schedule 1.</p>
  • <p>We do not support the expansion of income management and we believe that the entirety of schedule 1 should be removed. To date, the bill for the current income management process in the Northern Territory sits at around $450 million, nearly half a billion dollars, in order to provide people, many of them impoverished, with little plastic cards telling them what they can and cannot spend their money on. In an area where basic services in many instances are lacking, we spend nearly half a billion dollars telling people how they can manage their income.</p>
  • <p>This policy remains one of the most criticised across the Northern Territory. If you travel into the prescribed areas and say to people that you have heard about the intervention and ask them what it is all about, income management generally is in the top three issues that people wish had simply never occurred. The money that is used to income-manage people would produce far better results if it were directed to services and programs based on collaboration, community involvement and partnership.</p>
  • <p>I notify the chamber that I certainly intend to put this amendment to the vote. I find it extraordinary that it is controversial that just under half a billion dollars would perhaps be better spent on the kinds of services that these communities are crying out for and that the <i>Little children are sacred</i> report identified: grassroots services and simple forms of helping communities rebuild themselves. Imagine how far half a billion dollars could go into providing those services. But, no, they have the little plastic cards to tell you what you can and cannot buy.</p>
  • <p>Claims continue that income management is designed to break the vicious cycle of welfare dependency by ensuring that welfare should not be a destination or a way of life. I acknowledge at the outset&#8212;and it seems awfully familiar from the Muckaty debate&#8212;that Senator Evans is here in a representational capacity, that this is not his bill, so none of this is intended to be taken personally. But I would like the minister, if he could, to provide us with any evidence whatsoever that income management has been a successful policy that deserves to be continued.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Chris Evans</p>
  • <p>I thank Senator Ludlam for the question. Senator Ludlam, I think I heard during the second reading debate the Greens views on this question of evidence. But we maintain that there are improvements in the Northern Territory in things like infant mortality, reporting of child abuse and reporting of crime. You make the argument that these things show that we are going to have increased incarceration. We say, actually, that this is protecting the community, because crimes are being reported and the laws are being enforced. We think improvements in infant mortality are a good thing. We know that the health checks have been delivering really important results; a high number of health checks have been completed. There is early identification of things like ear infections. So we think the measures are delivering results. I understand you have a principled position that is in opposition to income management. I have heard Senator Siewert argue this many times; I have argued it with her myself. And I know that senators around the chamber have engaged with these issues over a long period of time. We support the maintenance of the income management program. We seek to make some amendments ourselves which we think will improve that. Fundamentally I understand the Greens do not support the income management system. That is why their amendment seeks to remove it. But the government, and I understand the opposition&#8212;but obviously they will speak for themselves&#8212;is committed to maintaining and improving the income management system. I listened to the contributions earlier today from Senator Crossin and I have heard Senator Scullion on this issue before. I just remind the Senate that the people who live and work in the territory have a lot of experience with how these programs are delivering real improvements to the lives of Indigenous people in the Northern Territory. Things like humbugging that have been so harmful to so many people are decreasing in incidence and a lot of older people are feeling much better protected as a result of these changes.</p>
  • <p>I know there is a fundamental difference of opinion on this but we think the income management program is an important part of this package. We have looked to extend that to other parts of Australia to address some of these serious social issues, but we think the evidence is that this income management system is assisting to stabilise the communities, assisting them to function better and to ensure that there is proper nutrition and health access in those communities. I understand that we will disagree on this but the government strongly supports the income management regime. This bill will improve that regime, in our view, but I do not expect that I will convince the Greens of that this evening.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Christine Milne</p>
  • <p>I note that Senator Evans has just said 'we think income management will improve things' and 'we think it has improved things' but there is absolutely no evidence cited. I ask Senator Evans whether he is aware that the 2008 Northern Territory Emergency Response Review Board established by the Rudd government to evaluate compulsory income management recommended 'that compulsory income management in the Northern Territory cease'. Is Senator Evans aware that that recommendation came from the review board established by the Rudd government, and is he aware that the review board's recommendations were based on visits to 31 communities, meetings with representatives of 56 communities, consultation with over 140 organisations, and 222 submissions&#8212;and also consultancy work which has not been made public? That constitutes far more than what Senator Evans thinks. What is his view, and why does he reject the Northern Territory review board's advice that income management cease?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Chris Evans</p>
  • <p>I have not seen the report Senator Milne refers to but I have read references to it and I have heard people discuss it. As I say, there is a contest here about these issues, and I accept that, but the government is convinced that the reforms are delivering results. We look at things like the fact that we are seeing reports of more fresh fruit and vegetables being brought into stores where income management applies&#8212;real changes in the nutritional impact on communities. We also know that about 4,100 people in the Northern Territory are on voluntary income management&#8212;they have chosen to be on income management. They are voting with their feet; they are saying this is of benefit to them. They are indicating that they value it. Senator Crossin, a Northern Territory senator with a great deal of experience in this area, referred to her personal experiences talking to people in communities.</p>
  • <p>I accept that there is a divergence of view on this but the government's experience is that these measures are delivering improved results for some of the basic issues we are trying to address, and we will continue with the income management program and look to refine it as part of the amendments we are introducing in this bill.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Christine Milne</p>
  • <p>I note, Senator Evans, that you just said there is evidence of improved fruit and vegetable sales and the like. I would like to ask that you take it on notice to provide the evidence you have to support that claim. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare evaluation of income management notes that what evidence exists, given the lack of quantifiable data, means that government cited evidence should be treated with caution. Are you aware that the research by the Menzies School of Health Research indicates that income quarantining has had no substantial impact on improving Indigenous child welfare and that there has been little change in store spending patterns? That is contrary to what you have just said, Senator Evans, in terms of fruit and vegetables.</p>
  • <p>According to the Menzies School of Health Research, there has been little change in store spending patterns, which is the only way income management might have been shown to improve or even change child wellbeing. Are you aware that the Menzies study concludes that federal measures associated with income management lack any significant empirical data to support maintenance of the policies? I would like to see the significant empirical data which is contrary to what the Menzies centre is saying, because Menzies is saying that there has been little change in store spending patterns.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Chris Evans</p>
  • <p>I am happy to take that question from the senator on notice. As I said, my briefing indicates that we have seen reporting of more fruit and vegetable consumption in the stores where income management applies, but I will try to get some more detailed information for the senator on those.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Trish Crossin</p>
  • <p>I have a question for the minister. We as a government responded quite comprehensively, I think, to the 2008 review and in fact put legislation through this parliament to change the income management regime so that it is not compulsory. I thank the minister for the number of people who have now voluntarily stayed on income management because they have wanted to. Perhaps the minister could provide for the chamber the difference in numbers between the people who were on income management prior to our changing the legislation and those who are now not income managed because we created a series of criteria that enabled people to either be removed from it or opt out, to be given an exemption. Those numbers might be useful.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Chris Evans</p>
  • <p>Thank you, Mr Chairman. I have always found that the questions from your side are always much more difficult than the ones from the other side of the parliament! I will try to get that information for the senator and provide it later.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Marise Payne</p>
  • <p>I'll find you some more questions if you want me to!</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Chris Evans</p>
  • <p>As I said, I always prefer your questions, Senator, because I do not have to answer them seriously!</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Marise Payne</p>
  • <p>Really?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Chris Evans</p>
  • <p>That was a joke. But when Senator Crossin asks, I am under huge pressure to provide the information. So we are looking for the information for Senator Crossin, and I will provide it as soon as I can locate something that is helpful.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Lee Rhiannon</p>
  • <p>When Senator Ludlam was commenting on some of these developments he made the point that in the Northern Territory at the moment the issue of income management is one of the top three issues raised in many of these communities. I have been working in Bankstown, where there is growing concern about income management being introduced. I would not say it was one of the top three issues at the moment, but it is certainly on the rise, and I am receiving more queries about it. I just want to check something with you. With this bill we are considering here, does the income management also cover the trials, like at Bankstown? Or is that in a later piece of legislation?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Chris Evans</p>
  • <p>I want to be clear. I understand that the trials can proceed without this legislation. The trials will continue. There are some technical amendments that will affect their administration, but the trials can continue independently.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Lee Rhiannon</p>
  • <p>I will raise some of my concerns at this point, because there have been a considerable number of meetings over the last 10 months on the issue of income management in Bankstown in the library. There have been a few protests at some of the neighbourhood centres. People are concerned about the issue of income management and how it is going to impact on low-income people. Some of the businesses have also raised it. There is a large shopping strip there. The Muslim Business Association have raised their concerns because members of their community use a number of smaller shops and they understand that many of their customers could end up on the BasicsCard. My first question needs to be this one: how are you managing the concern that is coming from some business communities about them losing customers because they do not qualify as processors of the BasicsCard?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Chris Evans</p>
  • <p>I thank the senator for her question. I remember having these discussions in estimates when Senator Siewert and others sought that sort of detail from the department. But as I understand it there are local implementation groups that will deal with those sorts of issues. The trails are operating around the country. There is one in Cannington in my own state. These local implementation groups will manage those sorts of issues. I can organise for you to have a briefing or I can get you the contact details for the Bankstown group if you want to engage with the local implementation group. I do not have any briefing on what is occurring in that particular area, but I can certainly get you some information that will put you in touch with the relevant officers and their operations.</p>
  • <p class='motion-notice motion-notice-truncated'>Long debate text truncated.</p>