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Tuesday, 20 June 2017
Page: 4409


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (19:00): I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Queensland Commission Income Management Regime) Bill 2017. This bill extends the income management element of the Cape York Welfare Reform initiative for a further two years. The Greens, as I am sure everybody in this place knows, have opposed compulsory income management since it was introduced by the Howard government in 2007. In fact, the 10th anniversary is tomorrow, and I will speak further on that in my adjournment contribution. This will occur in the communities of Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale, Mossman Gorge and Doomadgee. Income management there is part of a sanction that can be imposed by the Families Responsibilities Commission on individuals who have breached their obligations. I should note here that this is a very different sort of approach to addressing some of the issues in communities, and it is very different to the Northern Territory intervention. However, it still includes a compulsory income management component. We do not support that. Income management is also intended to act as a deterrent to encourage individuals to uphold their obligations.

There was an extremely short Senate committee inquiry into this bill, where no hearing took place. I am extremely critical of that for two reasons. One is because we received very few submissions. We received no submissions from individuals, because they simply did not have time and there was not time to adequately contact them. Those are the people that I want to hear from—the people that this affects. We heard from organisations, but we did not hear from other organisations that we would have heard from if there had been more time. We also would have had time to listen to the evidence about outcomes from this process. There were only seven submissions received, none of which provided any documented evidence. There was a lot of talk about perceptions about how things are better. I clearly remember that that is what happened during the intervention and some of the evaluations there. There were perceptions that thing were better. When those were actually tested, in fact the outcomes in those communities were the same as comparable communities that did not have income management. So I am very wary when we talk about 'perceived as better' when that is not properly evaluated through properly conducted, peer reviewed evaluations.

The major source of information about income management in Cape York is the evaluation report commissioned by the government in 2012. In fact it was unable to demonstrate conclusively that income management in Cape York had met its stated aims. This is the same thing that happened with the Northern Territory intervention, where the final evaluation in fact showed that the intervention met none of its objectives. The evaluation found that there had been some improvements in areas such as school attendance and reductions in crime. However, income management is just one of the number of measures that have been implemented by the Cape York Welfare Reform initiative, and which contributes to these changes. Two of the evaluation report's authors, Ilan Katz and Margaret Raven, subsequently noted in the Indigenous Law Bulletin that it is difficult to draw conclusions from this given that many other Indigenous communities in Queensland have also shown the same improvements. In other words, you cannot prove that income management is the tool that has driven these particular changes. In the report it states:

… the evidence suggests that the impact of the local FRC Commissioners is in their listening, guiding and supporting role, rather than in the exercising of their punitive powers to order income management.

It also states in the report:

The data indicate that some community members had become habituated to income management or had found ways around it. This appears in some cases to have produced unintended consequences, such as clients on income management harassing relatives for access to alcohol or drugs. It appears that for this group income management (and welfare reform more generally) has little effect.

The evaluation report also notes that there is some community dissent about income management and the basics card, including concern about the paternalistic nature of the intervention. The majority report said that the committee inquiry points to a survey conducted as part of the evaluation, saying that 78 per cent of people said that they felt their lives were better. I refer again to the Northern Territory intervention where people said that they felt their lives were better when, in fact, a proper qualitative and quantitative analysis showed that there was not any difference between the outcomes in that community and other communities.

On the weight of evidence, the Australian Greens believe that income management is a failed and expensive policy that the government is persisting with in the absence of real justification. Compulsory income management is a paternalistic top-down approach. Voluntary income management is something different and should be treated differently. There are a number of other programs that are not coercive in nature, such as Centrepay, that could be used to help people manage their money better. I also think that the sorts of supports that the FRC provides, which is that guidance and that support that was articulated in the report, mean we can better support people, offer wrap-around services and ensure they get access to the services that are needed.

We do support direct investment in programs and communities that address the underlying causes of disadvantage that people are facing, rather than income management which is expensive to implement and does not address the underlying causes. Money spent on income management around Australia could be better invested directly in communities in order to provide specialist direct programs—for example, to better assist the FRC in terms of better access to programs such as financial management, some of those wrap-around services, education and better access to fresh food et cetera.

We do not believe that the evidence supports the continuation of compulsory income management. We do not support this bill, but we do acknowledge the work of the Families Responsibilities Commission. We do acknowledge that it was a different approach taken to the intervention; however, we do not think compulsory income management works. The evidence is not there. There has not been any further evaluation to back up the government rolling out another two years of income management—there has been no evaluation of that program since 2012. The evaluation of the Northern Territory intervention, which was subsequent to that, shows that the Northern Territory intervention and new income management did not meet their objectives. I think we need to be better evaluating Cape York, and look at where we can invest the resources that are committed. I do not mind the resources being committed; I just object to the way that those resources are being committed. We do not support this bill.