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Monday, 21 June 2010
Page: 3840

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (9:15 PM) —I begin by indicating that the government will not be supporting the Greens second reading amendment.

The Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform and Reinstatement of Racial Discrimination Act) Bill 2009 amends the social security law, the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007, the NTER Act, and other laws that give effect to the Northern Territory emergency response. It reinstates the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, the RDA, and state and territory antidiscrimination legislation so that it applies to the NTER and makes changes so that the core NTER measures are more clearly special measures under the RDA. It also introduces a new scheme of income management that from 1 July 2010 will commence in the Northern Territory in urban, regional and remote areas as a first step in a national rollout of income management in disadvantaged regions across Australia. Existing provisions for income management in prescribed Northern Territory Indigenous communities will be repealed.

These reforms to the welfare system are designed to tackle the destructive intergenerational cycle of passive welfare and to provide a platform for people to move up and out of welfare. The government has chosen the target group due to their high risk of social isolation and disengagement, poor financial literacy, participation in risky behaviours and the likelihood of poor outcomes for children growing up in these circumstances. The government believes that the target groups identified in the bill, including disengaged youth and long-term welfare payment recipients, will particularly benefit from the help that income management provides. The new scheme provides for financial incentives to encourage welfare recipients outside the targeted categories to volunteer for income management. There will also be a matched savings incentive to encourage those who fall within the targeted categories to build their own financial management skills and capabilities. The RDA will apply to the new scheme from 1 July 2010 when it is introduced. The RDA suspension in relation to existing measures will be lifted on 31 December 2010, which allows necessary time for an effective transition from existing to new arrangements.

These reforms represent a comprehensive policy that is fair, protects the most vulnerable in urban, regional and remote areas and is non-discriminatory. The NTER alcohol and pornography restrictions, five-year leases, community stores licensing and law enforcement hours have been redesigned to more clearly be special measures that help Indigenous people achieve equal human rights. These changes follow an extensive consultation process with Indigenous people in the Northern Territory in 2009. The consultations involved people across the communities affected by the NTER as well as several other Northern Territory Indigenous communities and town camps. The consultations were conducted in a spirit of genuine engagement, and the government has listened to the feedback provided through that consultation process.

Changes made by this bill to the NTER measures recognise that these measures have delivered substantial benefits to Indigenous Australians in the Northern Territory and that there is more to be done. The consultations reveal that family and community violence, the wellbeing of children, the elderly and the vulnerable and the misuse of alcohol and drugs remain prominent in local people’s everyday concerns. The removal of the RDA suspension along with a redesign of relevant NTER measures will strengthen the NTER and provide the foundations for real and lasting change in Northern Territory Indigenous communities. To achieve this the government will continue to work in partnership with Indigenous Australians, recognising that they are essential to developing effective solutions and driving change on the ground.

Question put:

That the amendment (Senator Siewert’s) be agreed to.