The Federal Government’s proposal to roll-out income management in Bankstown was protested outside the office of MP Tanya Plibersek on the 26th August, with Indigenous spokespeople, activist groups and union representatives gathering to demand an end to the Northern Territory Intervention, as well as the expansion of income management nation-wide.
The plan to expand the BasicsCard in July 2012 will cost $117.5 million over five years and will see income management introduced to Bankstown and four other trial sites across Australia. Daphne Lake, Aboriginal Elder and Bankstown resident slammed the proposal stating, “We don’t want to go back to those days, the ration days… It’s just going backwards”.
The rally marked the 45th anniversary of Gurindji Freedom Day, celebrating the Wave Hill Walk-off, with similar demonstrations being held around the country in solidarity with the 1000-strong protest and celebration at Kalkarindji in the Northern Territory, the original site of the 1966 walk-off. But Gurindji spokesman John Leemans says the Intervention has taken away many of the rights his people fought hard to win stating, “We want control of our land back. We want to be able to practice our culture and speak our language. We want jobs created so we can work in our community”. But rather than ‘closing the gap’, Government statistics show that in the last four years Indigenous incarceration rates have risen by almost 30 percent, school attendance is down in many places, and suicide has increased.
Currently in the Northern Territory, Indigenous people have fifty percent of their Centrelink payments quarantined onto the BasicsCard. This card can only be used to purchase goods at Woolworths or Coles in prescribed areas, making it difficult for Indigenous communities to remain living on their traditional homelands.
Many non-Indigenous Bankstown residents have expressed concern that they’ll also be put on the BasicsCard. Sue Gillett, daughter of Daphne Lake and member of the Public Service Association NSW, spoke about the de-racialisation of income management, saying the policy will potentially apply to refugee and migrant groups, “Now they’re looking at us as the big disadvantaged groups, not looking at the factors that might be contributing to disadvantage or the things that people need to help them out of that cycle,” adding that “consultation about this has been very woeful; Bankstown didn’t even know it was coming their way”.
“It’s a band aid effect to a very complex social issue, and managing the income of people is not going to solve anything. All it will do is drive the issues that compound disadvantage underground. People will not report if they’re victims of domestic violence, because that would mean an automatic referral to Centrelink to be on income management. And this will have a flow-on effect to frontline state services”, she said.
The protest was also attended by members of the newly-formed Say No to Government Income Management: Not in Bankstown, Not Anywhere Coalition, a group which has more than forty organisations including faith-based agencies, businesses and peak bodies endorsing their position against income management.
Speaking on behalf of the Bankstown Coalition, Violet Roumeliotis of the Migrant Resource Centre said, “We are opposed to income management because it epitomises everything that is wrong with the Northern Territory Intervention. It is entrenched in racist assumptions about Aboriginal people. It assumes they’re incapable of managing their own lives and it imposes harsh measures that control, rather than create, opportunities. It demonises the most vulnerable and disempowered in our society”, and this is what the Bankstown Coalition fears will happen locally.
A recent report from the Equality and Rights Alliance, funded by the Government, interviewed hundreds of women on the BasicsCard in the Northern Territory. Most of those interviewed did not know why they had to receive the BasicsCard, stating they felt a lack of respect and a loss of self-dignity. 97 percent of the women felt that they did not need help managing their money. 91 percent said it did not change any circumstances within their lives. 79 percent said that they did not like the BasicsCard and wanted to stop using it now.
Organisers of the rally, the Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney, have praised the findings as evidence that the income management system is damaging. Dave Suttle of the Stop the Intervention Collective stated, “This is compulsorily pushed onto women and men in the Northern Territory, purely based on race. The Government thinks it can expand this policy nationally. They talk about ‘evidenced based policy’ but the reports that they are funding are showing the exact opposite of what they’re telling the world.”
John Leemans of Kalkarindji, who met with MP Jenny Macklin the day earlier to demand an end to the Intervention, sent his support to the Sydney protest, saying “We’re in this together, we’re gonna fight it together and we’ll win it together.”