Carefully targeted approach to income management required

Australian Human Rights Commission – Monday, 17 November 2008

“Compulsory income management is at best a stop-gap measure and no substitute for the sustained, long-term action needed to make these communities safe for women and children,” he said. “Any measures to be applied to communities should only be implemented with the voluntary agreement of the entire community, including vulnerable women and children,”

Carefully targeted approach to income management required

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma tonight outlined a way forward for the federal government to modify the compulsory income management scheme operating under the NT intervention so that it is better capable of leading to sustainable improvements in the lives of Aboriginal communities

Delivering the annual Eric Johnston Lecture at Parliament House in the Northern Territory, Commissioner Calma said that it was possible to meet human rights obligations while maintaining some form of quarantining, but it required a carefully targeted approach that was based on full engagement and tailored to the specific needs of different communities.

“I fully support ensuring that women are not humbugged and that children are fed and clothed,” Mr Calma said. “Measures should guarantee that benefits actually reach women and children. What I am proposing is a scheme that is fundamentally different to the blanket income management measures on the basis of race that currently exist, and will be more effective and be better supported by our communities.

“Compulsory income management is at best a stop-gap measure and no substitute for the sustained, long-term action needed to make these communities safe for women and children,” he said. “Any measures to be applied to communities should only be implemented with the voluntary agreement of the entire community, including vulnerable women and children,” he said.

“When you go to the local shop and there is a separate line for Aboriginal people to purchase their products, because of the store cards that they are required to use – this is a human rights issue.

“And if you consider that forms of compulsory welfare quarantining could be applied to you in the future – whether you’re a pensioner, a single mother or unemployed – then this is a human rights issue.”

Citing the NT Review Report which showed the existence of only 10 safe houses in the 73 target communities and extra police in only 17 of these, Mr Calma said it was equally important that the priorities and budgeting of the Northern Territory Intervention be changed to direct resources to those areas most in need.

Mr Calma also used the annual lecture to highlight potential problems with the Northern Territory Government’s recent decision to make it mandatory for students to begin each school day with four hours of English literacy, saying it would effectively end bilingual education.

“Nine government bilingual schools will be affected by the government’s decision, and possibly one independent and three Catholic schools may lose the additional funding that is required to run these programs,” he said.

“There is evidence that bilingual students do better in English reading literacies than ‘English’ schools in their regions. Being taught in both languages is the doorway to education for our kids in these schools. The NT government has made a dramatic about face from its announcements earlier this year to build school – community partnerships and needs to focus on some of the fundamental barriers that limit outcomes in remote schooling.”

The speech can be found at www.humanrights.gov.au/about/media/speeches/social_justice/2008/20081117_targeted.html