Disgraceful Racial Tokenism: Macklin Announces Aboriginal “NDIS”

MINDFUL the Gillard government is desperate, and sensing its panic — especially given the likelihood the budget will worsen its dire poll numbers — I’ve been watching for stunts and gimmicks as it tries something, anything, to claw back ground: enter the “First People’s Disability Network Australia.”

The Murdoch press reports this afternoon that Indigenous Affairs minister Jenny Macklin has announced $900,000 over three years for the “First People’s Disability Network Australia” to provide services to assist indigenous Australians to understand and access support from DisabilityCare Australia.

My response — to use the crude but blunt vernacular — is simple. WTF?

Jenny Macklin is a decent individual, and — despite her politics, which I detest — is normally one of the more reasonable figures on the ALP benches.

But she’s lowered her colours by getting in on this.

Why do Aborigines mandate $900,000 for their own disability network?

Why has the Labor Party opted to segregate — other than for the purposes of gimmickry — the benefits Aborigines will receive from the NDIS from those open to other Australians?

And why should anyone believe this is anything other than yet another cheap political stunt, pandering to minorities in an attempt to be seen, particularly by Greens voters, as bolstering Labor’s “credentials” on “social justice?”

If I were an Aborigine I’d feel patronised and insulted; as an Australian, I’m affronted by what is a clear case of more taxpayer money pissed up against a post on needless spending by a profligate government trying to curry favour in areas it thinks it can win votes.

Remember, Labor is still in the doghouse in some parts of the Aboriginal community over the railroading of former Olympian Nova Peris onto its Senate ticket in the NT at the expense of the far better-credentialled (and Aboriginal) Marion Scrymgour.

A statement from Julia Gillard claimed that her government was “committed to closing the gap for Indigenous Australians with disability.”

Which is fine, although it goes on to say “many Indigenous people are reluctant to identify themselves as a person with disability and often do not seek help with disability services.”

Surely this statement is applicable to Australians generally — not just Aborigines?

But  — again — the $900,000 in spending announced today is to provide services to assist indigenous Australians to understand and access support from DisabilityCare Australia.

Over three years.

Why are Aboriginal people less likely than anyone else to understand what support is available from the NDIS?

Why does the Gillard government effectively state it will take three years for them to understand this?

And far from rendering any meaningful progress in “closing the gap” on indigenous disadvantage, this “measure” tokenises Aborigines.

Its message, simply stated, is that Aborigines are too stupid to be trusted to work out for themselves what the rest of the country has the brains to discover on its own, and must therefore be singled out as desperate cases indeed.

The best part of a million dollars allocated to this is more a salve for Labor consciences and their do-gooder hangers-on than it is a valid expenditure of public money.

Then again, there’s nowhere too low for the Labor Party to stoop now; desperate and panicking, it will do anything — and this is a tasteless illustration of the type of tactics I think we’ll see an awful lot more of before 14 September.

Meanwhile, the ALP has also attempted to refloat its beloved “misogyny” issue today with a fracas erupting over a pairing request for backbencher Michelle Rowland, who has a sick child — initially refused and later agreed to by the Coalition — as it tries to stir up what trouble it can to deflect the extremely poor reception its budget has received thus far.

It is noteworthy Tony Abbott had nothing to do with the request and subsequent agreement to the pairing request.

Predictably, however, Labor types are running around the country, screaming “Tony Abbott just doesn’t get it,” with Julia Gillard stating the episode made “an absolute mockery of everything the Leader of the Opposition has ever said about working women.”

Perhaps it’s too indelicate to point out the decision on the pairing request was made by an opposition whip rather than Tony Abbott personally.

Then again — if you’re the ALP — the truth never gets in the way these days to talk about Tony Abbott and misogyny in the same sentence.

Such is its obsession with the retention of power — and its willingness to smear and destroy opponents on as personal a basis as possible (just ask Kevin Rudd) — that the ALP will say and do anything between now and the election to retrieve its dismal prospects.

Today has been another disgusting day of grubby Labor politics.

It is to be hoped, in his response to Wayne Swan’s budget tonight, that Abbott inflicts some real political damage on a government and a Prime Minister whose tenure cannot come to an end quickly enough when the national interest, rather than Labor’s, is the yardstick.

Sham Debate: Charade Of “Live On Newstart” Discussion Masks Need For Reform

This week has seen one of the most inane and pointless “debates” of recent times in Australian politics: can you live on Newstart, the $38 per day jobseeker benefit? Of course not. Yet again, a meaningless fracas has wasted the opportunity for sensible discussion of an increasingly urgent issue.

I really should be taking the opportunity to score a partisan free hit, and to blame Families minister Jenny Macklin for skipping away from a diversion she created.

After all, it was she — at a press conference on the issue of taking single mothers off the parenting payment when their youngest child turns eight, and placing them instead on the significantly lower Newstart allowance — who started the rot, firstly by claiming she could live off Newstart, and secondly on account of the doctored transcript, issued by her office, which sought to edit her dubious claim out of existence.

But I won’t; readers know that I believe far too much money is spent on welfare in this country, and that much of what is spent is misdirected, and so Macklin’s comments should at least receive credit for potentially opening a very necessary can of worms.

Even so, it’s unlikely to result in a serious debate among parliamentarians, and that — yet again — it a triumph of the politics of spin, stunts and slogans over the real business of what we elect governments to do.

Clearly, it is not realistic to expect people to be able to live on $38 per day.

Just look at the modern world around us: the cost of housing, which has ballooned in the past 10 years; the cost of utilities and transport, which have rocketed well beyond any remotely realistic measure of increase in the cost of living; add in costs of running and maintaining a vehicle, food and clothing, and healthcare, and Newstart — the dole — is so ridiculously inadequate that anyone with real-world obligations who finds themselves in need of it may as well declare bankruptcy and engineer their eviction from their homes.

The fraught issue of welfare — or, more specifically, the overall excess of it coupled with the problem of more effectively targeting it — has long been a bugbear of mine, and it annoys me greatly that, once again, a series of stupid stunts are likely to kill off any meaningful attempt to deal with it.

First things first — the week’s unedifying and, frankly, obscene events on the issue.

I actually welcome the initiative to move single mothers off parenting payments once their youngest child turns eight — with a couple of qualifications.

I understand that some women find themselves on the single mothers’ pension through no fault of their own; marriages (or relationships) that end, sometimes involving a violent or otherwise abusive man who also happens to be the breadwinner, leave women in such circumstances not just in dire need of financial assistance, but also well-deserving of it.

It is just such women for whom I feel great sympathy for, and for whom the changes taking effect in their welfare payments will inflict a disproportionate and undeserved hit.

But others, who simply walk out of marriages (or relationships) because they have simply become bland and loveless, or no fun any more, or to evade financial responsibilities or because they want to run off with a new partner, are a different kettle of fish.

And a third group, obviously, are those serial single mothers with a string of illegitimate children, sometimes born to a string of different fathers, who opt to eke a living out of a career of having children and pocketing taxpayer money.

Are these three groups the same?

One thing I feel compelled to point out is that we shouldn’t be shying away from discussing such issues; just because the Prime Minister is playing the gender card like crazy and seeking to demonise anyone who disagrees with her (or her government) wherever a link, real or imagined, to “misogyny” can be claimed, does not mean these matters should be tiptoed around or quarantined from discussion.

But by the same token, Australia’s welfare system, as it stands, is predicated on a basis of lowest common denominator, one-size-fits-all assumptions, and if the assumption being applied is that women should be able to get a job once their youngest child is at school, it at least should be trialled, evaluated, and refined or later abandoned if proven unworkable.

In that sense, I have no problem with moving women in such circumstances off a far more generous welfare benefit — paid by working taxpayers — as an incentive to look for work.

But the initiative has been trivialised this week; Macklin’s remark that she could live off the dole — deemed “inaudible” in the official transcript issued by her staff — is not only an insult to those affected by the very measure she was talking about, but has been allowed to hijack “debate” that might otherwise have been beneficial.

Communist Party Greens MP Adam Bandt, frankly, should have had more brains than to claim he could live off the dole; further, his promise to do so for a week is one of the emptiest and more offensive attempts of recent times by an MP to put himself in the shoes of a particular interest group: Bandt’s parliamentary salary is available both before and after such a “trial” and simply renders the exercise pointless.

Julia Gillard, of course, refused to be drawn; in one way a sensible approach, but in another perhaps inadvisable given the sidestep of a women’s issue it represented.

But whether we’re talking about single mothers, or debating the merits of whether on an individual basis they are deserving or undeserving, or whether it’s even possible at all to live off what  a welfare payment delivers, there’s a bigger issue.

Simply, is Australia’s welfare system doing what it is intended to do?

Are we as a country — literally — getting value for the money we’re paying?

I don’t think so.

I have been on the record previously as stating that were it possible to weed the bludgers out — and there are many of them — the remaining, needy people could and should be paid more. It’s a position I stand by.

But, as ever, the devil is in the detail. How do you weed the bludgers out?

Certainly, it isn’t going to happen in a system based on lowest common denominator assumptions and fixed criteria that utterly ignore the personal circumstances of a given individual.

Age pensioners, obviously, deserve their money; again, were it affordable, I think they should be paid more.

Likewise disability and illness recipients who are assessed as being totally and permanently incapacitated — that, too, is a no-brainer.

But for most of the remainder of what is spent on welfare payments, a huge grey area exists.

And — at the outset — it has to be emphasised that a welfare payment has, in fact, been paid for by someone: be it a portion of the profits of business, or the taxation paid by other individuals on their income, people who have worked hard to generate wealth and income are the only reason such payments even exist.

There are those who believe it’s “government money” — ultimately, there is no such thing.

If we use the single mother scenario as an example, there is a clear difference between the woman on the run from a violent partner, with few if any skills, and the woman content to live off free payments until they eventually, some day, run out.

Or between the single mother with multiple young children whose time must clearly be spent in the home, and the woman whose children are all at school, who left the workforce to have children, and whose only real justification for doing no work is that she must be available at home at all times on the off-chance something happens with her kids at school.

These are different situations; why should the “solution” be uniform?

Or, looking to a scenario based on unemployment benefits rather than parenting payments, there is a major difference between someone with a family, obligations totalling perhaps thousands of dollars each month and great difficulty finding new work, and some bludger who has plenty to offer in employment but who opts to live in public housing, receiving every type of low-income assistance available, and is one individual who actually can live off the miserly stipend the dole represents.

And what of households in which one partner works part-time whilst the other, primary income-earning partner has lost their job; their savings exhausted and no employment being forthcoming despite frantic attempts to secure same, Newstart isn’t payable because the part-timer brings a few hundred after-tax dollars in each week, and the household faces bankruptcy and eviction as it collapses under the weight of its financial obligations?

Who are we kidding here?

And before anyone talks about pie-in-the-sky initiatives such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme — such as it is — it needs to be remembered that that actually needs taxpayer funding as well.

Perhaps one way to talk about moving ahead with welfare reform is to get case workers to do precisely that: actually evaluate cases based on the circumstances of the individual, rather than against some set criteria that don’t even reflect reality, let alone provide any assistance in any truly meaningful sense.

It might be that — parenting payments aside — a time-limited system based on, say, the minimum wage (several times the present rate of Newstart) provides a solution, whereby benefits are paid at a higher rate that more closely reflects the circumstances of the recipient, but which cut out after, say, six months.

The point is that this is a complex issue; there are no easy answers and, indeed, none of any value forthcoming from the present government.

The Coalition at least appears to be tossing around a plan to increase the amount dole recipients can earn before they start losing money from their welfare payments, but this is only marginally better than what is presently in place.

I don’t have the answers, of course, but I do believe that even on the handful of scenarios canvassed here, it’s obvious that drastic reform of Australia’s regime of welfare payments is urgently and critically overdue.

Rather than simply tinker with the existing reality, it may well be that the whole thing needs to be turned on its head and started again; reformed in such a way that genuinely needy people get real help, and that those simply with their hands out are given short shrift.

But the one thing I’m certain of is that half-arsed stunts about living off $38 per day and semantic squabbles over who said what will achieve nothing, and should be viewed as an indictment of whichever elected representative/s, of whichever political stripe, think it’s a good idea to engage in them.

What are your thoughts?



Fee-Free ATMs For Aborigines: Wayne Swan Gets It Wrong Yet Again

He’s done it again…Wayne Swan has provided more evidence, were any required, of how out of touch he is with community values; 76 ATMs in remote aboriginal communities will — from December — no longer charge transaction fees. The rest of the country, of course, will just keep paying.

An article appeared in the Fairfax press today, outlining the plan in which the 76 machines — spread across three states and the NT — will no longer charge customers for making withdrawals, balance enquiries, or other ATM transactions that otherwise would attract a fee.

These machines are located in some of the remotest aboriginal communities; often the inhabitants are poor, and have no choice of ATM provider when checking balances and whether benefits have been deposited and, if so, accessing those funds.

The plan sounds great: I’m sure it will make a great difference to aborigines in these towns who are more or less cut off from society.

And for the record, I am very happy for aborigines to have the benefit of this arrangement; it will save them a little money, and give them the sense of having a small win over the banks.

Yet this sort of thing makes me really angry; egotistical bubble of self-importance and Treasurer Wayne Swan — not content with his recent achievements in slugging it to “the rich” in the federal budget — is hailing this as a win for consumers. The scheme is being implemented by the banking sector on the recommendation of a joint Treasury and Reserve Bank task force.

Commenting on the scheme with Indigenous Affairs minister Jenny Macklin, Swan said: ‘‘Indigenous people and residents living in very remote communities often rely on a single ATM located in a community store owned by an independent ATM company to access their cash and check their account balance.’’

And The Age reports that thirteen banks and two independent ATM companies would do away with ATM transaction fees for their customers in “identified remote indigenous communities.”

I reiterate that I think it’s great that aborigines have got this deal; with some luck it will save them some inconvenience and a little money as they go about their lives.

The thing that incenses me about this announcement is that for tens of millions of Australians, this delivers nothing at a time of economic uncertainty and rocketing cost of living pressures; and it confirms Swan’s status — in the words of mining magnate Clive Palmer — as an economic pygmy when it comes to Swan’s dealings with the major banks on behalf of consumers.

Australia’s banks are raking in billions and billions of dollars in profits every year, and much of this comes directly out of the pockets of ordinary domestic consumers.

Many of these people are sensitive to movements in official interest rates, and the impact this has on their residential mortgages.

Over the past couple of years, they have grown accustomed to a few stern words being directed by Swan at the banks whenever they keep part of a cut, or pass on more than an official rise; but never more than that, and certainly never any action.

Now Swan comes out, all smiles, with a deal to abolish all ATM fees — for a few outback towns with perhaps, sight unseen, ten or twenty thousand people between them.

You see, the fact that it is aboriginal communities getting this deal — set up and brokered by Swan and his department — is unimportant on one level; it still leaves millions of people who will be slugged for using an ATM of any provider other than their own bank.

And can I just make the very obvious point that at times, even in urban areas, and even in places like here in inner Melbourne, people are often forced to pay ATM fees for the same reason — there is only one machine located within a reasonable distance.

Try getting money out at the MCG if you’re a Westpac customer — and try avoiding NAB’s withdrawal fee. There is no other machine within a 20 minute walk. It’s just an example, but by no means irrelevant or specious.

But on another level, the fact that it is aborigines receiving this deal is significant: it’s significant in the conceited little story the Labor government, through Swan where money is concerned, is attempting to construct, tell, and sell.

If you’re aboriginal; disabled; on welfare; a migrant; or from any other minority and/or disadvantaged group, this government is good at telling stories.

And as Swan proved in his recent budget, he too is adept at telling such stories.

There was a lot of fanfare about the ALP’s National Disability Insurance Scheme, with an impressive-sounding $1 billion aimed at the 400,000 Australians with permanent disabilities; the only catch is that in two years’ time — halfway through the period to which that money applies — just 5% of those 400,000 people are expected to have access to it.

So it is with this equally impressive-sounding, but similarly empty gesture aimed at aborigines; there are many, many indigenous people in this country who don’t live anywhere near 26 towns flung across three states and a territory who will get nothing from this, and a large number of those people have far more urgent needs of assistance than saving $2 at the local ATM.

You only have to get in a car and drive less than a mile or so from the centre of major regional towns like Broome, and Dubbo, and Kalgoorlie, to see aboriginal kids with their empty spirit bottles and petrol cans, passed out on the side of the road, to know that $2 at an ATM is the last thing they need.

These are just two examples among many that Swan and his colleagues have notched up in four and a half years in government.

And whilst a very small number of people will get some limited benefit from this latest initiative — just like the so-called NDIS — I would say to people in those groups and in those communities that far from helping you, this government is exploiting you; far from championing your issues and your causes, this government is tokenising them.

To the rest of the people who live in this country — who are being gouged at one end with usurious fees and charges, and ripped off at the other by the rocketing price of everyday essentials — a Treasurer who can’t stand up to the banking sector over interest rate rises, when it is pocketing billions of dollars in exactly the type of transaction fees he is trumpeting the waiver of in the initiative outlined here, is a joke.

Sadly, the fee-free ATMs for the rural communities involved present just another photo opportunity, just a little more spin and empty media space, and just another reason to send a press release; the official story is that the government is “helping,” but the reality is rather different.

And if anyone wants to defend Swan, or the government, over this latest half-baked initiative — saying “at least it’s a start” or something similar — I would respond very strongly that this is not “a start:” it’s just a stunt.

But then again, with this government and this Treasurer, it’s always just a stunt.


Comments must keep to the point; anything racist will be deleted as soon as I see it.