The ‘Income Management’ Disgrace: Confessions of a Welfare Dependent

Brace yourselves fellow law school colleagues. It might come as a shock to some of you when I proudly confess that I have been, and always will be, welfare dependent.

I was raised by a single mother of three in the Collingwood Commission high-rise apartments. Our brave mother, who migrated from Turkey when she was 18, made ends meet by working two jobs – a part-time teacher at our local kindergarten by day, and a cleaner at the same kindergarten by night. Mum also assumed the responsibility of full-time caretaker of our grandmother after she fell critically ill. The years of laborious exertion of transporting gran and hauling a heavy backpack-style vacuum cleaner eventually took its toll on her lower-back, and after gran succumbed to her illness, mum transformed from an employed caretaker to an unemployed patient.

Throughout our high school years, our family unit relied on a Disability Pension and ‘government handouts’ became our only means of survival.

Years later, whilst sitting in my Taxation Law elective, I was astonished to discover that I would continue to obtain the benefit of ‘government handouts’ throughout my professional legal career. These government handouts, however, were carefully guised by the corporate world as tax deductions, offsets, and subsidies. I could, for example, utilise Mr Lindsay Fox’s genius government handout idea of opening my collection of exquisite Ferrari’s and Porsche’s to public view for one day a fortnight and call it Ali’s Classic Car Collection to obtain a 100% tax write-off. I learnt that the government would also not differentiate in providing me a handout for flying First Class to the next Human Rights Conference at Geneva whilst sipping my complimentary Comtes de Champagnefor a whopping $9,500 each way, instead of the $2,000 which I would otherwise pay in Economy Class.

These lavish handouts were usurped from my mother when she literally broke her back to support our family. But to add insult to her injury, the Commonwealth Government would now like to subject my mother’s weekly payments of $300 to a demeaning ‘Commonwealth Income Management’ regime over the coming years.

Initially developed in 2007 as a part of the Northern Territory Emergency Response, the Greater Shepparton region in Victoria is one of five national jurisdictions earmarked for a five-year trial of the Income Management regime.[1] Starting in July this year, the Income Management scheme will apply to all ‘vulnerable welfare recipients’[2] and parents with dependents involved in the DHS child protection system.[3] Recipients on the regime will have 50-70% of their welfare payments quarantined, forcing them to shop at selected retail outlets on a ‘Basics Card’ in lieu of their welfare payments – currently limited to Coles, Target, Kmart and Bi-Lo. Recipients will not be permitted to use their Basics Card to purchase alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, pornographic material, home brew concentrates/kits, or gambling services.

Evidence provided to the Senate Inquiry Committee distressingly divulged that Northern Territory recipients were made to line up in separate queues in major shopping centres after all checkout registers did not cater for the Basics Card.[4]The scheme also impeded on the recipient’s freedom to shop at the local fruit shop, deli, butcher, or other major food stores such as Aldi, where food could be purchased at a considerably cheaper price.

The obvious revolt against the regime is that it blatantly treats welfare recipients as second-class citizens by fostering discrimination, limiting freedom of movement, and contravening the recipients right to privacy and protection of reputation – all of which are fundamental rights supposedly enshrined in our Victorian Charter of Rights.[5] The regime emulates the dreadful ‘food voucher’ scheme in the US, where welfare recipients are currently scorned by shop staff for using their Basics Card to make ‘extravagant purchases’ such as, ‘steak, lobsters, and birthday cakes’.[6] I implore you to read the deplorable sentiment of a US Walmart checkout girl in the link at the end of this post and think hard about whether this is what Australian’s aspire to be.

Growing up in the fringes of our society, I know too well that certain welfare recipients require professional assistance in managing finances, substance addictions, gambling addictions, and raising families. However, I also know that these are not isolated attributes of the indigent class. All societal echelons face the same social difficulties, but it’s evidently the marginalised who are profiled by government authorities and socially deprived of the dignity to correct their ways. Forcing welfare recipients to wear a WWII Gold Star in the shape of a Basics Card is but a perfect example. It’s outrageous and offensive.

George Orwell once wrote that ‘ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL, BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS’, and it’s an absolute disgrace that the more I experience life, the more this statement holds true!

Ali Besiroglu

Walmart staff member shares her views on US welfare reform: click here

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[1] The regime is implemented via convoluted federal legislation, namely, the Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) and the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 (Cth), Pt 3B.
[2] Decided by Centrelink social workers, recipients will include those who are facing financial hardship, financial exploitation, lack of reasonable self-care, or risk of homelessness.
[3] DHS criteria has not been published, but the decision will be left to the discretion of child protection officers. However, if we employ the Northern Territory’s Family Responsibilities Commission model ‘there are four triggers’ which can activate intervention – namely, a ‘court conviction, a breach of a tenancy agreement, a child safety notification, and a failure of a child to attend school for three days in one term’.
[4] Carol Carter, the Deputy Chairperson of the Bankstown Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Committee, evidenced this to the Senate Inquiry Committee.
[5] See Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic), ss 8, 12, 13.
[6] Christine Rousselle, ‘My Time at Walmart: Why We Need Serious Welfare Reform’ The College Conservative Blog [online].