Senate debates

Tuesday, 20 June 2017


Social Services Legislation Amendment (Queensland Commission Income Management Regime) Bill 2017; Second Reading

6:49 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Queensland Commission Income Management Regime) Bill 2017. This bill amends the Social Security (Administration) Act to enable a two-year continuation of the income management element of Cape York welfare reform in the communities of Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge. The Cape York Welfare Reform is an initiative of the Cape York Partnership, an Indigenous organisation that has led a wide-ranging reform agenda in Cape York. And although not formally part of the Cape York Welfare Reform partnership, this bill also applies to the community of Doomadgee. The Commonwealth government announced in the 2017-18 budget that it will extend income management in all five locations for two years until 30 June 2019, so this bill extends by two years the income management component of the Cape York Welfare Reform.

Labor will support this bill following consultations with local communities, and as a result of a Senate committee inquiry that Labor insisted on so that the parliament was able to receive submissions from the local stakeholders in the Cape. The feedback from local groups is that income management in Cape York is working and having a positive impact on the local communities. I want to detail some of those views for the Senate. The BBN Aboriginal Corporation in Mossman Gorge says:

There is a broad base of support in Mossman Gorge for the direction of the reform journey that we have been on and need to stay on. Welfare Reform has supported good progress but still there is still a lot to be done.

In their submission, the Coen Regional Aboriginal Corporation said:

Giving local people real power to hold other community members to account through the FRC gets our 100% support.

They note that:

Coen now has the best school attendance of any Indigenous community school in Queensland and we are the only one that can beat the Queensland Average School Attendance.

The Aurukun Shire Council said:

The FRC must stay strong for our people. In Aurukun we have been down a hard road but we need to keep on going to make more positive changes.

The Hope Vale Aboriginal Shire Council stated:

In Hope Vale the FRC has done some very good work since 2008, especially in terms of school attendance … The FRC and Cape York Welfare Reform have made big, transformational changes to our community and this is very clear to people that knew this place beforehand and now.

The Cape York Institute made it clear:

Income Management applied through the FRC model gives Indigenous people the power and authority to help their own community members build basic capability to understand their primary obligations to their children and their community, and their obligation to use welfare payments to pay the rent and electricity, and to provide food and clothing for the household.

They further note:

A number of people, particularly women stay on Income Management because it protects them from humbugging. This is not a sign of further dependency, but a sign of people wanting to meet their basic responsibilities using the best methods available to them.

The Cape York Institute also expressed concern that many of the advances made as a result of income management in the region would be lost if the system was to abruptly end on 30 June 2017.

This last point is an important one. The existing arrangements are due to expire on 30 June, and the manner in which this government has handled this legislation has been disappointing. Unfortunately, this legislation has been rushed through by the government, allowing only a very short Senate inquiry. The government could have introduced this legislation into the parliament months ago so as to enable a more thorough consultative process. The last evaluation of the Cape York Welfare Reform was released in 2012, so in our view it is time that an updated evaluation be carried out. There really should have been a further evaluation before this extension. We call on the government to make sure that a proper independent evaluation is done in the next two years. Nonetheless, we are satisfied that the continuation of income management does have the support of the leadership of the local communities and we will support this bill today.

Labor believes in community-driven approaches to deal with chronic alcohol abuse. Any legislation that extends income management in a particular jurisdiction must be driven and supported by the local community. We understand that the vast majority of social security recipients are more than capable of managing their personal finances. However, where individual communities believe that income management can make a positive difference we will discuss it with them. Labor's position on income management is very simple. We do not believe it should be rolled out on the national scale. We do not believe it should be imposed on communities that do not want it.

Shadow Minister Macklin has personally spoken with the mayors in each of the communities in the area affected by this legislation. They believe that income management is a positive thing for their communities and they support its continuation. As the Indigenous affairs minister in the previous Labor government, Shadow Minister Macklin was responsible for working with the Aboriginal leaders in the Cape to deliver these changes. The Cape York Partnership's work is based on the principles set out in Noel Pearson's 2005 Cape York agenda. The Cape York Welfare Reform Agenda aims to support people in the communities of Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge to take responsibility for the wellbeing of their families and their communities. The primary aim is to ensure that kids are safe, fed and educated.

The Family Responsibilities Commission was established under Queensland legislation in 2008. As the Family Responsibilities Commission's submission sets out, local commissioners are elders or respected community members who encourage individuals appearing before the commission to take the necessary steps to make lasting changes that will benefit their health, wellbeing, home and community life. The submission goes on to say:

The Local Commissioners have continued to grow in local authority since 2008 with the majority of conferences being conducted in the four Welfare Reform Communities without the presence of the Commissioner or his Deputy Commissioner in the financial year to date.

All Commissioners have equal authority in the decision-making process.

The authority of the FRC is the strength of its Local Commissioners, with decisions in conference involving community members (FRC clients) being made by their own Indigenous leaders.

The commission commenced operating on 1 July 2008 and conferencing began on 12 August 2008, with the first sitting being held in Coen. The primary objective of the commission, as set out in the FRC Act, is to hold conferences with community members to encourage individuals and families to engage in socially responsible standards of behaviour whilst promoting the interests, rights and wellbeing of children and other vulnerable persons living in the community.

The commission may work with a community member who is a social security recipient living in an area prescribed by regulation as a welfare reform community, if the person or their partner is in receipt of certain welfare payments. The FRC can direct part of an individual's income support payments to be managed by Centrelink to pay for the priority needs of their family. The percentage of payment income managed varies between 60 per cent, 75 per cent or 90 per cent.

Since Cape York Welfare Reform began in July 2008, the four communities have seen improved school attendance, care and protection of children and community safety. A 2012 evaluation of Cape York Welfare Reform found that progress has been made at the foundational level in stabilising social circumstances and fostering behavioural change, particularly in the areas of sending children to school, caring for children and increasing individual responsibility.

I want to reiterate that the most recent evaluation of income management was in Cape York in 2012. A further evaluation is overdue. We thank the various local community groups for making submissions to the Senate inquiry at very late notice. Those submissions have played an important role in showing that the communities support the continuation of income management in Cape York. On that basis Labor will support this bill.


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