Senate debates

Tuesday, 20 June 2017


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

6:48 pm

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—


This Bill will amend the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 to allow the Income Management element of Cape York Welfare Reform to continue for two additional years until 30 June 2019.

Income Management ensures welfare payments are used to meet the essential needs of vulnerable people and their dependents.

Income Management sets aside a percentage of a recipient's welfare payment to ensure it can only be spent on priority goods and services such as food, housing, clothing, education and health care.

People on Income Management are also provided with support to improve money management skills. Centrelink assists Income Management participants to identify expenses and helps them budget so their welfare payments can meet these expenses.

Income Management supports 25,693 vulnerable people in locations across Australia, including individuals referred by child protection authorities.

Funding for Income Management was due to cease on 30 June 2017. Government has decided to extend Income Management in all existing locations until

30 June 2019.

Extending Income Management for two years ensures continuity of support for vulnerable participants while allowing Government time to work through future directions for welfare quarantining.

There are high risks associated with ceasing Income Management without a mechanism to replace it.

An influx of cash into Income Management sites could lead to an increase in levels of violence, hospitalisation and abuse.

Income Management also increases food security in communities as it encourages community stores to stock plenty of food and household goods. If Income Management ceased on 30 June 2017, this could be compromised.

Income Management in Cape York is the only Income Management measure with a legislated sunset date. Current legislation allows for all other Income Management measures to continue beyond 30 June 2017.

Cape York Welfare Reform is a partnership between the communities of Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge, the Australian Government, the Queensland Government and the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership. It aims to restore local Indigenous authority, rebuild social norms, encourage positive behaviours, and improve economic and living conditions.

Income Management is an important component of Cape York Welfare Reform. Currently, a person can be placed on to Income Management after a decision by the Family Responsibilities Commission made before 1 July 2017. Where welfare recipients are referred to the Commission, the Commission can also discuss the issues with the individual and link them with relevant support services.

Cape York Welfare Reform commenced in the four partnership communities on

1 July 2008.

In 2016, Income Management was extended to the community of Doomadgee. Doomadgee is not formally part of the Cape York Welfare Reform Partnership, however the same referral pathway for Income Management applied in the four communities applies in Doomadgee.

There are currently 196 participants on Income Management in Cape York and Doomadgee.

The Income Management component of the Cape York Welfare Reform is a powerful tool, designed to be used both as a mechanism for ensuring that welfare payments are spent on necessities and as an incentive for individuals to engage with social supports and make positive behavioural change.

The approach of Cape York Welfare Reform has yielded positive results for both individuals and communities.

Participating communities have seen significant improvements to their economic and living conditions.

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. This was particularly in the areas of sending children to school, caring for children and increasing individual responsibility.

The evaluation also found there was evidence that Income Management assists in reducing behaviours that lead people to being referred to the Family Responsibilities Commission.

Further, 78 per cent of income managed people surveyed reported that the program had made their lives better.

This Bill extends the date before which the Families Responsibilities Commission can make a decision to place a person on Income Management to 1 July 2019. This enables Income Management to continue in Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale, Mossman Gorge and Doomadgee for a further two years.

This amendment aligns with the end date of Income Management in all existing locations across Australia.

The proposed approach to the extension of Income Management in Cape York was discussed with Queensland Government and the Cape York Partnership which agreed this was the best approach and met the needs of Cape York Welfare Reform at this time.

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.

7:00 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Queensland Commission Income Management Regime) Bill 2017. This bill extends the income management element of the Cape York Welfare Reform initiative for a further two years. The Greens, as I am sure everybody in this place knows, have opposed compulsory income management since it was introduced by the Howard government in 2007. In fact, the 10th anniversary is tomorrow, and I will speak further on that in my adjournment contribution. This will occur in the communities of Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale, Mossman Gorge and Doomadgee. Income management there is part of a sanction that can be imposed by the Families Responsibilities Commission on individuals who have breached their obligations. I should note here that this is a very different sort of approach to addressing some of the issues in communities, and it is very different to the Northern Territory intervention. However, it still includes a compulsory income management component. We do not support that. Income management is also intended to act as a deterrent to encourage individuals to uphold their obligations.

There was an extremely short Senate committee inquiry into this bill, where no hearing took place. I am extremely critical of that for two reasons. One is because we received very few submissions. We received no submissions from individuals, because they simply did not have time and there was not time to adequately contact them. Those are the people that I want to hear from—the people that this affects. We heard from organisations, but we did not hear from other organisations that we would have heard from if there had been more time. We also would have had time to listen to the evidence about outcomes from this process. There were only seven submissions received, none of which provided any documented evidence. There was a lot of talk about perceptions about how things are better. I clearly remember that that is what happened during the intervention and some of the evaluations there. There were perceptions that thing were better. When those were actually tested, in fact the outcomes in those communities were the same as comparable communities that did not have income management. So I am very wary when we talk about 'perceived as better' when that is not properly evaluated through properly conducted, peer reviewed evaluations.

The major source of information about income management in Cape York is the evaluation report commissioned by the government in 2012. In fact it was unable to demonstrate conclusively that income management in Cape York had met its stated aims. This is the same thing that happened with the Northern Territory intervention, where the final evaluation in fact showed that the intervention met none of its objectives. The evaluation found that there had been some improvements in areas such as school attendance and reductions in crime. However, income management is just one of the number of measures that have been implemented by the Cape York Welfare Reform initiative, and which contributes to these changes. Two of the evaluation report's authors, Ilan Katz and Margaret Raven, subsequently noted in the Indigenous Law Bulletin that it is difficult to draw conclusions from this given that many other Indigenous communities in Queensland have also shown the same improvements. In other words, you cannot prove that income management is the tool that has driven these particular changes. In the report it states:

… the evidence suggests that the impact of the local FRC Commissioners is in their listening, guiding and supporting role, rather than in the exercising of their punitive powers to order income management.

It also states in the report:

The data indicate that some community members had become habituated to income management or had found ways around it. This appears in some cases to have produced unintended consequences, such as clients on income management harassing relatives for access to alcohol or drugs. It appears that for this group income management (and welfare reform more generally) has little effect.

The evaluation report also notes that there is some community dissent about income management and the basics card, including concern about the paternalistic nature of the intervention. The majority report said that the committee inquiry points to a survey conducted as part of the evaluation, saying that 78 per cent of people said that they felt their lives were better. I refer again to the Northern Territory intervention where people said that they felt their lives were better when, in fact, a proper qualitative and quantitative analysis showed that there was not any difference between the outcomes in that community and other communities.

On the weight of evidence, the Australian Greens believe that income management is a failed and expensive policy that the government is persisting with in the absence of real justification. Compulsory income management is a paternalistic top-down approach. Voluntary income management is something different and should be treated differently. There are a number of other programs that are not coercive in nature, such as Centrepay, that could be used to help people manage their money better. I also think that the sorts of supports that the FRC provides, which is that guidance and that support that was articulated in the report, mean we can better support people, offer wrap-around services and ensure they get access to the services that are needed.

We do support direct investment in programs and communities that address the underlying causes of disadvantage that people are facing, rather than income management which is expensive to implement and does not address the underlying causes. Money spent on income management around Australia could be better invested directly in communities in order to provide specialist direct programs—for example, to better assist the FRC in terms of better access to programs such as financial management, some of those wrap-around services, education and better access to fresh food et cetera.

We do not believe that the evidence supports the continuation of compulsory income management. We do not support this bill, but we do acknowledge the work of the Families Responsibilities Commission. We do acknowledge that it was a different approach taken to the intervention; however, we do not think compulsory income management works. The evidence is not there. There has not been any further evaluation to back up the government rolling out another two years of income management—there has been no evaluation of that program since 2012. The evaluation of the Northern Territory intervention, which was subsequent to that, shows that the Northern Territory intervention and new income management did not meet their objectives. I think we need to be better evaluating Cape York, and look at where we can invest the resources that are committed. I do not mind the resources being committed; I just object to the way that those resources are being committed. We do not support this bill.

7:07 pm

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank all senators who have contributed. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I ask that the Greens dissent be recorded.

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Greens dissent is so recorded.