It’s been over a decade since the implementation of the racist Northern Territory Intervention, and the situation facing Indigenous people is no better. One of the key features of the Intervention was the rollout of the BasicsCard. It was initially introduced to 73 Aboriginal communities, but has since been expanded to many other parts of the country.
The BasicsCard is a form of state enforced income management. This is a punitive and racist scheme where between 50% and 100% of a person’s welfare payment is quarantined onto a cashless card. This money can only be spent on basic items like clothing and food, and it can only be used at specific retailers. Cash cannot be withdrawn from ATMs.
Far from doing anything to address the issues of poverty and a lack of services in Aboriginal communities, the BasicsCard has only made things more difficult.
Unemployed people living in remote communities, the majority of whom are Indigenous, are also being forced into the cynically misnamed Community Development Program (CDP). It’s a ‘work for the dole’ program where those receiving income support payments have to undertake “work preparation activities” for up to 25 hours a week.
Welfare should act as a safety net to provide a decent standard of living for those who, for whatever reason, are unable to work. Instead it is being used as a coercive and manipulative tool for the capitalist class to extract as much from the working class and poor as they possibly can.
The work preparation activities that Aboriginal people are forced to undertake in exchange for below poverty payments fall into two basic categories.
There are those that perpetuate racist stereotypes and help to cultivate malleable communities that are deferential to capitalistic authority, such as women’s hygiene classes or trinket making.
Then there are the activities that are actually real jobs that need doing and the people doing them should be getting real wages, such as gardening and furniture making.
Not only are the people doing this work not being paid a living wage but a missed activity can result in a financial penalty, from $50 a day, to a punishment of up to 8 weeks without any payments.
According to the spin of both the Liberal Party who introduced the Intervention, and the Labor Party who happily continued on with it when in power, the motivation behind the Intervention, the CDP and Income Management is to reduce welfare dependency and foster self-sufficiency.
But the real motivation behind these racist policies is to make it impossible for Aboriginal people to live in remote communities. These communities are on mineral-rich land that mining magnates like Andrew Forrest and Gina Reinhardt feel entitled to plunder.
While the government works on pushing everyone off the literal gold mines that are remote communities, Income Management and ‘work for the dole’ act to strengthen the big business agenda.
They create a false image of lazy dole bludgers who can’t be trusted with even the meagre welfare payments they receive.
This false image helps to divide those who work from those who don’t. The bosses and the politicians who represent them hope that we will be too busy fighting amongst ourselves to notice that they are exploiting us all.
The horrendous circumstances that welfare recipients are forced to endure puts them under pressure to take any job, regardless of the pay and conditions.
Wage levels are determined by the lowest rate in the market. ‘Work for the dole’ means that the lowest wages are essentially equivalent to around $6 an hour. This puts downward pressure on everyone’s wages as people compete for jobs.
Socialists demand that these schemes are scrapped and that everyone is guaranteed a living wage, either from a welfare payment or secure employment.
It’s not as if there is no work to be done. We desperately need more public housing, more hospitals, schools, childcare centres and public transport.
There is more than enough wealth in society to pay for all of this, and for every person to have an income that ensures they have a decent life, but this wealth is hoarded by the rich. Only by breaking with capitalism and building a socialist society can we create a system that truly meets people’s needs.
By a Centrelink worker