Bishop cautions on income management
Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, Bishop Christopher Saunders, has urged politicians to remember the dignity and rights of Indigenous people as Senators vote this week on a Bill related to income management under the Northern Territory Emergency Response.
The Rudd Government has said it would reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) following criticisms of its suspension, which allowed income management and other restrictions under the Northern Territory Intervention. However, the legislation now before Parliament seeks to do this by widening the application of income management to non-Indigenous Australians in the Northern Territory.
"Technically speaking, it may be claimed that the legislation satisfies the RDA. However, since the majority of Territorians receiving welfare are Indigenous, the policy will continue to impact most heavily on Indigenous people as a group," Bishop Saunders said.
"We also have to ask who makes the decisions about income management. Will it be applied by officials who have little connection with Indigenous people or possess little understanding of the complexities of the issues involved? What qualifications will be employed to select those who will have extraordinary power over the income and lives of powerless people?"
Bishop Saunders said compulsory income management alone will not address the underlying causes of poverty and disadvantage.
"A rigid focus on compliance or a policy that implies that 'we know what is best' or 'it is all for their own good' risks adopting the kind of attitude that gave rise to policies behind the Stolen Generations," Bishop Saunders said.
"In 2007, at the very inception of the NT Intervention, the Catholic Bishops of Australia urged a supportive and empowering response: 'We need to ensure the full range of culturally appropriate support services to address this issue and foster strong families and communities. The response must be respectful of Indigenous culture and identity, and must be undertaken in full and genuine partnership with Aboriginal communities themselves. History clearly demonstrates that effective solutions cannot simply be imposed from above.'
"That statement is as relevant today as it was three years ago."
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