Rebuilding trust with indigenous communities the first step

Larissa Behrendt

National Times, March 22, 2011

Lack of housing has also caused indigenous people to move from their communities to towns like Alice Springs. Photo: Angela Wylie

Alice Springs is a town unlike any other and to an outsider its racial tensions are noticeable. Walking through the shopping centre one sees security guards tell Aboriginal people to move on when they are window shopping. Poverty and homelessness are visible – and visibly black.

It has always been a town that has struggled dealing with this visible poverty – and the less visible disadvantage of the communities in the town camps.

Now it is in the spotlight again with a rise in social problems caused by an influx of Aboriginal people from other places. Tony Abbott has weighed in on the issue, acknowledging that a large number of problems have occurred because Aboriginal people from remote towns have moved into larger towns like Alice Springs wanting to get their hands on some grog.

To say this movement is caused by the need to access alcohol oversimplifies both the reasons for the population movement and the reasons why difficult social problems are occurring. Alcohol is a factor but it’s not the only one. Lack of housing and investment in services has also caused people to move from their communities. Lack of adequate housing and the failure of other services to meet the demands of new arrivals has exacerbated the situation in Alice Springs.

Yes, excessive alcohol consumption is making the issues associated with endemic poverty much worse, and its consumption is one of the key issues that need to be addressed. But the clear message for policy makers and politicians to come from this movement to Alice Springs is that alcohol bans have not stopped the drinking; they have only moved the problem.

The problem with these issues is that there is no robust policy analysis of whether these strategies are working. Labor opposition unquestioningly supported the intervention mechanisms, including income management and compulsory leasing, and the bipartisan approach has meant that neither party has played a true opposition role. Neither party is looking thoroughly at where policy failure is occurring and offering alternative policy approaches. Instead, the debate between the major parties becomes a match about who can be toughest with the current policies. This is unfortunate because if any area needed fresh thinking and robust analysis it is in the area of indigenous affairs.

Claims of success with the intervention are empty – and unhelpful – rhetoric. There is no evidence of improved outcomes in the governments figures. Anemia rates and malnutrition rates have increased; so too have suicide rates. The Indigenous Doctors Association have raised concerns about the psychological impact some of the policies are having on the Aboriginal people subjected to them. There have been increases in violence and school attendance rates are slightly less than what they were when the intervention was put in place.

The intervention was rushed into vulnerable communities with no consultation with indigenous people or the health, education and other experts working with them. Some of these mechanisms – like compulsory income management for anyone on a welfare payment whether their children went to school or not, whether they had children or not – were some of the harshest policies being trialled in the country. Robust analysis of the impact and consequences would seem like common sense. Any of the usual mechanisms of review of the impact of a government policy on an individual to ensure it is not unfair or illegal or discriminatory were taken away.

The shift of the problems around excessive drinking to Alice Springs gives rise to two lessons. And neither of them are new. Firstly there is a need to not just consider alcohol bans but to address the underlying causes of dysfunction that lead to alcohol abuse. Abbott’s call for better rehabilitation services needs to be emphasised rather than his calls for more police.

Abbott continues to call for tougher welfare measures on the parents of children not attending school. Apart from the fact that the current implementation of the policy has not led to increased attendance rates, he is overlooking research that shows that parental attitudes are only one reason, and not the main one, why Aboriginal children don’t attend school. Factors that contribute more to Aboriginal children skipping school include the culture of the school and the standard of teaching. Again Abbott’s call for more experienced teachers in these areas is overshadowed by his call for punitive measures against parents. This emphasis needs to be reversed.

The second lesson is the need to talk to the Aboriginal leadership within Alice Springs in order to ensure more effective action. Engaging the indigenous leadership in the Northern Territory, especially in the places subject to the intervention was not done when it was rolled out in 2007. Research continues to show that to improve their socio-economic circumstances, indigenous people need to be centrally involved in the policy making and design of services going into their communities. There needs to be partnership with government and trust. Neither the Howard or Rudd/Gillard governments have sought to give Aboriginal people a stronger, leading role in the solutions.

Discussions with people taking the lead in their communities would quickly reveal that they have a better understanding of the causes of the problems and much more effective solutions. Simple but effective ideas such as dry out shelters and breakfast or homework programs were not thought up in Canberra and imposed. They were the thoughtful initiatives of Aboriginal people facing problems in their communities that they wanted to solve.

Start rebuilding a relationship with the people in communities like Alice Springs who may be able to assert some moral authority and leadership amongst their community and more effective and innovative solutions may start to occur. Continue to intervene on the assumption that everyone is part of the problem and the big old mess will continue.

Larissa Behrendt holds the Chair of Indigenous Research at the University of Technology, Sydney.

 From crikey.com.au
Eva Cox writes:
Mal Brough, creator of the Northern Territory intervention, declared last Saturday that it was a failure, Jenny Macklin, not surprisingly, denies failure and claims it is both proceeding and succeeding.I agree with Brough that the intervention was a failure but not for the reasons he has stated. He claims the ALP government has gone soft and failed to follow up, which is odd because the enthusiastic Macklin has fairly faithfully followed his plan but adding even more prescriptive constraints.

Except for the income management re-design, to allow the reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act, the current policies retain the basic assumptions that Aboriginal communities need paternalistic controls over their lives and institutions. This top down approach of infantilising welfare recipients/communities is oddly assumed to create individualistic “responsibility”, despite no evidence from here or elsewhere that it works.

The intervention has failed because of what was done and the way it was done, and it did not consult or engage with local people or, in many cases, address their problems. More police were often useful, but not more Canberra bureaucrats and business managers. Lots of money went on managing incomes, not improving the services. Reform of the stores was useful but did not need to part of the other processes. Land grabs, embarrassing signs and many other offensive parts of the process cause other problems, some of which led
to people moving away.

Unemployment increased. Unwinding CDEP reduced local activities, adding to boredom and so on. The whole process was fatally flawed by the top down processes, the lack of effective consultation, either initially or in its more recent redesign.

So an argument in the media about whether Brough or Macklin got it right is not the point. One major error is the NT and Canberra support reducing housing and services to outstations and some smaller settlements to pressure their residents to move to urban hubs. This ignores evidence of better health and other benefits in these settlements and the current Alice experience of what happens when people are moved into hubs. The displaced drunks and disruptive footloose youth who have moved to Alice show how flawed that idea is.  

Nicholas Rothwell is responsible for putting the local problems that some claim are being addressed, into current national interest in his article in The Australian, which is more diatribe than journalism. He claims:

Alice Springs is a township fast spiralling out of control. All the elements for turmoil are present: deep, cold fury among the mainstream population, a reckless gloom among the young bush people loitering here, vast demand for marijuana and a limitless supply, bad, reactive politics, a lack of new ideas, a need for drastic measures and a refusal even to debate the reforms that might have a chance.

… The interesting question today is not whether the authorities charged with the town’s stewardship can manage or suppress the tensions so sharply in the air. It is rather this: will Alice Springs survive in its present form for another 10 years?

Does this type of exposure serve well the distressed victims, black and white? There are problems that need to be addressed but there this type of moral panic style of revelations does not serve to solve problems well. It leads to facile political acts or maybe encourages local vigilante actions and more divisions as people posture for a national audience.

Rothwell’s dramatic and dire warnings, scenes of despair, degradation and incompetence make it a major issue. Brough steps in and we have the basis for more knee-jerk politics. Do classic media based “moral panic” serve the needs of any of the affected groups? Rothwell almost acknowledges this, way down towards the end of his dramatic prose:

In many journalistic reports on the modern frontier, and the nation’s persisting remote area crisis, there’s a tendency to paint things dark: to reach for shock effects, the better to highlight the need for action. But he goes straight on the say In this case, exaggeration’s not even an option. The town is on the brink — of who knows what?

This dire tone may reflect his personal involvement in this, as his partner, not mentioned in the article, is a dissident member of the NT parliament and deeply involved politically. However, we need to learn from other experiences of moral media panics on the NT.

The current shock horror reminds us of what started the original Howard intervention. In an election year he used the media stories and an NT report on possible child s-xual abuse as triggers for action. There is limited evidence that child s-x abuse was the problem in 2007 and nearly four years later, no evidence that the intervention has reduced child s-xual abuse or protected the children in any significant way. The implicit conclusion of a recent report to the NT government on their child protection situation failed to mention the intervention either as a factor in alleviating problems or as a partner in future activities.

There is also no evidence from the various statistics that the NT government and AIHW produce about the NT that there has been any significant reductions in relevant crime statistics or health admissions relating to this areas. On Monday, The Australian continues its tirades by claiming child pr-stitution trade in Alice but ends its article with a quote from the mayor Damien Ryan. On Sunday, he was arguing that the intervention had been detrimental to the city — even though it is not one of the prescribed areas.

“You have to understand that Alice Springs is the centre for 260 remote communities,” Ryan said. “A lot of people living under the conditions of the intervention have decided to move into areas like Alice Springs — that puts immense stress on all of our services here.”

This statement does not suggest success for the intervention and supports the calls from many, including many Aboriginal elders and the UN, for serious change not gut reactions to bad media.


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health

16 February 2011 – 9:30am


The gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians remains one of the most compelling health problems confronting Australia today. The higher prevalence of a range of chronic and communicable diseases and social and emotional health problems among Indigenous peoples is unacceptable. There is a limited health and medical workforce providing culturally appropriate primary care services for Indigenous Australians, and a range of social, environmental and economic factors act to entrench health problems. A concerted effort is needed to improve the access of Indigenous Australians to high quality health care if the gap in life expectancy is to be closed within a generation.

Key issues for patients

The very poor health status of Australia’s Indigenous peoples is a disaster for them and an indictment of the nation as a whole. With the right support and access to appropriate health care, Indigenous people can develop practical solutions and preventive approaches to some of the health-related problems in their communities. It is important to engage Indigenous people in their own health care solutions.

Key issues for the Government

Australia’s health system is undergoing major reform, including the creation of regionalised primary health care organisations that have potential to promote best practice and continuity of care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. COAG’s agreement for the Federal Government to take 100 per cent funding responsibility for GP, primary care and aged care services provides an opportunity for one level of government to ensure that funding is channelled to where it is most needed.


The AMA welcomed and supported the 2008 COAG National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes, then funded at $805 million over four years. The AMA calls on the Government to develop and implement in partnership with Indigenous people a long-term national strategic plan to improve the health of Indigenous people, with tangible intermediate goals. In addition, the AMA calls for further funding to be included in the forthcoming Budget for the following immediate priorities:

  • expansion of the workforce for Indigenous health, through additional grants to enhance infrastructure and services, to allow Aboriginal Medical Services to offer mentoring and training in Indigenous health in Indigenous communities to Indigenous and non-Indigenous medical students and vocational trainees, and offer salary and conditions for doctors working in Aboriginal Medical Services that are comparable to those of State salaried doctors;
  • development of a network of Centres of Excellence in Indigenous Health across Australia to act as training and research hubs for medical professionals seeking high quality practical experience and accreditation in Indigenous health;
  • $10 million per annum over 10 years to fund grants to NGOs and community groups for healthrelated capacity building in Indigenous communities throughout Australia; and
  • measures to improve urgently all of the social determinants of health in Indigenous communities.

It is an imperative that the transfer of 100 per cent of primary health care funding responsibility to the Federal Government does not disadvantage community-based Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services, and that the Federal Government fully replaces funding that was provided to those services from other sources, such as State governments and local councils.


Sinem Saban and Damien Curtis’s documentary examining the state of indigenous rights in Australia offers an insight into years of neglect, ignorance and stereotyping. But it also offers the hope that things could change.

This past Sunday John Cleary did a very good show on the Northern Territory Intervention. He talked to Malcolm Fraser, Sir Alistair Nicholson, Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM from Galiwin’ku, Djapirri Mununggirritj from Nhulunbuy and Rosalie Kunoth-Monks OAM from Utopia. He was joined by Graeme Mundine and Jeff McMullen. If you missed the show you can listen to it from the website either by podcast, MP3 or windows media.


 From the ABC website.

This week Prime Minister Julia Gillard delivered the third Prime Ministerial Speech on ‘Closing the Gap’ on indigenous disadvantage. The tone was one of cautious optimism, but for many, government policy continues to be dominated by the shadow of the intervention, a return to paternalism that threatens the very foundations of indigenous recovery

Today marks the 3rd anniversary of our national apology to indigenous Australians, and this week the Gillard government presented the 3rd closing the gap report. Both events occur in the shadow of the continuing Intervention strategy implemented under the Howard government and continued by Labor. A Conversation with the Elders, brought together from both European and Indigenous Australia, to hear Elders from the Northern Territory and Central Australia, reflect on how government policies, particularly the intervention are affecting their communities. Tonight we pick up the threads of that conversation to share it with you and perhaps get some of your observations. In a few moments we will be hearing from both aboriginal and European Australian elders, including Rev Djiniyini Gondarra, Malcolm Fraser and Sir Alastair Nicholson.

In studio are Jeff McMullen, a distinguished former foreign correspondent and reporter for both 4 Corners and 60 minutes, who for many years has been actively engaged with indigenous issues, and acted as the facilitator at the recent Conversation with the Elders. Also in the studio we welcome back Graeme Mundine, who has recently taken up a role as indigenous advisor to the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.

The Prime Minster yesterday released the Closing the Gap report, 2011. The existence and release of this report early in the new parliamentary year is a positive development over the past three years and highlights a sustained effort on the part of Government to focus attention on Indigenous disadvantage.

There is certainly an impressive list of resources invested by the Government. More teachers, doctors, houses and so on. But the Prime Ministers’ speech also highlights many of the issues for which NATSIEC has criticised Governments of both persuasions over the years. For example, despite the Prime Minister’s claim of evidence based, accountable and transparent close the gap efforts there remains a distinct lack of benchmarks, goals and measurement of effectiveness.

The Prime Minster also said Close the Gap is a “call for changes in behaviour. A call to every person, to every family, to every community”.

What about Government? Does it not have to change its behaviour and challenge its own fundamental philosophy on development and change? Indigenous disadvantage has not only been caused by years of neglect. It is also a result of years of ineffective and failed policies, of structural racism, of inappropriate delivery of services and so on.

Take as an example the commitment to close the life expectancy gap within a generation. Yesterday, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda, released a media statement commenting on the Government’s report. He also commented that Minister Warren Snowdon and Minister Nicola Roxon have agreed to begin developing a long term national plan to close the gap in Indigenous life expectancy by 2030. As Gooda also points out the Government signed a Statement of Intent to close the Indigenous life expectancy gap in March 2008. It’s now almost March 2011 – three years later and the Government has only now committed to begin to develop a plan to increase the life expectancy of Indigenous peoples. 

How do we reconcile what we hear in this speech with a three year gap between a statement of intent and a commitment to begin planning? How many years will it be before action arises from the plan? How do we reconcile the Prime Ministers’ claims with what we heard this week from NT Elders about the lack of consultation, the disempowerment felt in their communities, the increasing depression that many are suffering from, the tragic suicides in communities?  The same issues that were raised with NATSIEC during the Living Letters visit last year.

Despite the talk of working together, the tone of many of the Prime Minster’s comments about individual responsibility suggest that if, after all these resources are thrown at the “problem”, goals haven’t been achieved then it’s because individuals have failed to take responsibility. There is no doubt that in some places, some things are changing for the better, but if these changes are to be sustainable; if these changes are to really close the gap, then there also needs to be more and urgent attention paid to proper negotiation, proper consultation, partnerships, respect, culturally appropriate programs, empowerment, human rights. All those concepts that can sound a bit airy fairy, but in fact are the bed rock of ending Indigenous disadvantage. Without paying attention to these vital aspects the work may go on, but so too will the failures.    

The Close the Gap report 2011 http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/about/news/2011/Pages/2011_ctg_pm_report.aspx

Julia Gillard’s speech – http://www.pm.gov.au/press-office/work-will-go-speech-house-representatives

Mick Gooda’s media release http://www.hreoc.gov.au/about/media/media_releases/2011/7_11.html

An excellent article from Eva Cox via Women for wik

Crikey Thursday, 10 February 2011 / Whatever happened to evidence-based policy making?
by Eva Cox

Prime Minister Gillard in parliament yesterday:

Because I believe in tackling the big challenges in the national
interest. I see Closing the Gap as a way of understanding the problems.

It is evidence-based, accountable and transparent. It tells us what
needs to be done first and fastest and builds a methodical approach. It
allows us to build consensus in support of specific progress, instead of
debating abstract ideas. To do what we can, with what we have, where we are.

Because I believe Australians judge Governments on delivery . I see
Closing the Gap as a way of working on the solutions.

It is a way of making specific, measurable progress. It is practical
and cumulative. It gives us new information which means we can invest where
investment will make the greatest difference. Information which means we can
be sure that the Government is meeting its responsibilities.

Worthy sentiments. If only they stacked up. Take the New Income
Management program. The federal government is adding another serious
question to its social and financial policy competence by informing the
public that it is proceeding with the promised evaluation of NIM. The
initial form of income management (IM) was a Howard initiative which was
justified as part of an “emergency” measure presumed to protect Aboriginal

The ALP government extended the IM program as a core part of the NT
Intervention, thereby quarantining 50% of the benefit and pension incomes of
all residents in 73 designated Aboriginal communities. However, when the UN
was highly critical of the program’s suspension of Racial Discrimination Act
as it breached Australia’s obligations under it, the government changed

To be able to withdraw the suspension, Macklin decided to de-racialise
the program by passing legislation in June 2010 that allowed the Australian
government to expand the program. Now they can compulsorily quarantine the
incomes of anyone on benefits in certain time or age based categories (but
not more respectable pensions) in any declared area.

This change was pursued despite much solid evidence and presentations
to a Senate Community Affairs Committee that the program had not proved its
value in its previous three year existence. The government’s case was that
this expansion was part of an evidence based broader welfare strategy to
address social exclusion.

Despite government claimed “evidence” being refuted by a wide range of
academic and welfare groups and the government’s proposal for extension
being supported by only three of nearly a hundred submissions, the
government majority (and the Abbott Opposition in Parliament) backed the
legislation. The Majority Report did suggest that the lack of evidence
needed to be addressed before any further extension of IM to other areas and
groups. Ergo the evaluation of the proposed NT extension that has finally

The participation categories that remain eligible totalled 11,564 in
June 2010, and another 9510 were on pension type payments not covered by
compulsory payments under the new Act.

Unfortunately for the disadvantaged population in the rest of
Australia this expansive and expensive evaluation is unlikely to protect
their current payments systems from changes, as evidence from the three-year
evaluation is unlikely to seriously affect or inform this government’s
policy actions.

While the media release may imply otherwise, the intentions of the
government are clear in its terms of reference on p3 of the executive
summary. The terms of reference for developing the evaluation framework are
that the evaluation:

a.. be completed by December 2014
b.. provide information on the implementation of the NIM in the
Northern Territory by the end of 2011 in order to inform decisions about an
expansion of the model beyond the Northern Territory
c.. result in data being collected that can be used to evaluate
short, medium and, where possible, longer-term impacts/outcomes of new
income management,
d.. include a set of ethics guidelines and an ethical clearance
strategy relevant to this evaluation project.

The above terms of reference clearly suggest that the government will
decide early in 2012 to extend the scope of the involuntary program to
beneficiaries outside the NT. The timeline means this will happen despite
little or no evidence by then of whether there are actual benefits from
program for recipients.

This change fits with the PM’s already stated intention of clamping
down on welfare and pressuring people into the paid work and a shift from
welfare rights to massively conditional welfare payments.

The change will happen despite serious questions on whether it worked
during the Intervention and a reluctance to wait and see whether evidence
from this evaluation will find indications of effectiveness and cost
benefits, in particular whether the substantial extra admin costs of around
$100M per annum could be better spent on other services for this group.

The evaluation document does illustrate both the difficulties of
finding evidence from any other examples of such programs and of evaluating
this particular program. These problems arise from the program’s diverse
origins and add-ons by government over the last three years. Given that the
initial form of income management was justified as part of an “emergency”
measure presumed to protect Aboriginal children, it was not opposed by the
then Rudd Opposition and most of the welfare sector, just some Aboriginal

All of which means no evidence of its value in this area has ever been
offered, in fact a recent report to the NT government on showed child
protection had deteriorated over the last three years, and failed to mention
the intervention.

This is now nearly nine months after the government declaring certain
benefit recipients in the whole NT as subject to the New Income Management,
as well as transferring most existing recipients to the ‘new’ scheme. This
version includes a few new bribes for those who voluntarily sign onto income
management and a complex, quite difficult exit system for those who may
consider they do not need to be managed.

This includes compulsory budgeting workshops and financial literacy
tests. There is also evidence that Centrelink is trying really hard to
retain those no longer covered as voluntary clients as outlined by Paddy
Gibson last year.

There had been no sign of the proposed evaluation till last week when
the Minister and FaHCSIA media release emerged and stated:

The Australian Government is today releasing the framework for the
independent evaluation of the new model of non-discriminatory income
management. The Government has now rolled out the new model of
non-discriminatory income management across the Northern Territory,
including child protection income management. A voluntary income management
and child protection income management pilot operates in Western Australia.

Future roll-out of the new model of income management beyond the
Northern Territory will be informed by evidence gained from the independent

The evaluation will include analysis of existing data on income
management, as well as surveys of child protection staff, financial literacy
service providers, and retailers. There will also be interviews and focus
groups with people on income management.

The rest of the first stages of this evaluation (2011) mainly cover
views on the processes of implementing the program by everyone but the
recipients. While the release covers an extensive evaluation to report
finally in 2014, as indicated above, the government will not wait for the

There are other questions on the value of the evaluation document. One
is whether much of the data from the NT would apply in the very different
locations and populations in the rest of the states and territories. However
a major difficulty is the structure of the various bits of the program which
create complications in any evaluation of this program. To sum up the
various difficulties as derived from the document:

a.. There is no baseline data because the program has already been
implemented but in different places, times and ways.
b.. There are multitude of “populations” within those on NIM that
have different entry points, needs and possible exits:
1.. These include the majority of compulsory recipients whose
criteria for entry have no basis in their income management deficits but
they just qualify because they are on certain benefits.
2.. Another group “volunteers” to sign up and there is current
pressure and bribes in WA and elsewhere to add to these.
3.. Some are included because they are deemed “vulnerable” by
Centrelink social workers because of certain very broad criteria and
compulsorily placed on IM.
4.. Some are referred as parents who are reported to child
protection authorities because they are neglecting their children or
appropriate care.
5.. There are unconfirmed reports that some refugee families are
being targeted because they are sending money to families overseas.
6.. There are also a limited number of Cape York families and
maybe a few others who are disciplined by being put on reduced payments
because of failure to send children to school
7.. The WA programs and many others are embedded with other
support services which are patchy and not available elsewhere
8.. There are massive language and cultural issues in NT and some
other isolated communities which make interviewing and informed consent
difficult and raise major ethical issues.
c.. The difficulties of defining common ‘problems’ in such diverse
groups, particularly as many issues do not relate clearly to their financial
d.. This means it is very difficult to set outputs and outcomes to
measure because the common problems may not exist (see below)
e.. The problems many would manifest in the compulsory category of
benefit groups may not relate to personal difficulties in managing
financially, but reflect the inadequacy of benefits that may not meet basic
costs in urban settings.
f.. There are indications that criteria for exemptions set
impossibly high standards which will discourage people from applying
g.. As most of these groups are also involved in other programs,
often as part of the above categorisations, can research tell what changes
are causal?
h.. As some have been on already for three years plus and some only
a few weeks, how and when can relative changes be measured?
i.. What culturally appropriate measures are there to assess
possible negative effects of shame and anger at being targeted in this way?
These show how the particularities of the NT and origins of the
program in the Intervention make it unlikely that any findings would be able
to be applied widely.

The evaluation document does recognise many of these problems, but
makes some comments about “triangulating” data to make up for the gaps.
However, the authors fail to critically question whether there is value in
undertaking such a complex project with such possible flaws. They do not
raise questions on the misuse of the evidence for the policy expansion
decision nor question whether this process is primarily a post hoc searching
for validating evidence.

It is not clear in the evaluation document whether there may be other
benefits in pursuing research on this type of welfare change. The question
is why has Macklin funded this complex and costly evaluation?

The answers only make sense if we connect this project to other
aspects of the current government archaic models of delivering current
social policy. The driving principles appear to be beliefs that “social
inclusion” can be achieved by fitting the excluded into the interstices of
current social systems. The basic assumption is that the excluded are flawed
not the society.

Ergo, those on welfare for a long time must have serious personal
issues, which inhibit their entry to paid work. The government then assumes
the right, or maybe the moral duty, to coerce their compliance to models of
better behaviour which will fix the problems.

In this case, the government (Macklin?) assumes regularising
recipients’ money practices will create some order in their lives, and
therefore result in better parenting, higher workforce participation and
other desirable ends. These beliefs are spelt out in the paper with examples
of ‘conditional welfare payments. These types of changes fail to answer the
question of causation and ignore entirely the caveat expressed by the
evaluation schema authors:

Many who have written about conditionality, whether in its favour or
not, conclude that conditionality can be philosophically and morally
justified provided that considerable care is taken to avoid burdening those
people who are already unjustly disadvantaged (Deacon 2004). P51.

Most of those on benefits, such as Aboriginal people are already
unjustly disadvantaged by systems and prejudice.

The evaluation paper academics have included a literature review with
presumably, a wide search for examples of similar schemes as exemplars for
the current process. Those reported on do not offer much in direct evidence
that there are similar schemes that have worked. The listed examples do not
offer any serious evidence that conditional welfare works well as a national
policy model in developed countries.

Many of the thirteen quoted examples are relatively small programs,
often not continuing and set up in very different circumstances.

There are three USA programs, two of which are Food Stamps and TANF,
which are the only national ones in developed countries. One a private NY
program that was short term, and there is another short term private
Canadian program. The other nine programs cited are all in developing
countries: Mexico, Malawi, and Brazil. India, Bangladesh, Columbia, Honduras
and Guatemala, dealing with very different problems and cultures, let alone
economic systems.

These are odd countries for Australia to search for examples. The
designs and problems faced, e.g. birthrates and malnutrition, are not
necessarily related to Australia. So, apart from some questionable benefits
from the named US programs, there are no developed comparable welfare states
that have adopted such massive welfare system changes.

Given these constraints and problems, I wonder why reputable academic
institutions such as SPRC, AIFS and the ANU would engage in this project and
risk legitimating bad decision making and further examples of evidence being
ignored? Could it just be the temptation of the money for a research
starved institution? Are there too many self-funded research units at
universities being government servants? I did originally write tarts but
many s-x workers may have better ethics.

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