HRLC rejects cashless debit card trial in the NT

By Naomi Neilson|27 October 2019

Human rights lawyers are rejecting a new law proposed by the Morrison government that would force a new form of income control onto people in the Northern Territory.

The Society Security Amendment Bill 2019 would turn the NT into a trial for cashless debit card and compel at least 22,000 people onto it. The Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) said around 83 per cent of those affected would be Indigenous people.

Senior lawyer at HRLC Adrianne Walters said compulsory income quarantining would intrude on the freedom and autonomy of individuals and families.

“This is the federal government again trying to micro-manage the lives of Aboriginal people by denying people the freedom to make decisions about where to buy food and clothes, and the option of buying cheaper goods with cash,” Ms Walters said. “[At] its core this is a discriminatory and coercive policy and it must be rejected.”

Most people who have been affected by the proposed laws are on currently on income management and use a BasicsCard. HRLC said under both forms of income control, it would impose instructions on how money is used, regardless of how well the people using the system are managing their lives or the hardships caused.

“Income management in the Northern Territory is a large-scale government-imposed policy experiment that has utterly failed,” Ms Walters said.

“As parliamentarians have already heard, Aboriginal people have borne the brunt of this for 12 years. A good government would acknowledge this and work with Aboriginal people to transition away from this discriminatory policy of compulsory income control.”

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Ms Walters added that in remote areas, it effectively punishes people who do not have any choice but to turn to the social safety net due to lack of jobs. She said government should be focusing on creating opportunities, “not imposing more control”.

The bill proposes to give the minister the power to increase the amount of money that is quarantined from 50 per cent to 100 per cent without adequate safeguards or any parliamentary oversight, the HRLC said.

“This proposed law gives on minister a dangerous and unacceptable amount of power over the lives of thousands of Territorians. This is a power to further restrict a basic freedom most of us take for granted – the freedom to control how we manage lives,” it said.

Ms Walters said she is “deeply troubled” by the use of increasingly card technology to monitor the personal lives of those needing support: “Technological [advances] have the power to do good, but for that to happen, accountability and ending inequality must be central to their design.”

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HRLC rejects cashless debit card trial in the NT
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