Last week (Saturday 21 November 2015) I attended one of five rallies against cashless welfare that were held around the country. The rallies were in Modooga, Ceduna, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. All were peaceful. At the Sydney rally, there were excellent speakers and no police.
A group of citizens who are deeply disturbed by human rights violations clearly do not pose the kind of threat to the peace (and opportunities for overtime pay) that came with the racist extremists who rallied the following day.
Ceduna residents rallying against cashless Welfare:
This post is an annotated transcript of the speech I gave at the Sydney rally, which can be viewed here. My thanks to Shaymaa Abdullah, who did a beautiful acknowledgement of country on the day, for recording and posting the speeches.
The speech relied on a quantum of prior knowledge on cashless welfare: the policy, its racist origins, and the legislation that recently passed both Houses of Parliament – explanatory memoranda available here.
The cashless welfare bill was passed by the lower house the day that Malcolm Turnbull was sworn in as Prime Minister. This as much as anything tells us that life under Turnbull will be no better than life under Abbott, because the same people (Morrison, Dutton, Bishop) are doing the same things (violating the fundamental human rights of traditional owners, asylum seekers, the poor) with the same ideology.
I started with an acknowledgement of country. I sometimes hear white people rushing through a pro forma Acknowledgement like it is some kind of meaningless chore. It is not difficult to follow basic protocol, such as acknowledging the mayor or local MPs at a community event.
Acknowledgement of country is a simple matter of protocol, etiquette, manners – it does not redress dispossession or genocide, it merely shows respect.
‘I’d like to also start with an acknowledgement of the traditional owners. Of the Gadigal nation. I pay my respects to those who have held and passed on the knowledge, not only for upwards of 40,000 years, but also through centuries of violent dispossession, and attempts by the colonial-settler state to wipe out that knowledge. And I pay my respects to elders past and present.”
I introduced myself and the university where I work and warned the audience ‘I’d like to say a couple of things about the Constitution, which is not immediately riveting, but is very relevant to the state of our democracy today.
Cashless welfare is not new. The Northern Territory Emergency Response Act 2007 (Cth) was passed with a stated purpose, and an actual purpose. The actual reason for the Act was for the re-election of John Howard as the Liberal Prime Minister of Australia. In fact, he lost both his seat and government. So it failed there.
The stated purpose was to address child sexual assault, alcoholism, pornography, in remote Aboriginal communities.
This disgusting slandering of Aboriginal people is also nothing new. It characterises Aboriginal men as sexual predators, which is radically at odds with historical record and contemporary reality, especially for Aboriginal women.
Or as the late Auntie Vera Lovelock said to me, ‘Where do they think the blue-eyed babies came from?’
The Northern Territory is often treated as some kind of giant social experiment. There is a reason for this. As a Territory and not a state, it does not retain the residual powers of the former colonies and now states of Australia. This means that the Territory is effectively under Commonwealth control.
Under s. 51(xxvi) of our Constitution, the Commonwealth has the power to make special laws for the people of any race. Special laws. Which means that it is imperative on any government that wants to operationalise this section to create a moral panic – and insist on the need for a special law for the people of a particular race.
In reality, this power is only ever used to dehumanise and oppress Aboriginal people, the traditional owners and First Nations people of this country.
Can you imagine a Commonwealth government saying we need a special law for the people of the Caucasian race now? That never happens. Can you imagine a government saying we need a special law for the people of the Mongol race, or the Negroid race? Nobody even uses these words any more. Yet here we are with special laws for the people of the Aboriginal race (so-called).
While race is a completely outdated and discredited notion, racism and racists remain among us to this day. We know that the areas where cashless welfare is being rolled out to the ‘mainstream’ have a particularly high proportion of Aboriginal people on social security, on income support, on welfare. Think about those words.
We have a social safety net in this country. We have universal education. Universal health care. We subscribe to the notion that our people should not be starving and dying in the streets. That is the point of social security, and anyone can find themselves on it.
A few months ago Tony Abbott was asked what he stands for. As in all known circumstances, he was incoherent, couldn’t gather his thoughts, didn’t know what he was talking about. But eventually in his incoherent and stumbling way, Abbott said that he believes in small government.
Here’s a quick tip about words:
when a politician says ‘I believe… X’ simply ignore everything that comes after it.
When a politician says ‘I am determined to… X’, don’t bother with that either.
And when a politician says ‘protection’, switch it to control. No-one can ‘protect’ anything unless they have a measure of control over it.
Ask any Aboriginal person what government ‘protection’ means to them, to their family.
Anyway, Tony Abbott reckons he believes in small government and if Malcolm Turnbull was asked if he does too, Turnbull would be compelled to say the same thing.
Cashless welfare is not small government. Data retention is not small government. All the anti-terror legislation passed since 2001 are not small government. This is huge government.
A government that decides what you can put on your shopping list, based on your income, is not small government.
Cashless welfare is also incredibly expensive. There are no efficiency dividends to this policy. There are massive costs involved in rolling out the hard ware and the software – the card, the compatibility systems – in the IT workers and case workers – all paying middle class mortgages with poor peoples’ lives.
This ‘just doing my job’ complicity is, as ever, disgusting.
Cashless welfare is scheduled to start in Ceduna in February if the government can not be stopped and held to account for the gross human rights abuses it embraces. The massive reach of this legislation is over all people with disabilities, all sole parents, all carers, all unemployed people, students, youth and sickness allowance recipients.
Everyone except veterans and old age pensioners in receipt of income support can be attacked under this Act.
The stated purpose of cashless welfare is to improve the health of welfare recipients. There is no evidence, no proof, and no truth to this claim. It is the kind of claim that politicians make on the well-founded assumption that most will not seek further (or any) evidence.
In fact, all the evidence from the Northern territory since 2007 shows poorer nutritional outcomes, lower school attendance rates, more children forcibly removed from their families by the state, more women hospitalised as a result of injuries inflicted by family members.
Nutrition, school attendance, stolen children and hospitalisation for assault are all outcomes which heavily and negatively impact on people’s health and well-being. The policy is dangerous and harmful. It is state-sanctioned and state-sponsored violence.
And again, it is also incredibly expensive. Every single dollar going into the pockets of the IT workers and case managers and card manufacturers could be spent on actual real health services for low income people.
Like dental care, for example. Rich people get to keep all their straight white teeth. Poor people do not. This effects every single aspect of life, from nutrition to job prospects. The primary costs do not even begin to take into account the huge increase in costs to the criminal law system. This is a cost to the states and territories, not the Commonwealth.
Grotesque vote-buying populism from a Commonwealth government that passes the costs on to the states is also nothing new. One of the worst examples of this can also be attributed to John Howard, who orchestrated the so-called baby bonus. This irresponsible and profligate spending sheeted back huge costs: to youth shelters, womens shelters, high schools, community services departments.
This is the real record, the true legacy, of a party that Australians persist in seeing as ‘better economic managers’. They are not. They are terrible economic managers. Absolutely hopeless.
The Liberal Party of Australia as a group are socially privileged, economically illiterate, and cruel. Their privilege and wealth is sustained by the poor; and their political power is sustained by members of the comfortable middle classes who insist, for their own self-interested reasons, on believing the mythology of meritocracy.
This is the actual purpose of every inhumane measure of control over the poor, over people with disabilities, over Aboriginal people, over women: to sustain the lie of merit-based reward in the liberal democracies.
The case against income management is strong, and is over eight years old in the Northern Territory. No case has been made by anyone with the power to stop the expansion of this highly questionable policy – not for the breaches of the Anti-Discrimination Act, the attacks on people with disabilities, the poverty and shame and humiliation and hardship that cashless welfare will inevitably, undoubtedly produce.
All humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights.