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Issue #1896      November 27, 2019

Taking Issue – Seamus Carey

Out of an Abbott and into a Forrest

The Liberal/National government threatens to force Indue’s cashless debit card onto all recipients of major income support payments, including Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance, and Parenting Payment. It is also proposed to be applied to the disability and age pensions.

Indue is a private company, which had current National Party president Larry Anthony as a director between 2005 and 2013. Anthony’s lobbying firm SAS Group has continued to lobby on behalf of Indue to push through the cashless welfare card proposal. Although the ALP has made some calls for an investigation into possible corruption to be made, no action appears to have been taken.

The tale of the Indue card is a winding one, and its beginnings have already begun to become obscure. Immediately after his election in 2013, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott commissioned an enquiry into Indigenous unemployment. This was framed as being out of a concern for the welfare of Indigenous people; however this came from a man who enthusiastically described the arrival of the British colonialists in 1788 as “the defining moment in the history of this continent,” and defended the closure in 2015 of 150 Indigenous communities by the WA state government with the remark: “What we can’t do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have.”

The man chosen to head the review was mining billionaire Andrew Forrest. Out of all the people in Australia who could have been chosen to investigate solutions to the poverty of the poorest part of our population, a man with more wealth (and clearly, political power) than a person could ever need or deserve, gained from the exploitation of stolen land, land stolen from the same impoverished people he is claiming to want to help. Who thinks that the immensely rich have any special right to be not just listened to but approached, preferentially, to make formal proposals to the government as to how our society is run? Clearly, the Liberal party.

What kind of democracy is this where the interests and views of a small minority, who are already the most privileged, are given priority over the interests and views of the overwhelming majority?

A democracy where it is possible for someone like Abbott to become Prime Minister, who calls a “lifestyle choice” the situation imposed on the Indigenous people of this land by force of arms and genocidal intent; a man ideologically committed to the ongoing imposition of a toxic history.

The review produced by Forrest, entitled “Creating Parity” included a suggestion for the creation of a “healthy welfare card,” which has materialised as the Basics Card and now the Indue card.

The Basics Card system (which has already been widely implemented) for income management is at least voluntary for the majority of its users around the country (perhaps except for in the Indigenous communities for which it was originally thought up). The ideal form is portrayed to represent as voluntary aid to help people who are struggling to manage their money, with many of its features variable according to the requests of its user.

But the Indue cashless welfare card is proposed to be forced indiscriminately upon all recipients of applicable payments. By the logic of the Basics Card, this is a declaration that all such welfare recipients are incapable of independently managing their money, ignoring all other factors in their lives, and ignoring that there are about half a million more unemployed people in Australia than there are job openings.

Pat Turner, the chief executive of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, said “The cashless welfare card is unfair, a form of control and reminds Aboriginal people every day that they are treated as second- and third-class citizens in their own land.”

The Indue card is naked hatred and contempt for Indigenous people (racism) and all the working class. It is overtly ideological, saying to all the unemployed: this is your fault, and you deserve suffering and humiliation. A deliberate negation of the objective truth that the present economic system is permanently unable to create enough jobs.

The Indue card is privatisation of welfare. The welfare system exists precisely because the private economy is incapable of providing for the needs of the working class, yet the inevitable outcome of neo-liberal ideological fundamentalism can only be the privatisation of sectors such as this, that are impossible to carry out as efficiently as a state-run system (the deplorable inefficiency of the existing system notwithstanding).

Like all such privatisations, it will never be truly privatised, in the sense of responsibility being entirely handed over to the private sector. Instead, even worse, it will be an expensive joint public-private endeavour, with the burden borne by the taxpayers and the profits siphoned off, parasitically, to the private owners.

How are the Australian people allowing this to happen before their eyes?

Readers of 19th century socialist literature (for instance, Marx’s Capital) will often be stunned by the rhetoric of most bourgeois politicians of the day therein reproduced. It was openly acknowledged that there existed a small, wealthy ruling class, and the impoverished masses of workers, and arguments were made openly that this is in fact entirely fair and just. In more recent times, this has become taboo in public politics. However it seems now that some of the capitalist parasites are starting to shed their camouflage.

Government publications claim the trials of the Indue card have been successful. However the “Final Evaluation Report” commissioned by the government of the trials in Ceduna, SA, and South Kimberley, WA, show that close to 40 percent more people taking part in the trial through to Wave 2 stated their lives had been made worse as a result of the card.

It may be of interest to readers to see a later 60-page audit of this trial.(available at cpa.org.au/redirect/trial).

The original reports claim that the trials were successful on the basis that some reduction in behaviours such as gambling, and alcohol and drug consumption, were observed. Well of course! If you completely take away people’s ability to make these decisions via crude intervention, there will be a reduction. But does it solve the underlying issues? If more people are saying that their lives are worse off as a result – as is the case – then clearly not.

This unfolding episode serves as a reminder to the whole Australian working class that our interests are forever united with those of Indigenous Australians: the attacks targeting them are an attack on us all.

Next article – How multinationals continue to avoid paying tax

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