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Speech: Income Management in Bankstown and Dementia

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 14 Sep 2011

Adjournment speech, Wednesday 14 September 2011

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (19:17): Last week I met with Margaret Goneis, Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Committee in Bankstown, and a dozen of her colleagues. A local Greens councillor, Malikeh Michaels, organised this meeting so we could discuss the Labor government's plan to introduce their controversial income management scheme into Bankstown from 1 July 2012. Margaret explained that many in her community are fearful about losing their independence if the income management scheme is trialled in Bankstown. The elders that I met with told me that no-one had explained to them why their community was being targeted.

Income management has made things harder and imposed racism and humiliation on Aboriginal people. It is a terrible waste of money in communities that are in desperate need of better social services and better employment opportunities. It is harsh, it has not worked, it has not influenced the spending decisions of women and it has not made their communities safer. The Australian Greens are calling on the government to abandon compulsory income management in the face of an ever-growing body of evidence highlighting the detrimental effect of the policy. My fellow Greens senator Rachel Siewert, as the Greens Indigenous affairs spokesperson, has been a powerful advocate for ending income management and for Indigenous people who are being adversely affected by the policy.

There is a robust, caring and connected community in Bankstown. Imposing this trial in this area, without consultation, is poor practice and reflects the bankrupt principles inherent in the scheme. Income quarantining will leave low-income families in Bankstown with extremely limited control of their day-to-day finances. Centrelink will be micromanaging people's budgets, and those caught up in the scheme will be forced to queue separately to other people in shops. This is a top-down, paternalistic initiative which is reminiscent of darker times, a deeply disrespectful and shameful way to treat people. A broad coalition of 50 groups have come together to stop the trial, evidence of the depths of opposition to income management being put in place. These groups include local community organisations, diverse religious and ethnic community groups, unions, welfare organisations, peak bodies and women's groups.

Recent reports into the impact of compulsory income management in the Northern Territory highlight the personal degradation that income management has placed on women. The Equality Rights Alliance report released in August has found the policy has led to social exclusion and a loss of self-respect for women yet had little impact on their spending habits. The report identified vulnerable women who had been placed in dangerous situations because they had avoided reporting family violence. Many women reported feeling afraid to speak to Centrelink, even in dire circumstances such as seeking to leave abusive relationships, because of their concerns about the impact on their income. The Equality Rights Alliance should be congratulated for the important work they have undertaken. More broadly, the report highlighted the despair and anxiety that Aboriginal people face as they try to live under government control.

The Bankstown campaign coalition has called itself 'Say No to Government's Income Management: Not in Bankstown, Not Anywhere'. It has joined forces with groups opposing the Northern Territory intervention to launch a petition calling for a national moratorium on income management. The petition calls on the government to abandon its plans to expand income management in 2012 to five trial sites, including Bankstown; to grant immediate amnesty to all people seeking to exit income management in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland; and to redirect spending planned for income management into employment creation and social services. The Greens will continue to campaign for income management to be dropped and funding redirected to more constructive initiatives to support vulnerable people, such as job creation and community services.

On another matter, I wish to speak about dementia research and assistance funding. It is a little understood fact that dementia is fatal. In fact, dementia is the third leading cause of death in Australia, after heart attack and stroke. The incidence rates of dementia increase with age. One in four Australians over the age of 85 suffer from the condition. Without a significant breakthrough in dementia research the number of deaths from dementia will likely increase from 269,000 in 2011 to 981,000 by 2050. About one-third of these people, or 300,000, will be living in New South Wales. The prevalence of dementia in this state is set to increase by over 300 per cent between 2009 and 2050 if effective solutions are not found. New cases of dementia are also on the rise and in New South Wales will increase by around 400 per cent in the same time.

The only thing not increasing over time is funding from the federal budget for research to find treatments for Alzheimer's and dementia. There is an inexplicable disparity between funding for dementia and other chronic medical conditions. It is concerning that funding for the Dementia Initiative was cut in the 2011 federal budget. The invaluable support and services that were provided by this initiative to thousands of Australians with dementia, as well as to families of those affected, will dry up by June 2013.

Australia has an ageing population and we are facing a dementia epidemic. It is estimated that if funding does not increase Australia will experience a shortage of 150,000 paid and unpaid carers for people with dementia by 2029. Australia is in desperate need of a comprehensive and appropriately funded plan to respond to the increasing demands of dementia.

The government needs to increase dementia care services, improve diagnosis times and increase the safety of hospitals for patients with dementia. More research is also needed. Currently in Australia dementia research receives only $20 million, which is a little less than four per cent of the total amount spent by the Australian government on chronic diseases. I was shocked when I read those figures. Research funding is desperately needed to help achieve the breakthrough that is needed.

Concerned Australians will gather on 13 October to march to Parliament House in Canberra and demand better funding in the 2012-13 federal budget for research and assistance to those suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia. I urge members to support the critical need for the Australian government to maintain dementia as a national health priority and restore the Dementia Initiative cut in the 2011 federal budget, and to increase funding for dementia research in the 2012-13 federal budget. I congratulate Alzheimer's Australia and in particular the work of their CEO, John Watkins. Much of the material I have drawn on tonight has come from a briefing I received from them. Their work is most important.

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