They’re not faring well and the answer’s not welfare
Teenage mums in Adelaide’s northern suburbs will soon lose their welfare payments if they don’t go back to school.
Local federal MP Nick Champion asked for his electorate to be included in the Federal Government’s tough-love trial. As he says: “We are not doing anyone any favours if we do not help teen mothers finish school.”
I’m sure many of you are nodding in agreement. It’s hard to argue with a program designed to empower kids with knowledge and skills, instead of cursing them to a life of welfare dependency in the blind belief that they’ll rise up from entrenched disadvantage when they’re good and ready. But if conditional welfare is acceptable for white girls in the northern suburbs, why is the State Government so squeamish about the issue in SA’s Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands?
In recent weeks this impoverished stretch of South Australia has been likened to drought-ravaged, war-torn Somalia.
It’s emerged that while the State Government is creating market gardens in the desert, the Red Cross has been handing out emergency food parcels.
APY locals haven’t sat back on this: the Mai Wiru indigenous initiative has asked for $80,000 to help with a long-planned program to introduce voluntary food cards in six stores across the APY Lands.
Their funding request got knocked back. And in an unfortunate coincidence, we now hear that an SA Aboriginal Affairs Department bureaucrat has been suspended for an alleged spending spree on printer cartridges for gift card kickbacks – the bill for just two months was $80k.
Like so much to do with Aboriginal affairs, everyone agrees there’s a problem but there’s no consensus on a solution.
Take the issue of income management.
Some believe a voluntary scheme is the only way to go. The Mai Wiru food card program, which attracted federal funding for the software and infrastructure and now just needs the $80,000 for the actual cards and marketing, is one example backed by many in the APY Lands.
Others believe compulsory welfare quarantining is essential to stop the ingrained culture of ‘humbugging’, where people have no choice but to share their wealth with extended friends and family – instead of prioritising their monies for food to feed their kids.
Still others believe the Cape York style of Family Responsibility Commissions is the best plan of attack, empowering local leadership panels with the responsibility to guide dysfunctional families and ultimately take charge of their finances if parents aren’t shaping up.
If we can’t agree on which of these three programs will work, why not start immediately with the voluntary scheme? Give it three years. If incomes are still being squandered and children still aren’t getting enough healthy food to eat, move to the next level.
Surely that’s better than getting another three years down the track and finding we’re no further than ‘deliberations’ on the best option.
But sadly, inaction is sanctioned by the rest of us.
Aboriginal affairs is not a vote winner, and perhaps more essentially it’s not a vote loser. On the whole we simply don’t care about indigenous issues unless white South Aussies are directly affected by, say, a Gang of 49 crime spree.
And in textbook Rann Government crisis mode, MPs would rather accuse the media of sensationalism (and the opposition of destroying bipartisanship) than admitting to any kind of policy failure.
Acting Aboriginal Affairs Minister Tom Kenyon, who’s standing in for Minister Grace Portolesi while she’s overseas, has rejected the concerns of indigenous and social inclusion experts to say there is no food crisis.
Food parcels, he says, are sometimes handed out in his own middle-class electorate of Newland, so what’s the problem?
The problem, Mr Kenyon, is that like most of us you’ve never been to the APY Lands. Ignorance is bliss, isn’t it?
The SA-based Sight for All foundation, which works to curb blindness in Third World and outback communities, is helping to raise the $80,000 needed to introduce the Mai Wiru food cards. To donate, visit their website and click on ‘make a donation’.
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