This came out a few days ago, but I was a bit busy, what with trying to navigate my way through the city during APEC and being held-up by motorcades, and neglected to write about it. This morning though, I noticed that Lauredhel had mentioned it in brief at Hoyden About Town, so I suppose I’d better have a crack as well.

What I’m referring to is the news that the government have finally provided more, albeit tantalisingly scant information regarding how the quarantining of welfare payments will operate.

Thousands of Indigenous people in the Northern Territory will be unable to use quarantined welfare payments to buy food anywhere other than Woolworths or remote community stores.

[…]

“If you want to buy bread at a bakery then you would use 50 per cent of your discretionary money to do that,” [leader of the intervention Major General David Chalmers] said.

He says people would also need to use the discretionary portion if they wanted to buy clothing at a shopping centre.

There is a serious problem with this apart from the obvious, well, just about all of it, and that is, as far as I can tell, there are only six Woolworths in the entire Northern Territory, and four of those are in Darwin. This aint so bad if you live in Pine Creek as it’s only a 90 kilometre drive south to Katherine to do your shopping, except remember that a lot of people don’t have cars or even reliable access to a car.

But what if you live in Tennant Creek? You’re only options are (and these distances are from Woolworth’s own store locator):

  1. Alice Springs, 451.09 km south,
  2. Mount Isa, 565.72 km east,
  3. Katherine, 611.70 km north, or
  4. Cluncurry, 669.01 km east again.

That’s an awful lot of driving around to buy a weekly load of shopping.

There is of course the other option of ‘community stores’, except that it’s not at all clear what a community would have to do in order to have their store accredited. Moreover, a community store’s licence may be revoked by the department and its property summarily seized “if [the department] thinks a licence condition has been breached or that the store is not being operated in a satisfactory manner”.

The above quote (as well as those below) is from the Central Land Council’s short and easy guide to the Commonwealth intervention, a simplified, reader-friendly fact sheet outlining the main legislative changes, who they will effect and how they will affect them. It’s an awful lot more readable than the government’s legislation digest (pdf).

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As an aside, Lauredhel rightly questions the implication of the ABC article, that everyone‘s welfare payments would be quarantined, and not only that of those parents whose children fail to attend school. Well unfortunately, the implication is spot on.

The quarantining of welfare payments applies across the board, to all persons living in a “declared NT area”, which includes the usual “Aboriginal land under the Land Rights Act” and “all town camps”. It also includes the worrying “any other area in the NT declared by the Minister”. The remaining 50% (or “lower amount specified by the Minister”) will also be quarantined in case of “lack of school enrolment”, “lack of school attendance” or “child neglect”.

Again, see the CLC’s fact sheet for the full details – Link courtesy of David Nash, who passes on so much information to me that I sometimes think he should start his own blog.

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Another small point on this that I might bring up: The CLC’s fact sheet was published (I think) on Friday last week, September 7, and the Bills were presented to the lower house on Monday, August 6. This means the  CLC were able to have their lawyers read, understand and summarise the legislation in 32 days. The House of Representatives were given only one day a few hours to debate the bills, most of it taken up by Brough’s hour-and-a-half long presentation of it to the parliament. The senate had a bit more breathing room and clocked in at 27 hours before passing it.

I find it hard to believe, given the time-frame of the CLC’s publication, that both houses of parliament, all those Representatives and all those Senators, had fully read and understood the hundreds of pages of legislation before they voted on them. Call me naive, but should this not be a necessary condition for doing so?

Perhaps someone more versed in the Westminster model of governance could enlighten me as to what indeed are the necessary conditions for voting to pass legislation. Because it isn’t important that those we elect in order to vote on legislation for us don’t actually fully grasp said legislation, then we have a serious problem.

Hopefully the quarantining of welfare payments will be among those aspects of the legislation that are currently being proposed for amendment.