Income Management and Indigenous Women: A New Chapter of Patriarchal Colonial Governance?

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    Like other colonial countries, Australia has long governed its First Peoples with intrusive paternalism. Paternalistic governance has created ongoing problems for Australia’s First Peoples, also referred to in national discourse as Indigenous peoples and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Such paternalism has created specific difficulties for Indigenous women who have been subject to surveillance and controlled by colonialism in every sphere of their lives. This article will explore some of these forms of surveillance and argue that new forms of paternalism ushered in by ‘the global ascendance of neoliberal policies and discourses’ have reproduced similar racialised and gendered impacts for Indigenous women as were apparent in previous policies. Situating income management in a global context, welfare reform has been and continues to be underway in many Western nations as policies are fitted to the framework of the ‘austere, neo-liberal state’. According to the policy logic associated with austerity, ‘“we” are all equally called upon to tighten our belts, to be prudent with “our” limited resources, to be careful and “austere” in the sense of being self-disciplined, or of forgoing unnecessary luxuries’. Australia has vigorously adopted this approach towards those welfare recipients who have been selected for income management trials. Australia’s special brand of austerity for (mostly) Indigenous welfare recipients has been a government issued ‘BasicsCard’ which quarantines a substantial percentage of welfare payments depending on the category of income management to which welfare recipients are subject. Such income managed funds can only be spent on government defined priority needs at government-approved retailers or service providers. However, as this article will reveal, income management has created considerable problems that remain unaddressed and unacknowledged by government law and policymakers responsible for welfare reform. Other countries interested in adopting a similar system of cashless welfare transfers, such as the United Kingdom, could learn from the mistakes made by Australian law and policymakers responsible for income management.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)843-878
    JournalUniversity of New South Wales Law Journal
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


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