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Australia plans to change 'racist' policy that restricts how Outback Aborigines spend welfare

Categorías: Australia

CANBERRA, Australia - Australia plans to reform a policy criticized as racist for restricting how Outback Aborigines spend their welfare checks by applying it to recipients regardless of ethnicity, the prime minister said Wednesday.

The government introduced so-called "income management" into Aboriginal settlements in the remote Northern Territory three years ago. The policy aims to reduce alcohol and drug abuse by withholding part of Aborigines' welfare checks so the money can only be spent on essentials such as food, clothing and rent.

It was part of a package of radical measures aimed at tackling rampant sexual abuse of indigenous children.

Aborigines are the poorest ethnic group in Australia, and many Aboriginal communities survive almost entirely on welfare.

The government wants to extend the spending restrictions to everyone — not just Aborigines — receiving welfare payments in Northern Territory from July 1, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Wednesday. People new to welfare will also have their spending restricted if social workers think they need help handling money.

The changes will depend on legislation proposed next week to the Senate, where the government holds a minority of seats.

The measures will "ensure that more welfare is spent on life's essentials like food, clothes and rent and less goes to alcohol," Rudd told Parliament.

It will "support and encourage families to make positive decisions about the critical things for their families like education, health and nutrition," he added.

The United Nations special rapporteur on indigenous human rights, James Anaya, last year described welfare management as "demeaning" and incompatible with Australia's obligations under indigenous and human rights conventions.

Irene Khan, secretary-general of the London-based human rights group Amnesty International, mirrored Anaya's criticisms after visiting squalid Outback camps last year, saying such measures targeting Aborigines compromised human rights.

Richard Downs, of the Alyawarr Aboriginal tribe in the Northern Territory, said he expected Aborigines would be disproportionately targeted under the loose rules of the new system.

"Indigenous people seem to be put in a class of criminals and people who can't manage their lives," Downs said.

Amnesty International Australia said in a statement that while the new regime would not be directly racially discriminatory, concerns remain that it would disproportionately effect Aborigines.

Aborigines make up about 2 per cent of Australia's 22 million-strong population. But almost 30 per cent of the Northern Territory's population of 200,000 is Aboriginal, the highest proportion in the country.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott told Parliament on Wednesday he supported the changes, indicating the legislation may pass in the Senate.


Wednesday June 16th, 2010



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