Welfare Surveillance, Income Management and New Paternalism in Australia

Mike Dee

Abstract


This article discusses the situation of income support claimants in Australia, constructed as faulty citizens and flawed welfare subjects. Many are on the receiving end of complex, multi-layered forms of surveillance aimed at securing socially responsible and compliant behaviours. In Australia, as in other Western countries, neoliberal economic regimes with their harsh and often repressive treatment of welfare recipients operate in tandem with a burgeoning and costly arsenal of CCTV and other surveillance and governance assemblages. Through a program of ‘Income Management’, initially targeting (mainly) Indigenous welfare recipients in Australia’s Northern Territory, the BasicsCard (administered by Centrelink, on behalf of the Australian Federal Government’s Department of Human Services) is one example of this welfare surveillance. The scheme operates by ‘quarantining’ a percentage of a claimant’s welfare entitlements to be spent by way of the BasicsCard on ‘approved’ items only. The BasicsCard scheme raises significant questions about whether it is possible to encourage people to take responsibility for themselves if they no longer have real control over the most important aspects of their lives. Some Indigenous communities have resisted the BasicsCard, criticising it because the imposition of income management leads to a loss of trust, dignity, and individual agency. Further, income management of individuals by the welfare state contradicts the purported aim that they become less ‘welfare dependent’ and more ‘self-reliant’. In highlighting issues around compulsory income management this paper makes a contribution to the largely under discussed area of income management and the growth of welfare surveillance, with its propensity for function creep, garnering large volumes of data on users approved (and declined) purchasing decisions, complete with dates, amounts, times and locations.

Keywords


Income Management, Surveillance, Welfare, BasicsCard, Centrelink

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