Income Management in the Northern Territory: Food for Taxis

Claire Smith, Gary Jackson

Research output: Other contribution


When the government receives the recommendations of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) Review Board later this month, it is going to have to face the unintended consequences of its actions. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin have stated on a number of occasions that their yardstick for whether an NTER measure is working is: ‘Is it good for kids?’ We have just conducted an in-depth study of the impact of the NTER on 118 people in the Katherine East region. Let us assess one NTER measure against the Prime Minister’s yardstick. The NTER measure of income management has meant that half of people’s welfare payments must be spent of food and other essential items, such as clothing. This income support can only be accessed through store cards that are distributed in the major townships, and which can only be spent at major outlets.

Our study found that income management has meant that more money is being spent on children’s needs. This is because all members of the family who receive welfare benefits are issued with store cards – so there are more funds in the food pool. In the past, some family members could avoid contributing to household food budgets, and just spend their money on their personal priorities, knowing that they would get a share of the food, anyway. The introduction of store cards has meant that all adult family members now have to contribute directly to household budgets. Even if you ‘sell’ your store card to another family member, you won’t get the full value, as that person has limited available cash. Irrespective of how it may move within the community, a $50 store card can only be spent on food and other necessities.

More food and clothes has to be good for kids, so on the face of it, income management would seem to fulfill the Prime Minister’s yardstick of ‘Is it good for kids?
However, the situation gets murky if you look a little further.

The major problem concerns where you live. The NTER targets Aboriginal communities in remote areas (though it also includes some town camps and communities), but it is administered from town. In order to comply with the various provisions of the NTER, Aboriginal people have to get themselves to town. The people who are targeted by the NTER are living on welfare, and very few people have a car (perhaps one in ten). There is no regional transport system. So, the only way to get into town is for a few people to band together to pay for a taxi. In the communities of Barunga, Eva Valley and Wugularr a one-way taxi ride varies from $160 to $220. Luckily, this counts as an essential service, so income management funds can be diverted from food to taxis. So, people pay $220 to drive past their community store (where they are not allowed to use their income managed funds) so they can collect their store cards and buy their food in town.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherABC Opinion Online
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Oct 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Northern Territory Emergency Intervention
  • social justice
  • racial discrimination
  • remote Aboriginal communities

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