Comment: Do politicians need income management?

Politicians that don't know how to spend public money wisely might need an 'intervention', writes El Gibbs (AAP)

Income management sounds like the perfect solution for politicians who are inveterate spenders from the public purse, writes El Gibbs.

There’s been a great deal written over the last few weeks about the ever increasing amounts of allowances our elected representatives grant themselves to attend various functions.

AusOpinion’s own Drag0nista had a timely look back at the history of this largesse and its previous political consequences.

Now, there are a variety of ideas around to change this, but I suggest that there’s already a system for making sure those in receipt of public funds don’t abuse the privilege. A system that our elected representatives are big fans of, so let’s roll it out for them too.

Our new Prime Minister is a strong supporter of income management; a delightful piece of public policy first implemented by the Howard Government in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory as part of the so-called ‘Intervention’. The previous Government were also fans, with Minister Macklin expanding the program to include those in other Australian suburbs, despite considerable local opposition.

Income management is intended to “help you manage your money to meet essential household needs and expenses. Through Income Management, you can learn to better manage your finances in the long term.” Sounds like a perfect system for those politicians who seem to be having a little bit of trouble managing their own public monies.

Ignoring any actual evidence about the effectiveness of this policy approach, let’s take the words of the Prime Minister himself, from a 2011 speech to the Queensland Chamber of Commerce.

‘Quarantining welfare income is a justified interference in people’s lives because taxpayers have a right to insist that their money is not wasted. I originally proposed this while Shadow Minister for Family and Community Services in May 2008. Last year, as part of normalizing the intervention, the government introduced automatic welfare quarantine for all long-term unemployment beneficiaries in the Northern Territory. Because this is right in the Territory, it can hardly be wrong elsewhere. Ensuring that at least 50 per cent of welfare income is spent on the necessities of life should be a help rather than a hindrance for unemployed people. It would also have the advantage of discouraging people who might be “working the system”.’

[Note: emphasis added]

Great! Abbott is on board already with the notion that taxpayers money is not to be wasted on such frivolous things as an occasional beer. He is cross at people ‘working the system’ and keen to make sure that public income is spent on the ‘necessities of life.’

Income management is one of several exciting policies that the Government uses to make sure people in receipt of public money don’t waste it, or break the rules. For anyone getting public money through Centrelink, there are a couple of extra ways to make sure that any mistakes made with claiming that money are dealt with. See, no need for some new elaborate system for politicians getting public money when there’s already such an excellent system in place.

If you are on Newstart, or other welfare payments, then any breach of the rules can mean your payment is reduced (from an already exciting $35/day), or stopped for up to eight weeks. Both major parties are fans of these kind of penalties, citing the importance to Australian taxpayers. Pesky charities, like St Vincent de Paul, have raised concerns about the impact of the policy in the past, but it’s obvious that anyone getting taxpayers money must be able to follow the rules, even if the rules seem a bit unfair.

Once again, Prime Minister Abbott is on board with this approach. In 2000, he said:

No-one can be breached unless he or she unreasonably fails to obey the rules. Job Network members and Centrelink are only too happy to accommodate people’s difficulties attending interviews but, to the relief of taxpayers and the vast majority of genuine job seekers, no longer operate in a climate of “any excuse will do”. Breaking an entrenched “entitlement” mindset is far from easy.

Fantastic! So, the rules for those getting public money on welfare, where any mistake is punished with a suspension of all payments for a number of weeks, will definitely get support from the PM.

And then there is the wonderfully named ‘mutual obligation’ requirements. Over the last decade or so, folks getting public money have to perform useful community services such as cleaning up local parks, or volunteering with a local charity. Prime Minister Abbott is very keen on this idea, with plans to make sure that more people are eligible for this great opportunity.

So how could this work for politicians? If they are serious about how important it is for public money to be used wisely, because taxpayers, then the existing rules for people on welfare should apply. Any politician that makes a mistake will have their entitlements suspended for eight weeks. If politicians are found to need help in managing their money, then they will be issued with a BasicsCard and 50% of their income will be quarantined to only be spent on essentials. And I’ll leave it up to you in the comments to suggest what their mutual obligation requirements should be.

Sounds fair to me.

El Gibbs writes things on the internetz and IRL about policy, politics and more. She’s a grumpy policy wonk, trying to be optimistic. She blogs at Bluntshovels. This article was first published on

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