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The Australian National University

The Intervention, Stronger Futures, and the Cashless Debit Card: A Rights Restrictive Trajectory

Presented by

Shelley Bielefeld
Inaugural Braithwaite Research Fellow
School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet) ANU


Room 2145 (Jon Altman Room), Level 2, Copland Building #24 (Kingsley Place behind the Street Theatre), Australian National University, unless otherwise noted.


Wednesday, 18 October 2017
12.30 - 2.00pm


This paper traces the discursive trajectory of rights restriction under the Northern Territory Emergency Response (the 'Intervention'), the Stronger Futures framework, and the Cashless Debit Card, exploring the interplay between evidence and the requirement that limitations on human rights be proportionate. It also examines the capacity for ongoing interventionist policy development that builds upon the NT Intervention narratives, where proponents present their policy as a 'compassionate' and 'caring' response.

The Intervention commenced in 2007 with the suspension of human rights for Indigenous Peoples in prescribed communities, eliciting strong criticism from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Upon the expiration of the Intervention in 2012, the Stronger Futures policy framework was adopted, deploying many of the same narratives that rationalised the Intervention. The government asserted that certain Stronger Futures measures were now non-racially discriminatory, such as income management. More recently, similar narratives have contributed to the government's rationale for introducing the Cashless Debit Card (CDC). The government has stressed that community dysfunction, welfare dependence, and addiction have made the CDC a necessary policy measure.

Like other forms of income management that preceded it, the CDC has a disproportionate impact on Indigenous peoples. Although acknowledging that the CDC legislation restricts the enjoyment of a range of human rights, including the right to be free from racial discrimination, the government claims that such limitations are directed towards a legitimate objective and are a proportionate means of addressing policy problems. This paper will critically analyse these claims.



Dr Shelley Bielefeld is the Inaugural Braithwaite Research Fellow at the School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet) at the Australian National University. Her research concerns social justice issues affecting Australia's First Peoples, including problems arising from the Northern Territory Intervention begun in 2007, and from the Stronger Futures framework begun in 2012. Her work on Indigenous law and policy law is influenced by the concerns expressed by people subject to those strictures.



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