Most Australians have a basic understanding and uncomfortable acceptance that a certain amount of pork barrelling goes on within political circles.
To define the term, “pork barrel” is “… a metaphor for the appropriation of government spending for localised projects secured solely or primarily to bring money to a representative’s district. This form of political device helps attract campaign contributions and the support of local voters.”
Essentially, the pork barrel is considered the primary means for securing voter patronage, which in turn is the most effective strategy to win elections.
What happens though, when pork-barrelling moves beyond this electioneering context and is utilized instead as a strategic method for securing support for government policies and programs anathema to social justice and the national interest?
In our investigation into the implementation processes of the Indue LTD Cashless Debit Card Trial [CDCT] in Ceduna South Australia, this was one of the first questions raised as we noted the abundance of new grants and other funding that had suddenly materialized in the area in the lead up to the card trial that began in March 2016. This conveniently timed funding boom was distinct from those funds allocated to local area service groups under the trial legislation’s ‘wrap around services’ package designed to support the cards implementation processes.
To date we have been able to trace amounts that exceed 50 million dollars, in Federal, State and other funding arriving into the Ceduna region following the decision by Ceduna District Council to take on the Indue LTD Card Trial.
During the period of negotiations between government CDC teams and Ceduna officials as early as April 2015, concerns were raised by local residents and some service groups that threats were being made by officials to the effect that funding reductions could be a possibility should agreement to the demands for a card trial not be forthcoming. Complaints were also made regarding several obvious conflicts of interests this funding was creating as regards the investments of Ceduna council friendly groups and businesses.
The issue of threats to reduce already skeletal funding to local services was never investigated and consumer complaints were dismissed out of hand by Council itself or brushed aside as the petty concerns of angry alcoholics and “welfare bludgers” in local and national media. Worse, given the federal Governments media mantra that the card’s primary purpose was to stop violence and alcoholism, those who rejected the imposition of this trial locally and raised legitimate concerns nationally, were further labelled as being closet supporters of child abuse, domestic violence and addiction.
As an example of early funding boosts, among the many projects we investigated, was a December 2015 decision by the Federal Government to fund a fish unloading facility in Ceduna, which had for eight years, recorded multiple unsuccessful attempts to gain Federal or State funding support.
Speaking shortly after the 2013 denial of this same funding, somewhat ironically, the District Council of Ceduna Mayor Allan Suter remarked to media “It appears funding was taken from the regional process and put into campaigning in the Sydney Metro areas, which is another case of Government pork barrelling.”
This facility development project grant was conveniently granted $10 million dollars in funding in December 2015, $4.3 million of which extends from Round Two of the Australian Government’s National Stronger Regions Fund.
We also examined over $8 million in grant funding given to the community of Yalata, a primary card trial site in the Ceduna catchment following Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s visit in November 2016.
Yalata Anangu School principal Bob Sim ecstatic at receiving a much needed $2.5 million share of the new funding pool, stated that this grant money would be used to build an early learning centre for children up to the age of five, on the existing school grounds. The remainder of Yalata grant pool to be utilised on upgrades to infrastructure in the area including money for a caravan park, roadhouse and the area’s rubbish tip. As Mr Sim rightly declared in media, “The effects from the grant would be felt throughout the community “.
Next we compared Ceduna’s funding experience, with that of the community of Halls Creek, and as this article demonstrates, immediately on refusal of the card trial by the Hall’s Creek community, government negotiation teams employed strong arm tactics in attempts to manipulate the community, including the threat to leave the community out of state-wide reform funding.
Speaking to WA Today, (Shire President Mr Edwards) said, “… regional development minister Terry Redman then flew in “out of the blue” and “made it clear that opposition to a trial … would strongly influence the level of investment made under WA’s largest ever redistribution of state and federal funding in the Kimberly and Pilbera – a funding pool worth $4.5 billion annually.” Mr Edwards further notes; “We took it from that discussion that unless the Shire accepted and supported a trial of the cashless debit card there would be a negative impact on service provision under the regional reform program.”
In reply on questioning and in classic ‘newspeak’ Minister Redman said “… there was no plan to “take money away” from the shire, but when making funding decisions in relation to regional services reform, the government would focus on “investing in communities looking to move into a positive future.”
We must be clear at this point, that we do not decry any remote or rural community taking all it can from variable funding opportunities, especially those 274 regional communities that were facing closure under the current government only weeks before card trial negotiations began in Ceduna. We are more than aware that these communities have quite literally been starved of services, resources and attention under the current government to the extent that ongoing viability of their towns and communities is in question.
In this regard, Ceduna is not a special case nor was it even a high priority case for federal funding, as other remote and rural communities across the nation were. Communities such as Whitegate, having had even their access to drinking water switched off, such has been the overall contempt, lack of interest and care for remote community health and the overt government neglect of the remote regions communities as whole.
We do empathise greatly and can comprehend the urgency of need in some communities for access to Federal and State grant money, this is a given for us as a social justice group. What we cannot abide however, is the current sacrifice by some, of the lives, Human Rights and essential liberties of their fellow community members in order to achieve personal interest inspired funding objectives – expressively in Ceduna, given its comparatively healthy local economy, location and social demographic, which means it had considerably less social problems than other locations and less need for Federal funding than any other remote area at the time of card trial negotiations.
We hold that to barter away the human rights of selected members of any community, for money, is as repugnant as the government that would demand community leaders do so. To underscore this abuse, and attempt to achieve ideological or funding goals under the guise of supporting victims of crime, addiction or poverty when alternatives and documented evidentiary support exists to counter the current proposals, is simply abhorrent and an abuse not just of power and position, but of public trust in the process of our entire representative democracy.
The next thing our investigations noted, was that these card trial negotiations in Ceduna were invisible i.e.: they were not independently overseen and were undertaken without community consultation or involvement. According to the transcript noted below, this consultation process continued for well over nine months and existed “on many levels”. According to Mayor Suter’s own statement, they also took place with no involvement at all by the 950 targeted residents. [See: Community Affairs Legislation Committee Friday 11th September 2015 pages 60-65].
On the one hand Australians nationwide were hearing from Alan Tudge in media about the ‘extensive community engagement and consultation processes underway’ in Ceduna, yet from the documented evidence presented to the Senate Estimates Committee via On Notice questions – many of which are still as yet unanswered, it is clear that no such community consultation or decision-making process ever took place.
It was only much later after the decision had already been made by Council to host the trial, that this consultative circle widened to include selected community groups now known as “regional leadership groups” whose inclusion was contingent on their approval of the card trial program. One example of this being the Ceduna Aboriginal Corporation [CAC], whom we are informed, had exhausted funding just prior to its selection for “community engagement” and subsequently has now had funding renewed. According to State Parliamentary committee records, two more groups selected for inclusion at this stage also reported that they had no ongoing funding as July 1st, 2015. The CAC itself, an organisation essential to maintaining any appearance of community support for the card trial in Ceduna, is still one of Alan Tudge’s most oft utilised star community consultant groups in press releases and speeches today.
Needless to say, groups or organisations opposed to the trial card, were not given any democratic access to decision making facilitators. They were given no representation, media voice or community placement in negotiations whatsoever. No general consultation meetings were held, nothing resembling a community vote on the card trial was taken and submissions that were given to council that reflected opposition viewpoints or alternatives, while remaining on record, have in effect been ignored or negated to irrelevancy.
As regards the few public information meetings available to income recipients, residents were simply informed of the fait accompli and what this would mean for them. Therefore, it is no surprise that this was not seen as an authentic consultative process by them, rather a soapbox or stage for Ceduna Councils decisions. These meetings were duly rejected by the majority of income support recipients as “useless” as all the exceedingly important negotiations regarding choice, recipient concerns, alternatives, local funding choices, viable projects, community needs assessments, risks assessments, card trial perimeters – essentially all decision making and deficit recording did not include them, or indeed any community groups or services from the get go.
The recently released Orima Research Interim Report* provides the following statistics, that cover a 12-month period from March 2016 to March 2-17 inclusive:
Of Participants: 49% said the Cashless Debit Card Trial [CDCT] had made their lives worse, 22% that it had made it better.
Of Family members of trial participants gave a similar pattern of answers 37% and 27% respectively.
Of Non-participants: 46% said that the CDCT had made life in their community better and 18% that it had made life worse.
Across both trial locations, just 25% of CDCT participants and 13% of their family members reported drinking alcohol less frequently since the Trial commenced.
In the Overview of Findings against KPIs section, the report makes the qualifying statement that “All community leaders (members of regional leadership groups) who participated in the Wave 1 qualitative research were supportive of the CDCT”. Yet on page 6, the report also states that no community leadership groups participated in the trial evaluation – an evaluation which we would assume would have included Wave 1 qualitative research? This apparent contradiction and other such ambiguities left unattended, had us a little perturbed to say the least.
Statistics also provided on page 6 under the ‘Alcohol’ subheading, provided that 24% of CDCT participants and 28% of CDCT participants’ family members reported that they had noticed a reduction in the drinking of alcohol in their community since the Trial started. If you look again and the note the asterisk’s, you will also note one important feature. That while these figures themselves are quantitatively organised, it remains they are just a statistical representation, of anecdotal evidence. This same device is utilised throughout the report that when examined, make up a majority of the reported “data”.
It remains, that these statistics are simply a record of perceptions and observations, recorded in scientific-like fashion, and as such, are not applicable as authentic data sets when it comes to the deterministic evaluation of quantitative changes to literal consumption habits of individuals nor are they indicative of actual reductions of alcohol consumption in the community. They tell us nothing other than what people think they might or do see, with no way for any researcher to externally verify those observations whatsoever. They’re data-non-data. Graph fillers.
We found similar structural concerns and shortcuts or absences of data throughout the report, on every key issue, gambling**, crime***, sexual assault, and family violence. On gambling observations, where state trends & tourist season fluctuations impact variability extensively, these conditions were ignored and again, actual trial participant behaviors were either not recorded, or were recorded by third parties with no way to proof validity.
More concerning were effusive statements made regarding crime statistics that for two paragraphs completely ignored the South Australian Police’s own expert data, to emotionally assert that crime had dropped in the Ceduna region, where it has already been irrefutably proven that this is simply not the case. **
This in itself sets a very dangerous precedent given the stated independence of this evaluation process, not just the use of effusive language in a deterministic trial evaluation report, but that expert data, as readily available to Orima research teams as it is to us, is in such conflict with the report findings yet is in no conflict at all with the government’s own press statements making the same unfounded statements regarding the extent of local crime.
If the intention of this trial evaluation, was to report on forced income management’s capacity to make non CDCT participants happy or to record people’s observations of the CDCT process, then we might take no issue with what has been reported as data.
However, the stated aims of the CDCT, is to document actual data regarding the actual habits of actual participants and to supply this information to the Australian Government and people, for comparative analysis.
As was the case in the Ceduna Progress report released Oct 2016, instead we have found a disturbing lack of critical evidence; we find intentionally obtuse and misleading statements regarding the information that was collected and again, a lack of authoritative essential data and objective reporting on that data as regards the actual outcomes and activity of actual CDCT participants themselves.
Importantly, less than one full page in this report speaks to negative impacts of the CDCT on the lives of trial participants and even now, despite complaints, the label ‘participant’ is still being utilised without any qualifier. This term which implies a choice existed where none in actuality did, remains offensive to those forced through no fault of their own to comply with government demands to engage in the trial process under significant duress, for many, simply in order to continue to eat and live.
Yet despite evident research failures and the imbalance between the qualitative and quantitative data supplied; despite the abundant contradictions existent throughout the report and a general failure rate of 49-52% to improve quality of life for trial participants; and in light of such a high stake holder and participant non-participation rate across the board, the Orima report concluding statement still states:
“Given the absence of material changes in other influential factors and conditions, the positive short term impacts reported since the commencement of the CDCT appear likely to be largely attributable to the Trial.“
And therein lies the problem.
Firstly this statement makes a judgement inconsistent with evaluation findings, and ignores other as-likely potential contributors to the stated outcomes, such as the dozen or so easily envisaged reasons why a person may not drink or use their usual toxin of choice for a period of time, or any other reason they may feel compelled to lie to a researcher, such as embarrassment or familial and social pressures being applied in situ. The latter has been noted as a serious concern in these very small and tight knit communities where threats have been made (sources verified) against individuals opposing the card publicly and privately to the extent people have had to leave trial regions in fear of their personal safety.
More importantly, this ignores the extent to which Government manipulation in the trial process, via “pork-barrelling” grants to and for services and the alterations to the power balance of communities due to selective funding of certain interest groups has already impacted the community. It also ignores how this funding has influenced the qualitative research data being supplied by key stakeholders i.e.: local businesses, social services and organizations dependent on trial associated funding themselves. As key Stakeholders are compelled only to provide qualitative data for this evaluation, the opportunity for attribution error, for bias if not outright abuse of data reporting, is substantial and yet remains innominate within the reports concluding statements.
As you can see by the statements in our own opening paragraphs, the impact of this parallel funding is being felt throughout the entire community and region akin to rain breaking a long drought. This funding is now addressing many basic social needs that have until now, gone unmet. There is simply no way given this intrusion of government funding to distinguish between benefits gained through restriction of capacity to purchase alcohol and gambling products, and the benefits accrued that may be owed to a more congenial social environment within the communities affected, owing to selective funding effects.
If Alan Tudge and the CDCT teams thought that by narrowing the definition of this card trial and subsequent evaluation focus to an equation of one i.e.: ‘does restricting access to alcohol restrict alcohol purchases’, was in any way clever, they were wrong.
If we were to take your car away, we can guarantee that if you have legs, you must then walk to your next destination, that is not evidence of success, that is merely statement of fact. Further, this does not prove we were correct to take your car away or had the right to take it in the first place or that taking away your vehicle was useful to you. All it does prove is that we could take it and did.
This equation of one will not provide nearly enough information or hard data for wider community consideration in regard to determining the effectiveness of the card itself or when considering the wider implications of the imposition of this card program on larger communities or on a national scale. It will not begin to address the potential range of impacts of cash restricted Social Security payments much less their efficacy in addressing the consequences of alcohol over-consumption and violence in our communities.
What is very clear on examination of the KPI’s and trial framework alone, is that the purpose of this trial and the current evaluation in process appear designed for one thing only – to manufacture consent, and in doing so, to ensure the national roll out of corporatised health and welfare in Australia, starting from the bottom up. The Texas sharpshooter fallacy at work in this entire process, is obvious, insulting and severely underestimates the intelligence of the Australian community at large. ****
Throughout our investigations we have discussed the trials and card life reality on the ground with many Ceduna and Kununurra residents. One of the more frequent statements we have heard is that ‘there is so much pork-barrelling going on’. Hence our investigations began, and this article was initiated.
Today, and with respect to those residents, we must reject this statement outright, as what we have seen in the record and in investigations of the actions taken by the current government so far towards expediting this card pogrom, go well beyond this simply defined wheel greasing idiom and artefact of national governance.
When an entire class of Australian taxpaying citizen is utilized to circumvent due democratic processes for the benefit of a corporate agenda;
When the Privacy, Economic, Civil and Human Rights of forced participants are considered secondary concerns;
When Anti-Discrimination legislation that applies to all other classes of citizen in the nation is nullified through policy without question or challenge;
When the lives of our most vulnerable citizens are manipulated in order to establish a foundation for citizenship teiring and used as a fulcrum for ideological bastardry;
When entire communities and their duly elected officials can be held hostage and manipulated via grant hoarding or releases;
When fiscal apartheid is considered an acceptable means of budget containment;
And when the lives of five ‘participants’ lost due to suicide in despair at forced detoxification and loss of personal autonomy don’t even rate a mention in the only national report that concerns them; then it’s time we found a new word, because ‘pork barrel’ no longer suffices.
We need a new idiom, one that encapsulates exactly what it is that this government is doing, and we need it now.
* Orima Wave 1 Interim Evaluation Report
** The gambling data in Ceduna that shows that recorded observations of Ceduna gambling declines attributed in the Orima Interim Report seem to be in line with state-wide reductions in gambling.
Gambling revenue has fallen by 15% in SA over the 12 months to June.
It seems to have been falling over the past five years as well (take a look at the reports here). In Ceduna, it has been on a downward trend at least since 2011/12 (could be longer, just haven’t checked the other years).
*** No Welfare Card Australia Police Crime Data tracking:
This article was originally published on saynoseven.wordpress.com