Monday, July 21, 2008

Baby packs

I caught this news clip on Triple J this afternoon.

They say the baby bonus has been extremely damaging in Cape York communities, leading to more teenage pregnancies and men using violence to force partners off contraception and to hand over the bonus.

Instead they propose handing out baby packs containing things like nappies and formula as an incentive for children to have regular health checks.

Just how many ways is this wrong?

From a practical point of view, what do you put in baby packs that equal the value of the baby bonus? What does every baby need? OK, many, many babies use disposable nappies, but not all, and not enough of them to make up the total. Formula? WTF? Fine, if it's required, but lots of people don't need it. There is virtually nothing else that any given child definitely needs. Maybe a $100 worth of bathing products might be handy, especially for people living in remote communities. Not exactly thousands of dollars' worth.

And then if you manage to come up with something that makes any sense at all, how come only black fellas need to be told how to spend the money? Why not extend it to everyone? Of course, it wouldn't have helped me, I am one of those lucky white people who happen to live somewhere that still has private obstetricians, so I spent all of mine on her, and it didn't cover it. But I'm guessing the people referred to above don't have that choice. I guess if they already have most of their choices wiped out, taking away some more won't matter.

And then of course, we come to the real point. It makes me so angry I can barely write coherently about it. We are talking about communities in which many people are disenfranchised, have poor living standards and little hope for a future improvement. Women are even more so. The baby bonus pays women directly, it should be empowering but the power balance is so skewed it is being used against them. So we look at this horrific situation and we say "Bad Baby Bonus" - clearly it is the root of all evil. We don't say "What do we need to do to support these women?". Or even more sensibly "What do these women want us to do?".

I think there are a whole host of ways the money spent on the baby bonus could be better used (doing something about the insane insurance premiums removing private obs from business for one, but I'm guessing there could be plenty of others), but there is nothing to be gained by treating remote indigenous women like children. Truly unbelievable.


  1. Argh, the stupid, it burns!

    I have many problems with the baby bonus not least of which is that we should be funding decent paid maternity and paternity leave instead of handing out token "buy the voters" lump sums. But putting all that aside, formula? Formula?! If there's one thing that should be being encouraged and supported in the communities in question, it's breastfeeding. Handing out formula as a routine thing seems very misguided.

  2. I used my baby bonus to pay the rent n' bills while I wasn't working. Some little luxuries like food and so on too, hiring a breastpump for a couple of months, and nappies. Lots and lots of nappies.

    The whole set up is so frustrating, welfare is provided to (indigenous and non-indigenous) people at arms length (without checking that people receiving it are educated in handling the money and capable of planning & budgeting, and then if they are indigenous, and it turns out that they weren't capable of planning & budgeting (because they weren't provided with the education they're entitled to) we give them a showbag and take away all their choices. Which entrenches the institutionalisation, and still doesn't teach people how to manage their money in future.