Australia settles lawsuit against racist welfare system criticised

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Aboriginal communities asserted that the welfare policy violated anti-discrimination law

Australia’s government will pay A$2m (£1.1m; $1.4m) in compensation to hundreds of Aboriginal people who said a welfare scheme was racist.

To receive income benefits, people living in the remote outback had to work as much as 25 hours per week under “work for no pay” to be eligible.

However, the requirements were so strict that vulnerable individuals were forced further into poverty.

While the government reached an agreement in a suit, they did not admit to being at fault.

Advocates stated that several people were struggling to live after their payments were cut.

Australia requires welfare recipients to log job searches and complete other tasks before they can receive benefits.

Advocates argue that these conditions disadvantage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities living in the most remote and poorest parts of Australia.

The residents have very limited access to internet and phone services. Additional language, cultural and educational barriers exist for many.

Critics said that the Community Development Programme (CDP), which was launched in 2015, was unjust because it had stricter guidelines than other welfare systems. The CDP was used by more than 80 percent of Aboriginal Australians.

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A 680-strong group from 10 Western Australia communities sued the government, alleging that the scheme violated the anti-discrimination laws.

President of Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku Damien McLean stated that locals would have to drive 1,000km (622 miles) to reach the closest town centre of Alice Springs, Kalgoorlie, to present themselves at the welfare office.

According to the Australian National University, they had to work 25 percent more hours than those living in cities. They also faced penalties 25 times more often.

The Federal Court of Australia determined that the plaintiffs had suffered an average loss of A$1,800 due to the terms of the program.

The scheme was previously referred to by critics as modern-day slavery. People received A$10 per hour, half of what the National Minimum Wage was.

In announcing earlier this year the cancellation of the program, the government stated that it would introduce a new programme by 2023.

It was also ordered to settle a settlement of A$1.2bn for a welfare program called “Robodebt”, which had been declared illegal.

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