First Nations consumer advocates from the Save Sorry Business Coalition have greeted the announcement that the Federal Government will extend its Interim Youpla Scheme with a renewed call for establishing a fair and culturally appropriate resolution.
Bettina Cooper, Boandik woman and Save Sorry Business Coalition Coordinator & Aboriginal Financial Counsellor at Mob Strong Debt Help explained, “We have cautious optimism about the announcement from Ministers Linda Burney and Stephen Jones, with hopes that this will be the final extension before the Federal Government’s enduring resolution is announced.”
Advocates recognise that the 30 June 2024 extension will relieve pressure on those at risk of passing. For the 325 First Nations families who have already benefited from the Youpla Funeral Benefit Program, this has been a welcome first step in the resolution process by the Federal Government and has allowed those families to conduct Sorry Business with dignity.
The Federal Government’s role in legitimising and facilitating payments from low-income First Nations families through the Centrepay system dates back to 2001, coinciding with a significant increase in profits for the company that the Federal Court of Australia found to have engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct.
First Nations representatives have worked with the Federal Minister for Financial Services, Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones, and Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney for over a year. A range of government and regulatory failures have been identified and examined, including the registration and continuation of Youpla on Centrepay.
“Minister Burney has previously given assurance that the scheme will include culturally appropriate options such as refunds/payments, replacement funeral bonds, and savings products. This needs to occur alongside culturally appropriate financial counselling support. We are seeking confirmation of these elements,” said Bettina.
First Nations representatives have also met with the offices of the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Treasurer Jim Chalmers, Finance Minister Katy Gallagher, Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth, Government Services Minister Bill Shorten, and many others to highlight the targeted exploitation of vulnerable First Nations people and the Centrepay system over two decades.
“It is over thirty years since Youpla started targeting First Nations people and over twenty years since the Federal Government approved Youpla to receive payments via Centrepay, taking money straight from people’s social security payments before they could even put food on the table. We estimate over 100,000 people, or 10% of all First Nations people, have been directly harmed by Youpla,” said Bettina.
“This exploitation and deception have caused severe intergenerational harm to individuals, families, and communities. It has created financial and cultural crises, worsened health outcomes, and deepened poverty that will take decades to recover from. It has widened the Gap,” said Bettina.
“Responsibility for fixing that lies with the Federal Government. We will continue working with them as a priority to ensure they deliver a fair and culturally appropriate resolution that does not leave First Nations people behind,” said Bettina.