The historical study of exemptions has focused on escape from protectionist policies designed to control and monitor Aboriginal people in Australia — restricting their freedom of movement, intruding into their family life, and reducing their ability to participate on equal terms in the labour force. In this paper, we consider a contemporary policy — income management — which primarily restricts the freedom to dispose of personal income and has targeted Aboriginal people and communities, both directly and indirectly. Provisions for individual exemptions have been incorporated inconsistently within the many iterations of income management, and Aboriginal people are significantly less likely than others to be granted an exit from this form of financial control. The study reported here is an example of mixed-methods social research, rather than an historiography. We use techniques of historical comparison to illuminate contemporary practices and identify the ongoing influence of settler-colonial governance in the lives of Aboriginal people.