Cashless Welfare Card Trial Goes Ahead
15 October 2015 at 10:18 am
The Federal Government’s cashless welfare card trial will go ahead after the Labor Party voted with the Government in the Senate to pass the controversial legislation.
The trial is set to begin in the South Australian community of Ceduna in February 2016.
Debate on the legislation to set up the trial began in the Senate on Tuesday, the same day a Senate inquiry report urged the Minister for Social Services to include safety net provisions to ensure that vulnerable people were able to be excluded from the trial.
The Senate Committee – which included three Coalition members and two Labor members – also recommended the Bill be passed.
The Committee said that the legislation offered an opportunity to trial measures to reduce alcohol and gambling related harm and improve outcomes in welfare dependent communities.
While it acknowledged that there could be some opposition to the trial, the committee said it was satisfied that the ongoing consultation process would ensure these concerns would be addressed as the trial was implemented.
On Monday welfare experts called on the Australian Senate to “push the pause” button on the government’s welfare debit card trial.
As part of Anti-Poverty Week, the National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN) said it was not time for the government to forge ahead with the card.
The debit card will restrict people’s access to cash by quarantining up to 80 per cent of welfare payments, in a bid to prevent recipients buying alcohol, gambling and spending money on drugs.
The remaining 20 per cent of welfare funds would be available a nominated bank account to provide cash.
The trial will begin in Ceduna which is said to have the highest percentage of Aboriginal people of all local government areas in South Australia with a total Indigenous population of 1226 and 47 per cent being subject to the debit card controls.
The Senate Committee said it recognised particular concerns about the need for safety net provisions raised by the Commonwealth Ombudsman to ensure welfare recipients are not further disadvantaged by the introduction of the trial and recommend that these issues should be addressed prior to the implementation of the trial in February 2016.
The legislation was opposed by the Greens who argued that the trials for a cashless welfare card would make life harder for Australians living under the poverty line .
“The Australian Greens were the only party to oppose the legislation today and have major concerns around the practicality of the card, indirect discrimination, and support services,” Greens spokesperson on community services, Senator Rachel Siewert, said.
“The legislation is an evidence free zone; we have no evidence that this top-down measure will reduce disadvantage in the trial zones.
“Despite claims by the government, the proposed debit card is Income Management on steroids. Compulsory Income Management is a failed measure, which impacts negatively on the community.
“People on income support payments like Newstart, Youth Allowance, DSP and carers payments won’t have a choice about the measure; it’ll be the Minister that decides.
“Major concerns remain about the barriers that the cashless welfare card could cause from day-to-day.”
Siewert said the Government was still unable to answer key questions in regards to the operation of this card and had rushed the legislation through the Senate.
“It remains unclear what financial institution will issue the cards and what happens if shops have a minimum EFTPOS limit or merchants surcharge,” she said.
“The cashless welfare card is an ideologically driven approach that is not based on evidence. It has been rejected by Aboriginal elders, community members, the Halls Creek part of the proposed East Kimberley trial site, a number of residents of Ceduna and the Australian Greens. It should have been rejected by the Senate.”