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Cashless Debit Card Trial to Be Expanded to New Region

14 February 2018 at 5:19 pm
Luke Michael
The federal government’s controversial cashless debit card will be expanded to welfare participants in Western Australia's Goldfields region, after legislation passed extending the trial until mid-2019.

Luke Michael | 14 February 2018 at 5:19 pm


Cashless Debit Card Trial to Be Expanded to New Region
14 February 2018 at 5:19 pm

The federal government’s controversial cashless debit card will be expanded to welfare participants in Western Australia’s Goldfields region, after legislation passed extending the trial until mid-2019. 

The cashless debit card locks 80 per cent of welfare payments onto a debit card, which cannot be used to withdraw cash or be spent on alcohol or gambling.

The card has been trialled in East Kimberley in WA and Ceduna in South Australia since 2016, but will now be expanded to WA’s Goldfields region after legislation cleared the Senate on Tuesday.

The government looked to include rollouts in Hervey Bay and Bundaberg in Queensland, but the trial’s expansion faced resistance in the Senate.

Eventually, crossbench Senators from the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) acquiesced, allowing the trial to expand to one new site in the Goldfields and continue until June 2019.

The Minister for Social Services Dan Tehan, said the cashless debit card would improve the lives of people in three communities.

“The cashless debit card was introduced to break the cycle of welfare dependency by helping people manage their income,” Tehan said.

“After 12 months of operation, people living in Ceduna and East Kimberley reported that drinking, drug taking and gambling had decreased. The cashless debit card is making a difference.

“The prime minister visited Kalgoorlie-Boulder and met with local community leaders who told him they wanted more tools to address the devastating impact of alcohol, drugs and gambling on their people. It is significant that this community can now access the card. It will make a real difference to people’s lives.”

But the welfare card has faced severe resistance from The Greens and the community sector, who have argued the trial takes a “punitive, demonising top down approach” to social security.

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said “rather than drawing the trials out, we should be ending them”.

“For every day that passes that people are forcibly on the card, their lives are more difficult,” Siewert said.

“We have heard of people not able to buy food in remote communities when the internet drops out; one woman has said she would not be able to escape a domestic violence relationship if she was on the card.

“We do not need to be making life harder for vulnerable members of our community, drug addiction is not fixed when you control someone’s income, it is a health issue and should be treated as such.”

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) called for the cashless debit card to be abolished in their recently released budget priorities statement.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said there was no evidence to suggest that the card worked, and she was concerned the scheme was “causing more harm than good”.

“ACOSS’ position on the cashless debit card trials is clear. The cashless debit card should be voluntary, providing it has community support, with transition arrangements in place for individuals and communities wishing to remain under the card,” Goldie said.

“Opt-in schemes should be co-designed with communities and include services as directed by communities, including wrap-around supports such as drug and alcohol, mental health, financial counselling and social support services.”

Labor’s shadow minister for human services Linda Burney said the ALP supported the trial’s continuation but not its expansion, believing there had not been enough community consultation to impose it on new areas.    

“We believe [there’s a] need for another 12 months for a proper evaluation of those two sites, but we are also strongly of the view that there has not been proper or adequate community consultation or consent given in either the Goldfields or Bundaberg to have those two areas go ahead,” Burney told Sky News on Tuesday.  

Leanne Ho, the executive officer of the National Social Security Rights Network (NSSRN), told Pro Bono News that evidence showed the cashless debit card “disempowers communities while further entrenching poverty and displacement”.

“The government’s own evaluations of the trial sites… found that 74 per cent of surveyed participants said the trial made their lives ‘a bit worse’ or ‘a lot worse’ or made no difference to their lives,” Ho said.  

“With the cost of rolling out the card already totalling $25.5 million, there should not be any further expansion into a new region unless there is evidence showing that it has a positive impact on the lives of participants and that any benefits are not outweighed by the negatives.

“The best disincentive to abusing substances is to ensure members of the community have meaningful lives with access to adequate healthcare, housing opportunities, education, literacy and employment.”

The Australian Unemployed Workers Union (AUWU) recently held protests across Australia in opposition to the cashless debit card.

AUWU media officer Jeremy Poxon told Pro Bono News he was disappointed that NXT Senators supported the legislation to expand the scheme.

“We’re incredibly disappointed and concerned that NXT have decided to help the Coalition roll out cashless welfare to even more vulnerable Australians. Thousands of welfare recipients and advocates across the country have been protesting and petitioning these senators to vote down this legislation,” Poxen said.

“It’s staggering that NXT and the Coalition have ignored the concerns and pleas of all these people, to further roll out a scheme that’s effectively designed to punish them.

“This card literally does nothing to address the broader problems in these communities; instead, by restricting individual rights and freedoms, it places responsibility and blame on community members themselves.”

Poxen said there were better alternatives to improving the provision of welfare in regions affected by alcohol, drug and violence issues.

“It’s important for people to realise that this card costs $10,000 per person to administrate. Instead of using all these funds to coerce and punish families, we could better fund drug alcohol services services which are already underfunded and meet only half of the existing demand and implement training and job creation programs,” he said.

“With the money wasted on this card, we could also lift people’s income support above the poverty line.

“Instead of imposing punitive programs on them, policy makers need to listen to community members and show them some respect. After all, they’re the ones who know how best to tackle these issues and often already are, with minimal support.”

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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  • Lynne Chinnery says:


    • Alan Bateson says:

      yes Twitty Forrester how would you like to live under this mean spirited process of which you support, call yourself
      a philanthropist what a joke in my opinion you should refrain from making comments until you have a solution that
      benefits all, not blanket solutions that will detrimentally affect the majority of social security recipients, to me and i am sure
      many others you appear to be a shallow non thinking person, thinking mainly of your own self interests.


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