Greens Warn of ‘Agenda’ to Broadly Roll Out Cashless Welfare Card
30 May 2018 at 4:44 pm
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert has warned that the Turnbull government has a “definite agenda” to roll out the cashless welfare card more broadly, after new legislation was introduced to expand the card to a fourth trial site.
Social Services Minister Dan Tehan introduced the Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion Bill to Parliament on Wednesday, which would roll out the scheme to Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland.
The card – which locks 80 per cent of welfare payments onto a debit card and cannot be used to withdraw cash or be spent on alcohol or gambling – has already been trialled in East Kimberley in Western Australia and Ceduna in South Australia since 2016.
The controversial Cashless Debit card is to be trialled in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area. https://t.co/ymZYGCd7e0
— Eliza Berlage (@verbaliza) May 29, 2018
In February this year, legislation passed expanding the scheme to WA’s Goldfields region and this new proposed trial would increase the number of people forced onto the card nationally from 10,000 to 15,000.
Siewert, who has been a staunch critic of the trials, told Pro Bono News the government had “a very definite agenda to keep rolling this card out”.
“I am deeply concerned that they are pursuing an agenda to roll out this type of card much more broadly than just to the three sites. And if they get this legislation through the Parliament it will be four sites,” Siewert said.
“And we can see from the so-called final evaluation of Kununurra and Ceduna – although the minister did note there would be further evaluation – that they’ve conveniently ignored the negative impacts of the card.
“The government [are taking] a propaganda approach rather than a true evaluation of the evidence.”
Siewert said she had heard some Coalition MPs talk about wanting to extend the card across Australia, and noted that this aligned with Andrew Forrest’s original proposal for the scheme.
She expressed dismay at the way “the government is ignoring the facts” and said the trials were having a negative impact on welfare recipients.
“People are deeply concerned about their ability to manage money, and once on the cashless welfare card it is much more difficult,” she said.
“It makes it much more difficult to manage your finances, in terms of whether you can use cash for example at second-hand goods markets or for kids buying lunches away from home etc.
“We’ve also heard people say during the trials that it’s made their lives more difficult.”
In February, Minister Tehan said the cashless welfare card was improving people’s lives.
“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.”
But Siewert rejected the notion that income management could alleviate welfare dependency.
“If you look at the Northern Territory intervention, we’ve had income management in place for over a decade now and it has not broken the so-called cycle of welfare dependency,” she said.
“It has not addressed issues of addiction. You still have those very significant issues. So it’s just a fantasy that they keep trying to believe in, when all the evidence shows this has not addressed the underlying causes of addiction.
“These are very complex issues around disadvantage and we need to be addressing those underlying causes… [and] the way we treat issues around addiction is firstly to make sure that we have the treatment and supports available. Taking people’s money away does not do that.”
Announcing the introduction of legislation on Wednesday, Tehan urged Parliament to support the trials.
“Intergenerational welfare dependence is ruining families, there are some young people who have never seen their parents, and even their grandparents, hold down a job,” he said.
“Doing nothing is not an option and I urge the Parliament to pass this legislation and help the people… to help themselves.”