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Labor Urged to Fully Abolish Cashless Welfare Card

23 January 2019 at 4:19 pm
Luke Michael
Labor’s pledge to roll back the cashless welfare card has been welcomed by community groups, who are urging the opposition to go further by committing to abolish all forms of cashless welfare.

Luke Michael | 23 January 2019 at 4:19 pm


Labor Urged to Fully Abolish Cashless Welfare Card
23 January 2019 at 4:19 pm

Labor’s pledge to roll back the cashless welfare card has been welcomed by community groups, who are urging the opposition to go further by committing to abolish all forms of cashless welfare.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said on Monday an elected Labor government intended to halt the cashless welfare card trial set to commence in Queensland’s Hervey Bay-Bundaberg region later this month.

Shadow social services minister Linda Burney told Pro Bono News that Labor remained opposed to the trial’s 2018 expansion into the Goldfields region of WA and would also work to roll back the card there.

“It’s difficult to unscramble an egg, but we will work with local communities in Bundaberg and the Goldfields on the best way forward,” Burney said.

“Labor does not support the expansion of the cashless [welfare] card unless a community wants it and there is proper consultation and informed community consent.”

But Burney confirmed Labor supported the card’s continuation in the original trial sites of Ceduna and East Kimberley to see if the scheme could work.

The cashless welfare 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 been trialled in East Kimberley and Ceduna since 2016, and the Goldfields region since March last year.

In December 2018, the trial was extended across existing sites until 30 June 2020.

Community groups welcomed Labor’s pledge on Twitter, but urged the opposition to go further by getting rid of the card nationally.

Nijole Naujokas from Anti-Poverty Network SA told Pro Bono News she wanted a commitment from Labor to abolish all forms of cashless welfare.

“Cashless welfare is not a panacea for social problems. The way it has been rolled out across communities has been outrageous,” Naujokas said.

“The recent outage in Kalgoorlie is proof that this is not a reliable form of money for people. People need access to cash and we believe welfare recipients have a right to control their own money…This is actually a dangerous form of financial control.”

Naujokas said all the card did was punish people who were poor.

“The government needs to invest in things that actually make a difference, like job creation, addiction services or mental health,” she said.

“This card does not create jobs. It doesn’t get rid of addiction issues. To say the card will fix these things is just wrong.”

Social Services Minister Paul Fletcher said Labor’s announcement risked sentencing thousands of vulnerable Australians to a life of welfare dependence.

He said it was part of Labor’s broader agenda to wind back mutual obligation.

“It is clear that Labor does not believe in mutual obligation. They don’t believe in asking people to have a go to get a go,” Fletcher said.

“Under our government, mutual obligation and job creation have delivered the lowest proportion of working-age Australians on welfare in 30 years.

“The cashless [welfare] card is one of the most positive developments we have seen in the welfare field for decades – and it is making a real difference in the lives of thousands of Australians.”

Fletcher noted that an independent report from September 2017 concluded the card had reduced alcohol consumption, drug use and gambling in the trial communities of Kununurra and Ceduna.

But an auditor-general report from July 2018 said the government’s approach to monitoring and evaluating the trial was inadequate, and argued the 2017 independent report did not use all relevant data available to measure the trial’s impact.   

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

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

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