Government pledges to extend ‘racist and punitive’ cashless welfare card
26 March 2019 at 4:57 pm
More than 20,000 Australians will be added onto the controversial cashless welfare card as part of a Morrison government plan that’s been condemned by community groups.
Social Services Paul Fletcher announced this week that the mandatory card will be expanded to include all income management participants in the Northern Territory.
This means that from January 2020, nearly 22,500 income management participants will transition from the BasicsCard onto the cashless welfare card.
The cashless welfare card – which locks away 80 per cent of welfare payments compared to a 50 per cent quarantine rate for the BasicsCard – will also be extended to 30 June 2021 across the existing trial sites of Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, Ceduna, Goldfields and East Kimberley.
While Fletcher said existing income management participants will remain on a 50 per cent quarantine rate, the government admitted this might change if the “community requests a higher percentage through consultations”.
Community groups have slammed the announcement, warning that the government was continuing to discriminate against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples co-chair Dr Jackie Huggins said the cashless welfare card had fundamentally undermined the self-determination of the Indigenous community.
“The card shames and stigmatises our peoples for their disadvantage, robs them of their financial freedom, and exacerbates pre-existing social challenges such as financial harassment,” Huggins said.
National Congress has advocated for the cashless debit card to operate on an “opt-in, opt-out” basis.
The Federal Government hopes to extend its trial of the controversial cashless welfare card for another year. If new legislation is passed, an extra 22,000 welfare recipients will have their payments restricted. @AMcCann95 #auspol #7NEWS pic.twitter.com/0ZRhmNI7sZ
— 7NEWS Brisbane (@7NewsBrisbane) March 25, 2019
Australian Council of Social Service CEO Cassandra Goldie agreed, and called on the Parliament to reject any legislation further entrenching or extending the scheme.
“The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has repeatedly found that the cashless debit card policy discriminates against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner criticised cashless debit as incompatible with Australia’s human rights obligations,” Goldie noted.
The government have committed $129 million to this extension, which includes improving the card’s technology to automatically decline transactions if it includes restricted items such as alcohol or gambling products.
Participants will also be able to accrue interest from the card as part of the changes.
This proposal is subject to legislation and unlikely to be passed before the federal election.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten said in January that an elected Labor government intended to halt the cashless welfare card and the party and has pushed back on the government’s attempts to expand the program beyond the original trial sites.
The cashless welfare card trial was originally expanded after an independent report from September 2017 concluded that the card had reduced alcohol consumption, drug use and gambling in the trial communities of Kununurra in Western Australia and Ceduna in South Australia.
But an auditor-general report from July this year 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.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said the government’s latest announcement once again displayed its contempt of people on income support.
“It is unacceptable for the government to pursue this expensive, racist and punitive card when there is no credible evidence to prove that it works,” Siewert said.
“This is about punishing people on income support, it’s not about reducing disadvantage, because if the government was serious about that they would be funding programs that are actually proven to work, like early intervention programs, addiction and mental health services and effective employment supports.”
But Fletcher said the card was “one of the most positive developments in welfare for decades” that had made a real difference in the lives of thousands of Australians.
He said the card offered a more streamlined approach to welfare quarantining and benefits to taxpayers, with operational costs well under $1,000 a person.
“[These communities] have put their hands up for this initiative because they were determined to tackle the scourge of welfare-funded drug, alcohol and gambling abuse in their communities – and their courage has been rewarded,” Fletcher said.
“Unlike Labor and the Greens our Liberal National government is committed to the principle of mutual obligation – and we believe the cashless debit card is an effective way of supporting Australians on welfare to have more control of their lives.”