Government shakes up process to get off the cashless welfare card
Thursday, 1st August 2019 at 4:47 pm
The Morrison government is streamlining the exit process for people on the cashless welfare card, but critics say the new criteria are still “patronising and onerous”.
Under legislation passed by the Senate on Thursday, the Department of Social Services secretary will decide on applications to exit the card, rather than unelected community bodies currently running the process.
The bill also broadens the criteria for why people can get off the card, with DSS able to consider the welfare of children, families and the whole community when assessing exit applications.
Liberal MP Nola Marino told Parliament these changes would ensure the exit process was consistent across all regions using the card.
“The government is introducing this legislation following consultations with community leaders to ensure there is a clear and fair process for participants to exit the cashless debit card program,” Marino said.
The Senate this week heard that 1,054 people have already enquired about coming off the card in the past month – equal to around one in 12 participants.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said with many people’s applications stuck in limbo, it was critical a workable exit process was up and running as soon as possible.
But she said the changes would still prove burdensome for card participants.
“The exit provisions require trial participants to provide evidence that goes above and beyond the objectives of the trial,” Siewert said.
“The fact is people shouldn’t be in this position and they shouldn’t have to go through this onerous and patronising process, just because they are on income support.”
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.
It was also introduced in Queensland’s Hervey Bay-Bundaberg region earlier this year.
The trial has been criticised by welfare advocates for being punitive and discriminatory against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The government has consistently defended the trial, pointing to an independent report from 2017 that concluded that the card had reduced alcohol consumption, drug use and gambling in trial communities.
But a subsequent auditor-general report 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.
Siewert renewed her calls for the card to be scrapped, arguing it restricts human rights and unfairly targets people on welfare.
Labor has concerns with the trial but supported the government’s reforms.
Opposition social services spokesperson Linda Burney said the bill would ultimately help participants who are managing their life well and want to get off the card.
“We understand that hundreds of people are seeking an exemption from the trial and have already approached DSS about the opt-out process,” Burney said.
“This shows there is strong community support for people being able to get off the cashless debit card.”