Government urged to reject expansion of cashless welfare card
Monday, 9th September 2019 at 5:09 pm
Parliament is being urged to reject any push to expand the cashless welfare card, following reports the prime minister is eyeing a national roll out of the program.
Scott Morrison told Nine newspapers on Sunday that positive results from the card’s trials were “commending itself for wider application” of the program, possibly for those under 30.
But welfare advocates say 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 – is “ideologically motivated and discriminatory”.
The card 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.
Morrison said the card had the support of the trial communities, but indicated he would take his time before creating a plan for a broader roll out.
“Its success in these communities has been that the communities themselves have been the ones that have decided to proceed with it,” Morrison said.
“I think it would be a mistake not to appreciate how important that has been in its success.”
Despite the community sector’s opposition to the card, 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.
Welfare advocates expressed alarm at reports that the card could be rolled out nationally.
Charmaine Crowe from the Australian Council of Social Service said any attempt by the government to expand the card would be “a clear case of haphazard policy on the run”.
She said instead of wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on the card, the government should focus on raising Newstart.
“Cashless debit and drug testing both cost thousands per person to administer, while a $75 a week increase to Newstart would cost less than $4,000 per person and would stimulate the economy, while giving people the support they need to find paid work,” Crowe said.
“[These measures] compound the sense of shame many people feel about being unemployed when they are doing all they can to find paid work in today’s competitive job market with one job available for every eight people looking.”
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert – who warned in May 2018 that the government had a “definite agenda” to roll out the card more broadly – said there was no evidence to support the program’s expansion.
“This is not a government with an agenda based on evidence, it’s all ideology and it entrenches poverty and disadvantage,” Siewert said.
“Just last week I was in Ceduna and what we heard from the community was devastating.
“People can’t just get on with their day-to-day lives, they feel stigmatised, angry and depressed with simple things like using the laundry mat a major stress.”
Labor meanwhile has supported the initial trials in regional communities but believes there is not enough evidence to support a broader roll out.
But independent Senator Jacqui Lambie – who could hold the deciding vote for the legislation – has indicated she would back the program’s expansion.