Social sector slams decision to extend ‘dehumanising’ cashless welfare card
10 December 2020 at 8:51 am
“The Morrison government has failed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people once again,” one community leader says.
Community groups are dismayed by the Senate’s decision to extend the cashless welfare card for a further two years, warning this will have damaging consequences for Indigenous people in particular.
The federal government failed to win support for legislation to make the card permanent in four trial sites and extend it to the Northern Territory, but an amended bill was able to pass the Senate in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Centre Alliance senator Stirling Griff abstained from voting in exchange for a two-year extension that makes it optional for people in the NT – currently on another form of income management – to join the scheme.
The social sector, Labor and The Greens are strongly opposed to 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 – but the federal government believes it’s helped reduce drug and alcohol abuse in trial communities.
Sadly, the cashless debit card legislation has passed by one vote. Labor fought this legislation every step of the way. Thank you everyone for remaining strong against this discriminatory policy. We will keep fighting. #CashlessWelfareCard #CashlessDebitCard #auspol pic.twitter.com/PZ2gPpSJd4
— malarndirri mccarthy (@Malarndirri19) December 9, 2020
Community groups on Thursday condemned the decision to extend the card, which is targeted towards primarily Indigenous communities.
Australian Council of Social Service CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said it was terrible to extend the card while the country is experiencing a recession.
“This card discriminates against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, is impractical, demeaning, unproven and expensive,” Goldie said.
“Instead of punishing people for being on a low income, the government should be working with First Nations People to deliver community-led solutions as well as permanently lifting income support payments so everyone can cover the basics.”
Josephine Langbien, a senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said compulsory income schemes did not help vulnerable people.
“The Morrison government has failed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people once again,” Langbien said.
“Compulsory income control in any form only serves to make life harder for people and families who have already experienced over 10 years of discriminatory social security policies.”
Nolan Hunter, Amnesty International Australia Indigenous rights lead, added that First Nations people were being treated like second-class citizens.
“The [card] is dehumanising and attempts, unsuccessfully, to treat the symptoms of colonialism and dispossession,” Hunter said.
“What we need from government is to trust Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to know what’s best for us and to support us in community-led solutions.”
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, a long-time critic of the card, slammed the Centre Alliance for allowing the bill to pass despite opposing it in the lower house.
She said the party has “hoodwinked and misled” those on the card.
“They’ve assured voters for weeks now they would not support this racist, punitive bill and tonight they flipped on that promise, devastating thousands,” Siewert said.
“The [card] could have ended tonight. Instead people in the trial sites will be subjected to income management for another two years.”