Concerns raised about extension of Cashless Debit Card trials

Amanda Lyons

5/04/2019 1:33:17 PM

The Federal Government describes the Cashless Debit Card trials as ‘successful’, but many within the community are less convinced.

Cashless debit card trial sites.
The Cashless Debit Card trials are currently taking place at four sites throughout Australia.

Legislation was passed through Parliament earlier this week to extend the Cashless Debit Card [CDC] trials until 30 June 2019, at a cost of $129 million.
‘The CDC is one of the most positive developments in welfare for decades, making a real difference in the lives of thousands of Australians,’ Federal Minister for Families and Social Services Paul Fletcher said.
‘[It] offers a more streamlined approach to welfare quarantining and benefits to taxpayers.’
The CDC operates by quarantining 80% of a person’s income support payment to a debit card that cannot be used to purchase alcohol, gamble or withdraw cash. The trials are taking place at four test sites throughout the country: Ceduna, South Australia; the East Kimberley and Goldfields regions in Western Australia; and, most recently, the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region in Queensland, which was added to the trial on 29 January 2019.
While the extension will allow time for further assessment of the CDC’s effectiveness, the Government already believes the card is a success, emphasising its impact on individual responsibility and control.

Paul-Fletcher-Article.jpgMinister for Families and Social Services, Paul Fletcher, believes the Cashless Debit Card trials have so far proven a success. (Image: Dan Himbrechts) 
‘Measures like the CDC [help] Australians exercise personal responsibility to improve their lives and their communities,’ Minister Fletcher said.
An evaluation of the early stages of trial in the Goldfields region, commissioned by the Department of Social Services and carried out by Adelaide University, found some positive changes had occurred in targeted communities since the trial began, including a reduction in substance misuse and crime. But it could not conclusively link these changes to the introduction of the CDC.
Some have branded the scheme, within which 78% of participants identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, as discriminatory.
‘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,’ Dr Jackie Huggins, Co-Chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, said.
Senator for the Australian Greens Party Rachel Siewert believes the CDC represents racist policy that is punitive towards 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,’ she said.
There have also been other reported problems, such as the fact all income support recipients living in trial areas are issued with a CDC, even if they are not experiencing substance abuse or gambling issues. This means carers, people with disability and those who are simply unable to access paid work are all subjected to the spending restrictions of the CDC.
Some trial participants have also reported experiencing shame and stigma as a result of using the card, with a significant effect on their mental health.
However, others within the community believe the card has had some positive impacts.
‘There’s not so much access to hard cash, so they've been able to spend more money on clothes, food into the household,’ Marty Sealander, Chief Executive of the Pakaanu Aboriginal Corporation, said.
‘Individuals have had to think about their budgeting and what they spend their money on.’
Minister Fletcher has stated that the communities involved in the trials ‘put their hands up’ for the initiative to combat problems resulting from drug, alcohol and gambling abuse.
But Senator Siewert disputes the adequacy of community consultation on the imposition of the CDC.
‘There is actually one way of finding out if people want something – by making it voluntary,’ she said. ‘If people want it, they will opt in.’
The new legislation for the trial extension does include an amendment, added by the Federal Opposition, that allows trial participants who are able to prove they are financially responsible and meet a range of other criteria, such as no history of substance abuse, to opt out.  
‘Labor’s amendments mitigate the arbitrary impacts that this card has on participants,’ Linda Burney, Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services, said.
The Federal Government has also stated that, if re-elected, it will extend the CDC to other areas, including the Northern Territory. Labor has said it would not support the extension of the CDC into further communities.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health Cashless Debit Card Welfare trial

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Scott   3/09/2019 5:05:33 PM

They say crime and unemployment has lowed but how many people left the trail area's to live somewhere else. It's just a way for the government to watch how and what you spend your money on. Then they will use that information for some purpose. Track where you go and what you buy. Then they'll say you don't need this or that. Budget cuts. Big brother is watching. I would feel judged and shamed by the card if i had to use it. People in shops would think i'm not responsible enough to control my own life.