The cashless welfare card is here to stay, so are it's critics

When it comes to budgets, not everything is a surprise.

The 2017 federal budget included funding for an extension of the Cashless Debit Card trials in Ceduna and the East Kimberley, along with its expansion into two new locations.

The government did not release any figures, though recent FOI data revealed the trial is costing up to $18.9 million or roughly $10,000 for each person with the card.

The compulsory program quarantines 80% of a person's working-age welfare payment onto the card—which can only be used in certain locations—and places the remaining 20% into their regular bank account.

Pitched as an answer to alcohol consumption, illegal drug use, and gambling within communities, the government first announced the trial extension back in March after an initial report found reductions in all three areas across the trial sites.

The independent report, undertaken by ORIMA Research, found that “overall, the [trial] has been effective to date… in particular, the trial has been effective in reducing alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling – establishing a clear ‘proof-of-concept’.”

Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge, believed the results supported an extension of the trial but noted that the program “is a not a panacea.”
“[The card] has led to stark improvements in these communities. There are very few other initiatives that have had such impact.”

Many agree that it is not a cure-all solution. Some have asked questions. Some question it as a solution at all.

Elise Klein, Lecturer in Development Studies at the University of Melbourne, told 4ZZZ she doesn’t think “there is any justification to continue the trial at all.”

“The government's own evaluation show all sorts of data, although it was very poorly synthesised and analysed and it was almost like a PR document actually.”

“Within that report, if you look closely, there’s all sorts of data in there that shows that there are huge questions around the cashless debit card. I’ve also seen in my own research and we also know it from the government evaluation of income management in the Northern Territory,” Klein said, referring to various welfare quarantining measures used throughout the state since the 2007 intervention.

“It needs further investigation as to why it’s continuing.”

One-in-two participants have said their life was made worse because of the card, one Indigenous health body says it treats Aboriginal people as “third-class citizens.”

The card’s architect, mining magnate Andrew Forrest, floated the idea in his 2014 review of Indigenous training and employment, suggesting it was time to “end the paternalism.”

The Abbott government played down the “breadth of expansion” suggested in Forrest’s review at the time.

Forrest came under criticism last month when his philanthropic organisation, the Minderoo Foundation, ran ads promoting the card without disclosing his role as chairman.

Greens senator Rachel Siewert said she was concerned by Forrest’s involvement as he was “the one who pitched the cashless card in the first place and has been ideologically pursuing it ever since.”

Elise Klein spoke to 4ZZZ Brisbane Line about the trial.


Image: Screenshot from a Minderoo Foundation advertisement for the card.

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