Welfare recipients forced into a trial that saw them allocated cashless debit cards (CDCs) designed to curb gambling, drug and alcohol abuse could soon be stuck on the program permanently.
This week’s Federal Budget allocated an undisclosed amount to make the CDC trials ongoing, and two days later a bill was introduced to the lower house.
The Senate is expected to vote on it by Christmas, while an inquiry is accepting public submissions until October 23.
What do the changes mean?
Under the scheme, the majority of a person’s Centrelink payment goes directly onto an ‘Indue’ card, designed to restrict their spending.
Since 2016, the card has been trialled in the East Kimberley (WA), the Goldfields (WA), Ceduna (SA) and the Bundaberg-Hervey Bay region (QLD).
This bill would make the four trial sites permanent and introduce the CDC to about 25,000 people in the Northern Territory and Cape York.
What was the response to the news?
Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said the Government was confident the CDC had a positive impact on both participants and the broader community.
But many groups were quick to condemn news of an expansion, including the Australian Council of Social Services and Aboriginal Peak Organisations NT.
In the East Kimberley, MG Corporation executive chairman Lawford Benning supported the rollout in 2016.
But he has since withdrawn his support, saying the program has yet to deliver positive social outcomes, and that promised wrap-around support services hadn’t eventuated.
He said local leaders weren’t consulted about moves to make the card permanent.
“We all want to be equally consulted or have that opportunity to play a part in making our community safe…this got sprung upon us,” he said.
“I’ve learned now and I believe it is a punitive model that is enforced, I believe, on vulnerable people.”
But Wunan Foundation executive chairman Ian Trust, who has long been an advocate for the card, said he wasn’t concerned about a permanent program.
“My view is that the cash welfare system is basically past its use by date,” he said.
“It’s time we come up with something that’s a bit more innovative about how we try and get people to move off this safety net into real employment, and in a lot of cases acquiring a better lifestyle.”
He said there needed to be more incentives for people to take up short-term work, like fruit picking, so they could transition off welfare and into employment.
I lost my job during the pandemic. Will I be added to the CDC?
In March, the Federal Government paused the process of adding new participants, while the scheme continued for those registered before the pandemic.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewart, who has long opposed the CDC, said it needed to be explained whether the pause would continue because “it is highly likely that people newly on income support will now be put on the card”.
Ms Ruston told the ABC “the pause on new participants remains in place”, and would not explain when it would be lifted.
Can you leave the program?
You can if you meet the criteria. But it’s a lengthy process.
There’s an exemption for those whose mental or physical health is at risk, and another exemption if you can demonstrate responsible management of your affairs, including finances.
The latest government data from September shows 502 exemption applications were approved and 730 were rejected, while 329 people were still waiting to be assessed.
For Kalgoorlie carer Danny Ulrich, it took about eight months to leave the “tyrannical and unfair” trial.
“From personal experience, leaving it is not as easy as people think,” he said.
Under the new bill, people who’ve been approved to leave the scheme could be forced back on it if authorities no longer believe they’re managing their financial affairs.
It’s something that deeply concerns Mr Ulrich, who says he’s repeatedly asked why his CDC online account has remained open despite him leaving the program in February.
What happened to the University of Adelaide study?
After a botched attempt to assess the first trial sites, the University of Adelaide was hired to evaluate the East Kimberley, Ceduna and Goldfields trials.
The evaluation was expected to be delivered late last year.
Ms Ruston said researchers needed more time due to COVID-19 delays and a high number of survey responses.
But in an interview with the ABC last month, O’Connor MP Rick Wilson said he believed the release of the report was “imminent”.
Mr Wilson and Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt went on to say they didn’t need the study to know the card should continue.
Mr Wyatt said there was community evidence in trial sites of a reduction in alcohol abuse, a reduction in physical assaults and improvements for school students.
Credit: Source link