Welfare recipients in the Northern Territory should have the power to choose cashless debit cards rather than being forced on them, federal Labor says.
The opposition will try to change the government’s proposal to roll out the cashless debit card in the NT, to make it voluntary unless communities want the system or if people are put on it for specific reasons such as child protection.
It comes as Aboriginal groups met with Senate crossbencher Jacqui Lambie as they call on her to vote against the rollout.
Central Land Council policy manager Josie Douglas also called on the indigenous affairs minister Ken Wyatt to visit people in the Top End to discuss the cashless debit card.
“Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory are sick to death of policies being imposed on us from the top down,” Dr Douglas said.
“Success looks like the bill not going through and we’re strongly encouraging the crossbench to oppose it.”
Labor’s social services spokeswomen Linda Burney said the plan targeted indigenous Australians, with 80 per cent of people in the NT who would be on the card Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.
“These communities have not been consulted,” she said on Tuesday.
“Labor’s amendments in the Senate would also require the minister to demonstrate the support of each individual community before rolling out the cashless debit card.”
This would include consultation with women’s groups and community members, Ms Burney added.
The bill is currently before the lower house but will breeze through due to the government’s majority.
A government-dominated Senate committee has recommended the bill be tweaked to clarify what the minister’s powers are in relation to deciding how much money is put on cards for people in the NT.
The bill currently gives the minister broad powers to decide how much welfare is quarantined, as much as 100 per cent.
The legislation also extends the card’s rollout to Queensland’s Cape York area.
Many people in those areas are already on the Basics card – another income management tool – and would move on to the cashless debit card over a nine-month period starting next year.
“This bill also is a stalking horse for a national rollout of the cashless debit card,” Ms Burney said.
The government will also introduce amendments to the bill to exclude people of pension age from the trials.
The cards quarantine 80 per cent of Centrelink payments so the money can only be spent on essential items, rather than alcohol or gambling.
About 6000 welfare recipients in the Queensland cities of Bundaberg and Hervey Bay are already on the card, which has been rolled out in the area since January.
They are also being trialled in Kununurra, the Goldfields in Western Australia and Ceduna in South Australia.
The bill extends the trial in most areas to the end of June 2021, except for Cape York which would run to the end of that year.
Government MP Keith Pitt, whose Queensland electorate is part of the current trial, said it was working well.
He said social media users were tying to scare people in his electorate – including pensioners and veterans – into thinking they would be forced onto the trial.
“You are simply scaring those individuals who are vulnerable,” he said.
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