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‘Cruel social experiment’: Cashless welfare card returns

·3-min read
The cashless welfare card has returned. Images: Getty.
The cashless welfare card has returned. Images: Getty.

More Australians on the JobSeeker payment may now have their incomes managed as the Government resumes its cashless welfare scheme.

Under the scheme, up to 80 per cent of certain recipients’ income is quarantined to a cashless debit card, where it cannot be spent on products like alcohol or tobacco.

The Government paused the scheme from accepting new entrants during the COVID-19 period, as millions of Australians joined the jobless queue.

However, Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said the cashless welfare scheme will now begin taking new JobSeeker entrants from Wednesday.

"Now that the number of Australians coming on to social security payments has returned to pre-pandemic levels it is appropriate to lift the pause," Ruston said.

"Community leaders and stakeholders support the lift of the pause to ensure new income support recipients are spending their social security payments on the essentials."

She said new entrants will have a staggered entry to the scheme, helping new entrants transition.

As it stands, the cashless welfare scheme is in place in the Northern Territory, the East Kimberley and the Goldfields in Western Australia, Ceduna in South Australia and Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Cape York and Doomadgee in Queensland.

The scheme has been running as a trial since 2016 and was initially intended to run for only one year.

A Government push last year to make the scheme permanent failed, but the card will remain for those regions for another two years.

Policy’s ‘racist targeting’ blasted

The scheme has been repeatedly condemned in recent years as punitive, ineffective and racist in its application.

Many of the program’s participants are Indigenous, with 76 per cent of those in Ceduna Indigenous, 82 per cent of those in East Kimberley, 48 per cent in the Goldfields region and 18 per cent in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region, Rustan told the Senate last year.

A recent Government-commissioned study of the scheme in the Ceduna, East Kimberley and Goldfields regions by the University of Adelaide found that the card was attached to strong feelings of shame and embarrassment.

The researchers noted that alcohol use decreased while the scheme was in place, but noted that that couldn’t be directly attributed to the card alone.

However, another University of South Australia and Monash University study found that in Ceduna, the card had “no substantive impact” on gambling, crime or drug and alcohol abuse.

“The racist targeting of the cashless debit card continues the deeply entrenched colonial violence in the welfare system, as the First Nations women who the card is supposedly intended to ‘help’ are again being denied self-determination,” the Australian Unemployed Workers Union said on Wednesday.

“The Government has no evidence that this paternalistic, racist program helps people and yet it is shamelessly ramping up its dangerous income management experiment, including with the CDC also being pushed into Cape York and the Northern Territory as of last week.”

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert also condemned the scheme, describing the Government as “flogging a dead horse”.

“Give it up. The card doesn't work. This cruel social experiment needs to end.

"I am deeply concerned that this card may keep people in violent situations and the low rate of income supports severely limits the options for women and children leaving violent homes."

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Image: Yahoo Finance
Image: Yahoo Finance