Welfare reforms on the agenda as parliament resumes

Centrelink signage at the Yarra branch in Melbourne.

Parliament resumes this week, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison is pushing for a national roll-out of the cashless debit card.It comes following a plan to subject some welfare recipients to drug tests.

The federal government is proposing a national roll-out of the cashless debit card.

The cards quarantine 80 per cent of welfare payments benefits for purchases of necessities such as food, clothing and utilities, with only the remaining 20 per cent available to be withdrawn as cash.

The cashless welfare card.
The cashless welfare card.

Trials are currently taking place in South Australia's Ceduna region, the Goldfields and East Kimberley regions in Western Australia and Queensland's Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region, to prevent welfare payments from being spent on alcohol, drugs, and gambling.

"The cashless debit card trials are proving to be highly successful in bringing down the youth unemployment rate, in particular, in bringing down the level of expenditure on drugs and gambling and alcohol."

A claim rebuffed by Labor's industrial relations spokesman Tony Burke on Sky News.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has told the A-B-C the trials are working.

"In terms of the government says that there's signs that it's worked, I'd say they ought to take a look at what the Auditor-General's had to say. The Auditor-General has been deeply critical of claims that this program is working."

The government is also pushing for a drug testing trial to be introduced for some welfare recipients.

The two-year trial would target 5,000 new recipients of Newstart and Youth Allowance.

Mr Cormann says drug addiction stops some unemployed Australians from re-entering the workforce.

"We're wanting to support  and encourage  Australians to deal with any barriers that they're facing in terms of getting back into the workforce, and that is of course why we believe that through  this drug testing trial that we should assess whether there's better ways to channel Australians into treatment."

But Mr Burke says the trial is pointless because the largest age bracket of people receiving Newstart is those over 55.

"The people who Scott Morrison is talking about are the people who've worked their lives, lost their jobs, and he now wants them to humiliate themselves walking into the office, having to urinate into a cup, having pieces of their hair plucked out, having to spit into a jar... and all of this for what?"

Jacqueline Phillips is the Director of Policy at the Australian Council of Social Service .

She says the government is using both policies as a distraction from the real problems concerning welfare recipients.

" What the government needs to do right now - and I think it knows deep down that this is what it needs to do - is lift the rate of Newstart, lift it significantly by a minimum of 75 dollars a week. Not invest in further expensive and  ineffective policy experiments that do nothing but control people's lives further."

Both new welfare policies are set to dominate the agenda when parliament resumes on Monday, September 9.

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