Australia

Scott Morrison downplays criticism of cashless welfare card from within his own government

Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, December 3, 2020. Source: AAP

The Morrison government has until next Thursday to pass a bill making cashless welfare cards permanent in current areas, otherwise the trials expire.

Scott Morrison is going full steam ahead with plans to permanently control the spending of some welfare recipients, after a coalition colleague rebuked the policy.

Parliament wraps up for the year next week and if the government's bill doesn't pass, the current cashless welfare card trials will end on 31 December.

The ultimate success of the expansion of the card is in the hands of two independent senators.

The prime minister spoke to Tasmanian MP Bridget Archer on Thursday morning to thank her for her honesty after she delivered a scathing speech on the plan.

But being able to express views doesn't mean getting in the way of the government's plan.

The member for Bass Bridget Archer delivers the reply speech to the Governor-General during debate in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, July 4, 2019. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING
Bridget Archer in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, July 4, 2019.
AAP

"We are a confident party that is confident about allowing our members to breathe and express their views," Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

"But equally that comes with the responsibility of being a member of the team, which ensures that the government is able to continue to progress its agenda - as we indeed will in this area."

After Ms Archer's speech, the government pushed the bill down parliament's to-do list.

The cards freeze the majority of welfare so they can only be spent on items the government deems essential.

Critics have long argued the scheme is impractical, disproportionally affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and that there is little evidence it is substantially beneficial.

"The rhetoric that surrounds social security and systems like income management plays in to the very worst of human nature; we're essentially inviting people to look at their fellow Australians as something 'other' or 'less than'," Ms Archer said.

"That's not the Australia I want to live in."

NITV News: ‘No hard evidence’ cashless debit card it is working, senators say

Labor's social services spokeswoman Linda Burney is daring the first-term MP to cross the floor and vote against the bill.

"Words are empty unless they are backed up by action," she said.

After calling the cards harmful and punitive, Ms Archer said she would not vote against the bill to ensure affected people don't face further disadvantage.

Trials in South Australia's Ceduna region, the East Kimberley and Goldfields in Western Australia, and Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland are due to end at the end of the year.

The bill permanently puts welfare recipients in those areas on the cards and transfers people in the Northern Territory to the scheme from another type of income management card.

Ms Archer fears people will be worse off if the trials abruptly stop.

Even without her vote the government has the numbers for it to pass the lower house.

It's down to independent senators Rex Patrick and Jacqui Lambie, who are both undecided and want to base their decision on meetings with communities trialling the card.

Greens senator Rachel Siewert urged crossbench senators to vote against the bill because of the high levels of anxiety it was causing people.

Pauline Hanson's One Nation supports continuing the scheme and the party controls two Senate votes.

A coalition-chaired Senate committee last month recommended the bill pass parliament.

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