Indigenous groups in the Northern Territory have called on federal parliamentarians to block a proposed expansion of the Cashless Debit Card scheme after a government minister introduced a bill to the House of Representatives on Thursday.
The cashless debit card freezes 80 per cent of income support payments and is currently being trialled in four regions - Ceduna in South Australia, the East Kimberly and Goldfields region in the West and Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland.
The federal budget this week revealed ongoing funding for the trial sites and plans for a significant expansion into the Northern Territory and Cape York region, with up to 25,000 people moved onto the cashless debit card over the next two years.
Introducing the bill to parliament yesterday, Minister Trevor Evans said the cashless debit card scheme has had positive impacts.
"The program has the objective of reducing immediate hardship and deprivation, helping welfare recipients with their budgeting strategies and reducing the likelihood they'll remain on welfare," said Mr Evans.
But the Peak Aboriginal Organisations of the Northern Territory is calling on members of parliament to strongly oppose the bill, saying it will disproportionately impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Spokesman John Paterson told NITV News that support for the bill would go against the recent National Agreement on Closing the Gap and its emphasis on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination.
“Aboriginal people want to have the same sort of financial decision-making capacity as other Australians and with all these cards, with all the restrictions, with all the caps they put on them, it really takes away the self-determination aspect for Aboriginal Territorians,” Mr Paterson said.
The budget outlined additional investment in Cashless Debit Card ‘technological enhancements’ to improve the user experience for Cashless Debit Card participants and businesses, and that it works as effectively as possible.
But John Paterson said the infrastructure is inadequate in many remote communities.
“The Cashless Debit Card relies on regular and reliable access to the internet and mobile phone coverage. This is not the case for many remote communities in the NT.
“The bill is a new Intervention. It will perpetuate the torment of our powerlessness. It denies our basic freedom to control our lives. It locks the many of us who live below the poverty line out of the cash economy and undermines our small businesses that rely on cash payments.”
Earlier this year a University of Queensland review of four CDC trial sites found “that compulsory income management is having a disabling rather than enabling effect on the lives of many social security recipients.”
The Australian Greens spokesperson on Family and Community Services Senator Rachel Siewert has also criticised plans to expand the scheme and make it a permanent program.
“This is a toxic piece of legislation. The Cashless Debit Card is denying people their dignity and quality of life. The Cashless Debit Card is a punitive program that punishes people simply because they are on income support," said Senator Siewert.
Labor's Shadow Minister for Social Services and Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said there is still no evidence that compulsory income management works.
In a statement to NITV News, Ms Burney said the funding could be better spent.
“There is no question this discriminates against First Nations Australians. It would be better to invest in local job creation and services," she said.
“It’s now clear that the government’s intention all along was to make this card permanent, regardless of the evidence shows. The Auditor General found there was no evidence the card works, and the government hasn’t even published the review they promised.”