• Yanyuwa woman and NT Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy has called for a stop to "disappointing" negative messaging. (AAP)Source: AAP
Federal senators criticise the government over failing to provide adequate proof that the Cashless Debit Card actually works.
Sarah Collard

1 Dec 2020 - 9:28 PM  UPDATED 1 Dec 2020 - 9:28 PM

Federal Labor senator Malarndirri McCarthy has criticised the federal government for failing to listen to First Nations people’s concerns about the Cashless Debit Card. 

The Morrison government is pushing ahead with legislation to make the controversial Cashless Debit Card (CDC) permanent at trial sites in Western Australia's Goldfields and East Kimberly regions; Queensland's Hervey Bay and Bundaberg region, trial sites in Cape York; and permanently extend its implementation across the entire Northern Territory.

It is estimated around 80 per cent of the people currently participating in the CDC trial are Indigenous.

The card quarantines 80 per cent of people on income support in a bid to limit spending on alcohol, drugs and gambling and ensure money is only spent on essential items. 

The government has also stated the card is designed to curb violence and harm stemming from drugs, alcohol and gambling. 

Labor Senator and Yanyuwa woman, Malardiri McCarthy told NITV News on Tuesday the government had failed to provide any evidence the card works. 

“It’s important that we look at evaluations, that we look at research, and there is no research that says that forced income management actually works or benefits people,” she said. 

Ms McCarthy said the government wasn’t keeping with the spirit of the national Closing the Gap agreement signed off in July.

“If the government was truly adhering to that protocol then it needs to listen to the First Nations people in the Northern Territory who are saying they do not want the Cashless Debit Card.” 

The Senator is adamant the community doesn't want the Cashless Debit Card.

"They are very passionate about the fact that income management that is forced upon them is unfair, is discriminatory and racist,” she said. 

Ms McCarthy invited Independent South Australian senator, Rex Patrick, to Arnhem Land in the NT to meet with communities currently living on income management after a similar trip earlier this year with Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie. 

Senator Rex Patrick said he spoke with Elders, families, and community leaders to canvass their views on the CDC card. 

“I want to talk to as many people as I can along the way, people on both sides of the ledger,” the senator told NITV News. 

"Some that have used the card, some that have developed the card, some that oppose the card, some that support the card." 

The government needs just one vote to pass the legislation after Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party indicated it would support the bill.

Mr Patrick said the decision is a complex one and he has yet to make a decision. 

“I’ve lost sleep over it. It’s a tough decision...  It's the complexity that sits around the racist aspects of the card, whether it meets its objectives, whether it helps in other ways that aren't necessarily defined by the government,” he said.

He said the government had yet to provide clear evidence on whether the card reduced social harms and failed to release a University of Adelaide report into the trial examining its effectiveness in WA's Goldfield region.  

"It concerns me the government hasn't made the report publicly available. I think always in the development and consideration of policy - you should put all the information face-up on the table. 

"Let everyone consider that research... Warts and all the government should be tabling the report or making it public.

“The government has been remiss in that they haven't put strong evidence on the table to show that it meets the objective of the card." 

Complex decisions

Mr Patrick said he had been told of positive aspects of the CDC - including that families had more money to spend on essentials. 

“People told me about its contribution to food on the family table - so that is something that is clearly a good thing - but it’s complexity of all this - it just makes it very difficult to work out whether or not I should support the bill or reject the bill or if I can make improvements through amendments. 

“It’s very complex.”

In a bid to understand the impacts of the card and how it worked, Mr Patrick asked to be a trial participant on the CDC. 

He has used the card for the past several weeks across South Australia, the Northern Territory, New South Wales and the ACT. 

He said the CDC  has some advantages over the Basics Card currently in place in the Northern Territory.

"It can be used in a lot more places, there are fewer restrictions, you can get money out by way of transferring it to a bank account... that you simply can't do with a basics card," he said.

Mr Patrick told NITV News he had planned to visit Hervey Bay in Queensland but due to a recent COVID-19 outbreak in his home state that may no longer be possible. 

He said he planned to talk with communities affected by the legislation before voting.

"There were efforts to try and provide me with an exemption but they appear to have failed. So now it's whether I go back to Ceduna or I simply spend time on the phones this weekend," he said.

The Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020 is expected to go before the senate next week, the final parliamentary sitting week of the year. 

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