• The federal government's cashless debit card will be expanded to Western Australia's Goldfields region after legislation cleared the Senate. (The Conversation)Source: The Conversation
Parliament passes the controversial Cashless Debit Card laws overnight but last minute amendments mean the trial sites will be extended for two years and will be optional for people in the Northern Territory.
Sarah Collard

10 Dec 2020 - 11:59 AM  UPDATED 10 Dec 2020 - 11:59 AM

Parliament  has passed the controversial Cashless Debit Card  (CDC) laws overnight but last minute amendments mean the trial sites will now be extended for two years and will be optional for people currently on the Basics Card in the Northern Territory. 

The contentious CDC is 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 card quarantines 80 per cent of government payments so they cannot be used to withdraw cash, buy alcohol, or gamble.

Emotional speeches dominated Parliament as fierce debate continued long into the night. 

The legislation passed the Senate by just one vote after the government failed to secure the support needed to make the CDC permanent with the last-minute amendments leading Centre Alliance senator, Stirling Griff declining to vote. 

South Australian senator Rex Patrick and  Tasmanian senator Jaqui Lambie both opposed the bill citing a lack of evidence and more investment in wrap-around supports and services are needed. 

Those on the card are overwhelmingly Indigenous with the Minister for Social Services and Families, Anne Ruston revealing the figures in the Senate.

In WA's East Kimberley 81 per cent of people on the CDC are First Nations while in In the Goldfields 48 per cent of people and in the Queensland trial sites its 18 per cent. 

Eighty-one per cent of people in the Northern Territory on the Basics Card are First Nations people.  

Labor senator Malarndiri McCarthy told parliament the CDC card was punishing and racist in an emotional speech.

She urged crossbenchers which had the final say on whether the bill becomes a law to block the CDC.

“Take the sand out of your ears – and let's hope we can soften your hearts. Because all this legislation does is push people further and further in the ground. Please Senators, vote no to this horrendous legislation,“ she said.

Senator McCarthy said the laws were a 'betrayal' and a failure. 

"It really shows how desperate the government is to keep a failed policy and one which has proven to have no evidence that it actually works... like the cowards that you are you have scurried off and made the deals and you haven't talked to the people of the Northern Territory."

Federal minister for families and social services, Anne Ruston said the card was a better system than the Basics card currently in place in communities in the Northern Territory. 

And said the government is committed to passing the legislation in full once it has the support as she says communities deserve certainty and community leaders had asked for the CDC. 

“This amendment does not change our commitment, it simply means we have more work to do in the future to convince the parliament they should support this program on a permanent basis,” she said.

The federal government argues the card has helped communities by preventing welfare recipients from spending money on alcohol and drugs.

Greens senator Lidia Thorpe said the CDC harkened back to the Aboriginal Protection era and was akin to modern day ration cards.

“It's shame. It's 2021 rations,” Ms Thorpe told the senate chamber.

“It's putting black people back on rations. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the governments of this country introduced legislation to regulate the lives of our people.”

The trials have been running since 2016 and with the current suite of amendments passed; are due to expire at the end of 2022.