Cashless welfare cards will continue to be used at trial sites in South Australia and Western Australia following a report claimed there was initial success.
The federal government announced the extension in Ceduna and East Kimberley after an independent evaluation found the debit card - which quarantines 80 per cent of welfare payments and cannot be used for items such as alcohol - has been effective in reducing alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling.
"The card is a not a panacea, but it has led to stark improvements in these communities. There are very few other initiatives that have had such impact," Human Services Minister Alan Tudge said on Tuesday.
However the Greens pointed the finding that 50 per cent of respondents said they felt worse off since the trial began.
“The report released today shows that half of the participants felt the card made their life worse", said Greens spokeswoman on community services Senator Rachel Siewert.
“I would like to note that the most recent SA police statistics for the Ceduna area and surrounds did not make it into the report in full, and show in the last rolling year: Robbery and Related offences went up by 111 per cent, Aggravated Robbery went up by 120 per cent, Non Aggravated Robbery went up by 400 per cent, Fraud Deception and related offences went up by 51 per cent.
“Why was this not a key part of the report? It clearly shows a huge jump in robbery, as well as other crimes. Instead the report brushes these stats aside, saying that break-ins were committed by juveniles and people from out of town. "
Residents say card removes choice and freedom
Ceduna residents on the card have criticised it for taking away their ability to budget and make their own choices.
Margaret Argent said: "It’s taken my responsibility. It’s taken my ability to control myself. It’s taken my budgeting – why are they budgeting when we are doing it ourselves?"
"There’s a lot of other issues I’ve had with it. Not being able to have cash for my kids, when they go on school camps, school canteens, not having that five dollars in your pocket…" said resident Andrea Richards.
Michael Haynes from the Ceduna Aboriginal Corporation said the card only stopped people for purchasing a few items.
"There’s only three products that people can’t spend their money on, and that’s alcohol drugs and gambling. Basically, everyone gets the same amount of money as they received before."
Government hails trial as a success
Under the trial, the remaining 20 per cent of a welfare payment is placed in a person's regular bank account and can be withdrawn as cash.
Mr Tudge and Social Services Minister Christian Porter cited findings from Orima Research showing:
* on average, one in four participants who drank reported drinking alcohol less frequently;
* of gamblers in the trial, 32 per cent of participants and 15 per cent of family members reported gambling less;
* 24 per cent also reported using illegal drugs less often.
"There is still a lot of work to do, but if we can continue on this path then over time we can make these communities safe, healthy and prosperous once again," Mr Tudge said.
Asked whether he envisaged the card being rolled out nationally, the minister told the ABC he gets into big trouble for talking about the May budget before it is released.
The trials will continue in the two locations with six-monthly reviews.