• The federal government's cashless debit card was be expanded to Western Australia's Goldfields region. (The Conversation)Source: The Conversation
The Turnbull government will soon roll out its cashless welfare card to two new communities if new legislation introduced yesterday passes through Parliament.
18 Aug 2017 - 9:52 AM  UPDATED 29 Aug 2017 - 5:11 PM

The controversial scheme, which began life as part of the NT Intervention ten years ago, now only quarantines 80 per cent of welfare payments so they cannot be used to buy alcohol, gamble or be taken as cash.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge claimed the scheme is strongly supported, particularly from some Indigenous leaders. 

"They've been calling for it in part because of the enormous damage that is caused by alcohol-fuelled violence," he told ABC's AM program.  

"If we're not fair dinkum on getting on top of the alcohol we're never going to improve some of these communities," he said. 

The scheme has already been operating since March last year in Ceduna in South Australia, and in Wyndham and Kununurra in Western Australia's East Kimberley. 

Billionaire Andrew 'Twiggy' Forrest is also backing the scheme. 

He used a video, produced in conjunction with the Minderoo Foundation, to convince the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, to support the further roll out.

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"Elders of communities, mayors of major towns are standing up and saying enough is enough. We need the system to change," he said. 

The mining magnate, called the Greens a party for paedophiles, after WA senator Rachel Siewert cricitised the video which described some communities as war zones and suggested the card could reduce child sexual abuse. 

Ms Siewert said it was complete and utter nonsense. 

She pointed to the fact that crime rates in the town of Kununurra, one the trial sites, have risen since the rollout took place. 

"They've (crime statistics) just been released through the West Australian parliament, as a result of a question on notice, and it shows that there has been a significant increase in some crimes in Kununurra," she told NITV. 

"Including theft, including burglary, including threatening behaviour which has gone up very significantly, so there are adverse consequences of this card."

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While the Greens remain flatly opposed to the rollout, Mr Forrest managed to sway much of the crossbench including independent senator Derryn Hinch. 

"I've had long talks last year with Twiggy Forrest about this and it has worked in places like Ceduna and I think they should it," he said. 

Australian Conservatives senator Cory Bernardi admits its not perfect but a good step forward. 

"I'm absolutely supportive of the cashless debit card, this is about getting meaningful outcomes for people. I know my state of South Australia its been used to quite a good effect in some regional communities. I know it's not perfect, but gosh it's a good step forward," he said. 

Liberal senator David Leyonhjelm is also convinced. 

"I'm convinced, and like Cory said its not the full answer but its certainly a step in the right direction." 

Twiggy Forrest was joined by Indigenous and community leaders in Canberra last week, to lobby the rollout to politicians, who say the welfare program is working. 

Bianca Crake is from the Wyndham community in WA's East Kimberley. 

"It is working in the East Kimberlies We've got fathers that have got children, taking their children to supermarkets and spending their money. They would never do that before this card came out," she said. 

Jean O'Reeri is also from Wyndham where she works as an Aboriginal Education worker. She says the community is desperate. 

"We need help, we need the government to intervene and help us out as community leaders," she said.  

But the Opposition will need more convincing

In a joint statement, Shadow Labor ministers Jenny Macklin and Linda Burney said Labor does not support a national rollout of the card. 

"Labor understands that the vast majority of social security recipients are more than capable of managing their personal finances. That’s why Labor does not support the cashless debit card being rolled out nationwide," it said. 

Instead, Labor proposes it will consult with willing communities. 

"We will consult with community leaders in each community. Where individual communities believe that the cashless debit card can make a positive difference we will discuss it with them." 

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Secretary Sally McManus says the policy is discriminatory.  

"This program sends a signal to Indigenous people that this government doesn’t trust them with money. It also sends a signal to the broader community that Indigenous Australians are less capable than non-Indigenous Australians. It’s blatantly discriminatory and needs to end,” she said. 

“We cannot have one set of rules for Indigenous people and another for non-Indigenous people.”

ACTU Indigenous Officer Lara Watson agrees. 

"This program echoes the themes of control and paternalism which we see in the CDP. Indigenous people need to be given autonomy and allowed to choose how to live their lives, just as any other citizen of Australia is able to.”

The Turnbull government announced in April that it would extend the trial on the back of an independent evaluation which found the card to have been effective to date, but also that almost half of people on the card said it made their lives worse, while only 22 per cent said it had made a positive difference.

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