• Greens Senator Rachel Siewert says the cashless welfare card scheme is doomed to fail. (NITV)Source: NITV
The Greens have maintained their opposition to the government's cashless welfare card scheme, which rolled out on Tuesday in the South Australian town of Ceduna. Here’s how the scheme will work.
Myles Morgan, Ella Archibald-Binge

The Point
15 Mar 2016 - 8:56 PM  UPDATED 15 Mar 2016 - 9:05 PM
  • 12-month trial begins in Ceduna, SA
  • 80% of welfare payments only accessible by card
  • More than 70% of those affected in Ceduna are Indigenous
  • Government denies scheme discriminates against Indigenous population

Greens Indigenous affairs spokeswoman Rachel Siewert has renewed her criticism of the Turnbull government’s cashless welfare card, as the scheme rolled out in the South Australian town of Ceduna today.

In a bid to reduce drug and alcohol abuse, the scheme sees 80 per cent of welfare payments directed to a bank card, which cannot be used to gamble or buy alcohol or illicit substances.

Senator Siewert says the measures are doomed to fail. 

 “Just taking away somebody’s access to cash will not deal with the issues that underpin… drug and alcohol abuse and gambling,” she told NITV.

“We need to deal with those underlying causes.”

related reading:
On the ground in Ceduna on day one of the Healthy Welfare Card trial
There are mixed reactions to the strategy designed to curb the high levels of alcoholism and violence in the South Australian town of Ceduna. The Point's Danny Teece-Johnson speaks to locals to gauge the mood of the town.

The Greens senator has been vocal in her opposition of the scheme, unsuccessfully attempting to move a disallowance motion to stop the trial last month.

She maintains there’s still “community discontent” about the Ceduna trial, which she labels as discriminatory.

“At the moment it’s been primarily applied in areas that have large Aboriginal communities,” Ms Siewert says.

“I understand that there (are) some Aboriginal leaders in the Ceduna region that support this card.

“Equally there are some, and many, that don’t.”

Scheme about welfare abuse, not race

Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Alan Tudge says the scheme is about “welfare abuse, not Indigeneity”.

“There isn’t unanimous support but there is very strong support on the ground and more than that we’ve actually co-designed this trial with the community leaders,” he told the ABC.

The government has pledged to invest $1 million towards improving community services in Ceduna, in a move Mr Tudge says will complement the cashless welfare card scheme.

While Senator Siewert supports the funding injection, she says it will make it difficult to measure the success of the card trial.

Mr Tudge claims the two elements go “hand in club”.

“The trial consists of both parts and they work together,” he says.

“The additional services we’re putting in place are there to support people to get off their addictions.

“You can’t put one without doing the other.”

What is the cashless welfare card?

The cashless welfare card operates like a debit card, but cannot be used to buy alcohol, gamble or withdraw cash.

Welfare recipients will be able to access 20% of their fortnightly payments as cash, deposited directly to their regular bank account.

The other 80% will be paid onto the card.

The card can be used at any shop with an EFTPOS machine, or online store, excluding alcohol and gambling outlets.

Who will be affected?

The first 12-month trial began today in the South Australian town of Ceduna.

The scheme applies to working age welfare recipients (Indigenous and non-Indigenous), with veterans and pensioners given the option to volunteer for the scheme.

Of Ceduna’s 3480-strong population, around 800 residents will be affected – more than 70% of whom are Aboriginal.

A second trial is scheduled to roll out in the East Kimberley in WA in late April/early May.

The government says it is talks with the Geraldton community in WA’s mid-west, which could become the third trial site.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Alan Tudge says the government will assess the results of the trials before deciding whether to roll the scheme out nationally.

Why is the card being introduced?

The trial program aims to minimise drug and alcohol abuse in the community.   

The idea was put forward in Andrew Forrest’s Indigenous Jobs and Training Review, presented to the federal government in 2014.