By Laura Daly and Liam Lo Grande
Trials of the cashless debit card (CDC) for welfare recipients may be causing trouble for the federal government, with protests scheduled across the country to resist the project.
The initiative, currently being trialed by the coalition, aims at “reducing social harm” by stopping welfare recipients from betting, buying alcohol, or withdrawing more than 20 percent of the payment as cash.
This year’s budget allocated $129 million to extend trials and roll out of the card in the Northern Territory, with a large percentage of the trials taking place in Western Australia.
The trial program is for those under 35 who receive the Newstart Allowance, the Youth Allowance or parenting payments.
There have been conflicting opinions in many political parties surrounding the actual success of the trials since they began in 2016, and critics have said the card is removing the rights of its recipients.
Kathryn Wilkes, organiser of the No Cashless Welfare Debit Card Australia Facebook page, agreed and said the card treats welfare recipients as second class citizens.
“The indignity of having to go ask permission to do things they would normally have done, but now they have to go and get permission to do, the indignity of being forcibly removed from our so called equal society is disgusting.”
Danny Ulrich cares for his diabled younger brother, and told the ABC in January he wondered why he had been given a card if it was designed to target drug and alcohol-related behaviour.
“As a carer we’ve been put in with everyone else and put on the card,” he said.
“I’ve never drunk in my life, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs. The hardest stuff I’ll do is Panadol for a headache.”
He is one of many who have spoken out about the disadvantages faced by those in the CDC trials.
But those in support of the program say the trials ensure government money is spent on essentials. Member for Hinkler, Keith Pitt, told the ABC in January the trial was aimed at addressing high rates of welfare throughout multiple generations.
“This will be inconvenient for some but this is about ensuring that we provide the fundamentals, particularly for children who are, in this electorate, in some circumstances not being provided the basics of life,” he said.
“I think every Australian supports that, but I don’t see any reason why that money should be spent in excess on alcohol, on gambling or on drugs — that is the only thing that the card prevents you from purchasing.”
Executive Director for the Australian Institute for Progress Graham Young agreed and said he believes there is a certain level of social responsibility when receiving welfare.
“Welfare payments don’t come gratis, you know they come with responsibility, and if that infringement is actually stopping them from doing what will be substantial self-harm on those sorts of income levels then you know I think there’s some justification for it.”
However, Ms Wilkes believes the protests will serve as an opportunity for people to express their concerns about the program, particularly those in areas where the card has been recently introduced.
“This is to give people a chance to come out and protest against the card, especially in the rural regions that have just been put on the card, and to send a message to the candidates out there for this election that people don’t want the card.”
Some groups are proposing an alternative solution that would be people-focused and invest in community programs.
Senior Manager for Policy at the Queensland Council of Social Service Laura Barnes says there should be a greater emphasis on providing services to help people facing these issues.
“Our approach would be to provide first to people, give them the support and assistance they need to overcome these complex issues. We would advocate taking a place-based approach that sees resources provided to support individuals,” she said.
The trials were expected to end on June 30 this year, however, have been extended until June 30, 2020, with the possibility of a further extension into 2021.