The Cashless Welfare Card

2 Feb 2018 4zzz fm 102.1

This Paradigm Shift tells a story that has the potential to deeply affect the life of every welfare recipient of working age in Australia.

It’s the story of income management.

It began with missions, rations. In more recent times, it has taken the form of the BASICS card, part of the Northern Territory intervention that began in 2007.

Now, we are into the next chapter, as the Federal Government pushes for the implementation of the Cashless Debit Card, also known as the Cashless Welfare Card.

Under this new scheme, 80% of a person’s income would be available only through the restricted card, and just 20% of the income available as cash. The card and all of its infrastructure would be managed by financial services company Indue.

According to the government’s thinking, the card is supposed to prevent the individual from spending their income on alcohol, gambling, and illicit drugs.

However, a Senate Inquiry into the scheme brought a flood of submissions questioning and criticising the scheme. Submitters included the Australian Council of Social Service, the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Australian Bankers Association.

So far the card has been rolled out in 2 trial sites – Ceduna in South Australia and East Kimberley in WA, both with significant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.

Now the Federal Government is working to pass a raft of sweeping welfare reforms including the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017. This would remove the trial’s end date – the 30 June 2018 – and would remove current limits on the number of trial sites and the number of participants.

Once these limits are removed, the Federal Government can carry out its plan to expand the scheme to the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region, also known as the Hinkler electorate in Qld, and the Kalgoorlie Boulder region of WA. In Hinkler, the trial would apply to all income support recipients who are under 35 and on Newstart, Youth Allowance for job seekers and Parenting Payments for single and partnered parents.

However, the legislation would effectively give the Government the power to apply the Cashless Debit Card scheme to any recipient of social security under the age of 65, including those on a Disability Support Pension, or Carer Allowance.

Where did this Cashless Welfare Card come from? The card, to be operated by Toowong-based financial services company Indue, has an interesting history.

In September 2017, the Guardian reported that former Nationals MP Larry Anthony was a director of Indue between 2005 and 2013, according to records from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (Asic).

The year that Anthony stepped down as director of Indue, Tony Abbott was voted in as Prime Minister. One of his first tasks as PM was to commission a report by mining magnate Andrew Twiggy Forrest, into how Australia could create greater parity between First Nations people and other Australians. Through his Mindaroo Foundation, he published The Forrest Review. Among its recommendations, was what he dubbed the Healthy Welfare Card, an income management system aimed at First Nations Peoples, quarantining 100% of their income support.

Kathryn Wilkes has been following the scheme since it was being rolled out to its initial trial sites. A disability pensioner and single mother living in transitional housing to homeless people in Hervey Bay, she immediately aligned herself with the people of the first trial sites and supported their protests against the card.

By coincidence, Kathryn Wilkes lives in one of the next areas marked for rollout of the card, the Hinkler electorate. She has been central to the nationwide campaign against the card, coordinating the Facebook group No Cashless Welfare Card in Hinkler, which acts as a central information point for the community.

I asked Kathryn Wilkes about the BASICS card, a previous incarnation of income management first introduced as part of the Northern Territory intervention in 2007. She describes the consequent spread of the Basics card across Australia as Mission Creep.

That’s Kathryn Wilkes, a central figure in the protest against the introduction of the Cashless Welfare Card. Drug testing was dropped from the Welfare Reform Bill in December 2017, but other legislation is still being debated.

You’re tuned to Women on the Edge on 4ZZZ and Zed digital. I’m Justine Reilly, and this is The Other Side of the Story.

Today we’re hearing the untold story of the Cashless Welfare Card, an income management scheme currently being pushed out across Australia. Legislation tabled in parliament in 2017 would effectively turn the scheme from a trial to a program, giving the Government the power to force it upon any recipient of social security under the age of 65, including those on a Disability Support Pension, or Carer Allowance.

A Senate Inquiry into this legislation brought a torrent of submissions, from organistions including the Australian Council of Social Service, the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Australian Bankers Association.

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