The Federal Government is giving its strongest indication yet that a Centrelink income management trial could be expanded to more communities.
- Cashless debit card trial has been in place for two years in Ceduna and East Kimberley
- Several Liberal MPs have flagged their support for expanding the scheme, with Human Services Minister Alan Tudge saying it is under consideration
- National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples say no proof cashless welfare works, the Greens want funding for Indigenous programs instead
The cashless debit card quarantines 80 per cent of welfare payments and cannot pay for liquor, gambling or be used to withdraw cash.
A growing number of Coalition MPs are calling for the announcement of more trial sites, saying it is needed to combat alcohol and drug problems in their regions.
Human Services Minister Alan Tudge said an expansion was being contemplated ahead of next month’s budget.
“We just want to further consult with different regions in terms of their appetite for change, in terms of their appetite for having it introduced,” he told the ABC.
“And then we’ll consult obviously internally and assess whether or not we should be progressing further with it.
“We’re contemplating it at the moment and we’ll obviously let you know as soon as we’ve made any decision.”
The compulsory scheme has been trialled for about a year in two areas with large Aboriginal populations — Ceduna in South Australia and Western Australia’s East Kimberley.
Ceduna MP pushes for more trials in small Indigenous towns
Federal Liberal MP Rowan Ramsey, who represents Ceduna, said welfare quarantining should be further rolled out.
“I find it difficult to envisage a community that it wouldn’t work in,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter where you go, whether you go to Port Augusta or Adelaide or into the middle of Sydney.”
Mr Ramsay said one or two other communities in his electorate were “very interested” in the card.
He said future trials should occur in places where Indigenous people comprise a smaller proportion of the population “to prove it”.
The cashless debit card quarantines 80 per cent of welfare payments and cannot be used for alcohol, gambling or cash. (ABC News: Nick Haggarty)
Western Australian Liberal MP Rick Wilson said many remote communities he represented were desperate for income management.
“We’re hoping to see another 10 trial sites rolled out in this year’s budget,” he told the ABC.
“I have been in constant discussions with Alan Tudge … to get an assurance that Kalgoorlie will be strongly considered if that’s the case.”
Fellow WA Liberal Melissa Price has also championed the card but was recently forced to backtrack on the levels of support she claimed it enjoyed.
A government-funded report last month found a quarter of drinkers on the card reported consuming alcohol less often and about a third of gamblers had curbed the habit.
But the report showed one in two participants said their life was worse because of the card.
No proof concept works, Indigenous body argues
Indigenous representative body National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples said the two existing trials had not proven the concept worked.
“I think it is probably premature [to expand]” co-chairman Rod Little said.
“If you go in half-cocked to a program or a policy shift, when you don’t have the full evidence, it then will lend itself to further problems and it will cost more socially and economically to the Government.”
The Greens’ Indigenous affairs spokeswoman Rachel Siewert said the card was a dud and funding should instead go to proven Indigenous programs.
“We want to see the money invested in measures that genuinely work,” Senator Siewert said.
“Not in measures that the Government’s got an ideological commitment to rather than measures that genuinely work.”
Labor has consistently reserved judgment on the possibility of expansion until the final trial evaluation is released mid-year.
Labor frontbenchers Jenny Macklin and Linda Burney are this week speaking with residents in the East Kimberley towns of Kununurra and Wyndham about the cashless debit card.
“Labor doing the Government’s job for them,” Labor leader Bill Shorten said.
“I’m sure Jenny will pass on her findings to Alan Tudge, because he’s too busy trying to save his own skin to worry about all these other important issues.”