Goldfields to get cashless welfare card after report finds drinking, drug use down
Western Australia’s Goldfields region will become the third site to trial the cashless welfare card,
with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull describing it as “an exercise in compassion and in love”.
The Federal Government has declared its two other trials a “success”,
with a final review released today concluding the cards have reduced alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling.
“Almost half of all drinkers are drinking less, almost half of all gamblers are gambling less and the same with the drug users,
” Human Services Minister Alan Tudge said.
“These are great outcomes for these communities and it was exactly what we were seeking.”
The card is designed to limit access to cash and quarantines a majority of people’s welfare money
towards a debit card used for essential items like food.
The trials began last year in Kununurra in Western Australia’s East Kimberley and Ceduna in South Australia.
A 300-page report released today found the card rollout had a “considerable positive impact” on both communities.
It also found up to 40 per cent of people believed they were better able to look after their children and able to save more money.
However, there was no improvement in crime statistics, and less than a quarter of participants reported the trial had had a positive impact on their lives.
Cashless welfare card rolled out in the Goldfields
The Federal Government is using the findings to justify rolling it into the third location,
which includes Laverton, Leonora, Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie.
Mr Turnbull described the card as “an exercise in compassion and in love”.
“It is a massive, massive factor in improving the lives of those communities,
and that is why it has the support in this community in the Goldfields,” Mr Turnbull said.
He said a most of those involved in the Goldfields trial would be non-Indigenous.
The Goldfields region is home to around 40,000 people and 3,400 will access the welfare card.
Kalgoorlie Mayor John Bowler welcomed the introduction of the card in the city.
“It’ll improve the life of those recipients who currently spend too much of their money on alcohol,” he said.
“I worry that it won’t be totally successful … I hope it will be, it has been in Ceduna.”
‘Lack of rights’
But the report also found almost a third of participants felt their lives had been made worse by the system
and only 17 per cent felt their children’s lives had improved.
There was no statistical evidence to show the trials had produced a decrease in crime,
nor was there a perception that community safety had improved.
Six per cent of people mentioned feeling a lack of freedom and concern about their rights.
As speculation about the looming announcement increased, so too did the concerns of traditional owner and elder Trevor Donaldson.
“We’re hearing a lot of negativity coming from up north,” Mr Donaldson said.
“The crime rate, the drug use, alcohol, anti social behaviour. It appears that, that’s still there.”
Mr Donaldson is reluctant for his community to be subject to the trial.
“I don’t want to go and put my title or our name on something that will fail and drag our people
through an experiment that is going to fail,” he said.
‘Horrendous stories’: WACOSS
WA Council of Social Services [WACOSS] chief Louise Giolitto said trials of the card had shown mixed results.
“What you are finding is that people who have got addictions, alcohol addictions, they’ll sell the cards that maybe are worth $200 for $100 and they are leaving themselves with a lot less cash,” she said.
“There’s also some really horrendous stories of young people and children selling themselves or prostituting themselves for money.”
“There’s a lot of things that actually go underground and become hidden because of putting people on a cashless welfare card.”
She said the cards carried a lot of negative connotations.
“There’s an assumption placed around it that if you need income support,
we take away your autonomy and a level of your dignity and there’s an automatic assumption
you can’t manage your own money,” Ms Giolotti said.
Save the Children is also critical of the decision to trial the cards in the Goldfields.
Spokesman Juan Larranaga said there was clear evidence from his staff working night patrols in the Kimberley town
of Kununurra that cardholders had little trouble circumventing the system.
He cited one example where a cardholder purchased petrol valued at $30 for someone in exchange for $20.
“Our night patrol staff report that they see kids begging for food as a result because there is not enough food in the house,”
he said. “We don’t oppose the card, but if it is going to work support services need to be built in.”
The Federal Government said the trials would not be rolled out across the entire country, just region by region.
The welfare card will begin early next year for the residents in the Goldfields.