PROTEST: Cashless Debit Card protesters Daniel Stafford, Sharon Feerick, Jodie McNally and Peter Feerick in the CBD.
PROTEST: Cashless Debit Card protesters Daniel Stafford, Sharon Feerick, Jodie McNally and Peter Feerick in the CBD. Mikayla Haupt

BIG READ: How the Cashless Debit Card unfolded in Hinkler

WITH the LNP returning to power following the election, and Senator Anne Ruston sworn into the Families and Social Services portfolio, it appears the Cashless Debit Card is here to stay in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay.

We took the time to compile a history of the Cashless Debit Card, which has caused some controversial in the region for several years.

But it all begins in: August, 2014: WA mining magnate and philanthropist Andrew 'Twiggy' Forrest releases the Creating Parity Report for the Federal Government. The report suggests a cashless card system to improve Indigenous employment.

March, 2015: The government announces that a 'Welfare EFTPOS card' will be trialled in some communities later in the year.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Alan Tudge, said at the time the overall aim was to reduce violence, especially towards woman. The Australian Council of Social Service criticises the card and said it goes against expert advice, and that similar schemes have proven expensive.

October, 2015: Legislation for the 'Healthy Welfare Card' is passed in the Senate. Under this legislation, the first trial of the card will happen in Ceduna, South Australia.

February, 2016: The cashless card is introduced in Ceduna, SA.

March, 2016: The card is introduced in the East Kimberley, WA.

Opponents of the proposed cashless debit card for Hinkler at the weekend Hands in the Sand protest.
Opponents of the proposed cashless debit card for Hinkler at the weekend Hands in the Sand protest. Contributed

March, 2017: The system is considered a success by the federal government led under Malcolm Turnbull. An audit showed reduced rates of drugs and gambling.However, some reports state that some card holders have found ways to get money outside of the system, including through prostitution.

The system will be in place permanently in Ceduna and the East Kimberley, after six-month reviews.

May, 2017: Federal Member for Hinkler, Keith Pitt, says he wants the cashless debit card in Bundaberg. There is funding in the Federal Budget to bring the card to two more communities. He said it was "an opportunity to improve the lot of local welfare recipients, their children and the entire community.”

State Member for Bundaberg Leanne Donaldson creates an online petition, urging voters not to let Mr Pitt treat the community as guinea pigs. She accuses Mr Pitt of blocking criticism about the scheme from his social media. Mr Pitt conducts a letterbox drop to ask residents to support the scheme. He says 78 per cent showed support.

June, 2017: The Mayor of Ceduna, where the card was first trialled, advocates the scheme. "Nothing we've tried previously has had anywhere near the same positive impact as the Cashless Debit Card,” Cr Allan Suter said.

Former Hinkler Labor Member Brian Courtice, MP from 1987 to 1993, advocates the scheme and said it was not about restricting freedom.

Protestors hold rallies in the area, led by Hervey Bay disability support pensioner Kathryn Wilkes, who becomes a notable opponent of the scheme.

The Department of Human Services reports that people are fraudulently ringing residents and claiming to be from Centrelink wishing to discuss the cashless card.

Aldi said that it would not use the cashless card in its stores, but realised four days after its initial statement that it had been confused with the 'BasicsCard.'

August, 2017: The first official government meetings about the cashless debit card were held in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay.

Local woman Jodie McNally says she considers the card to be "a disgusting form of abuse” and compared it to domestic violence.

Families in the Kimberley consider the cashless card to be a "white card” symbolising colonial power.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was at Oakwood Sheet Metal in East Bundaberg when he said the cashless card will not work in Bundaberg without full community support.

September, 2017: The Goldfields in WA is announced as the third region that will trial the card.

The Turnbull Government officially announces the fourth area will be Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. It is explained that people under 35 years who are on unemployment or parenting payments will be affected.

Disability pensioner Kathryn Wilkes said she will not stop fighting the scheme, despite the disability support pension not being affected. She fears it may be added in the future.

Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey said it was remarkable that the Wide Bay region's high unemployment rate could attract a cashless card scheme, but not useful funding and projects to attract investment.

October, 2017: A Bundaberg businesswoman complains that an anti-Cashless Debit Card group overstepped the mark when she expressed a different opinion to them. On a video posted on the group's Facebook page a woman can be overheard saying, "here we go again, another business that seems to think it's OK for people to be segregated, apartheid, and can't explain how the cashless welfare card is going to be good for their business.”

November, 2017: Bundaberg State MP Leanne Donaldson tells a Senate committee the community was not consulted about the roll-out. LNP Senator Barry O'Sullivan challenges her claim.

Cashless card opponents protest at polling booths despite it being a federal issue.

February, 2018: Three Nick Xenophon Team senators block the trial of the Cashless Debit card from Hinkler, but support the trial in the Goldfields in WA. They said they needed more evidence before there was a wider roll-out to places such as Hinkler.

Social Services Minister Dan Tehan tells The Courier-Mail he will reintroduce legislation into Parliament to bring the trial to Hinkler and Hervey Bay.

30-year-old Bundaberg mother Crystal Silk said it was worrying the government assumed she had a problem. "I come from a working family with a strong work ethic and to be told 'oh no, we need to manage your money now', it's a bit of a shock.”

May, 2018: The Federal Budget allocates funding towards a cashless card trial in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. It announces an extension of the trial in South Australia and the East Kimberley to June 30, 2019.

The new officer-in-charge of Bundaberg Police Station, Senior Sergeant Michael McGarry, said he supports the scheme and said it seemed to have benefits, but added that the program needed to be adjusted for each community.

NewsMail commissions an exclusive survey through ReachTel, which polled 637 residents across the Hinkler electorate about their thoughts on the cashless card.

53.5 per cent of the electorate supported the Cashless Debit Card compared to 27.8 per cent in opposition, with 18.7 per cent sitting on the fence. Poll participants were given five options: strongly support, support, neutral, oppose or strongly oppose.

The breakdown of support shows 37.6 per cent of those surveyed strongly supported the card with another 15.9% in support.

Of those rejecting the proposal, 19 per cent strongly opposed the card with another 8.8 per cent opposed.

Almost one in five, or 18.7 per cent, were neutral to the idea.

On Sky News, Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey questioned the point of the cashless card if it cost more than $10,000 per person, as had been reported. He thought the money would be better spent stimulating jobs and small businesses.

Minister for Social Services Dan Tehan said the mayor "should get his facts right” and said the cost would be less than $2000 per person once it reached Bundaberg.

July, 2018: St Vincent de Paul Society head Dr John Falzon described the cashless card as "disempowering and humiliating.” Hinkler MP Keith Pitt questions Dr Falzon's motives, as he seeks pre-selection as the Labor candidate for Canberra.

August, 2018: Senator Andrew Bartlett pleads with his parliamentary colleagues to oppose the extension of the trial in Hinkler. He said the Auditor General's report on the card brought into the question "all the politics of it.”

Senator Ian Macdonald questions how unemployment rates were so high, when international backpackers found it easy to find work.

September, 2018: The legislation to bring the cashless debit card to Bundaberg and Hervey Bay is barely passed in the federal parliament. Thirty-three senators voted to support the bill, while thirty-two voted against. Hinkler will be the first mainly non-indigenous area to trial the card.

October, 2018: Labor Hinkler candidate Richard Pascoe launches a petition to stop the card. He said the card offers no real solutions. "The absurd claim that this will wind back entrenched youth unemployment is outrageous.”

November, 2018: The Australian reports that business owners in the Goldfields region have noticed a positive difference with the cashless card, and that children are getting the benefits.

December, 2018: The Department of Social Services sends thousands of letters across Hinkler informing clients they will receive the cashless debit card in the new year.

The Waves Sports Club gains approval from the government to be able to accept the cashless credit card, although it will not work on alcohol. The government announces it will extend its trial across its locations and will expand to another area.

Local Meals on Wheels volunteer Brooke Hadley, 19, said the card will embarrass her at the check-outs. "I feel as though I'm going to be judged every day of my life as soon as this card comes out for the simple fact I'm handing over a card that's identifiable,” Ms Hadley said.

January, 2019: Bill Shorten visits Bundaberg as part of his Queensland Jobs Not Cuts bus tour. He promises to remove the cashless debit card if he becomes the prime minister of Australia.

Finally, the card is rolled out in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay.

A Current Affairs report labels Bundaberg as "the dole capital of Australia” according to the number of people of welfare in the postcode.

ROLL OUT: Bundaberg resident Jodie McNally speaks about the Cashless Debit Card on A Current Affair.
ROLL OUT: Bundaberg resident Jodie McNally speaks about the Cashless Debit Card on A Current Affair. contributed

March, 2019: Bundaberg loses the undesirable title of "dole capital”, and is overtaken by a postcard in Sydney. There had been a 9.8 per cent decline in people in Bundaberg collecting Newstart, according to data from the previous year. It reduced from 4196 to 3783 people.

Minister for Families an Social Service Paul Fletcher said the government will expand the cashless debit card. The costs will reduce to less than $1000 a person under the new expansion. The trial in Hervey Bay and Bundaberg will extend until June 30, 2021.

April, 2019: Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt accuses people of spreading misinformation and "scaremongering” about the cashless card.

Hinkler's Greens candidate Anne Jackson said opposing the card was her top priority.

Clive Palmer argues the card is "unconstitutional” while he visited Bundaberg as part of his campaign to return to the Senate.  

May, 2019: More than 200 additional people have signed a petition against the Cashless Debit Card in the days following the election. The LNP government is expected to continue the trial.


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