DESIGN FLAWS: An academic says the Federal Government's Cashless Debit Card has further disempowered vulnerable families.
DESIGN FLAWS: An academic says the Federal Government's Cashless Debit Card has further disempowered vulnerable families. Amanda Coop

Cashless card flawed from start, expert tells inquest

SOME families in the Kimberley consider the Cashless Debit Card a "white card” that symbolises the colonial power of the state.

An academic has told an inquest into the suicide of indigenous youths in Western Australia's far north that the Federal Government's Cashless Debit Card has further disempowered vulnerable families.

The scheme was set up in April last year to help curb problem drinking, gambling and domestic violence - elements that were present in the lives of 13 young indigenous people who took their own lives over three-and-a-half years.

The cards quarantine 80% of welfare payments from being used to buy alcohol, gamble or withdraw cash, while the remainder is free to be withdrawn as cash.

University of Melbourne development studies lecturer Dr Elise Klein leads a research project examining the policy and told the inquest the compulsory program started without proper community consultation.

Dr Klein told WA coroner Ros Fogliani this silenced many Aboriginal voices and became a point of tension in a diverse population.

Dr Klein said the "oppressive scheme” represented neo-colonialism and government overreach, News Corp reported.

"It's explained as the 'white card',” she said.

"The card has been a symbol of disempowerment, a symbol of state intervention, punitive intervention over someone's life.”

Dr Klein said the system was chaotically introduced with design flaws, including a mobile app for people who "didn't know how to use the internet let alone own a mobile phone”.

Many of the children who cut their lives short were inadequately fed, but Dr Klein said it was "naive at best” to think controlling parents' purchases could effectively combat this, insisting the card made money management "much harder” for people already living below the poverty line.

Dr Klein said many participants have told her using the card is like going back to the "ration days”, referring to Aboriginal people working on pastoral stations and being paid in tea and sugar as opposed to real wages.

The problem was compounded for jobseekers subjected to the Coalition's Work for the Dole scheme, which Dr Klein said carried harsh breaching penalties despite a lack of remote employment opportunities.

She called for bottom-up, community-led development of therapeutic services to address the complex social harm and disadvantage in communities with high rates of social security dependency.



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