ROLL BACK: Labor leader Bill Shorten promises to reverse the cashless card at Monday's Q&A at the Bundaberg Bowls Club. TOP RIGHT: Resident Kathryn Wilkes asked for a commitment against the CDC at the meeting. BOTTOM RIGHT: Minister for Families and Social Services Paul Fletcher.
ROLL BACK: Labor leader Bill Shorten promises to reverse the cashless card at Monday's Q&A at the Bundaberg Bowls Club. TOP RIGHT: Resident Kathryn Wilkes asked for a commitment against the CDC at the meeting. BOTTOM RIGHT: Minister for Families and Social Services Paul Fletcher. Mike Knott BUN210119BILL3

Dumping cashless card means life of welfare dependence: govt

OPPOSITION leader Bill Shorten's plan to scrap the Cashless Debit Card could result in a life sentence of welfare dependence for thousands of "vulnerable Australians", according to the Federal Government.

The bold statement follows Mr Shorten's announcement he would do everything he could to roll back the controversial welfare trial at a town hall Q&A meeting in Bundaberg on Monday night.

"This idea of treating some Australians as children, as not competent, that's not the Australian way. So we will do everything we can once, we are elected, with the proviso I can't unscramble what they (the Federal Government) get wrong between now and May 11," he told Wide Bay residents.

Kathryn Wilkes at the town hall meeting.
Kathryn Wilkes at the town hall meeting. Mike Knott BUN210119BILL5

His promise was in response to local Kathryn Wilkes, who asked the Opposition leader to cancel the cashless card and "stand up for human, civil and economic rights and our freedom as citizens, or see us all branded as second-class druggies and addicts".

"Can you give us a commitment please, Bill? We are still Australian citizens and all we ask is to be equal, please."

Mr Shorten said while he couldn't stop the roll out, Labor had voted against the card and did not support the trial.

"The case hasn't been made to spend $13.5 million on a new scheme when ... (it could) better go to help people find work and help with addiction," he said.

"Too many people have found problems with it for you to be ignored."

But Minister for Families and Social Services Paul Fletcher yesterday said Mr Shorten's declaration was part of Labor's agenda to wind back mutual obligation.

"It is clear that Labor does not believe ... in asking people to have a go to get a go," Mr Fletcher said.

Launch of Cashless Card in Hinkler - Paul Fletcher (Min. for Families and Social Services) with the Cashless Card.
Launch of Cashless Card in Hinkler - Paul Fletcher (Min. for Families and Social Services) with the Cashless Card. Alistair Brightman

The minister said the current government had delivered the lowest proportion of working-age Australians on welfare in three decades.

"Two weeks ago, Labor announced a winding back of the obligation for Newstart recipients to apply for jobs," Mr Fletcher said.

"Bill Shorten is more interested in the votes of wealthy, inner city, left-leaning and Greens voters than in supporting vulnerable Australians."

The cashless card will be rolled out in the Hinkler Electorate from Tuesday, January 29, adding more than 6700 Hervey Bay and Bundaberg region people to the 5800 Australians already in the trial.

Hinkler will be the fourth and largest site, with trials already introduced in Ceduna and East Kimberley in 2016 and the Goldfields last year.

Designed to reduce social harm, the card aims to target areas of entrenched welfare or alcohol dependence by putting 80 per cent of welfare recipients' benefits onto an EFTPOS-like card, which cannot be used to buy alcohol, drugs or gambling products.

"The Cashless Debit Card works," a release from Mr Fletcher claimed.

"An independent evaluation of the card in WA and SA found that the Cashless Debit Card was having a 'considerable positive impact', including 41 per cent of participants who drank alcohol reported drinking less frequently; 48 per cent of participants who used drugs reported using drugs less frequently; and 48 per cent of those who gambled before the trial reported gambling less."

Mr Fletcher challenged Mr Shorten, saying the government believed in improving the social services system and helping welfare recipients "exercise personal responsibility".

"What does Labor really believe?" he asked.



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