A cashless welfare card which is being used by welfare recipients. Picture: Aaron Francis/The Australian
A cashless welfare card which is being used by welfare recipients. Picture: Aaron Francis/The Australian

Controversial welfare card trials to be extended

The government has announced it will extend its welfare card trials by 12 months and will add another location to the scheme, which they say has reduced violence, drug use and gambling.

The extension of the controversial welfare card scheme, to be announced as part of the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, will continue until June 30, 2020.

An evaluation of the Cashless Debit Card in Ceduna and East Kimberley has found it has had a "considerable positive impact" and has been linked to a reduction in violence and harm related to alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling.

"This will give further certainty to communities about the CDC program that is yielding significant positive results," Minister for Families and Social Services Paul Fletcher said.

The cards prevent people from spending 80 per cent of their welfare money on gambling and alcohol.

A cashless welfare card which is being used by welfare recipients in small towns. Picture: Aaron Francis/The Australian
A cashless welfare card which is being used by welfare recipients in small towns. Picture: Aaron Francis/The Australian

The Greens and Labor were opposed to expanding the trials, which started in Ceduna in South Australia and East Kimberley in Western Australia before being rolled out to WA's Goldfields region.

The trials were expanded to Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland in September after the coalition government secured a victory in the Senate.

Mr Fletcher said rolling out the trials at another location was in the government's sights for the second half of 2019. He didn't say which area yet.

"We've got a number of communities we're thinking about," he told Sky News.

The extension of the overall trial to 2020 will provide certainty to people using the cards, he said.

But an auditor-general report released in August found the Department of Social Services' monitoring and evaluation of the trial was inadequate.

Despite that, Mr Fletcher said what the evaluation showed marries up with the positive feedback he's received from indigenous leaders, police and chemists in communities with the cards.

Taxi driver Gary O'Brien sees positive aspects in the trial of a cashless welfare card in Kalgoorlie, WA. Picture: Colin Murty/The Australian
Taxi driver Gary O'Brien sees positive aspects in the trial of a cashless welfare card in Kalgoorlie, WA. Picture: Colin Murty/The Australian

"Both the formal evidence and what I've heard from people directly on the ground, strongly suggest that the cashless debit card is making a difference in communities affected by welfare-funded drug and alcohol addiction," he said.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said in April he thought the model would struggle to be successful, adding people had to be "empowered" rather than treated in a paternalistic way.

He said this was especially the case with Aboriginal Australians, given the long paternalistic history of government dealings with them.

"We have to bring people with us," he said.

Mr Shorten suggested the issue be addressed via a banned drinkers' register.



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