The federal government’s move to scrap the cashless debit card has prompted mixed feelings in remote Western Australia amid concerns it could see a spike in alcohol-related harm.
- Labor has introduced a bill to scrap the controversial cashless debit card across Australia
- The card aims to restrict welfare users’ spending on alcohol and gambling
- While some welcome the move, others fear it could increase alcohol-related harm
Labor today introduced legislation to abolish the income management scheme.
If passed, the card would no longer be used by more than 17,000 people at trial sites across Australia, including the Goldfields and East Kimberley in WA.
The card quarantines 80 per cent of a person’s welfare payments and cannot be used for alcohol, gambling or cash withdrawals.
The scheme was put in place as an attempt to reduce alcohol-related harm in parts of WA where social dysfunction is rife.
But the trial sparked a broader debate between those labeling it a racist measure targeting Indigenous people and others who argued it successfully limited access to alcohol and gambling.
In the lead up to the election, Labor flagged that it would allow communities that could show significant support for the card to keep it as a compulsory measure.
But Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth told parliament this morning the passing of legislation would mean all users would transition off the card in the coming months, while still having the option to voluntarily quarantine portions of their welfare payments.
She said the Coalition government had failed to provide the card was effective despite numerous audits and evaluations.
“Users described to me the shame and anguish the card brings,” Ms Rishworth said.
Concerns about alcohol-related harm
Miriwoong elder David Newry said he had mixed feelings about the card being scrapped.
The Kununurra resident feared the move could see alcohol-related harm increase.
“I think it’s good and not too good as well,” he said.
He wanted Labor to boost education and rehabilitation services targeting problem drinkers.
“A lot of the young fellas are repeat offenders. There should be more care for them,” Mr Newry said.
Wyndham East Kimberley Shire president David Menzel feared the card’s end would flood cash into the local economy.
“There seems to be a strong correlation between large influxes of cash and significant social issues in town … alcohol-related harm [in] whatever form that takes,” he said.
Kalgoorlie-Boulder Mayor John Bowler said he was disappointed the decision to scrap the card was made before the Assistant Minister for Social Services, Justine Elliot, was due to visit the Goldfields next month.
“It almost seems they [Labor] are putting the cart before the horse,” Mr Bowler told ABC Perth.
“I would have liked for them to come here, consult with us, consult with the community, and then make a decision.
WA Police Commissioner Col Blanch said the card had been beneficial in remote communities.
“It gives opportunity for the more senior people in families and the Elders and some of the Aboriginal communities to use the money on food for the kids and other things,” he said.
“It just seems to settle the community down and gives them better opportunity to spend their money on priority needs.”