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INDUE - The Cashless Welfare Card?

‘Brutal’: Marcia Langton, early backer of welfare card, savages its roll out

One of the few Indigenous community leaders who backed the cashless welfare card in its infancy has changed her mind, accusing the government of running a “brutal” program that has become little more than a “big stick to punish the poor”.

Professor Marcia Langton told the National Press Club that a botched government roll out had changed her mind on the cashless welfare card, which quarantines 80 per cent of unemployment and various other welfare payments to prevent them being spent on alcohol, drugs or gambling.

The government hopes to put 22,500 people in the Northern Territory and Cape York on a similar trial program that quarantines 50 per cent of users’ funds.

“It is a tragedy that the Department of Social Services, the Department of Human Services and others responsible have not implemented the scheme in accordance with the original design and in accordance with the commitments they made to those community people, to those elders, to those leaders,” the Australian Indigenous Studies chair said on Wednesday.

“Instead of sticking to the plan, minister after minister, and bureaucrat after bureaucrat, have wielded a big stick to punish the poor. It’s pointless. And it’s brutal. And I’m – I’m very disappointed.”

A spokeswoman for Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said there had been hundreds of consultations sessions in trial areas and that the card does not punish those on welfare.

“The cashless debit card is not punitive,” the spokeswoman said. “It is a financial management tool that is helping people stabilise their lives, supporting them to demonstrate personal responsibility, helping to encourage financial independence and is having a positive impact on the wider community.”

Cashless welfare card trials have run since 2016 in the Ceduna region in South Australia, East Kimberley and the Goldfields region in Western Australia, and in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is eyeing a national roll out of the card as part of his self-described “compassionate conservatism” welfare agenda that also includes drug-testing welfare recipients.


But the government’s hopes to expand the trial to the Northern Territory and Cape York are in doubt with Labor confirming on Tuesday it will oppose the expansion.

The government needs support from either Centre Alliance or independent senator Jacqui Lambie to pass the bill.

Both have indicated they will wait until a report into the program, due to be handed down at the end of the year, is released before making up their minds.

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