Opinions divided on the federal government’s promise to abolish the cashless debit card


While the new Labor government has promised to scrap the coalition’s controversial cashless debit card, questions remain over what happens next.

For Bundaberg single mother Kerryn Griffis, who has been on the map for more than three years, the changes can’t come soon enough.

“I don’t anticipate that I’ll be without it tomorrow or anything like that,” she said at 7:30 a.m.

“But the fact is that I will get through this eventually, there is hope for the future and soon I will be able to get my life back.”

However, his local MP and longtime champion of the card, Keith Pitt of the Nationals, wants the new government to tread carefully.

Keith Pitt says the feedback suggests the card has had “a positive impact”.(ABC News: Chris Gillette)

“They have to talk to the community. You can’t make these decisions without consultation,” he said.

“The feedback we’ve received from across the community indicates that this has had a positive impact.”

“Almost as if they were guinea pigs”

The card was first introduced in the Ceduna region of South Australia and East Kimberley in Western Australia in 2016.

The trial was later extended to the Goldfields of WA, the Northern Territory and the Bundaberg/Hervey Bay and Cape York areas of Queensland.

More than 16,000 welfare recipients in these areas were forced to use a card – operated by the private company Indue – which limited the amount of money they could access and prevented the rest of the benefits from being spent in alcohol and gambling.

Labor promised to abolish the card and after the election the Auditor General said monitoring and evaluation of the scheme was “inadequate”.

“DSS (Department of Social Security) has not demonstrated that the CDC (Cashless Debit Card) program achieves its intended objectives,” the Auditor General’s report states.

Man sitting in an office.
George Seymour says the findings of the Auditor General’s report were shocking.(ABC News: Chris Gillette)

Fraser Coast Regional Council Mayor George Seymour said the findings were shocking.

But East Kimberley Aboriginal Chief Ian Trust said the feedback he has received over the past few years has been mostly positive.

“For a certain target group, like the elderly, women, etc., they would be protected from harassment, or they call it ‘humbugging’ here, for their money,” he said.

“I think it had a big impact on the game.”

Ian Trust
Ian Trust believes the card had a “significant impact on the game”.(ABC Kimberley: Erin Parke)

Mr Trust fears that making the card voluntary could make matters worse.

“The people who the card should be for will be the first to raise their hands and say, ‘We want to pull out,’ and they’re the ones who probably need more help.”

“All this card did was push people down”

Shelley Bielefeld of Griffith Law School interviewed community leaders and map users at all trial sites and found that the Department of Social Services tended to lean on people supporting the map when they were seeking feedback on its effectiveness.

“Some voices of those in power in the communities were given the equivalent of a microphone or megaphone in front of them and some voices were reduced in volume,” she said.

Ms Griffis said she found her three years on the card a humiliating experience as she struggled to find enough money to buy second-hand goods and pay for school activities.

“To tackle social issues in this city – it’s not like a blanket approach, we’re going to have that, we’re going to control you – people need support,” the mother-of-five said.

“All this card did was push people down when they already were down.”

Watch this story at 7:30 p.m. tonight on ABC TV and ABC iview.


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