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Could the cashless debit card be trialled in the valley?

Geoff Helisma|

The latest federal budget underwrote $128.8 million over four years, from 2019-20, to fund the trial rollout of the Cashless Debit Card (CDC), including the provision of “funding to expand the Cashless Debit Card to a fifth site”.

Test areas are located in the Ceduna region in South Australia (from March 2016) and the East Kimberley (from April 2016) and Goldfields (from Mach 2018) regions in Western Australia.

In January this year, a trial commenced in the Bundaberg / Hervey Bay region in Queensland – the Clarence Valley local government area is statistically much the same as Hervey Bay’s, according to the 2016 census, apart from the valley being home to a larger indigenous population.

“This proposal is expected to have a positive impact on regional Australia by reducing alcohol consumption, illegal drug use, and gambling in communities and providing improved technology for participants subject to welfare quarantining,” the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development website states.

Another Clarence Valley publication recently ran a headline with Page MP Kevin Hogan reportedly saying the implantation of the cashless welfare card is a “no brainer” an described his position as an “impassioned defence” of the CDC.

With the possible rollout of another trial area and the similarity of Clarence Valley LGA’s census data to the Hervey Bay area, the Independent sought Mr Hogan’s thoughts, preparing several questions (with context provided) and putting them in an email, along with an invitation to speak directly about the issue, which Mr Hogan declined.

The Independent asked the following questions:

What is your opinion about the cashless welfare card and why?

Do you support its expansion into the Clarence Valley?

Welfare advocating groups like ACOSS, ST Vincent de Paul and Anglicare have strongly rejected the card’s implementation; what do you say to them?

Notwithstanding that the Department of Social Services has agreed to each of the Australian National Audit Office’s recommendations (from July 2018) [after finding “it is difficult to conclude that there had been a reduction in social harm”]; what do you think about the failures highlighted in the ANAO report?

On the cost of the implementing the card per person, there are media reports of anywhere between $5k and $14k, and the ANNO pointed out that no cost benefit analysis has been completed – shouldn’t this be a priority before further expansions; what are your thoughts?

Meanwhile, the more recent qualitative research conducted by The University of Adelaide shows – in an overall fashion, given it is qualitative and only interviews 64 recipients – that the Goldfields trial is having some positive results, however, the Goldfields are vastly different to the Clarence Valley and that trial was primarily targeting the Indigenous population: do you draw any conclusions from that report that would apply to the valley: what are they and why?

Mr Hogan responded with the following statement: “The trials of the cashless welfare card should be seen for what they are, a genuine attempt to help people and their communities.

“We’re committed to finding the best ways to support people, families and communities.

“We recognise the success of the Cashless Debit Card lies within the ongoing consultation with the communities in which it operates. The Government has adapted the implementation of the card to suit each region.

“For example in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region, the card only applies to those aged 35 and under, and only to those on certain welfare payments.

“Statistics show, in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay trial sites, the youth unemployment dropped from 28 per cent in May 2018 to 18.1 per cent in May 2019, a drop of almost 10 per cent in a 12-month period.

“The Government accepted the recommendations of the ANAO report which was effectively about using a broader data set. This is currently being collected by the University of Adelaide.

“As these trials continue, I look forward to seeing the data that comes out, but what we do know is, across the current four trial areas, there has been a reduction in drug and alcohol related presentations in the emergency wards and less police call-outs late at night as well as a general feeling of improved safety on the streets of these towns.”

“We must continue to support communities that put their hand up and drive positive change and improved outcomes for vulnerable individuals within those communities.”