Voluntary Cashless Debit Card scheme fails to ease concerns of NT community groups
Aboriginal and community organisations in the Northern Territory say they are worried the Federal Government will try and force welfare recipients onto its Cashless Debit Card (CDC) scheme.
The Coalition’s controversial bill to extend the scheme passed the Senate late on Wednesday after some last-minute amendments.
The trial will continue for another two years in the current sites rather than become permanent, and the CDC will expand into the Northern Territory on a voluntary basis.
But some organisations say they do not trust the Commonwealth to support welfare recipients who choose to stay on the current Basics Card.
“I think that there will be some consultations out in remote communities, I very much doubt they will be in language, and they will be purporting all the benefits of the card without advising Aboriginal people living in remote communities of the incredible risks of rolling over to this card,” said Deborah Di Natale, the CEO of the NT Council of Social Service.
Social Services Minister Anne Ruston previously said that under the CDC program, NT recipients would get 50 per cent of their welfare payments in cash and the other half would be loaded on the card, which could not be spent on alcohol or gaming.
But Ms Di Natale flagged concerns about this being changed with little notice for recipients.
“At the whim of the minister, their income can go from a 50 per cent quarantine to an 80 per cent quarantine,” she said.
The Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation (ALPA) also holds concerns, despite the voluntary nature of the scheme.
“Our view is they will make it very hard for people that are on the Basics Card, whether that’s reducing the level of resourcing or support for that, making it much harder for people to stay on it long-term, harder to process exemptions, access support,” said ALPA’s general manager of community services Liam Flanagan.
“Our view is they will not tolerate the Basics Card and having the two systems running in parallel, it’ll be expensive for them … at the end of the day it was a last-minute Hail Mary amendment for them because they knew they were going to lose the vote.”
In a statement, a spokeswoman for Social Services Minister Anne Ruston denied the Federal Government would try and force people onto the CDC.
“This is quite simply fearmongering and completely diminishes the credibility of these organisations,” the spokeswoman said.
“People on the Basics Card are absolutely entitled to remain on that card if they wish and will continue to have the same level of support through Services Australia.
“Previous consultation has taken place in language with interpreters and will continue to be offered in that way.”
Concerns over two card system
While some have welcomed news that the CDC will be voluntary, the Central Land Council is worried two separate welfare cards will confuse recipients.
“It will mean that people will have a dual system of income management and that will create confusion and it’s something that Aboriginal people in the NT simply didn’t ask for,” said the CLC’s policy manager Josie Douglas
“There will be additional pressure on Aboriginal community-based organisations to assist people to navigate this dual system.
“Income management, if we think back to the Intervention, was imposed on people in the NT — Territorians have an absolute right to be able to determine and have input into matters that affect their lives.”
ALPA says the scheme’s expansion will further complicate the relationship between the Federal Government and Aboriginal Territorians living in remote communities.
“With the first piece of significant policy that’s been rolled out post the new Closing the Gap agreement being something this punitive and it being done without any consultation or engagement, I think the damage has already been done to the credibility of this Government with remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory,” said Mr Flanagan.