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Morrison Govt MP slams 'harmful and unhelpful' cashless Centrelink welfare card

National

A Morrison government MP has attacked the coalition’s plan to make the privately-managed cashless welfare card permanent across trial sites, saying that “inciting shame and guilt” hurt the very people it supposedly intended to help.

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“I want to make it unequivocally clear today that any proposed future expansion of this scheme will not have my support,” Tasmanian Liberal MP Bridget Archer told parliament on Wednesday.

Archer said the cards – which freeze the majority of Centrelink payments so they can only be spent on certain items – are a bandaid fix.

“Applying a broad brush to all recipients in current sites, no matter their circumstances, is harmful and unhelpful,” she said.

“Whenever you approach a human problem by inciting shame and guilt, you have already lost those that you are seeking to help.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Archer was entitled to her opinion.

“But we maintain the cashless debit card is good policy,” he told Sky News on Thursday.

Trials in South Australia’s Ceduna region, the East Kimberley and Goldfields in Western Australia, and Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland were due to end mid year but were extended to December 31.

The cards freeze up to 80 per cent of low-income recipients’ payments so that money can be spent on what the government deems essential, and prohibits spending  on alcohol, drugs and gambling.

Businessman Andrew Forrest initially developed the scheme as part of a 2014 review of Indigenous jobs and training.

The government and cashless welfare card operator Indue have refused to reveal how much taxpayer money will be spent to make the cashless welfare scheme permanent, citing commercial in confidence and the potential to impact future procurement activities.

But the Australian Council of Social Services has previously estimated the initial trials cost taxpayers $18.9 million, of which just under $10 million went to Indue, which was paid an estimated $10,000 to manage the card of each welfare recipient under the scheme.

That was despite JobSeeker, previously known as Newstart, paying only $565.70 a fortnight or $14,708 a year, before the pandemic.

Due to coronavirus safety arrangements Archer’s vote has been paired with a Labor MPs this week, to reduce numbers in the chamber.

But in light of the first-term MP’s speech, Labor has withdrawn that arrangement to ensure she has to make a firm decision on the bill.

Even without Archer’s vote the government has the numbers for it to pass the lower house, but its ultimate success rests in the hands of two independent senators.

Rex Patrick and Jacqui Lambie are undecided, with both keen to base their decision on meetings with communities trialling the card.

Greens senator Rachel Siewert urged crossbench senators to vote against the bill because of the high levels anxiety it was causing people.

“The desperate pursuit of the cashless debit card by this government is rooted in ideology, not evidence,” she said.

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation supports continuing the scheme and the party controls two Senate votes.

Trials in South Australia’s Ceduna region, the East Kimberley and Goldfields in Western Australia, and Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland were due to end mid year but were extended to December 31.

The bill permanently puts welfare recipients in those areas on the cards and transfers people in the Northern Territory to the scheme from another type of income management card.

The Morrison government sprung plans to make the cards permanent in the latest federal budget, surprising stakeholders.

-with AAP

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