The Senate has voted in favour of a third reading of the Cashless Debit Card bill.
The Senate has voted in favour of a third reading of the Cashless Debit Card bill. FILE

Parliament passes cashless card trial for Hinkler

PARLIAMENT has passed a Bill that will extend the Cashless Debit Card to Hinkler.

In a close call, the Coalition government today clinched the vote that is expected to roll the controversial welfare card out in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay regions as soon as this year.

Thirty-three senators voted in favour of the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018.

Thirty-two voted against.

Because of a new amendment to the Bill, which had not been brought forward when the lower house first passed the it up to the Senate, the legislation was put to a vote in the House of Representatives late this afternoon.

However, opponents to the card like the Australian Greens accepted the vote in the House was a formality, where the government has the majority, and the Bill was subsequently passed about 4.30pm.

Senator Rachel Siewert.
Senator Rachel Siewert. Contributed

"Today I am sad and worried for the Hinkler community, who rather than getting the help they need from the people purporting to represent them, will now be subjected to this ideological and punitive card," Senator Rachel Siewert said.

"People in the region will today be stressed about how they will get by with being denied access to cash. How they will be able to buy second hand goods and clothes for the kids, shop at the market, and make sure Indue actually pays their bills."

It is unknown when exactly the matter will be heard (whether today or only later this week).

The passing of the Bill in the Senate followed several hours of debate over an amendment to the Bill - proposed by independent senator Tim Storer.

The Australian today reported Senator Storer's crucial support would only be given to the legislation if the government backed his amendment to put a new independent inquiry on the trials.

"The amendment requires an additional independent inquiry which must consult trial participants, determine whether the cashless welfare arrangements are effective, and whether they should be implemented outside trial areas," Senator Storer told The Australian.

More than 6700 Bundaberg and Hervey Bay residents will be impacted by the trial, designed to reduce social harm and expected to run until June 30, 2020.

As a result, the Hinkler electorate will make up 54 per cent of the country's total participants, which is currently sitting at 5700 people.

Because of this influx, the amended legislation passed today also increased the cap on the maximum number of participants (previously at 10,000) to 15,000.

Long-term supporter of the card, Federal Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt said the passing of the Bill was not a cause for celebration.

"It's disappointing we have to implement this ... It's a tough but necessary policy," he told the NewsMail.

Mr Pitt said he expected the roll-out of the card to start this year.

"This has been a long road and I want to put on the record to the people that had the courage to stand up and support the card, that we couldn't have done it without them," he said.

"I do accept it will be inconvenient for some ... but it only restricts the purchase of alcohol, gambling and drugs."

The card will be issued to Newstart, Youth Allowance (Jobseeker) and Parenting Payment recipients aged 35 and under.

Recipients will not be able to use the card to buy alcohol or gambling products. The Cashless Debit Card also limits cash withdrawals to 20 per cent of a person's welfare payment.

Senator Larissa Waters.
Senator Larissa Waters. Contributed

During today's sitting, Queensland Senator Larissa Waters condemned the welfare card, calling it a draconian measure by the government.

Senator Waters, who said she'd visited Bundaberg's anti-cashless card groups in recent weeks, called on the newly-appointed social services minister to do the same.

"Is this just an ideological commitment from the government to help people spend their money?" she asked.

Calling the trial patronising, Senator Waters said anti-cashless card groups in the region thought the Bill would increase stigma and reduce autonomy.

"I'm concerned for the people of Bundaberg and Hervey Bay," she said.

"It doesn't empower them."

So far, about 800 South Australians and 4900 West Australian are using the card.

This follows after the trial was rolled out in the Ceduna region and the East Kimberley region in 2016 and the Goldfields region earlier this year.

With 3600 people from the latter region, Goldfields was the largest participant in the trial before Hinkler.

The controversial welfare trial has been before the Senate since mid July after it was passed up by the House of Representatives.

The amended bill was reintroduced to Parliament in May, following the Senate's removal of Hinkler as a trial site earlier this year.

More recently was the majority Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee report that was tabled last month, which recommended the Bill be passed.

In addition to the one recommendation the majority report delivered, an Auditor General report provided six further recommendations in relation to the bill.

Arguably the most notable was the committee's recommendation for a cost-benefit analysis of the card's trial to be undertaken.

The recommended probe, as well as a post-implementation review of the trial, would serve as a way to better inform the extension and further roll-out of the cashless card.

Another recommendation heard that Social Services should use all data available to measure the trial's performance.

"(Social Services) should build evaluation capability within the department to facilitate the effective review ... and the development of performance indicators," the report stated.

Both Labor and the Australian Greens dissented from the majority report, with the Greens arguing that the recommendation failed to reflect the overarching evidence the trial had so far produced.



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