Cashless Debit Card
Cashless Debit Card FILE

CASHLESS CARD: Controversial welfare trial starts today

TODAY, the first of 6000 Hinkler welfare recipients in line for the cashless card will have 80 per cent of their Centrelink payments quarantined.

Protests are expected in the region as the controversial welfare reform is trialled for the first time outside a mainly indigenous community.

Jobless young people and parents are among those who have received a card that can't be used to buy alcohol or on gambling.

The controversial policy, which has divided the Hinkler region since it passed the Senate in September last year, has been spruiked as a method to end welfare dependency, addiction and unemployment.

Opponents claim the card will have negative impacts on the community and lead to social inequality.

Late last year, the Department of Social Services wrote to thousands of Hinkler residents advising them they would get a card with January 29 being highlighted as the official roll-out date.

Families and Social Services Minister Paul Fletcher said the card was being introduced in response to "calls from the community".

"At more than 180 consultation meetings across the region, locals pointed to youth unemployment, young families requiring support and intergenerational welfare dependence," Mr Fletcher said.

"As at November 2018, the Wide Bay region had the second highest youth unemployment rate in Queensland at 20.4 per cent, with many vulnerable people experiencing intergenerational welfare dependence."

Residents placed on the card will have cash withdrawals limited to 20 per cent of an individual's welfare payment and will be unable to use the card to buy alcohol, illicit drugs or gambling products.

Mr Fletcher said new functionalities had been added to the card to allow residents to shop online, make direct debits and pay bills "at a wider range of businesses".

Hinkler is the fourth region to trial the card, following similar programs in the Ceduna (SA), East Kimberley (WA) and Goldfields (WA) regions.

Hinkler MP Keith Pitt, who has long supported the introduction of the card, said the policy was not a "silver bullet".

"We know the card helps communities with issues similar to ours so I'm looking forward to seeing positive changes here," Mr Pitt said.

Independent evaluations in the West and South Australian regions that had introduced the card found the card was having "a considerable positive impact".

The evaluations claim 41 per cent of participants who drank alcohol reported drinking less frequently, 48 per cent of participants who used drugs reported using drugs less frequently and 48 per cent of those who gambled before the trial reported gambling less often.

But Kathryn Wilkes, one of the chief opponents of the card, said the findings were a "flawed evaluation" according to the Auditor General's office.

While not directly affected by the card, she said she feared the policy would lead to social exclusion and segregation in the region.

"It's a step backwards, it's putting a boot on anyone under the relevant social security payments," Ms Wilkes told the Chronicle.

"I don't know what to say, these people are stressed beyond belief.



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