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Issue #1791      August 23, 2017

Welfare card “no remedy”

The cashless welfare card is not a remedy to complex social problems, according to the Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australia (AHCWA). The peak body for Aboriginal health in WA, AHCWA is challenging the outgoing Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan, who wrote in an opinion piece for The West Australian about sexual abuse of children in remote Indigenous communities.

O’Callaghan said that extending the Coalition government’s cashless welfare scheme to Roebourne would mean the “amount of money available in the town to facilitate criminal activity would significantly decrease”.

AHCWA chairperson Michelle Nelson-Cox said there has been no conclusive evidence to date that cashless welfare cards – introduced on the recommendation of billionaire miner Andrew Forrest – play any role in reducing the impact of issues such as illicit drug use or child sexual abuse.

“While AHCWA supports the government’s commitment to improve the health outcomes of Aboriginal people and prevent child sexual abuse, we do not support the ill-conceived idea that cashless welfare cards can turn the tide on the abhorrent abuse of children,” she said.

“Instead, greater investment is needed in programs that address social determinants and build strong families and communities.

“Ultimately, we need to see an increase in community programs and comprehensive support services to help address these complex social issues in Aboriginal communities.”

Nelson-Cox said O’Callaghan’s admissions that his officers could not protect children in remote communities was gravely concerning.

“At what point does the buck stop with police and governments to keep communities safe? Why have the high instances of sexual abuse not been addressed earlier?” she asked.

“Lack of commitment”

“There is a large police presence in Roebourne, and admissions by Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan that ‘police were not capable of protecting children in those communities’ and ‘neither the police nor government can guarantee protection of these children’ shows a lack of commitment to work with communities to effectively address these issues.

“The reality is there are a huge number of people very unhappy with the way they have been affected by the cashless welfare system imposed by the federal government.

“If anything, this is a failure of policing in the Roebourne area to address these crimes.

“The cashless welfare card does not need to be expanded. The solution does not lie in the disempowerment of Aboriginal people, but rather additional police resources and a greater commitment to stamp out these shocking and abhorrent crimes.”

A recent independent review of the cashless welfare card found the debit card has had some minor success in reducing alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling but that trial participants had limited awareness of local drug and alcohol support services, as well as financial and family support services.

Crime in one of the other trial sites, Ceduna in South Australia’s west, increased significantly after the card was brought in.

Last month Kimberley Land Council chair Anthony Watson said there remained no clear evidence of the cashless welfare card’s success in the East Kimberley.

“This card is a band aid solution, which does not go to the heart of addressing the real systemic issues of alcohol and drug abuse,” he said.

Koori Mail

Next article – Call for action on abuse of youth

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