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Issue #1802      November 8, 2017

Goldfields residents tell of welfare fears

Aboriginal people in the Goldfields region of Western Australia have used a visit by senators to voice their opposition to being the next site for the Turnbull government’s cashless welfare card scheme.

The government is forging ahead with the controversial income management scheme, despite its own commissioned research showing that more people in the earlier trial sites find the card made their lives worse, not better. Last month a Senate committee held a hearing into the cashless welfare card – based on the idea of billionaire miner Andrew Forrest – in Kalgoorlie.

Northern Territory Labor senator Malarndirri McCarthy said there were gaps in the consultation. “Everyone who has come before us has heard about the card but it certainly sounds to me there hasn’t been the consultation we’re told there has been,” she said.

“That’s especially concerning to me, when people are going to be forced on a situation they’re clearly not wanting to be on.”

Representatives from the Kalgoorlie-Boulder Aboriginal Residents’ Group (KBARG) said the prospect of the card was already causing division and problems in the community.

KBARG member Mandy Clinch said when she had recently visited family in Ceduna, South Australia – one of the first trial sites for the card – she had been forced to use the card.

“I was only there a little while but they made me go on it,” she said.

“I got on it, stayed there for a while then came back to Kalgoorlie, tried to use my card and I couldn’t use it. Tried to take my kids to swimming places and it got rejected. Tried to find places around here but none would take it.

“All your money’s gone on to that card. How are you going to feed your kids?

“If you don’t have a car, you have to walk around Kalgoorlie with a tribe of kids in the heat, walking shop to shop trying to find one who will accept that card.

“How do you feel for that mother and children walking in the heat?”

Anxious

Clinch said eventually she managed to get Centrelink to take her off the card, but she was anxious about the Goldfields trial.

“We don’t have big shops that open on Sundays. IGAs don’t take the card,” she said.

“Only small delis take it and you look how expensive it is to buy a meal from those small shops for your family out of that card. It is so frustrating, when you got a mob of kids and no car.”

The Aboriginal Health Council of WA (AHCWA) called for a voluntary opt-in scheme of the card.

AHCWA chair Michelle Nelson-Cox said the council was vehemently opposed to the Bill and the federal government’s “one-size-fits-all” approach to address complex social issues.

“AHCWA and our member services remain gravely concerned at the continued endorsement of the cashless debit card as the best solution to respond to the harms of alcohol, gambling and drug abuse,” she said.

“This proposal is a blanket, one-size- fits-all approach that punishes the majority because of the actions of a few.

“The government must support local solutions to inherently complex social issues, rather than impose an autocratic system that disempowers people and communities.”

Nelson-Cox said there was no evidence to support a wider rollout of the cashless debit card and there was no clear plan to increase community programs and support services.

“AHCWA is keen to work with governments to develop solutions to address the harms related to alcohol, gambling and other drugs in communities, but we do not believe the cashless debit card is the answer,” she said.

“There has been no conclusive quantitative data to support its introduction and there is an overwhelming lack of community support and involvement in it.

“What needs to be considered is a welfare system that is equitable, sustainable, innovative and responsive to the unique and complex needs of Australians.”

Koori Mail

Next article – Solidarity Message

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