The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) and UnitingCare Australia have urged Parliament to scrap the bill to expand and extend the cashless debit card.
“This bill disproportionately targets First Peoples and undermines their choice and control, their rights and self-determination,” said Rev. Garry Dronfield, President of the UAICC.
The Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019 will extend the cashless debit card trial in existing sites, as well as expanding the trial to around 23,000 people in the Northern Territory and Cape York. The bill had been scheduled for discussion in the Senate last week, but debate was deferred until the next sitting period.
“As with the Intervention, the cashless debit card is being imposed on communities without proper consultation or consideration of what might work best for people on the ground,” said Rev. Dronfield.
Rev. Dronfield noted that, in his Closing the Gap speech earlier this month, the Prime Minister had spoken eloquently of the need for governments to overcome top-down and one-size-fits-all thinking, to listen to First Peoples and ‘empower’ them to exercise choice and control over the policies that affect their lives.
“These are worthy sentiments, yet the imposition of the cashless debit card is the very antithesis of self-determination and conflicts with the Government’s stated aspirations of partnership and co-design. Despite the official rhetoric, top-down policies such as the cashless debit card show that First Peoples still do not have a seat at the table as equal partners.”
Claerwen Little, National Director of UnitingCare Australia, said the considerable funds expended on the cashless debit card would have a far greater impact if they were redirected toward measures that are grounded in evidence and developed and led by communities.
“While there may be a place for a voluntary opt-in scheme, there is no compelling evidence that compulsory income management has been effective,” said Ms Little. “The Government has overlooked evidence of the harms arising from the cashless debit card, and instead cherry-picked and misrepresented contested findings from a flawed evaluation to justify the card’s continuation and expansion.
“Restricting how and where a person can spend their money will not tackle the underlying causes of poverty, unemployment or drug and alcohol misuse,” said Ms Little.
Rev. Dronfield added that programs such as the cashless debit card risked doing more harm than good, particularly in remote communities that are already subject to the punitive and discriminatory remote work-for-the-dole program.
“Once again, First Peoples are disproportionately targeted and stigmatised as not being capable or worthy of managing their own affairs.
“The onerous and demeaning nature of compulsory income management, combined with the practical and technological challenges of navigating the system, means that some people end up disengaging and are left without any source of income for long periods.
“This only serves to marginalise people further and push them deeper into poverty,” concluded Rev. Dronfield.
The UnitingCare Australia submission to the Community Affairs Legislation Committee Inquiry into the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019 can be found here.
For more information on UnitingCare Australia’s position on the cashless debit card and alternative policy proposals, you can read our Pre-Budget Submission here.
The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) consists of Aboriginal and Islander members of the Uniting Church in Australia and members in fellowship who are from other denominations. The UAICC aims to bring to an end the injustices which hold Aboriginal and Islander people at the fringes of Australian society, and to help Aboriginal and Islander people achieve spiritual, economic, social and cultural independence.