A controversial welfare card scheme designed to restrict access to booze, drugs and gambling among those on benefits will be rolled out across parts of Queensland from Tuesday, as part of an extended government trial.
Queensland’s Hinkler region is the fourth to receive the cards, which have already been successfully trialled across South Australia and Western Australia and limit how welfare recipients can spend their government payments.
Trials began in March 2016, with the cashless debit card (CDC) scheme initially being tested across three regions; Goldfields and East Kimberley, Western Australia, and Ceduna, South Australia.
Announcing the launch of the additional rollout across Bundaberg and Hervey Bay today, Minister for Families and Social Services Paul Fletcher said the trial will apply to around 6,000 people aged 35 and under who receive Newstart, Youth Allowance and the Parenting Payment.
“At more than 180 consultation meetings across the region, locals pointed to youth unemployment, young families requiring support and intergenerational welfare dependence,” he said in a statement.
“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. Some 90 per cent of people aged 25 or under on unemployment benefits In the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay Region in June 2016, had a parent who had received income support during the previous 15 years.”
Federal Member for Hinkler, Keith Pitt, added: “I’m for taking action to create real change in this community. It’s not a silver bullet but we know the Card helps communities with issues similar to ours so I’m looking forward to seeing positive changes here.”
The scheme works by splitting welfare payments into two chunks, with 20 per cent paid into the recipients’ usual bank account, while the remaining 80 per cent is then loaded onto a cashless card.
The card looks and operates in the same way as a regular bank card and can be used in most locations, including any store that accepts EFTPOS, as well as approved online stores and to pay bills. However the Cashless Debit Card cannot be used to withdraw cash or to purchase alcohol or fund gambling.
The progressive rollout will take place over a period of weeks and include Bundaberg, Hervey Bay and the townships of Aldershot, Bargara, Elliott Heads, Woodgate, Booyal, Burrum Heads, Torbanlea, Toogoom, Howard, Childers, Burnett Heads and River Heads.
Following trials in WA and SA, an independent evaluation found that the scheme had had a “considerable positive impact”, with the government reporting that 41 per cent of participants who drank alcohol reported drinking less frequently, while 48 per cent of participants who used drugs reported using drugs less frequently and 48 per cent of those who gambled before the trial claimed to be gambling less often.
However, last week Labor leader Bill Shorten told Bundaberg residents that he would scrap the controversial scheme if he was elected in May.
According to Nine News, he said: “I can’t unscramble the egg of what this government does, but what we can do if elected, is we will do what we can to roll it back.”