The commissioner overseeing income management of welfare payments in north Queensland fears that without a proper replacement of the Cashless Debit Card (CDC) some people in Aboriginal communities will be “condemned to further poverty”. Federal bureaucrats have told a Senate hearing into the Albanese government’s planned abolition of the CDC that it will take at least a year to find a technologically equal replacement for communities continuing with forms of income management. It has prompted the warning from Tammy Williams, commissioner of the state-federal-funded Family Responsibilities Commission, who says it could cause dire problems. Income management has been part of a welfare reform trial, initiated by Noel Pearson, in four Indigenous communities on Cape York for more than a decade.

“The majority of people now using the CDC on Cape York are doing it on a voluntary basis,” Ms Williams said. “We are looking at going back to a card that doesn’t match the technology of the CDC, and people will have limited access to their money, won’t be able to utilise online shopping or travel outside their communities.’’ In July, the Albanese government passed legislation through the lower house to scrap the CDC program to meet a pre-election pledge, saying it was unfairly stigmatising First Nations Australians. Introduced under the Abbott government in 2016, the program was an extension of the Cape York income management trial and built around the CDC. It was rolled out across the Northern Territory and select communities in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland, and quarantined 80 per cent of a person’s welfare payments on a debit card to prevent them being spent on alcohol and gambling.

The decision to abolish the program follows an Australian National Audit Office report released in June that highlighted a lack of evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of the CDC scheme, despite some Indigenous communities saying it had lessened alcohol-fuelled violence. A Senate committee recently recommended amendments to the bill to ensure the Family Responsibilities Commission, which oversees forced and voluntary income management in the four Cape York communities, as well as Doomadgee in the Gulf of Carpentaria, is able to continue operating effectively and also retain use of the card. However, use of the CDC must end in December when the government’s contract with banker and card administrator Indue expires.

The CDC’s predecessor in Cape York, the Basics Card, was problematic in that it could be used only at certain stores in the community. Residents who had to travel to Cairns for health reasons, for example, could not use it. Since the introduction of the CDC in Cape York in March last year, 352 cards have been issued, with more than 65 per cent on a voluntary basis.Evidence to the Senate by Services Australia, the federal body that administers welfare payments, said it could take at least a year to match the CDC technology. “If it’s a like-for-like replacement, it might be something that you may be able to achieve in a 12-month period,” Services Australia’s Brendan Moon told the Senate committee. “And if you’re looking at new technology, you might be 18 months to two years.” Ms Williams urged the federal government to consider extending the CDC until an adequate replacement is found.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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