How the Cashless Debit Card’s Axing Left Chaos in Remote WA

Mayors of the four towns affected by the abolition of the cashless debit card in Western Australia’s remote Goldfields region say a sudden influx of cash on to the streets has led to a surge in violence, child neglect and dysfunction. The mayors of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Leonora, Coolgardie and Laverton said abolition of the card was a retrograde step that would increase social harm and did nothing to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty, unemployment and substance addiction that some residents were suffering. A recent visit by the Prime Minister came as a political row rages over Labor’s decision to abolish the card, which quarantined up to 80 per cent of welfare recipient benefits and was introduced by the Coalition at four sites from 2016. Of the 17,300 people on the card when it was axed last year, 2817 were from the Goldfields region, and 48 per cent of them were First Nations people.

Kalgoorlie-Boulder Shire president John Bowler said the move had been a “negative’’ and the extra cash on the street was luring transient people from Ngaanyatjarra lands who were sleeping rough and abusing alcohol. “They’re coming in loaded up with cash that they can spend on whatever they like and that’s been grog,’’ Mr Bowler said. “It’s no good for them and in particular it’s no good for their children. When we had the cashless debit card, there was no doubt there were restrictions on how much they could spend on alcohol. We’ve just lost that. It’s just typical Canberra politicians who wouldn’t have a clue what’s going on in regional WA.’’ Laverton shire president, Patrick Hill, said his town had been negatively impacted by the abolition of the card. “We have had an influx of people from the lands who have come in with bundles of cash,’’ he said. “The fights that go on, and the violence. Since Christmas it’s just gone crazy. It’s when that cash comes to town.’’

Mr Hill said problem drinkers who previously drank beer could now afford to buy hard spirits and were consuming bottles of Jim Beam and Jack Daniels from the bottle, in public, leading to drunkenness and anti-social behaviour. Police in cashless debit card affected towns have ‘hardest job on this earth’. He invited Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth and any other ministers involved in the decision to scrap the card to come and live in regional and remote Australia for a few weeks to witness the impact of their decision. “They make these big social decisions in Canberra and really don’t understand what goes on here,’’ he said. It’s believed about 58 people from Laverton have come off the card after it was axed in October. Mr Hill said the violence wasn’t happening every night, but the social problems had been entrenched for years, and the card had needed improvement. “It went a long way, but it wasn’t a silver bullet,’’ he said.

Mr. Hill said it provided a safety net, and residents had got used to it and learned to manage a budget within it. “We’ve been screaming for years and years and years for the government to do something,” he said. “Then as soon as they do something, the do-gooders in Canberra blew it up. I’d like Anthony Albanese to come here and see our problems and talk to us about it.” Ms. Rishworth defended abolition of the “stigmatising’’ card and hit back at what she called “a sustained, misleading and obstructive disinformation campaign’’ that merged the removal of the card with other social challenges already entrenched in the communities. Some families managed ‘perfectly well’ without cashless debit card. She said the problems were “influenced by a variety of complex and intergenerational factors,’’ and the government had locked in funding to assist.

“We know these communities want jobs – so we have also locked in $17m for community-led and designed initiatives to support economic and employment opportunities in CDC sites,’’ she said. “We will continue to work closely with state governments, and ­community service providers to deliver.’’ Leonora Shire president Peter Craig said he could see problems returning to the streets. “The culture is getting back to what it was before we had the card,’’ he said. “It was a great thing for the northern Goldfields. It was not the be-all and end-all but now we’ve got all the cash back on the streets, there’s an increase in people going to hospital, for St John’s, the Flying Doctors. “Laverton and Leonora people have just had enough.’’ Mr Craig said many of those who had transitioned off the card were young adults, only 17 or 18, who now had children themselves and were struggling. “There’s no quick fix here,’’ he said.

“It’s a 10-year, two-generation thing. Our elders are saying to us in town that this isn’t working.’’ Mr Craig said he was disappointed the card had been revoked, and that it had been introduced after the town had begged for intervention: “We were in dire straits. We had a couple of suicides … there was sexual abuse, things people don’t want to hear about.’’ He said a new approach to tackle intergenerational disadvantage was needed. Coolgardie Shire president Malcolm Cullen said the removal of the card had not been as “impactful’’ in his small community as it had been in other northern Goldfields areas but he did not support its abolition. “I do feel it’s a backwards step,’’ he said. “It was very premature of the Labor government to close it down without services in place. “When we joined the program, we had a lot of issues. We still do see those issues, the domestic violence, drugs and alcohol abuse.’’

Mr Cullen said the situation in his shire was “definitely better’’ when compulsory income management was in place. “Compared to where we were four years earlier, the children were behaving better and were being looked after better. Some of the elders told me people had been able to save enough money to buy a second-hand car. There’s not much of that going on now. “There are chinks in the armour starting to appear and we are less than 12 months down the road. Kids are starting to dodge school, there’s a lack of focus at home.’’ Studies into the cashless debit card found it was not possible to show what impact it was having on reducing social harms. Mr Cullen said he did not believe the government’s replacement income management card, the SmartCard, which quarantines up to 50 per cent of a recipients benefits, would work because it was voluntary.

While 4000 people in the Northern Territory will remain on compulsory income management, 96 per cent of those who were on the CDC in South Australia, Queensland and WA have dumped income management altogether since the card was axed, raising doubts about how effective SmartCard will be when it comes online five months after the CDC vanished. Estimates hearings in Canberra were told the company behind the CDC, Indue, was providing the technology for the SmartCard, having won a $12m “limited tender’’ this month that did not go out to the open market due to “extreme urgency or events unforeseen’’. Liberal MP Rick Wilson, whose electorate covers the Goldfields, urged Mr Albanese to engage with community leaders including the shire presidents and elders. “The situation’s deteriorating quite badly,’’ he said.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

Print This Post Print This Post


Comments are closed