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The Cashless Debit Card Trial is working, claims Marcia Langton

Marcia Langton writes in The Conversation (4.5.17) about the federal government’s trial of a contentious ‘cashless debit card’ program for remote and Indigenous communities. The author argues that critics of the trial overlook the fact that it is curbing alcohol and gambling problems – and is supposedly what the communities want.

‘The federal government’s Cashless Debit Card Trial, which began in selected communities in South Australia and Western Australia from March 2016, is a significant innovation in tackling the health and socioeconomic disadvantages in communities with high rates of social security dependency for long periods of time, and – in many cases – across generations. It is simply wrong to say, as some have argued, that the card causes social and economic harm.

‘Let me provide some context: it is clear that while there are historical and socioeconomic factors involved in the low life expectancy for Aboriginal people, the worsening rates of alcohol and illicit drug use are driving much of the illness and life-threatening behaviour – not just in remote communities, but across Australia.

‘The Cashless Debit Card tackles the problem that current welfare policies are a systemic enabler of illicit drug use, alcohol abuse and free-range gambling.

‘… The lack of clarity in relation to the negative components of the evaluation has not stopped critics from making a series of disingenuous and biased comments about the card and the trial. Notably, opponents of the card ignore the fact that for the most part, this is what the people in those towns wanted.’

The Cashless Debit Card causes social and economic harm – so why trial it again?

Elise Klein writes in The Conversation (30.3.17) providing a counter narrative to Marcia Langton’s, arguing instead that more social harm than good comes from the cashless welfare program.

‘The federal government’s Cashless Debit Card trials in the East Kimberley and Ceduna were recently extended.

‘In the space of a day, the government not only released the limited evaluation of the trial, but used this to justify its extension. The extension is puzzling given that the trial has led to further economic and social harm among people compulsorily included.

‘… Some argued that the card would be important to curb gender-based violence. However, there are reports that domestic violence has actually increased since the card was introduced. Crime has also increased, yet the government and its evaluation have overlooked such inconvenience in claiming “proof of concept”.

‘Politicians and officials have deployed the card to tackle the supposed bad behaviour of vulnerable populations. Yet a deeper review of it suggests it is the government and its poorly conceived, ideologically driven policy that needs scrutinising. Perhaps the forthcoming Senate inquiry into the Community Development Program will be a good place to start.’

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