Janet Hunt reviews the reviewers of the cashless card, and finds them wanting.
The concept of a ‘Healthy Welfare Card’, now renamed as
the Cashless Debit Card (CDC), was a recommendation
of the Forrest Review into Employment and Training
(Forrest 2014). It was seen as a development from
income management which has been occurring in parts
of Australia since the Northern Territory Emergency
Response, when it was first introduced for Aboriginal
communities there. In March 2017
the Department of Social Services released a ‘Wave 1’
evaluation undertaken by Orima Research of the CDC
trials in Ceduna and Kununurra.
One of the questions under review that has gained a lot of attention was “Have there been reductions in the consumption of alcohol, illegal drug use, or gambling?”
Some Survey participants said they though there had been “some” reduction in at least one of these. However 77% indicated no change. Results varied between Ceduna and Kununurra perhaps pointing to other factors being crucial. Concern about ICE use was heightened.
Police statistics indicated little or no change in crime and violence Ambulance call outs to public places did reduce, but seems to have been replaced by more call outs to private locations
Overall what is not highlighted by the official review is that there are many social problems that could be addressed by positive interventions in the areas of housing (including domestic violence safe houses), employment and public health provision (particularly mental health).
“If these trials are not helping people who live in
considerable poverty and a different program could, then
change is required. Positive programs and services to
address the problems, including housing and job creation
that could make many more people’s lives better (Klein
2017), may offer far greater value for public funds than the
CDC program and do more to improve Indigenous lives. “