Words by: Jonathon Davidson
A cashless welfare card trial is set to go ahead in Geraldton despite community backlash and rejection in all trialed towns so far, making this trial the first one to happen outside of a rural Aboriginal community. All previous trials have been restricted to isolated communities in South and West Australia, which means Geraldton will be the first trial site with an urban population.
The cards restrict 80% of a welfare recipient’s payment to strictly virtual currency, meaning that only 20% of that payment can be withdrawn from an ATM in the form of cash. This is meant to curtail drug and alcohol abuse. It doesn’t curtail drug and alcohol abuse.
In a South Australian community, over 800 residents were put onto the involuntary cashless welfare card system, but only a maximum of 80 residents were actually alcoholics.
The move to run a cashless welfare card trial in Geraldton has not been met with overwhelming glee. Geraldton Regional Aboriginal Medical Service chairman Sandy Davies told ABC reporters that the Federal Government should “put it in an envelope and send it overseas,” which you will note is a wry burn impossible to come back from. Reportedly, the entire Aboriginal community of Geraldton have rejected the card, and a number of advocacy groups (including The Greens) have also called for rejections of the trial across Australia.
What is framed as an innovative and 2016-savvy strategy to curve the great societal harms of gambling and alcoholism among the poor, has been widely condemned for what it actually is: a thinly veiled experiment on disadvantaged populations designed by policy makers who are more or less analogous in worldview to the shoguns of isolationist Japan trying to figure out why peasantries rebel in the first place.
Let’s be safe: drug and alcohol abuse, as well as gambling addiction, do lead to harm and the neglect of children, permeating an endless cycle of human despair – I’m not saying they don’t, I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, I’m not saying that the Government has no role in intervening in rural communities. Calm down.
There is heaps of data out there though proving that our perceptions of addiction and criminal behaviour among welfare recipients are far worse than what is actually going on. Welfare rates fell nationally last year, with 2015 continuing the steady decrease. Crime rates are dropping nationally, the cost of living is slowly getting better – largely moronic budgets be damned – and things quite simply are not so bad that an involuntary cashless welfare card trial for everbody receiving welfare in selected communities is the only answer.
In short, Geraldton will prove to be an interesting trial site.
So where did these trial cards come from? In the last year or so, there have been a lot of articles about cashless welfare cards published in Australia online and in the papers.
While in retrospect it’s likely that welfare card trials were kept on the downlow but anticipated by relevant ministers for years, it seems that what started out as an outlandish conservative notion in the beginning of 2015 became a full fledged governmental intention by the end of 2015, with Government trials launching this month in South Australia – Wyndham and Kununurra in WA were the first to be trialed.
The cashless welfare card is also the brainchild of mining executive Andrew Forrest who dabbles in politics, so y’know – go figure.