We all know there are huge problems with alcohol and drugs within some communities, those issues are Australia wide and in all races not just First Nation peoples. The governments cut of $600 million from Aboriginal services and putting the squeeze on all other services already puts huge pressure on everyone trapped in the welfare system. This will be the straw that breaks the camels back.
By Kathryn Wilkes 11 March 2016
Lets look at the impact of the new Healthy Welfare Debit Card about to roll out for trial in Ceduna on the 15th March
The Government has gone to great lengths to promote the card as a way to manage the problems surrounding alcohol and drug and gambling issues.
It has bleeted on about the social dysfunction in communities and have painted this picture of all First Nations people and other people on any benefits are all drug addicts, alcoholics and waste their benefit payments at the 'pokies'.
So in their wisdom the government is trialing the Welfare Debit card on all 800 people in Ceduna and surrounding communities. The card restricts 80% of a persons Centrelink payment, and allows up to 20% in cash to go to your normal account. This amount can be 10% or 0% should the panel decide that you are in need of tightened restrictions.
Ceduna already has very tough alcohol restrictions in place - 'dry town' and 'no takeaways' etc. However the card is being rolled out to every Centrelink recipient under old age, as old age pension is exempt at this time, but is being encouraged as voluntary.
So let's look at the effect on someone on 'Abstudy' Payments. All payments including supplements are captured on the card, So for a student living at home under the age of 18 claiming base rate 'Abstudy', their cash payment portion would only be $47.40, then 18-21 cash would be $57.22 and over, would be $104.60 per fortnight in cash payments . The rest must be stuck on the card.
So the balance on the card can be used anywhere that takes 'eftpos'.
As for the fees, the Government says there are none for the holder of the card, but there are always transaction fees somewhere, more clarity needed, but like so many other questions at this time, we can't seem to get straight answers.
So what does this mean for students overall?
Students that are room renting and sharing rentals who pay cash for their rents will not have enough cash to pay their rents, if the person they are renting from is a private person or they are paying board at home. This is concern for more than just students as many people share accommodation and pay cash for their share of the rent and bills.
Secondhand purchases are to be made using the 20% cash portion of your payment, um, text books cost a lot of money even secondhand and this could cause much difficulty for students trying to get books, new books cost more than the payments they receive and are just not affordable to buy on the card.
Travel costs and other things that cash is used for, all have to come out of the 20% allowance.
As for all on the card there are going to be major struggles.
Let's look at the things that the card does not allow to be paid with
Mortgage payments to offset accounts, cash rentals and electricity, water etc, credit card payments, third party credit payments to rent to buy stores, some insurances, as centrepay can not pay to every insurance company. Many organisations cannot accept payments from the card, including motor car road side assistance insurances for instance.
Other issues with the card are as follows, there is not enough cash to go to buy food at farmers markets and secondhand places, online etc as most people on any benefits rely on having to buy at markets and secondhand to get what they need.
More hassles with kids stuff, cash for school etc, excursions, swimming lessons and entry into local pools, social activities and sporting activities in smaller towns are normally paid in cash, Donations and fundraisers for local small associations and school all rely on cash.
Smaller business operators in regional areas rely on sole proprietor business, many do not take cards, lawnmower man, electrician plumber, handy man, wood delivery, water delivery tank top up etc.
What happens when the internet is down and the eftpos is not working?
'Indue' is not a bank and has no front services, The card does not allow for savings and you cannot take cash from the card.
The card will not work in places that sell alcohol or have gambling facilities. However gamblers, drug addicts and alcoholics all work outside the system and will still access their needs through stealing from family members or more dangerous means, ie:, crime and prostitution.
At this time the locals in Ceduna are not having their questions answered around the card well enough and it is causing huge stress within the community, it has divided the community and has the ability to create a sub class of people, who will be stigmatised by being forced onto the card.
(ABC News - Pic: Carol Suter)
Public perception portrayed through the Media and the LNP is that all First Nations people are at risk and need to managed with their alcohol and that everyone on benefits is now deemed incapable of managing their finances, when the truth of the matter is cutting all the services to drug and alcohol throughout the communities and closing the domestic violence centres and shelters will cause more problems. Everyone on any benefit is very capable of managing their finances, and should be applauded, considering the extremely meager amounts people are struggling to live on in the first place.
Although there are wrap around services of $1 million being pumped into the community of Ceduna, no one seems to know what those services are at this time, and where they are.
Very important to note, that two of the Aboriginal communities that signed the original Memorandum of Obligations (MOU) have come forward and complained that they were misled and told the card would be targeted to people who needed it, not a blanket approach to everyone on any benefit.
They have since withdrawn their support from the MOU and there are articles to show that happening on the Say No To the Welfare Debit Card Ceduna Facebook page. The communities also claim there was no interpreters present when the government came to talk with them, another community, Penong, where residents are now rightfully discontented because they are not in the council jurisdiction but are also being forced onto the card.
In theory this card may assist people that need it on an individual basis with all supports around small towns.
Another concern is how 'work for the dole' and the card go together and the new laws coming to the senate with regard to the fines being imposed on job seekers whom their Job Safety Analysis decides are not complying etc.
Just for reference, the card is applied to all payments, Newstart/Youth Abstudy/Austudy/DSP/Carers/Widow/Parenting/Family Tax Payments and all supplements.
For all of the reasons above and more that are arising, we are suggesting that the government stop and actually review the damage this card has the ability to cause First Nations people and everyone else in all regional areas of this country.
We all know there are huge problems with alcohol and drugs within communities, those issues are Australia wide and in all races not just First Nations peoples. The governments cut of $600 million from Aboriginal services already places huge pressure on everyone trapped in the system, and with the cuts to all the other services such as shelters, drug and alcohol programs, employment and domestic violence, legal, medical, health and education services combined with this card, will be catastrophic.
There are other ways for communities to solve these issues and the government threatening councils funding to get this card into communities is definitely not the way.
Here are a couple of updates we added shortly after the above report in 2015 but things have moved along a bit since then ... however there is still no signs of the government rethinking these paternal policies and restrictive policies that are imposed on our people. This policy was the recommendation made by Andrew 'Twiggy' Forest in his report to the government in Tony Abbott's days as PM, Forest is the mining magnate who's great Uncle was heavily involved in the neck chain gangs of our people in Western Australia in the early part of the 20th century.
ROLL-OUT UPDATE: Alan Tudge, Minister for Human Services has been in Geraldton WA pushing the card for their next targeted area for the card, communities leaders were hand picked for a community meeting. Senator Rachel Siewert held another meeting with the rest of the communities who were not told about the consultations by Alan Tudge.