The Cashless Debit Card (CDC) has long faced opposition from those who claim that not allowing welfare to be spent as recipients choose denies them ‘financial freedom’ and imposes unnecessary restrictions.
But this ‘financial freedom’ can fuel destructive lifestyles. And it is the responsibility of government to ensure that taxpayer money is spent on the aims of welfare — to provide the necessities of life — rather than drugs, alcohol and gambling.
The evidence shows that the CDC works. Nine months following the first trial period across Ceduna and East Kimberley, 41% of participants reported a decrease in alcohol consumption.
Similarly, at nine months, 48% of participants who used illegal drugs reported a decrease in use. Of those with gambling problems, after nine months 48% reported a decrease.
Some days I visit my local supermarket and encounter an alcoholic family member who asks me for money to support their addiction.
This practice, known as ‘humbugging’ is endemic in regional and remote Indigenous communities. The demands made are rooted in a millennia-old system of sharing in family and moiety groups, that aimed to ensure everybody got some food.
I have learned not to carry cash for this reason. I can use the excuse that I only have my card and therefore I am unable to hand over cash.
Every day on the streets of Alice Springs and throughout the communities, humbugging has become a way for those with substance and gambling problems to scam money to support them.
And it’s also become one of the leading ways that Indigenous people who want to keep their lives on track — or even get ahead — are held back.
So it’s no surprise that many other Aboriginal Australians are forced to deploy similar measures to those I use to avoid the ‘humbugging’ demands.
Labor and the Greens would be happy to allow some welfare recipients to maintain their right to destroy their lives with alcohol, substance abuse or gambling while their children, families and communities continue to suffer.