Submission to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee Inquiry into the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019

Cashless debit card Aboriginal Australians government relations Government services Welfare recipients Northern Territory

Due to the short timeframes of the Inquiry, Central Australian Aboriginal Congress (Congress) is not able to provide a detailed submission. However, given the impact of poverty, inequality and the related harmful consumption of alcohol and other drugs on the health of Aboriginal people, we consider it important to raise some key points with the Committee for their consideration.

Key points:

  • It is recommended that the Australian Government focuses on reducing poverty and inequality as a key way to increase health and wellbeing for Aboriginal people and meet the ‘Close the Gap’ targets. This should be done by increasing the Newstart payment for all participants by $75 per week; providing an additional loading on Newstart payments for those in remote or very remote areas to address significantly higher costs of living; and redesigning the Newstart program to ensure it is accessible to Aboriginal people.
  • The Cashless Debit Card and other income management schemes may have negative health consequences for participants. There is strong evidence about the relationship between disempowerment and lack of lifecontrol and poor health and wellbeing. Reducing the capacity of Aboriginal families to exercise responsibility to look after themselves and their children can therefore be expected to have long-term negative effects on health and wellbeing.
  • Significantly, the evaluation of the Cashless Debit Card Trial (CDCT) in the Ceduna and East Kimberly regions found that participants were more likely to report that the CDCT had made their lives worse than better: less than a quarter of participants (23%) reported that the CDCT had made their lives better, four out of ten (42%) said that it had made no difference, and a third (32%) reported that the trial had made their lives worse. In addition to this, a quarter of CDCT participants (24%) felt that their child / children’s lives were worse as a result of the CDCT; only one in six (17%) felt their child / children’s lives were better.
  • In addition, there is the evidence that Income Management in the Northern Territory – introduced with similar aims to the CDCT – has led to worse birth outcomes in Aboriginal communities, with lower average birth weights and a higher probability of low birthweight, with increased levels of stress amongst mothers due to income management being a likely cause. This is very strong evidence of potential harm.
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