Journal article


What is the relationship between the first two trials of the Cashless Debit Card (CDC) and Indigenous mobility? In Ceduna, Vincent conducted ethnographic research into lived experiences of the first CDC trial.
Anthropologist, Eve Vincent, and Development Studies researcher, Elise Klein, have each conducted fieldwork and interview-based research into the card’s introduction into community life, in Ceduna and the East Kimberley, respectively. Working separately in these two places, the researchers each encountered not only talk of movement, but also examples of particular community members relocating in response to the card’s introduction. In the East Kimberley, Klein conducted 51 structured interviews with people on the card and 37 semi-structured interviews with key informants. Markham used regression analysis of net migration rates to determine whether the CDC trial sites were associated with greater net population loss in 2016 census data than comparable locations. This exploratory study finds significant local talk of displacement arising from the introduction of the CDC, as well as discussion of short-term trips away from the trial sites being made more difficult. Policy effects on mobility should be taken seriously by researchers and policymakers when considering place-based welfare policy.

Key Findings:

  • Some of the community members expressed concern that being on the card might card deter temporary movement, out of a fear of it not working outside of the geographical bounds of the trial site.
  • The regression analysis found that the net migration rate was 9.3 per cent points (95% CI: 2.0, 16.5) lower in Ceduna, Wyndham and Kununurra when compared with a group of comparable towns, and 5.2 per cent points (95% CI: 0.9, 9.5) lower when compared with Australia as a whole, meaning that the populations of these towns declined faster than those of comparable towns.
  • Observations in both Ceduna and the East Kimberley point to a contrasting possibility: amidst local talk of people leaving both field sites, the card is seemingly limiting some people’s inclination to move around. There are others in Ceduna who express a fear of social rejection when they use the card in a setting where its mandatory nature would likely not be understood. 
  • The researchers' three separate studies are consistent with elevated population decline in the CDC trial sites during the period from the announcement of the card to the first few months of its operation. The magnitude of the associations between trial site status and reduced domestic net migration rates estimated from census data is considerable, with point estimates ranging from 5 to 7 per cent points. Although considerable uncertainty remains around these estimates, these are associations of substantial and policy-relevant magnitude.
  • Whether or not movement is an intended or unintended consequence of this policy is unknowable at this stage. However, these findings suggest that potential policy-induced displacement should be taken seriously by researchers and policymakers when considering the introduction of place-based welfare policy.
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