Cashless welfare card to continue in Ceduna

DEBIT CARD SUCCESS: Ceduna mayor Allan Suter said he was happy the government would extend the cashless debit card following positive results in the first 12 months. Picture: Luca Cetta
DEBIT CARD SUCCESS: Ceduna mayor Allan Suter said he was happy the government would extend the cashless debit card following positive results in the first 12 months. Picture: Luca Cetta

Ceduna will keep the cashless debit card after an independent evaluation found the 12-month trial had reduced alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge today announced the continuation of the card in Ceduna and East Kimberley in Western Australia due to strong results from an independent evaluation and in consultation with community leaders.

The Wave 1 Report of the independent evaluation being undertaken by ORIMA Research found that “overall, the (trial) has been effective to date…in particular, the trial has been effective in reducing alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling – establishing a clear ‘proof-of-concept’.”

Ceduna mayor Allan Suter said the success of the 12-month trial made the decision easier.

“I’m delighted, I can see how much good has been done and am keen for it to continue,” he said.

“It is a good decision and probably inevitable given the positive results of the independent survey.”

Mr Tudge said the results of the evaluation supported an extension of the card.

“The card is not a panacea but it has led to stark improvements in these communities,” he said.

“There are very few other initiatives that have had such impact.”

Mr Suter said after what he saw as pleasing trial results he hoped the pattern would continue.

“There are irrefutably excellent results, for example 40 per cent of people on the trial indicated they are smoking or drinking or drugging or gambling less and most of the results are on those lines,” he said.

“It was particularly encouraging – it has improved people’s lives and improved the situation for children.

“It is the best initiative I have seen in this field and it has made our community safer, particularly for families and drinkers.

“I don’t have much sympathy for people suffering minor inconveniences because of it.”

Card opponent Sue Thiselton said she remained against the card and changes needed to be made.

“I have always said that if it was voluntary and targeted, with a rehab centre built in town, then it would be okay,” she said.

“From what I’ve seen and heard, the crime rate is up and people are not happy – I have not spoken to one person on the card who likes it.

“I know some would go on it voluntarily, like spouses of those addicted.”

The government hopes over time the card will help people break the cycle of welfare dependency by stabilising their lives and helping them into employment.

The report outlined key results across the two trial sites, including 25 per cent of participants and 13 per cent of family members reporting drinking alcohol less frequently, while 25 per cent of participants reported binge drinking less frequently.

Of the trial participants who reported they gamble, 32 per cent and 15 per cent of family members reported gambling less, while 24 per cent of participants reported using illegal drugs less often than before the trial’s inception.

The report also noted other data from local partners and anecdotal feedback, including a reduction of 12 per cent in monthly poker machine revenues in Ceduna and surrounding local government areas in January 2017 compared to 12 months earlier, while retailers in both trial sites reported an increase in the sale of white goods, clothes, food and household items since the introduction. 

Mr Tudge said support from local leaders had been vital.

“A large part of the success has been the close working relationship with local leaders, who have co-designed and implemented the trial with us,” he said.

“There is still a lot of work to do but if we can continue on this path, then over time we can make these communities safe, healthy and prosperous once again.”

A criticism of the card during the trial was its incompatibility with certain services but Mr Suter said any issues could be worked through.

“If circumstances arise where people are having trouble buying items and if they are genuine, they can be dealt with within the system.

“There is no reason why people cannot buy a car or make arrangements for most things, other than gambling or alcohol products.

He said the small number of people protesting were “self-indulgent” and need to show consideration for those who need help.

“The independent report is unequivocal in saying the trial is not perfect but it has done good.

“We hope to see a continuation of the much better situation so many in the community find themselves in.”

The government said the card extension would allow it to make fully informed decisions about the future of welfare conditionality, with the final evaluation report by ORIMA Research due in mid-2017.

RELATED STORIES: Welfare Debit Card Trial Bill passes senate

Optimism over card trial

Welfare debit card sent out

Lambie, Kakoschke-Moore view card trial

Payday lenders target debit trial