Senator gets cashless card insight

VISIT: Australian Unemployed Workers' Union SA branch coordinator Hayden Patterson and Greens Senator Rachel Siewert spoke to locals as part of a visit to Ceduna to gather insight about the cashless welfare card. Picture: Luca Cetta
VISIT: Australian Unemployed Workers' Union SA branch coordinator Hayden Patterson and Greens Senator Rachel Siewert spoke to locals as part of a visit to Ceduna to gather insight about the cashless welfare card. Picture: Luca Cetta

Senator Rachel Siewert heard the concerns of a number of people on the cashless welfare card during a trip to Ceduna this week.

The Greens Senator visited Ceduna with Australian Unemployed Workers' Union (AUWU) SA branch coordinator Hayden Patterson to meet with individuals on the card, those not on the card who have had interaction with people part of the trial, and service providers.

Having visited the other trial sites across the country, Ms Siewert said she wanted to talk to people in Ceduna about their experiences with the card and see "what it's like on the ground compared to what the government has said".

Ms Siewert said there was a sense of frustration from people who are part of the trial.

"People are saying the government has claimed it has a positive impact but make the point that you can't take the card in isolation from the waves of alcohol reforms being made," she said.

"I hear from people who say problems still exist and people express being stigmatised by the card, depression and anger about it.

"People are saying it makes life harder to manage finances and that there's a deep sense of shame when being left at the supermarket and there's not enough money on the card, even if they checked balance before they go, with an app that doesn't work constantly."

Ms Siewert said the card had created a "beautification process" of moving problems away from the main areas of town but not addressed addiction and underlying problems of the issues people faced.

Mr Patterson visited Ceduna with fellow AUWU members last year to meet with locals and said 12 months on there was a greater feeling of resignation about their situation.

"People are more resigned to things now and feeling defeated, that there is not much they can do to change it," he said.

"My stance and issue all along is that there has not been community consultation on the matter."

Ms Siewert has voiced her opposition to the card and the ongoing trial in parliament and said she had "lots of concerns".

"It's a punitive approach and people feel punished for being on income support," she said.

"Addiction is a health problem and taking cash away doesn't help, they just find other ways to find their alcohol.

"There are very similar issues to Kununurra (in the East Kimberley region in Western Australia) and here, and I've heard ways of how people are getting around the card, and some people who are having trouble paying rent and general bills, where the Indue card is not taken as an assurance."

The federal government recently amended the criteria for people wanting to get off the card, focusing on a person's ability to manage their life and financial affairs, with the Department of Social Services the decision-maker for exit application, rather than a community panel.

Ms Siewert said the changes introduced another set of problems.

"What I'm concerned about is the card exit criteria is still really hard," she said.

"They say demonstrating financial management, but have a whole lot of things like how you look after your kids, their school attendance, how you are in the community, that you are a 'good citizen' - things that weren't the reason why the card was introduced.

"I am concerned the process will favour non-Aboriginal people."

Ms Siewert said she would be able to take what she had heard back to Canberra, to give people on the card a voice.

"I will be expressing to parliament people's voices of how they feel about the card," she said.

"Card evaluations have not reflected people's voices - some service providers, businesses and community leaders, but not participants.

"There was never a proper consultation."