The Senate passed amendments to the federal social security law on September 27 that scraps the privately-run Indue Cashless Debit Card (CDC), but retains a cashless debit card for some communities, to be administered by the Department of Social Services and Services Australia.
The Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of the Cashless Debit Card and other measures) Bill 2022 passed the Senate by 33 votes to 26.
The previous Coalition government was trialling the punishing CDC scheme in various parts of the country. Those placed on the card, controlled by the private company Indue, lost control of 80% of their income. As of February, 17,300 people were on the scheme.
Social services minister Amanda Rishworth said on September 28 that from October 4, those on the CDC in Ceduna, East Kimberley, Goldfields and Bundaberg-Hervey Bay can advise Services Australia if they want to abandon the card.
The compulsory CDC program will be completely abolished in all sites — including the Northern Territory and the Cape York and Doomadgee regions — early next year.
However, Rishworth said a new “Family Responsibilities Commission” in Cape York “will retain all of its powers of self-determination and referral for community members to go onto income management”.
The bill passed the House of Representatives on August 8, 82 votes to 56. Tasmanian Senator Jacquie Lambie managed to secure a Senate inquiry into the CDC’s abolition in late August after Coalition MPs worked hard to delay or block the bill.
Labor would not agree to the Greens’ call to scrap all forms of income management.
The law has been amended in such a way that 4000 people in the NT and Cape York region will remain on the CDC until a new income management scheme is devised.
Rishworth set an 18-month “consultation process” with affected communities to work out what it will look like.
A scathing report by the Australian National Audit Office in June found that even after the five-year trial, the Coalition government had not demonstrated whether the card was working.
Moreover, it was found that the cost to administer the CDC was $170 million.
The income management scheme in the NT was put in place alongside the racist Northern Territory Intervention in 2007.
Greens Senator Janet Rice told the Senate inquiry that she hoped it would be “an opportunity to hear from those that will be forced onto the Basics Card once the CDC ends”. She said the “current compulsory income management system is deeply broken and needs to be urgently fixed”.
Labor has promised to consult Aboriginal communities in how to transition people off the Basics Card. “Over time, we will work with communities in the Northern Territory about what that transition looks like,” Rishworth said. However, the timetable is unclear.
Despite criticising the government’s plan to continue income management, Labor secured the support of the Australian Greens, Independent Senators David Pocock, Lambie and Tammy Tyrell to pass the amendment.
No Cashless Debit Card Australia (NCDA) and The Say No Seven said that, despite its shortcomings, the new law is the result of a hard fought campaign by people who were forced onto the card and their allies against not only forced income management, but the Coalition government’s plan to privatise the social security system by stealth.
The NCDA said the passing of the CDC repeal bill is also “evidence that despite our many differences, we can still come together and choose to make more informed, more humane decisions and choices together”.