Interview: Cashless welfare card fails to address problems

May 17, 2022
Photo: No Cashless Debit Card Australia/Facebook.

Rick Grzyb has been helping people fill out exit application forms to get off the Indue Cashless Debit Card (CDC) for a few years. He spoke to Petrina Harley, Dirk Kelly and Cody Jensen in Kalgoorlie.

Who is put on to the CDC?

The CDC was first implemented in Ceduna, South Australia, in 2016.

Depending on the trial region, you are put on the card if you are on Youth allowance, NewStart or the Disability Support Pension). In Kalgoorlie, you are put on the card if you are on Austudy. But if you are on the carer’s allowance, you are put on it irrespective of where you are.

It also depends on your age. In some areas, aged pensioners have been put on the card.

I was put on the card when I was studying full-time, although the government and Department of Social Services (DSS) deny that.

The CDC is in place in Ceduna in South Australia, the Eastern Kimberly and Goldfields regions of Western Australia, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

How difficult is it to get off the CDC?

It took me 18 months, and I was trying to get off from day one.

I asked politicians how it is that, despite being well educated, it took me so long to get off the card.

I tell people filling out the exit application forms that if they are using anything like zip-pay or payday lenders, it will look bad on their credit rating.

The DSS will use the fact you happen to be using Afterpay and are Indigenous to keep you on the card.

How has the government justified the policy?

The government claims the Indue card addresses various problems — poverty, homelessness and domestic violence.

In all the trial regions, a large percentage of Indigenous people are put on the card. But the government won’t say it’s targeting Aboriginal people. It will say the card is needed in a region if 80% of the population, aged between 26 and 53, and who are unemployed happen to be Indigenous.

The card has been rolled out in the trial regions without considering how it was delivered. You can’t claim the card is going to cure certain problems but after it fails to do that say it has dealt with three different problems.

What research has been done into the card’s effectiveness?

The Adelaide University research [published last year] made it clear that the CDC didn’t work. But the Scott Morrison government refused to look at the research.

This is one of the reasons why we need an independent commission against corruption to find out who has benefited from the CDC.

I am worried that the CDC will continue to be rolled out in economically disadvantaged areas. You won’t find people in wealthy areas, such as Toorak or Como, being threatened with forced income management if they have any social problems.

How much does it cost to administer the card?

Its costs $14,000 a year. The big four banks offered to administer the card for free, but the government refused.

If you get off the card one month into a year, the government continues to pay Indue to administer your account and the card holder continues to pay interest. You don’t get to decide which bank the money goes into.

What are some of the negative effects of being on the CDC?

There are many hoops you have to jump through to access money from Indue. When I was doing a placement in Alice Springs I couldn’t stay in the accommodation I wanted because its card machine declined my Indue card.

I could not buy second-hand school books on the CDC. If you are a single mother with a kid going through university you have to funnel that money through a visa debit card just to be able to get books on Amazon.

People look at you if are on the CDC, as if you are a “druggy”.

Could the CDC have been implemented differently?

It should have been voluntary: people should have been able to choose the amount of money they wanted to lock away for bills.

Centrepay allowed people the ability to put a certain amount of money aside to ensure bills got paid. But Indue had a big problem with that, because Centrepay is not-for-profit. People could cancel their direct debits and Indue don’t get the money.

If the CDC was effective, it would have delivered services and financial management skills. But none has eventuated.

What sort of consultation is there with people forced onto the CDC?

If you move to an area where the CDC is in place, you are stuck on it even if you move out of the area.

Medical students on placement in Kalgoorlie were forced onto the card. But the Australian Medical Association managed to get them off.

[To find out more go visit No Cashless Debit Card Australia.]

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