Labor breaks election promise with new income management card

June 23, 2023
Independent Senator Lidia Thorpe described the income management reform bill as more paternalistic racism. Photo: @SenatorThorpe/Twitter

Labor’s cashless welfare bill passed the Senate on June 22, breaking an election promise that included a prominent campaign to scrap the Cashless Debit Card (CDC) if it won government.

While the CDC has been officially abolished, the new SmartCard is essentially the same.

The Social Security (Administration) Amendment 6 (Income Management Reform) Bill 2023 was supported by the Coalition and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

It includes provisions allowing cashless welfare to be expanded across the country at the minister’s behest. It locks cashless welfare into the social security system.

While Labor claims the new card is “voluntary” — it allows some communities to choose whether to go on the program — it does not allow individuals to opt out.

“THIS IS NOT A VOLUNTARY PROGRAM,” tweeted the Antipoverty Centre, pointing to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights report on the bill. That said the bill is capable of “subjecting an individual to mandatory income management” and “restricting how they may spend a portion of their social security payment”.

The report said these measures “limit the rights to social security and a private life”. It questioned how extending compulsory participation in the enhanced income management regime is “consistent” with Labor’s claim it wants to make the program voluntary.

There were more than 24,000 people on cashless welfare as at April 28, and 22,000 are living in the Northern Territory.

The Antipoverty Centre said Labor had “betrayed welfare recipients”. Spokesperson Jay Coonan said the Labor had “opened the door for the mass expansion of cashless welfare” and “crushed the hopes of 22,000 people in the Northern Territory currently subjected to compulsory income control, the vast majority of whom are First Nations”.

Change the Record said on Twitter that: “Keeping the same system in place and changing the name of the basics card isn't abolishing income management. It’s rebranding it.

“First Nations peak bodies & advocates have long called for abolition of compulsory income management ... This Bill ignores these calls & instead chooses to play politics with people's lives.”

Yamatji-Noongar woman and Greens Senator Dorina Cox said the scheme puts First Nations people at risk. “This week, where we have passed a bill on a Voice to Parliament, this government are ... ignoring First Nations voices.”

Djab Wurrung Gunnai Gunditjmara Independent Senator Lidia Thorpe said: “Labor has just re-introduced income management. The racist basics card continues.” She read out a list of Labor MPs who had promised to scrap cashless welfare and income management.

Labor voted down a Greens amendment to “sunset” the program by 2024, which would have ensured an end date.

Greens Senator Janet Rice said: “Labor have now gone further than the Libs did in expanding racist and ineffective compulsory income management.

“Between the Cashless Debit Card 2.0, the measly $2.85 a day JobSeeker increase, and refusing to help renters during the worst housing crisis in generations, Labor has no business calling itself the party of the working class.”

As some have pointed out on social media, Labor is happy to break its promise to scrap cashless welfare and income management, but is still leaning on its pre-election promise not to scrap the Stage 3 tax cuts for the rich.

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