Opinion: the cashless debit card is not a ‘financial literacy tool,’ and Big 4 involvement won’t change that


Adobe Stock

With the government’s recent announcement of its plan to start rolling out the Cashless Debit Card beyond its trial phase, thousands of people currently struggling to get by on low rates of the Newstart Allowance are poised to have their lives made even harder.

The revelation that the Morrison government is working with the big four banks, Coles and Woolworths on technical measures and payment systems that will enable the roll-out the Cashless Debit Card (CDC) nationwide is highly concerning, particularly considering the framing of the card as a ‘financial literacy tool’. The Accountable Income Management Network (AIMN) condemns this characterisation of the card by Minister Anne Ruston, noting that people on income support have developed expert skills in managing their meagre social security payments. The minister’s suggestion that the CDC has achieved its stated goals in reducing social harm is not substantiated by an evidence base and fails to acknowledge the experiences of many people subjected to the trial who have suffered significant stigmatisation, restrictions of consumer choice and the collection of their private data without their consent. The further roll-out of the card will subject thousands more Australians to these negative and humiliating effects.

Despite failing to provide evidence of the efficacy of compulsory income management and the CDC, the Coalition still seeks to expand the program across the country. This broader expansion is proposed to commence with the extension of the CDC to the Northern Territory and Cape York through the provisions of the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019. If passed, this Bill will impact over 22,000 more people — the majority of whom are Indigenous. The Bill, which affected communities have not been consulted on, will be back before the Senate in the first sitting weeks of this year, commencing this Tuesday, 4th February. The Northern Territory community sector has raised serious concerns about the lack of consultation or community engagement from the Department of Social Services in relation to the roll-out of Cashless Debit Card.

According to Dr Josie Douglas from the Central Land Council:

“As with the Intervention, the cashless debit card is being rolled forward without consultation or consideration of what might work best for people on the ground. This is extraordinary given the fact that more than 35,000 Territorians have had direct experience of income management over the past 12 years, the majority of them being Aboriginal and living in remote communities where life is already very tough … yet their views are not being sought. Information sessions or briefings being conducted by DSS staff do not constitute consultation, a lesson that should have been learned by governments long ago. Following this week’s meeting of 90 CLC Aboriginal delegates, it is abundantly clear that very few people are aware that the change is coming or understand the details.”

Removing technological barriers to the national expansion of the CDC does nothing to address the social exclusion and impoverishment caused by compulsory income management and reflects a shift towards outsourcing Australian’s social security systems in the interests of private companies such as Indue Limited, the big banks, Coles and Woolworths. The Coalition’s announcement also distracts from the dire need to raise the rate of Newstart and other social security payments, which currently fall well below the poverty line.

The AIMN notes that the effects of the CDC and of inadequate social security payments have also been compounded by the recent bushfire crisis. People in fire-affected communities are usually reliant on cash transactions and informal payment arrangements. Those on the CDC in the Ceduna area have had their access to vital financial assistance compromised by power outages which, in the absence of access to cash, has left them unable to use their Indue card to purchase essential goods and services. In the absence of appropriate policy responses to bushfires as well as reliable energy supplies, the national roll-out of the CDC will increase levels of vulnerability across an increased number of Australians.

The Accountable Income Management Network calls for an end to compulsory income management in Australia and urges all senators, including Senator Jacqui Lambie, and Senators Rex Patrick and Sterling Griff of the Centre Alliance to vote against the Bill in the Senate.

Noting that the implementation and administration of compulsory income management requires additional resources and government infrastructure, costing the government a projected $1 billion over 10 years, we call on the government to end compulsory income management and the implementation of the Cashless Debit Card across all sites, to reinvest in local community services and initiatives, and to develop appropriate policies to safeguard communities from the ravages of disasters such as bushfires.

We also call for the big four banks to disinvest in compulsory income management programs in Australia and heed the recommendations of the Banking Royal Commission around ethical consumer engagement.

This article is curated from Power to Persuade.

About the author
Premium

For public sector leaders who are informed, prepared and solution focused.

Access our full archive and daily dose of practical, deeply informed and insight-rich stories, case studies, interviews and more.

Get Premium Today