The government has said it will scrap the cashless debit card program, naming the move a ‘priority’.
Minister for social services Amanda Rishworth said the government is looking to introduce legislation to allow participants to opt out of using the card by contacting Services Australia.
“We have listened to First Nations community leaders, service providers and cashless debit card participants in these communities – and we have heard them loud and clear.
“The cashless debit card stigmatises and it often makes participants’ lives more difficult because they cannot access the cash economy,” the minister said in a statement.
Those participating in the program cannot use the funds to purchase alcohol or gambling products. The current legislation is in place until the end of this year.
The way the card operates depends on the region, with those in the Ceduna, Goldfields, East Kimberley and Bundaberg and Harvey Bay regions having 80% of their welfare payments on a cashless debit card and the remaining 20% paid into their regular bank accounts.
The government has said it will consult with local communities during the abolition of the program.
“There will still be support available to those who need it, including opting in for voluntary income management, setting up Centrepay arrangements and referrals to local supports,” Rishworth added.
“This legislation also ensures that the Family Responsibilities Commission can continue to support community members in the Cape York region by re-establishing Income Management.”
The previous government had said in the past that the program built up participants’ self-reliance and empowerment, specifically in the area of financial management.
“The Morrison government is committed to helping cashless debit card participants to upskill, become job ready and get on pathways to employment,” former families and social services minister Anne Ruston said last year. However, an Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report published last month found the Department of Social Services’ management of the program was not meeting its intended objectives, although it did find the administrative oversight to be “largely effective”.