There's no evidence cashless debit card will work

September 24, 2019

Malarndirri McCarthy on 360 with Katie Woolf, MIX 104.9

SUBJECT: Cashless Debit Card

KATIE WOOLF, MIX 104.9: Senator for the Northern Territory Malarndirri McCarthy. Malarndirri, good morning. 

MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY, NORTHERN TERRITORY SENATOR: Good morning Katie and good morning to your listeners.

WOOLF: It's great to have you in the studio. We've talked over the phone a bit but you're usually in Canberra. It's great.

MCCARTHY: I know. It's lovely. 

WOOLF: The hearings began yesterday. How did they go?

MCCARTHY: Look it was really important to hear from organisations across Darwin and the Top End who came in. We had the Aboriginal Peak bodies, we had the Arnhem Land Progress Association, Catholic Care came forward just to talk about what they think the Government is trying to do here. And just to let your listeners know, what the Scott Morrison Government want to do in the Northern Territory is - there are 23,000 people in the Northern Territory who are on what's called the Basics Card, And now the Federal Government want to move those 23,000 people to start with on to what they call the Cashless Debit Card.

WOOLF: How do those two cards differ?

MCCARTHY: Good question. The Basics Card came in 12 years ago. People may remember the Northern Territory Intervention. The Basics card came in then, as a way of reducing people's welfare cash amount to 50% so half their money would go onto this Basic Card and the other half would be cash. Now there has not been really a thorough evaluation of that program. There was a report in 2014 Katie but it was very limited and many of the witnesses who spoke yesterday to this Senate Inquiry were saying that this was like going back to the future by having another card come on top of a card they were forced to go on in the first place.

WOOLF: So for those 23,000 people that are already on that Basics Card, it would mean that they're moved off the Basics Card, move onto a Cashless Welfare Card which is - is it pretty much the same thing, or is it different?

MCCARTHY: Well it depends on who you talk to. Obviously the Government believe it's a better card. It's one they seem to want to roll out across Australia for welfare recipients. My concern is that here in the Northern Territory, people here have been on these cards for over a decade and there hasn’t been a thorough evaluation done to see if it actually works. In my view, with the different inquiries I've had, we've seen far greater poverty, entrenched poverty, people are hungry, school attendance is still an issue, one of the disturbing evidence we got yesterday is low birth weights, related to this card. The trauma and stress that goes on people not having enough money, that is actually impacting low birthweight for mothers, which is a serious health issue, so these are things that the Senate Inquiry are taking into consideration. The Labor Party certainly has a concern about this cashless debit card being compulsory. Our view is that it must be voluntary and that people have a choice.

WOOLF: Now Malarndirri, I know that there's been a bit of commentary on the social media pages about this and I guess the common misconception has been that it's really going to only be Indigenous Territorians that are affected but what I've actually seen is quite a few comments as well from pensioners.

MCCARTHY: It's not just impacting First Nations people. This will be something that impacts any person who will be on welfare eventually. Unfortunately it's always First Nations people who seem to be the guinea pigs, but there was a view even back in 2007 when this Basics Card was rolled out that, oh ok this is a trial for really welfare Australia eventually, and this is the journey that our country is going on, and I think it's most unfortunate that we seem to be looking at laws that keep people who are already struggling to keep above the water level, pushing them still further down on the poverty level. 

WOOLF: There will be some people listening this morning who think the possibility of expanding this isn’t a bad idea. Why is it so negative in your opinion?

MCCARTHY: I think anything that's forced on people is always questionable Katie especially when there's been no evidence to say that it actually works. In fact, the evidence we do see, is the reverse: greater poverty, homelessness, people on the streets, lack of jobs in our communities, these are the things that keep pushing people that are already in dire straits into further difficulties. We don’t see any real improvement, for example as I said, for birthweight with children, even going to school, so it has a roll on effect in the social sphere. What we need to make sure in the parliament when we have these debates is that it's all very well for people who are in pretty privileged positions to make these kind of laws for people who are struggling, but when you've suffered being in an impoverished life, it's quite shameful, humiliating, you lose a sense of your dignity, and I think it's important that politicians realise that we don’t want to make it worse for people who are already in a pretty bad state.

WOOLF: We are going to get ready to wrap things up but Senator, I am keen to find out was there much feedback from different communities as well because, I know in the past, what I've heard at different times, is very much, when some of these changes need to come into play in different communities, that it is led by the Indigenous women and that we should be speaking to them to find out what they would like happening in those communities. Has there been much feedback from that perspective?

MCCARTHY: Yes, look we've certainly been able to receive advice around what happened at Manyallaluk when they wanted to bring in quarantining before 2007, we're certainly aware of say for example, the Arnhem Land Progress Association, who with all the communities in Arnhem land, had developed a food card and that food card was working really well until the Intervention, so we've heard these stories, it just seems like any local solutions get squashed by over the top Government policies and that's really where we're at at the moment, but I know what you're saying Katie in terms of WA and the women there who've really talked strongly about their concerns. I'm actually going to be in a community tomorrow in WA where they're wanting to talk about it.

WOOLF: Look it's going to be an interesting one to keep an eye on and no doubt you will keep us up to date with how these hearings progress because I believe they’re continuing on next week.

MCCARTHY: That's right we'll be listening to further evidence and academic evidence. We need data to show well where is it working? These trials are occurring in Ceduna and down in Queensland in Bundaberg and we certainly heard evidence from people there but they're anecdotal evidence. It's like saying yeah my best friend next door's doing really well because they can now feed their kids, but as a Senate Committee, we need actual evidence, we need data.

WOOLF: Which is fair enough. Senator for the Northern Territory, Malarndirri McCarthy, always good to speak with you, thanks so much for coming in today.

MCCARTHY: Thanks Katie.