Welfare quarantining in Australia 2007-2020: A review of grey literature

Welfare quarantining in Australia 2007-2020: A review of grey literature Report

  • Author(s): Maher, S.
  • Published: 2020
  • Publisher: Border Crossing Observatory

Abstract: In July 2008, the incoming Labor government introduced a version of this system to Queensland in the Cape York Welfare Reform Trial (CYWRT).The CYWRT is distinct amongst income management trials as an Aboriginal-led welfare reform program, which operated its own version of compulsory income management and also introduced a Voluntary Income Management (VIM) measure. In November 2008, VIM and a compulsory measure for child protection, the Child Protection Scheme Income Management (CPSIM), were introduced to the Kimberley area of Western Australia (WA). Based on a review of the NTER measures, in 2010 the New Income Management (NIM) policy was introduced to all income support recipients in the Northern Territory (NT). The NIM was a shift away from the NTER’s racialised response to child welfare and related substance abuse concerns. NIM introduced the Vulnerable Income Measure (VULIM) which included a number of streams relating to disengaged youth, long-term welfare payment recipients and people assessed as vulnerable. The broad approach of the NIM appears to be a mechanism for welfare reform designed to break intergenerational cycles of passive welfare (Gray, 2015, p. 4). NIM was the basis of income management (IM) trials which followed in other locations – most of which had significant populations of Aboriginal Australians. The payment mechanism for these phases of the policy was a plastic debit card called the BasicsCard – introduced under the NTER in September 2008. Managed by Centrelink, the BasicsCard operated as a localised debit card limited to use at merchants approved by the Department of Human Services. The card was credited with quarantined amount: 50 per cent of a subject’s income support and up to 100 per cent of lump sum payments. Cash could not be withdrawn from the BasicsCard account, only from the person’s bank account which received the remaining 20 per cent of the income support payment. The BasicsCard became the payment mechanism for all income management trials until the introduction of the Cashless Debit Card (CDC) under the cashless welfare trials, which commenced in 2016. In 2012, as part of the Federal government program, Building Australia’s Future Workforce (BAWF), which emphasised entry or return to the workforce, Place-Based Income Management (PBIM) was introduced in targeted locations in New South Wales (NSW), South Australia (SA), Queensland (QLD) and Victoria (VIC). Aboriginal communities were added to the trial; the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in South Australia, later in 2012, and Laverton, Kiwirrkurra and the Ngaanyatjarra Lands in Western Australia in 2013. Income management under this program focused on child protection and those considered vulnerable to financial hardship. These areas were targeted due to high cultural diversity, welfare dependency, high unemployment levels (including youth unemployment), skills gaps and the length of time people had been on income support. Media reported government plans to expand PBIM nationally in 2013, although rollout did not go ahead (ABC News, 2014b). The program continues to operate in the original five sites, with the continued use of the BasicsCard. It is unclear if these sites are still considered trials or have become policy, although the Social Security (Administration) (Declared income management areas) Determination 2012 legislation that introduced the trials is no longer in force. In July 2014, the PBIM model was applied to the Ceduna Local Government area in South Australia (Parkinson, 2015) which included Oak Valley, Koonibba, Yalata, Scotdesco, Bookabie, Penong, Fowlers Bay, Coorabie, Nundroo and Nullarbor. This trial appears to be the precursor to Cashless Debit Card (CDC) trials which commenced in Ceduna in 2016. By 2015, in the Northern Territory alone, 20,600 participants were on IM – four times higher than all other IM sites in Australia (Arthur, 2015, p. 29). Evaluations produced mixed results, yet in that year, a report from the reference group on welfare reform to the Minister of Social Services recommended a cautious expansion of income management through recommendations informed by previous evaluations(McClure, 2015). Cashless welfare, a broader, but more restrictive, form of welfare quarantining was endorsed in 2014 as a key recommendation of the Forrest Review of Indigenous Jobs and Training. The cashless welfare model recommended quarantining 100 per cent of income support and was framed as an alternative to income management. However, when cashless welfare card trials began, income support was quarantined at 80 per cent. The payment mechanism for cashless welfare, was also a plastic debit card and, depending on location, it may be called the Cashless Welfare Card (CWC), the Grey card or the Indue card, but most commonly it is called the Cashless Debit Card (CDC).The Forrest Review argued a cashless debit card would be far less expensive to deliver than the BasicsCard and therefore affordable on a larger scale. As a Visa-debit card, the cashless debit card is managed by the private company Indue and operates as a regular bank product, potentially useable at any merchant using EFTPOS that has not been blocked in accordance with the policy. This means, compared to the BasicsCard, there is a significantly higher number of outlets where the card can be used. The availability of other payment options, such as BPAY, also differentiates the BasicsCard. While the percentage of income support quarantined by the CDC increased from the 50 per cent of the BasicsCard to 80 per cent, other conditions were not changed; cash cannot be withdrawn, and alcohol, gambling products and gift cards (and other cash-like products) cannot be purchased with the CDC. Cashless debit card trials were rolled out from2016 in Ceduna (SA) and East Kimberley (WA), and in the WA Goldfields region in 2018. In these locations, the CDC was made mandatory for all working-age income support recipients. In 2019, all those under 36 years old who received one of three specified payments were added to a CDC trial in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay (QLD). On 4 April 2019, the Federal Coalition government passed legislation to extend all welfare quarantining trials by one year–to 30 June 2020. However, more legislation was introduced on 11 September 2019, with two key purposes: to gain an additional extension of all trials to 30 June 2021; and, to remove the cap on the number of cashless debit card trial participants. This would allow the NT and income management sites in all other states to become CDC trial sites. Approximately 23,000 income management participants would then be transitioned from the BasicsCard to the Cashless Debit Card in 2020 (The Department of Social Services, 2019b, para. 8). Federal government data demonstrates that 25,270 people were on income management nationally in 2018, with 87 percent in the NT and 82 per cent of them Aboriginal (Heaney, 2019). Place-Based income management sites were not included in this legislation; these sites continue to use the BasicsCard. Senate hearings held in Darwin and Alice Springs in late 2019, heard strong opposition to the legislation from a range of organisations and community members. Similar criticisms were heard in 2007 about the NTER, including the haste in which the legislation was planned, its mandatory nature, and the lack of consultation (Heaney, 2019). Labor Senators recommended the Bill not be passed in its current form as it was not supported by evidence and twelve years of broad-based compulsory income management in the NT had not improved outcomes (Allam, 2019, para. 6). For similar reasons, the Australian Greens also did not recommend the Bill be passed (Parliament of Australia, 2019e, pp. 23-31). However, on 7 November 2019, the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee recommended the Bill be passed. The legislation had its second reading on 2 December 2019 and was due for a third in February 2020. Despite broad concerns about the legislation, the very mixed findings of income management evaluations, and consistent criticisms of the methodologies and quality of those evaluations across the many years of the policy, the Federal government appears determined to proceed with the expansion of the policy through the CDC at its broadest and most restrictive form.

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Suggested Citation
Maher, S., 2020, Welfare quarantining in Australia 2007-2020: A review of grey literature, Report, viewed 17 July 2024, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=17909.

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