On Thursday 13 December 2018, the Minister for Families and Social Services, Mr Paul Fletcher, announced the Liberal-National Coalition Government’s decision to extend the Cashless Debit Card trials and Income Management program across all existing sites for a further 12 months. All compulsory income management measures in Australia have now been extended until 30 June 2020.

The Government has also suggested the possibility of extending the Cashless Debit Card to a new trial site from mid-2019 pending further ‘community consultation’.

In a recent media release, Mr Fletcher cited the need to maintain ‘significant positive results’ in Cashless Debit Card (CDC) trial areas, despite the lack of clear evidence in the Government’s commissioned evaluation of the trials by ORIMA Research for continuing or expanding the program. Because of the flawed methodology of this initial evaluation, the Government agreed to a ‘post-implementation review of the trial to inform the extension and further roll out of the CDC’1. However, evidence of further monitoring and evaluation in the original trial sites is yet to be seen.

The Accountable Income Management Network (AIMN) strongly condemns this decision to extend the timeframes and asks the Government to consider the ample independent evidence on the effects of compulsory income management programs across Australia, which have produced mixed results at best and significant harm at worst.

According to the government-commissioned evaluation of the Cashless Debit Card Trial (CDCT) by ORIMA Research, its report stated that ‘More participants said the CDCT had made their lives worse than made it better – 49% compared to 22%’2.

In its July audit of the Implementation and Performance of the Cashless Debit Card Trial, the Australian National Audit Office found significant flaws in the monitoring and evaluation of the Cashless Debit Card trials in the East Kimberley and Ceduna regions. The Office noted that the Department of Social Services and ORIMA Research failed to set baselines or specific targets for the measurement of changes in the frequency of use or volume of consumption of alcohol, drug or gambling products3. As a result of this, the Office concluded that it was ‘difficult to conclude whether there had been a reduction in social harm and whether the card was a lower cost welfare quarantining approach’4.

Further, Deloitte’s evaluation of the Place-Based Income Management program noted that Income Management had had no significant impacts upon financial stability, alcohol consumption patterns or gambling patterns (among other indicators) for participants5.

In various evaluations of income management programs in the Northern Territory, which have been implemented for more than 11 years, researchers have found no significant improvement associated with income management across a diverse set of outcomes including alcohol-related crime and the role of alcohol in hospital admissions6.

The AIMN notes that there is no legal provision under the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Act 2018 for the extension of the Cashless Debit Card trials in current sites until June 2020. The current Act only extended the Ceduna, East Kimberley and Goldfields trials until 30 June 2019.

The AIMN is very concerned about the lack of respect shown to the deliberations and decisions of the Senate, which had rejected the removal of a legislated end date for the trial sites and for enabling the expansion to new trial sites by making a disallowable legislative instrument. The Coalition’s announcement to extend the timeframes reflects a flouting of the democratic process and the principles of the current legislation.

A lack of transparency, accountability and appropriate consultation with income support recipients have been a hallmark of compulsory income management programs. Both the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union and Uniting Communities found that Cashless Debit Card trial participants in Ceduna, South Australia, were not consulted in a comprehensive, equitable and timely manner, leading to a further undermining of cardholders’ sense of agency7.

The AIMN urges the Government to reverse the decision to extend the Cashless Debit Card trials and Income Management programs and to engage with the available evidence on the detrimental effects of compulsory income management on individual agency and wellbeing. Punitive and coercive measures have not provided the Government’s desired ‘reduction in alcohol, drugs, violence and crime’ but have, instead, led to further hardship for socio-economically marginalised Australians.

Media Contacts

Simon Schrapel AM
Chief Executive of Uniting Communities and Chair of the Accountable Income Management Network
SimonS@unitingcommunities.org
08 8202 5886

Susan Tilley
Manager Aboriginal Policy and Advocacy, Uniting Communities
SusanT@unitingcommunities.org
08 8202 5867
0437 320 954

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  1. Australian National Audit Office, The Implementation and Performance of the Cashless Debit Card Trial, (Canberra, 2018), 10.
  2. ORIMA Research, Cashless Debit Card Trial Evaluation: Wave 1 Interim Evaluation Report February 2017, evaluation report prepared for the Department of Social Services, (Canberra, 2017), 5.
  3. Australian National Audit Office, The Implementation and Performance of the Cashless Debit Card Trial, (Canberra, 2018), 57-58.
  4. Australian National Audit Office, The Implementation and Performance of the Cashless Debit Card Trial, (Canberra, 2018), page 8.
  5. Deloitte Access Economics, Consolidated Place Based Income Management Evaluation Report 2012-2015, evaluation report prepared for the Department of Social Services, (Canberra, 2015).
  6. J Rob Bray, “Income management evaluations- what do we now know? Placing the findings of the evaluation of New Income Management in the Northern Territory in Context,” CAEPR Working Papers No. 111/2016 (2016).
  7. Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union Report into South Australia Regional Road Trip: August 2018 (forthcoming); Uniting Communities, Submission on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017, (Adelaide, 2017).