Opinions are divided as Australia is looking for further expansion of its cashless welfare card scheme for disadvantaged communities.
Under the scheme government transfers money to the debit cards held by beneficiaries, to be used for purchase of food, toys, whitegoods, homewares or clothes, and with conditions that it cannot be used for activities such as alcohol and gambling.
While the scheme is implemented in East Kimberley and Ceduna in South Australia, a Senate inquiry has started examining its expansion into Kalgoorlie-Boulder, and Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland. The beneficiaries mainly are Indigenous Australians.
While 20 per cent of income support is able to be withdrawn as cash via a separate banking card, rest of the money has be used for purchases using the card directly.
The scheme has invoked opposition from welfare rights groups and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy experts, with complaints of the scheme being ineffective, and expensive and disempowering and demeaning participants.
“Everybody that I encounter that sees this card looks you up and down, and their eyes say, ‘You can’t get a job,’ ” Jody Miller, a member of the Aboriginal community council in Koonibba tells Guardian Australia.
But there are who say the restrictions in the scheme helped improved the conditions in the community.
“Some of the results are hard to quantify, but there is certainly more vegetables, fruit and food being sold in Coles..,” Ian Trust, head of the Wunan Aboriginal development organisation, tells The Australian.
“More Aboriginal people going to the hardware shop and buying pot plants and furniture for their houses than ever did before, and less alcohol in the streets and parks, and less violence,” he says.