The Coalition Government wants to pass two Bills: the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017, which contains a raft of punitive measures, and the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017, which seeks to unjustifiably expand cashless welfare.
Drug testing may be off the table, but the fight isn’t over. Parliament will re-open on the 5th of February – we have only until then to influence the decision our representatives will make. We encourage you to send letters to the notables below, urging them to vote down these Bills (registered “person-to-person” letters would be best, if you can afford it).
The Cashless Welfare Card Bill 2017
The Cashless Welfare Card Bill will come before the lower house as early as February 5 2018. It removes section 124PF of the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, which specifies that the cashless debit card trial will occur in only three locations, include no more than 10,000 people, and will end on 30 June 2018.
Removing this section will allow the indefinite extension of the program in current sites, and the card’s nation-wide expansion.
What is the Cashless Debit Card (CDC)?
The Cashless Debit Card (formerly the Healthy Welfare Card) is a measure that forcibly restricts 80% of any income support payment to an EFTPOS-style debit card. The card can only be used at approved Government locations (ostensibly to prevent gambling, the purchase of alcohol etc.). It’s a much tougher version of the completely discredited Basics Card, which only quarantines 50% of one’s payment.
The CDC was developed by by billionaire mining magnate Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest, and was forced on communities with little or no consultation with stakeholders. It’s currently being applied indiscriminately to the unemployed (aged 15 to Aged Pension age) in three trial sites. Seventy-eight per-cent of people subjected to it are Indigenous.
A recent evaluation of the trial found that 75% of respondents either don’t have a drinking, substance abuse, or gambling problem, or if they did, such behaviour wasn’t affected by the card. Moreover 74% of respondents said the trial had either made their lives worse, or had made no difference. The card costs $10,000+ per person (the Newstart Allowance is $14,000 per person)
Contrary to Government propaganda, the Cashless Welfare card is not as user friendly as is claimed. Local and regional communities with high unemployed, single parent and underemployed cohorts mutually support local small business owners by working with them to mutual benefit: Both will be negatively impacted by this card.
The card is produced by the Australian company Indue, to use it the business owner needs to enter into a business agreement with Indue which may not benefit the business.
Small business in regional and rural areas do not necessarily use EFTPOS machines. The cost of small business is climbing, particularly in relation to utilities, the books are getting tighter and every cent counts. There is currently no way for small business owners to quantify how much of their takings is supplied through welfare recipient cash transactions, making a feasibility assessment of whether or not to invest in an EFTPOS terminal and go into an agreement with Indue impossible
The cashless card is geared towards bigger business such as Coles and Woolies, where shopper anonymity is encouraged, particularly with the installation of Cashier Terminals where no human contact is necessary for a transaction to take place. This means that people who feel stigmatised by the cashless welfare card may choose to stop shopping with small businesses.
Unsurprisingly these bigger supermarkets are the very same businesses that co-own the Australian Eptpos business, so they stand to take the lions share of Government welfare spending under this card. Australian EFTPOS is a company which makes money from transactions and card production, it is wholly owned by its 18 Members so all profits from cashless welfare transactions will go to a handful of large companies.
The Indue card is very different from a bankcard. It operates as a credit card in the sense that funds are not the property of the recipient, so a recipient has no claim to interest accrued on funds over time. In the case of persons becoming ill and spending a period of time in hospital, (elderly, chronically ill and mental health patients who are unable to access the Disability Support Pension) this can amount to regular periods of many months. Interest accrued on funds becomes a significant revenue stream for the company Indue who have full ownership of accrued interest across millions of Newstart recipients. In other words Indue gets to keep the sum total of all your small change, the stuff that goes in the jar above the fridge and comes in handy to pay the winter electricity bill with. This amounts to welfare spending contributing directly to the profit margins of big business, diminishing the growth of smaller local economy
The low amount of cash that can be accessed through compulsory income management is not enough to participate in alternate markets such as farmers markets, trash and treasures, local craft markets, alternate food and goods banks and many charity shops which deal exclusively in cash transactions. In regional and rural areas eggs, mulch and fresh vegetables can often be purchased from road side sales points and co-ops dealing only in cash, these healthy options for people on low incomes will be impossible to access with the cashless card.
The small-economy becomes impossible under income management, how do you pay the babysitter with an INDUE card? How do give $50 to the bloke up the road who fixes your lawn mower or $20 to the boy who mows your lawn if you are unable to? How do you support your children and teenagers to participate in school fates and local excursions that require lunch money, pocket money and taxi money for an emergency such as having no safe option to get home from a late party? How do you teach your kids how to handle cash?
Residents in Ceduna, one of the trial sites for the Cashless Welfare card have reported their mortgage payments have become more expensive due to added transaction fees
People cannot contribute to share house costs with a cashless card. How can you pay your landlord if they only accept cash?
There are reports that people on income management are begging, are buying food and then reselling it at lower prices to get access to cash so they cover costs like share-room rent, private studio and caravan rent, getting around town using alternate transport systems (throwing in some cash to help with petrol for a friend who gives them a lift somewhere etc) and providing pocket money for their kids, which effectively makes welfare recipients even poorer than they already are
Compulsory income management stigmatises people and separates them from mainstream society even further, disallowing social mobility and scapegoating poverty
Cheap shopping alternatives such as Aldi are excluded from participating in the scheme because there is no separation between the liquor store and the main store, thus preventing cheap goods being obtainable to people on tight budgets
The only people with access to cash in welfare demographics will be elderly pensioners and disability pensioners who will be made vulnerable targets for criminals
Cashless welfare, in a society where the welfare payments don’t lift people over the poverty line, forces people to use mainstream shopping outlets that are just too expensive for limited budgets, making emergency situations requiring cash impossible to manage
People in welfare demographics will not be able to “chip in” or help each other financially from fortnight to fortnight
Indue is not a bank and cannot provide any of the privacy and security measures that banks provide. Our data will be open to organisations who collect data to profile and target consumers. The Government cannot guarantee our privacy because Indue are not a Government organisation, regardless of assurances and agreements Government and Indue come to. This lack of privacy is already an ongoing issue with Job Network Providers who are reported to be repeatedly breaching the privacy rights of their clients
There are reports of people manufacturing bootleg liquor because they can no longer by alcohol. The cashless card has already created a back yard market in liquor and gambling in exchange for resalable goods
The card will encourage black market labour hire because more people will accept cash work that pays below the minimum wage
For a concise indictment of the Cashless Debit Card Bill, see ACOSS’s submission.
The Welfare Reform Bill will come before the Senate as early as February 5 2018. It is loaded with ominous measures: mandatory drug testing for the unemployed; increased penalising-powers for job agencies; increased mutual obligations; and increased waiting periods for the dole. It seems one of the most odious of these, namely mandatory drug testing, has been scrapped – due in part, no doubt, to fierce organised opposition from people like you.
A new ‘demerit points’ system: failure to meet mutual obligations (missing an appointment etc.) will result in the automatic loss of a point (ES providers will have no discretion). Four demerit points in six months means you’ll fall into a three-strikes (“intensive compliance”) phase. One strike: you’ll lose one week’s payment; two strikes: you’ll lose two weeks’ payment; three strikes: you’ll lose four weeks’ payment.
Parents will have to find a third party to back up claims their relationship is over in order to receive the single parent pension. Witnesses caught making a false declarations about a relationship could be jailed for up to a year. This is an outrageous attack on single parents pensioners (roughly 90% of whom are women) and will make it significantly harder for mothers to leave abusive relationships.
The maximum Liquid Assets Waiting Period will double from 13 to 26 weeks when a claimant’s liquid assets are equal to or exceed $18,000 for singles without dependants or $36,000 for couples and singles with dependants – that is, people with savings above these levels may have to wait up to six months before receiving payment.
People aged 30 to 49 will have to spend another 20 hours more per fortnight looking for work or doing Work for the Dole. Those aged 55 to 59 can currently meet their mutual obligations by volunteering for 30 hours per fortnight, but the proposed measure will require them to spend 15 of those 30 hours on job search or another job-related activity, like Work for the Dole.
People affected by drug and or alcohol dependence alone will no longer be eligible for the Disablity Support Pension. Conditions/circumstances arising from drug or alcohol dependence will no longer be considered an acceptable excuse for failing to meet mutual obligations (eg. being hospitalised due to a car crash sustained while under the influence may not be considered an acceptable excuse for missing an appointment).
Removal of protections for those who – due to extenuating circumstances (eg. hospitalisation, domestic violence, homelessness) – can’t lodge a completed claim in time.
Payments will be calculated from the date of your first appointment with an ES provider, not from the date you express an intent to claim.
Those currently on the Bereavment Allowance or a Wife or Widow B pension will be worse off.
The DHS’s power to gather information through coercive means and to use that information during investigations and criminal proceedings will be broadened.
Use the correct title
In the case of letters, set out the name and address of the MP or Senator in the top left hand corner. This is not necessary in the case of emails. An MP’s name should be stated in the address as follows: ‘Mr/ Mrs/Ms/Dr First Name Last Name MP’. A Senator’s name should be stated as follows: ‘Senator First Name Last Name’.
MPs or Senators who are, or have been, government Ministers, are given the title ‘The Honourable’. In the address, this becomes ‘The Hon. Mr/Mrs/Ms/Dr First Name Last Name MP’ in the case of Ministers who are MPs or ‘Senator the Hon. First Name Last Name’ in the case of Ministers who are Senators.
Start your letter as follows: ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or ‘Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms/Dr Last Name’ in the case of MPs, and ‘Dear Senator’ or ‘Dear Senator Last Name’ in the case of Senators.
Introduce yourself and your issue
Start your letter out by saying who you are and why you are writing to them. If you are a member of their electorate, make this clear. It can also be helpful to briefly set out any relevant connections in the community – for example, you may want to indicate that you attend a local school or church, are involved in a youth group or Rotary organisation, or work for a local business. If your letter is about a particular region or country and you have visited it, outline this connection.
Keep it brief
Your letter should be as short and simple as possible. Try to keep it to one or two pages. Ideally it should be typed, or written very neatly and signed by hand. Stick to one issue per letter and use simple points to make your case. State the facts clearly, and try not to exaggerate or be overly emotional.
If the issue is technical or requires further explanation, keep your letter short but include an additional document which sets out the extra information. Alternatively, you can refer the MP to a website, article or book where they can get more information. Sending reams of paper is not an effective way of getting attention. In fact, there is a high possibility that most of the information won’t be read.
Use your own words
Politicians’ offices receive hundreds of letters from constituents. Your objective is to make your letter stand out from the crowd.
Form letters generally do not have the same impact as a well-crafted, personal letter. If you’re starting with a form letter in support of a particular campaign, take the time to personalise it by adding your own thoughts, or putting the points in your own words.
It can be useful to:
- Include relevant facts and figures
- Refer to a recent news item about the issue
- Highlight a local connection to the issue
- Include a personal experience that made you want to speak up on the issue
Being polite and respectful in your letter is far more likely to achieve positive results than being insulting or abusive. If you disagree with a stance your MP has taken, or some comments they have made, say so, but in a reasoned, forthright way. Rather than generating a response, an abusive or threatening letter may be forwarded to the police.
Tell them what you want them to do
Simply telling your MP how you feel about an issue is unlikely to bring about change – you need to tell them what you want them to do about it (in this case, we’re simply asking MPs and senators to vote against a particular Bill). But, the most important thing you should ask for is a reply to your letter.
Provide your contact details
It’s no good writing a passionate letter requesting action if you forget to provide your contact details. Make sure your letter includes your first and last name, your address, telephone number, and email address if you have one.
Some questions to consider if you have not been on the card:
How do you see people spending cash and managing their money?
What goods or services (other than the card’s targets, alcohol & gambling) does/would the card prevent people from accessing?
Do you think the card has/will have unintended consequences for people and the community?
If you have been on the card:
Where and on what do/did you spend cash on? Does/did it affect where you shop?
Does/did a lack of cash affect your budget?
What can’t you buy? What services can’t you access?
Do you think the card has/will have unintended consequences for people and the community?
Can you think of any better solutions to problems like addiction?
How does the card make you feel?
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