| September 14, 2017

Cashless Debit Card

My contribution this morning has to do with the cashless welfare card. Because of widespread local concern about high levels of alcohol consumption and, to a lesser extent, illicit drug use and gambling, we have many community leaders and stakeholders indicating that these issues have become progressively worse over the last five to 10 years. Excessive alcohol consumption is at a crisis point and is having wide-ranging negative impacts on individuals, their families and the community.

The trial sites have been chosen on the basis of demonstrable need, plus the support from local leaders. The cashless debit card trials operated in Ceduna from 15 March 2016 and in East Kimberley from 26 April 2016 for a period of 12 months. The cashless debit card's operation in the two communities has been extended. It operates like any other bank card, but it cannot be used to buy alcohol or for gambling. It cannot withdraw cash, and not being able to withdraw cash means that people cannot buy illicit drugs. Twenty per cent of a person's welfare payment is placed into their usual bank account and can be used for whatever they want. The 80 per cent can be used in stores that have EFTPOS, to shop at approved online stores, to pay bills, to make recurring payments such as mortgage payments, and for online banking with an app for both android and Apple devices. But it cannot be used to buy alcohol, to gamble or to withdraw cash.

The final independent evaluation of the cashless debit card trials found they have had a considerable positive impact in the communities where they were operated. The research was conducted by ORIMA, and the evaluation concluded that the cashless debit card has been effective in reducing alcohol consumption and gambling in both trial sites. It also suggests a reduction in the use of illegal drugs, and there is some evidence that there has been a consequential reduction in violence and harm related to alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling.

Regarding the impact on alcohol use for people who drank alcohol, 41 per cent reported drinking alcohol less frequently and 37 per cent of binge drinkers were binge drinking less frequently. There was a decrease in alcohol related hospital presentations, including a 37 per cent reduction in Ceduna. There was a 14 per cent reduction in Ceduna in the number of apprehensions under the Public Intoxication Act. In East Kimberley, there were decreases in alcohol related pick-ups by community patrol services. In Kununurra, there was a 15 per cent reduction and in Wyndham a 12 per cent reduction. Referrals to the sobering up shelter in Kununurra had an eight per cent reduction. There was a decrease in the number of women in East Kimberley hospital maternity wards who were drinking through their pregnancies. There was qualitative evidence of a decrease in alcohol-related family violence in Ceduna.

Regarding the impact on gambling, 48 per cent of gamblers reported that they were gambling less. In Ceduna and surrounding local government areas, poker machine revenue was down by 12 per cent, the equivalent of almost $555,000 less going through the poker machines. The evaluation found in relation to drug taking that the card has had a positive impact in lowering illegal drug use across the two sites. Of drug takers, 48 per cent reported using drugs less often.

The evaluation also found there were wide spillover benefits from the card. Forty per cent of the participants who had caring responsibilities reported that they had been able to care better for their children. Forty-five per cent of participants said they have been able to save more money. Feedback has shown a decrease in requests for emergency food relief and financial assistance in Ceduna. Considerable observable evidence has been cited by community leaders and stakeholders of a reduction in crime and a reduction in harmful behaviours over the duration of the trials. The Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge, who led the design and implementation of the trials, said the evaluation demonstrated that the trials have been a success in reducing alcohol, gambling and drugs.

This issue is very emotive and there will be arguments from both sides. However, what we need to do is look at this very carefully. We need to look at the benefits that have been derived from the cashless welfare card, we need to listen to the community leaders who are calling for these trials to be rolled out in their particular areas, and we need to be a responsive government and assist those communities that are calling for a cashless welfare card.

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