Media Release by The Hon Paul Fletcher MP

New independent report says Cashless Debit Card has had positive impact on drink, drugs and crime

A new assessment of the effects of the Cashless Debit Card (CDC) shows positive “observable impacts” on alcohol and drug misuse, child welfare, crime and domestic violence.

Minister for Families and Social Services, Paul Fletcher, said the Goldfields Baseline Data Report, produced by an independent research team from University of Adelaide, adds to a growing body of evidence showing the CDC is effective in reducing social harm.

“The Card is working and here is more evidence that’s been gathered first-hand,” Mr Fletcher said.

“Researchers got out on the ground in the Goldfields in Western Australia and spoke directly to stakeholder groups and Card users.

“They asked people structured questions about school attendance, financial stress and management of money, alcohol and drug use and health and well-being.”

Among its findings:

• Most participants reported observable falls in alcohol and drug abuse, criminal activity, domestic violence, public anti-social behaviour and financial abuse;

• Levels of substance and alcohol misuse fell;

• Child welfare and wellbeing improvements were common;

• There were fewer children on the streets at night, fewer children in the care of inebriated adults, and fewer incidences of violence requiring the removal of children;

• The spending patterns of some CDC participants was changing with less money spent on alcohol and more on children, food, bills and household items.

• Many respondents linked the CDC to improvements in financial literacy and management;

• Some schools reported improved student attendance and participation in activities;

• Welfare organisations report giving out fewer emergency care packages, with one organisation reporting daily distribution had fallen from $500-plus to “maybe about $80/90”.

“Respondents identified certain groups of people for whom the CDC was working particularly well,” the report said.

“These groups included people with drug and alcohol problems who were commonly reported to be reducing their consumption and spending more of their money on food, clothes and other essential goods.

“Liquor sales of both beer and spirits in bottle shops and takeaway sections of pubs were described as having decreased; an associated increase in spending on food had also occurred.

“Overall, children were described as being in better general health, were happier and had more attention paid to their levels of hygiene.

“Respondents predominantly reported that the introduction of the CDC was having a positive effect on the prevalence and severity of crime, family violence and anti-social behaviour within the Goldfields.”

Mr Fletcher said the feedback mirrored comments he heard when he visited the Goldfields in November 2018.

“In one town, police told me call-outs for domestic violence had dramatically reduced since the card had been introduced, and staff from the local medical clinic said they were seeing significantly fewer presentations from domestic violence,” Mr Fletcher said.

“A chemist said that parents were coming into his shop to buy medicines, nappies and other requirements for their children because they now had the money to do so.

“I heard senior Aboriginal women and men expressing their support; one told me, ‘this is important for our people.’

“A social worker said some people supported by the service she works for were now able to save money for the first time.

“And people repeatedly commented that their town felt safer, there was less public drunkenness and the streets were quieter at night.”

The Baseline project was a direct response to the findings of a recent Australian National Audit Officer (ANAO) audit of Cashless Debit Card evaluation.

The Baseline Data Report used in-depth qualitative interviews with 66 representatives from 59 stakeholder organisations, and 64 CDC participants between June and October 2018.

Recruitment was conducted in accordance with an ethics approval by the University of Adelaide Human Research Ethics Committee.

An earlier evaluation of the CDC trials in Ceduna and the East Kimberley show showed the CDC was having a “considerable positive impact”. It found:

  • 41 per cent of participants who drank alcohol reported drinking less frequently;
  • 48 per cent of participants who used drugs reported using drugs less frequently; and
  • 48 per cent of those who gambled before the trial reported gambling less often.