Media Release by Senator the Hon Anne Ruston

Cashless Debit Card extension provides certainty for participants

The Cashless Debit Card will continue to support vulnerable people, families and communities following the passage in the Senate of legislation to maintain the program in existing sites.

The Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020 guarantees the continuation of the Cashless Debit Card for a further two years and also allows Income Management participants on the BasicsCards in the Northern Territory and Cape York to move onto the program.

Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Ruston said this was a positive step towards easing the social harm caused by problem alcohol, gambling and drug use and provides budgeting assistance and support in communities.

“The continuation of the Cashless Debit Card program is in direct response to calls from community leaders who tell us that it is ensuring more money is being spent on essentials and supporting positive changes,” Minister Ruston said.

“There is no doubt in my mind that this program has saved lives and has been a circuit breaker particularly in regions where previous efforts to curb alcohol abuse had not been successful.

“Our commitment to this program is on a permanent basis. But we recognise we have more work to do to in the future to convince the Parliament they should support this program on a permanent basis too.”

Through consultation, the Government identified that communities in the NT wanted to have the option to remain on the BasicsCard or chose to move on to the Cashless Debit Card.

“I am convinced that income management participants in the NT will see the value of switching over to the Cashless Debit Card but at the same time I understand the decision must be theirs,” Minister Ruston said.

“Compared with the BasicsCard, the Cashless Debit Card will give income management participants far greater choice and control over where and how they spend their social security payments.”

The Cashless Debit Card is accepted at more than 900,000 outlets nationwide, can be used online and at markets or anywhere else which offers purchases using an EFTPOS machine.

“The Government has also been investing to improve the technology which sits around the Cashless Debit Card to ensure it is no different to any other debit card offered by financial institutions,” Minister Ruston said.

“The Government is not interested in telling people where to spend their social security payments and has no issue with people having a beer or putting on a punt on from time to time. This is exactly why a percentage of payments are quarantined.

“What this program does is reduce the amount of taxpayer-funded social security which is available to be spent on alcohol and gambling products and by doing so helps limit the ability for problem consumption to cause social harm for individuals, their families and communities.”

The Government will continue work in partnership with communities and leaders to ensure place based wrap around support continues to be provided to participants throughout the sites.

The Cashless Debit Card operates in four sites – Ceduna region, SA, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay Queensland, the Goldfields region and East Kimberley in WA – where 80 per cent of welfare recipients’ payments are placed on to the card so cannot be spent on alcohol, gambling or withdraw as cash.

New participants in the NT and Cape York will continue to have the same proportion of their welfare payments quarantined as under their existing income management arrangements, which is generally 50 per cent.

Further information about the Cashless Debit Card is available on the Department of Social Services website.