The card is sleek and silver, like something a rich Millennial would pay $200 in fees a year for the privilege of carrying in their wallet.
It’s exclusive. Only a handful of stores are allowed to accept it.
Billionaires love it. Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest is its biggest fan.
But this is not the new American Express credit card, bursting with exclusive rewards that you can flash to get into the Qantas Lounge.
It’s the government’s cashless welfare card, trialled in Indigenous communities in South Australia and Western Australia, which many fear will soon be rolled out nation-wide, possibly with no opposition from Labor.
The Australian Unemployed Workers Union said it sees a “high likelihood” the card’s roll-out will be announced in the May 9 budget.
“From what we’ve heard, with our various ears to the ground, it’s definitely on the cards,” AUWU national branch coordinator Kate Zizys told The New Daily.
“We’ve made some inquiries to the Department of Social Security and [card provider] Indue. We haven’t had any response, which we think is suspicious.
“If it is rolled out nationally, we think the consequences would be a further entrenchment of poverty and disempowerment and possibly a vast increase in homelessness, which around Australia is already absolutely dire.”
The government trialled the cashless welfare card for 12 months in Ceduna, SA and Kununurra and Wyndham in WA.
Welfare recipients in these communities, most of them Indigenous, received 80 per cent of their welfare payments on the silver debit card, which cannot be used to withdraw cash or buy alcohol or gambling products.
The remaining 20 per cent of their payments were deposited as normal in the recipients’ bank accounts.
An independent review by ORIMA Research, welcomed by the Turnbull government, reported, based on survey data, that the debit card had reduced alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling.
However, 49 per cent of the participants surveyed said their lives were worse than before the trials, and four in five participants reported none of the positive outcomes the trial was meant to deliver.
Welfare advocacy group ACOSS criticised the review for relying too heavily on anecdotal and self-reported evidence, rather than hard evidence.
Mining magnate Andrew Forrest is the architect of the card, and is pushing for its wider rollout, including with TV ads paid for by his Minderoo Foundation.
There are a litany of concerns. The list of approved merchants reportedly did not include professionals such as doctors, lawyers and accountants. Online shopping was banned. Stores were free to refuse to accept the cards. Couples weren’t allowed to share cards.
Opponents also warned that the cards block access to cheap goods in the cash economy; may worsen homelessness if landlords cannot accept payment; will boost crime and domestic violence because of increased desperation; breach privacy; boost profits for financial services companies; and attach a stigma to forced users.
“A lot of stores in regional and rural areas don’t have Eftpos. There are a lot of charity stores that still don’t have Eftpos and only deal with cash. Farmers markets, local trash and treasures and second-hand markets still deal with cash,” Ms Zizys said.
Labor has reserved judgment on the possibility of expansion until the final trial evaluation is released later this year.
Greens senator Rachael Siewert, who has fought stridently against the card, told The New Daily the government is “itching to extend the trials regardless of the outcome” and so the party would be “keeping a close eye out” for it in the budget.
The Senator warned that carers, people with disability, students and job seekers were all part of the trial and would likely be subjected to the cards if they were nationalised. “This will make things harder for people trying to get by,” she said.