Labor has started a campaign ‘taskforce’ around claims the government will put age pensioners on the cashless debit card – despite the minister in charge saying the claims are just “lies and fear-mongering”.
Despite repeated assurances that the government would “never” take such a move, Labor MP Justine Elliot said the opposition would ramp up a campaign that has already sent multiple social media posts viral.
“No one believes what [Social Services Minister Anne Ruston] is saying, not me and not the seniors of Australia,” Ms Elliot told The New Daily.
“Whilst the cashless debit card is in existence, the threat is always there.”
The campaign began in recent weeks, with multiple Labor MPs posting claims the government would move to extend the cashless debit card to all age pensioners.
“WARNING TO PENSIONERS”, read one post from Ms Elliot’s Facebook, accompanied by emojis of a flashing emergency services siren.
“If re-elected, Scott Morrison will force pensioners onto the cashless welfare card.”
Various Facebook and Twitter posts from Ms Elliot, and numerous other Labor MPs, have racked up many thousands of comments, likes and shares.
Social media analysis tool CrowdTangle shows two of Ms Elliot’s top three best-performing Facebook posts in the past year have been about the card claims, and both in the past week.
But Senator Ruston has flatly rejected the allegations, saying the government would never take such a move.
“I am committed to calling out Labor’s misinformation because putting claims on social media which are simply not true doesn’t help anyone,” she told TND last week.
“Let me be perfectly clear, this government has no plan and will never have a plan to force age pensioners on to the cashless debit card.”
The senator has also replied directly to Ms Elliot’s posts, claiming the Labor MP was “spreading lies and simply fear-mongering”.
The cashless debit card is not mandated for age pensioners, but they can request to be put on the card.
Labor’s targeted campaign
Despite the flat rejection from the government, Labor will extend its campaign. The opposition has set up a special 10-member “protecting pensioners taskforce” inside their party room to further prosecute that argument.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese personally moved a motion in Labor’s weekly party room meeting on Tuesday to set up the taskforce, which was seconded by deputy leader Richard Marles.
“It will be working or campaigning around this questions of ensuring pensioners are not forced onto that card,” a Labor spokesman told a media briefing after the party room meeting.
The taskforce will be chaired by Ms Elliot.
“We felt in the party it was good to have a taskforce looking at the entirety of this issue around pensioners,” she said.
“There are so many issues in which this government, in the past eight years, have attacked pensioners, from cutting pensions, attempts to cut pensions, pension freezes, cutting pensioner indexation and concessions, and changing the pensions assets test.”
The taskforce is “still working through potential activities” but will be looking to engage with seniors around the country, Ms Elliot said, not ruling out holding some form of public hearings or forums amid “a range of activities”.
“We’re looking to engage with as many pensioners as possible,” she said.
Government members have called the pensioners taskforce a “scare campaign”, likening it to Labor’s controversial ‘Mediscare’ claims at the 2016 election.
The Coalition came under fire for its own ‘retiree tax’ and ‘death tax’ campaigns in 2019.
“But the only thing scary here is the Liberal and Nationals record of attacking our pensioners,” Ms Elliot said, in response to the ‘scare campaign’ claims.
“They’re the ones out there terrifying people.”
Life on a cashless card
Under the cashless debit card program, 80 per cent of a person’s welfare payments are quarantined on a card that cannot be used to withdraw cash, or buy alcohol or gambling products.
The government has faced intense scrutiny and criticism over forcing people in some regional communities onto the card.
The Australian Human Rights Commission claimed some programs of the card are not compatible with human rights obligations.
Ian Yates AM, chief executive of Council of the Ageing, told TND last week he was “confident” – based on regular conversations with the officials – the government had no plans to move pensioners onto cashless debit cards.
“COTA would not support such a move, but does not believe there is any plan or intention to do so,” he said.