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Matt O’Sullivan: Cashless Debit Card a circuit-breaker to help get lives on track

Matt O’Sullivan | The West Australian

 

Outside of the trial sites, conversation about the Cashless Debit Card usually takes place online by academic and social media activists hell-bent on undermining the ability of communities to determine their own future, and do what they see is in the best interests of their people.

The response to this piece online will be a case in point.

If you’ve ever read such comments, you’d be forgiven for thinking anyone who supported the card would be run out of town if they ever dared to go to a trial site to talk about how it’s going.

But in the bush, in these communities, it’s a completely different story.

I’ve just been on the ground in Laverton, Leonora and Kalgoorlie to meet locals and hear about the impact the card is having in their town.

And whilst it’s true there is still some work to do — in terms of wraparound services — the feedback is positive.

The card is acting as the circuit-breaker it is designed to be.

I went there to consult with locals, those responsible for delivering services like health, skills and job training programs, to hear the good, bad and otherwise.

These providers and community organisations don’t do their work at arm’s length; they are the community and are dealing with people they know.

They do the work because they’re genuinely passionate about seeing people do well, enabling and empowering them.

In the same spirit, the local shires, who are accountable to these communities, are equally supportive, and are working with the Government to continually improve the scheme and deliver better employment outcomes to participants.

When those in a community who need the most support do well, the whole region thrives.

And the message I came away with reflected what the data has been showing us — it was overwhelmingly positive.

In the Goldfields, the CDC has been in place since 2018. In that time just over $2.5 million worth of transactions on restricted products have been declined.

That’s over $2.5 million reserved into the pockets of locals to pay bills, buy things like groceries, food for school lunches, to pay for kids’ sport and school uniforms.

That’s money to be invested into local families — and we’re also seeing those outcomes in terms of school attendance and sports participation.

Almost $2 million of declined transactions were in bars, taverns, bottle shops and nightclubs.

The others were made up of betting and gambling, and cash transactions — including gift cards, which can be used to circumvent the system.

This card does not stop people from having a beer or a bet.

Rather, it limits those transactions to 20 per cent of the payments they receive from government, with the other 80 per cent going into their regular bank account for bills, living and school expenses.

Most importantly, it’s a circuit-breaker.

It’s not a silver bullet, but it helps people take the first step to getting their lives on track, getting a job and being in a position to support their family.

That’s why the Morrison Government is putting in place a $30 million program to improve job outcomes for CDC participants.

People on the ground, including shires, service providers and businesses, are telling us what needs to be done in their community to help participants become job-ready.

We’re listening to them and will deliver the targeted support they need.

Each of these communities are different, and we know a blanket approach won’t work; it rarely ever has.

Every participant has different needs, challenges and aspirations.

The industries and social challenges in each community are also vastly different, and the best people to inform us are those who live in these communities, who are a part of them.

The CDC is proving to be a more responsible delivery of welfare payments to vulnerable Australians over cash payments, but the CDC can’t be seen as the destination.

Rather, it’s the critical first step to becoming job-ready for those in our community who need the most support — and it’s working.

This further investment will help communities bridge the gap between welfare and work, putting the measures in place they know will work on the ground for locals.

It’s targeted and will represent what locals have been telling us they need.

The future for these towns, and the program, is exciting.