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Fierce backlash from Hervey Bay and Bundaberg over cashless card benefit plan

Unhappy residents: “The cashless welfare debit card will completely destroy people on so many levels and we don’t have the mental health services to cope with the loss of self and autonomy.”

THE plan to rollout cashless welfare cards to thousands of residents on the dole in Hervey Bay-Bundaberg has sparked a fierce backlash from opponents claiming the cards will cause social segregation, stigmatise job seekers and entrench poverty.

“The people of the Hinkler region (Hervey Bay-Bundaberg) are feeling threatened, scared and worried for their financial futures and inclusion in our communities,” Hervey Bay’s Kathryn Wilkes, who has launched an online petition opposing introduction of the Federal Government scheme early next year, said.

The scheme is based on a suggestion by Western Australian mining billionaire Andrew Forrest, that 80 per cent of welfare payments be cashless and only available via an electronic debit card that cannot be used for alcohol or gambling.

“The insults that we cannot manage our funds, that we are all drunks, druggies and pedos are unjust and not true,” Ms Wilkes said.

“The cashless welfare debit card will completely destroy people on so many levels and we don’t have the mental health services to cope with the loss of self and autonomy.

“The card does not care what colour your skin is, your religion, or your circumstance; it is about profits for private business.”

About 6700 people living in the federal seat of Hinkler will be forced onto the Federal Government scheme, which is designed to “help address key social problems” –  high youth unemployment, welfare-dependence, and a high use of alcohol, drugs and gambling, including among young parents.

The Hervey Bay-Bundaberg region has the second-highest youth unemployment rate in Queensland at 23.6 per cent, while 90 per cent of those under 30 on welfare also had a parent who received payments in the past 15 years.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge said that, without intervention, about 57 per cent of those people under 30 would still be receiving benefits in 10 years’ time.

“Despite this high welfare dependence, there are often entry-level jobs available that are not taken up by locals,” he said.

Fraser Coast deputy mayor George Seymour said it was “simply not true to say that local people on the dole could walk into a job like that”.

“I know people who hand out hundreds of resumes in search of a job,” he said.

“This just segregates, humiliates and stigmatises people who are already vulnerable.”

Mr Seymour also said local businesses would also be hard hit.

Catholic social service and welfare organisations, including St Vincent de Paul Society, and the Council of Social Services Australia are troubled by the cashless welfare card and its impact on those who are struggling on the poverty line and are already among Australia’s most disadvantaged.

Catholic Social Services Australia said the use of a cashless debit card should only be contemplated on a case-by-case basis.

“It is not a substitute for measures that promote self-reliance,” a CSSA statement said.

“The overall aim of any form of income management should be to enable individuals and families to take control of their own lives including with assistance from trusted, local services that can provide ‘wrap around’ support.”

In a recent blog, St Vincent de Paul Society chief executive officer Dr John Falzon described the cashless welfare card and compulsory income management as “disempowering and costly distractions”.

“In a fascinating, but deeply damaging, sleight of hand, income inadequacy and structural unemployment and under-employment are displaced by the alleged individual incapacity to manage an income or to manage their lives,” he said.

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