Sunday, 22 February 2015

If all you have is Abbott & Forrest's cashless debit card how do you catch a bus to Grafton and back to see a specialist doctor or attend a job interview?

The question in the title of this post is only one of many that will arise if the Abbott Government introduces a debit card which won’t allow disability support pensioners, the unemployed or those receiving  any form of federal government benefit or allowance (other than aged and veteran pensions which appear to be exempt) any cash whatsoever. The plan apparently is to place the entire government cash transfer into a locked bank account which the welfare recipient can only operate through the cashless Healthy Welfare Card.

The Australian 14 February 2014:

THE Abbott government will push ahead with the controversial healthy welfare card to address indigenous disadvantage, along with all but one of the 27 recommend­ations of Andrew Forrest’s sweeping blueprint for welfare reform….
The most contentious of the Forrest reforms is a healthy welfare card, a debit card that would quarantine a person’s welfare payments to prevent their buying alcoh­ol and drugs.
Senator Scullion said the government had considered the Forrest review and now was looking at the “challenge” of implementing them.
“We have adopted every one of the recommendations except for the tax-free threshold for indig­enous businesses,” he said.
“We think the outcomes (in the Forrest review) are the sorts of outcomes that we all desire and we think the recommendations are sufficiently robust to be able to examine and look at how we imple­ment them.”
Other measures recommended in the review included integrating early-childhood services, case management for vulnerable children, tying family tax benefit payments to school attendance and funding only vocational training that is linked to job outcomes.

Excerpt from the Forrest Review, Chapter 2, October 2014:

In summary, the Healthy Welfare Card would:

* allow individuals to use the mainstream banking system to manage their welfare payments rather than the expensive Centrelink income management system
* enable the purchase of all goods and services, with the exception of alcohol, gambling products, illicit services and instruments that can be converted to cash (such as gift cards) and exclude activities discouraged by government, or illegal in some places, such as pornography
* be issued by banks on the basis of a current bank account, which is already required for the current cash payment of welfare support
* use a cashless debit card redeemable at Australian retail stores and accepted at any BPAY or EFTPOS terminals through internet and phone banking with the protection of fraud security be linked to a locked savings account which can accrue savings for major purchases, such as a deposit on a home, whitegoods, furniture or rental bond, or unexpected large costs
* use existing data mining technology to monitor use of the card to detect any unusual sales or purchases, with Centrelink applying on-the-spot penalties on retailers and individuals for fraudulent use of the card
* have the scope to expand to accept other government payments such as funding for care packages under the new National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The Sydney Morning Herald 24 October 2014:

Mr Forrest's welfare management scheme would see all welfare payments to all Australians, other than age or veterans' pensions paid into a savings account, which could be accessed by a "health welfare card"….
More than 20,000 Australians currently have their incomes managed voluntarily or compulsorily around Australia in places including the Northern Territory, Perth, the Kimberley region, South Australia and Cape York, with trials in local government areas, including Bankstown, Greater Shepparton and Ceduna.
Some welfare recipients have their incomes managed to deal with issues around child protection, financial hardship and drug and alcohol dependency. Other people have their incomes managed simply because they have been on a particular benefit - such as Youth Allowance - for three of the previous six months.
The current schemes, which were introduced by Coalition and Labor governments, quarantine at least half of a person's payment for necessary items and prevent spending on things such as alcohol, cigarettes, home brew kits and pornography. At this stage, the various schemes are due to end in mid 2015 and mid 2016 and the government is considering its next move in the area.

Mr. Tudge also does not anticipate Health Care Card holders not being able to access a small amount of cash, but doesn’t know how much this will be or how the amount will be decided.

What is clear is that those on Centrelink benefits or allowances will have little input into the development of this new income management scheme on steroids.

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