Friday, 10 November 2017

Cashless Debit Card problems ignored by Turnbull Government

“For example, data is provided which shows that 55% oftransactions on the cards failed due to insufficient funds (Orima 2017: pA6). That is nearly 21,000 transactions,where people were unable to purchase what they wanted.However, only 1% of failed transactions related to trying to use the card for prohibited purchases. This indicates some hardships and poverty and/or the problem that people did not know what their card balance was, indicating the challenge of money management using this card. Another reported problem related to the need to access phones and internet to find card balances, which can cause many problems for those without phones, phone credit, internet access, or not being in a mobile phone or internet server area.” [Hunt, J, T h e  C a s h l ess  D e b i t  C a r d  Tr i a l  E va l u at i o n : A  S h o r t  Re v i e w]

Yet another voice expressing concerns that the Turnbull Government is ignoring problems with the Cashless Debit Card system.

Opening remarks in Dr Janet Hunt’s (Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University, Canberra) submission to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Inquiry into the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017, 2 November 2017:

Thank you for the opportunity to make this submission. I write as an experienced social science researcher with over 30 years of experience in the fields of international and Indigenous development. I am as concerned about the situation of Indigenous people in Ceduna and the East Kimberley as anyone, and very much want to see their lives improve. I am also very much driven by evidence about what works, and as a social science researcher am concerned that the evidence provided for policy making is the most robust and credible as possible. This is both in order to get the best outcomes, but also to ensure the greatest efficiency in public expenditure.

The proposed legislation seeks to make possible the extension of the Cashless Debit Card trial in Ceduna and the East Kimberley and facilitate the expansion of this program geographically. My concern is whether the evidence of the trial evaluation supports this continuation and expansion, and whether the considerable cost of this program is reaping commensurate benefits. In public policy there are always opportunity costs of any expenditure. In other words, my concern is whether this program is the best way to spend limited public funds to reach a desired outcome or if there are more cost efficient and effective alternatives.

My interest in this was sparked when the Wave 1 Report was released in March this year, and I decided to look at what the evaluation said. I was shocked when I read the report, as the Minister had already announced that the trial was a success and would be continued indefinitely. When I read the report, I discovered that it was extremely flawed and did not provide adequate evidence to draw the conclusions that had clearly been drawn. As I was extremely concerned at the poor quality of the evidence on which the Minister had made his decision, I wrote a critique of the Wave 1 Report, which was peer-reviewed and published by CAEPR. It is this Wave 1 evidence which the Statement of Compatibility with Human Rights relating to this Legislation uses to justify the proposed legislation. I argue that this evidence is flawed, and does not provide a sound basis for continuing the Cashless Debit Card Trial (CDCT) program. Whilst superficially appealing, a careful analysis of the evaluation reveals many problems with the purported findings.

Given my concerns about the quality of the Wave 1 Report and the Minister’s interpretation of data from it, I was naturally interested to read the Wave 2 Report. Just before the report was released, the Minister issued a Press Release which hailed the success of the trial without qualification. But once the Report was public it was clear that the Report’s authors had in fact qualified their positive findings with many caveats which have been completely ignored by the Minister in his public statements about the evaluation. So while I have serious problems with the evaluation design and the data presented, I am also aware that the Minister has ignored important reservations about some of the findings that the Report’s authors did make clear.
This submission outlines many of the shortcomings of the evaluation, both Wave 1 and Wave 2.

Read the full submission here with attachment.

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