Email to Crossbench Senators re: Expansion of the Cashless Debit Card Scheme and its Impact on Victims of Domestic Violence

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The below email was sent to crossbench Senators on 3 December 2020:

Dear Senator

I am writing to urge you to reject any further expansion of the cashless debit card (CDC) as a compulsory scheme.

As the peak organisation for community legal centres providing specialist social security legal advice and representation to disadvantaged people in our community, Economic Justice Australia has opposed the introduction and subsequent expansion of the CDC.

Our submissions to the various inquiries of the CDC have outlined the harms caused a system which disempowers and stigmatises low-income people. Despite numerous evaluations, there is still no compelling evidence to support the continuation of the CDC as a compulsory scheme.

We are concerned that, if passed, the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020 will make the CDC permanent in existing sites and subject many more thousands of people to the scheme, with the majority being First Nations people.

Impact on people escaping domestic violence

EJA has also conducted broad ranging research into the intersection between social security and domestic violence. Today, during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gendered Violence, we wish to draw your attention to the fact that the compulsory nature of the CDC means people at risk of domestic and family violence, are not identified or assessed before the CDC is applied to them.

Lack of screening to identify Centrelink recipients who are at risk of domestic and family violence puts these people, mainly women and children, at further risk as their expenditure, autonomy and options are controlled via the CDC. The CDC is not like debit card or a credit card – It results in micro and invasive controls which compound the control that victims of domestic violence may already experience.

The lack of individual risk assessment and screening, before a person is compulsorily placed on the CDC also means that there is no identification or safety planning around special needs and support. This also means that dependent children are being subjected to this regime each time an adult caregiver with dependent children is compulsorily required to use the CDC.

The supposed safeguard of the Secretary being able to exit people from the CDC is not adequate to protect this cohort, even with the wellbeing exemption, as it is not designed for emergencies or for rapid professional risk assessment and relies on the vulnerable person taking the initiative to apply for an exemption. It is not designed for situations where the CDC increases safety risks from the moment a person’s Centrelink entitlements are only available via CDC.

Please do not hesitate to contact me for more information.

Leanne Ho
Executive Officer