Healthy Welfare trial on the cards

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Possible locations for the controversial Healthy Welfare Card – a key recommendation from billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest’s review of Indigenous employment, training and welfare – have been flagged by Government Ministers. However the trial sites are likely to be situated in smaller communities which have significant populations of Aboriginal people.

The Western Australian Kimberley regional and remote towns of Kununurra and Halls Creek have reportedly been chosen to test the new brand of Income Management. The Healthy Welfare Card will operate alongside the BasicsCard.  This area was the first pilot site for the rollout of Child Protection Income Management and Voluntary Income Management back in 2008 shortly after the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER).  Ceduna, on the west coast of South Australia has also been identified as a possible location testing whether the new conditional welfare arrangements will work any better than its predecessor.  Moree was expected to be another site for the rollout of the trial, however the Moree Council has said they are opposed to the rollout in their community.

According to Coalition MP Mr Alan Tudge, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, in the trial sites those on welfare will face limitations on cash provided with the majority of their payment going into an account which can be accessed by a Visa or debit Eftpos card.  It will not be possible to purchase alcohol and gambling products.  Restrictions on the availability of cash is intended to limit capacity to purchase illicit substances from income support payments. The Government has however backed away from the extreme position of quarantining 100% of a person’s payments, as proposed by Forrest’s initial report, Creating Parity.

It is expected that 70% of a person’s income support payments and Family Tax Benefits will be quarantined under the proposed scheme which is a similar proportion to Child Protection Income Management. Another concern is that only one financial institution will offer the new visa-type card, when the trial is rolled out. We have concerns about such limitations and how practical this will be for users of the card, especially if the trial sites include remote locations.

This year’s Federal Budget set aside $2.7 million for consultation and engagement on the next phase of ‘conditional welfare’ policies, which will ‘enable government to identify best practice technology and service delivery arrangements for a commercially delivered debit card’. The trial will ‘assess the effectiveness of limiting discretionary access to cash, while ‘testing a role for community leaders in influencing social norms’, according to the Budget papers.

The Government not put a price tag on the cost of the three new income management trial sites, citing concerns that this would impact on the tender bidding process.