Labor betrays welfare recipients on cashless welfare in reversal of election promise
New compulsory income control bill passes despite Linda Burney’s promise that income control would be voluntary and that compulsion is not Labor’s position
Today the Labor government passed its cashless welfare bill with the support of the Coalition, voting down an amendment that would have sunsetted the program.
Labor was elected on a platform that included abolishing cashless welfare, and ran a prominent campaign on the issue in 2021 and 2022. Then shadow social services minister Linda Burney told the Guardian:
“Our fundamental principle on the basics card and the cashless debit card, it should be on a voluntary basis… If people want to be on those sorts of income management, then that’s their decision. It’s not up to Labor or anyone else to tell them what to do. At the moment it’s compulsion and that’s not Labor’s position.”
This is legislation that Andrew Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation described as a “essentially a rebrand” of the Cashless Debit Card, and we agree. Forrest has been a long-term advocate of controlling the income of welfare recipients, particularly in communities with high Indigenous populations.
Quotes attributable to Antipoverty Centre spokesperson Jay Coonan:
This change entrenches income control in the welfare system, including powers for the social services minister to expand it anywhere in the country – changes Labor opposed when the Coalition tried to introduce them in 2020.
Not only have the Labor party opened the door for the mass expansion of cashless welfare today, they have crushed the hopes of 22,000 people in the Northern Territory currently subjected to compulsory income control, the vast majority of whom are First Nations. Communities in the NT have fought cashless welfare since it was first proposed during the 2007 Intervention.
The Labor party should be ashamed to have run a scare campaign on cashless welfare, promising to abolish it, only to betray welfare recipients who hoped an Albanese government would mean this damaging, paternalistic program was a thing of the past.
The claim that cashless welfare is voluntary under this new program is doublespeak – as with the racist Cashless Debit Card, powerful people within communities will be able to request the program with no consent from individuals affected.
The Antipoverty Centre has already received reports from current cashless welfare sites that people affected by these programs are being excluded from consultation.
By carving out an exemption so that people on the age pension cannot be subjected to income control, it’s clear they are willing to have it imposed on any working age welfare recipient in the country. Regardless of their intentions, a future government will be able to do this without any need for legislation.
Media contact: 0403 429 414 / media at antipovertycentre.org
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