Depending on your point of view, the new Basics Card is either a sensible strategy to protect the most vulnerable, or an outrageous Government attack on the rights of individuals.
A $120 million social experiment is rolling out in our shopping centre cash register, targeting our most vulnerable: the unemployed, the sick and the elderly.
The Basics Card is an income management scheme which dictates to blacklisted Centrelink recipients what they can and can’t spend their benefits on.More stories from Today Tonight
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As of July 1 income management is being implemented in five Australian locations:
- Bankstown, New South Wales
- Logan, Queensland
- Rockhampton, Queensland
- Playford, South Australia
- Shepparton, Victoria
The Government aims to stop people spending their payments on alcohol, tobacco and gambling.
The Basics Card will also dictate which stores you can shop at. It can only buy ‘priority items’ at Government approved stores.
Jamie and Roxanne Beveridge are both on the disability pension. They’re now preparing for the fight of their lives.
“They’re going to bring out that we all have to wear the same clothes like in China as well? Here's an issue of clothes we all have to wear. Here's an issue of shoes - everybody’s look the same. Everybody’s got to be on the card. Like I said, they should give us the tag they’ve got on the shopping stuff and mark us,” Jamie said.
37-year-old Stuart Holt, living on job seeker benefits, spends time drinking and playing pool at his local club. He might not be thanking the Government soon.
“Mate we go looking for work. I go down to Centrelink every single day, look for work. Go through the newspapers and that - they don’t know what they’re doing. When I come here - all I want is salvation,” Holt said.
But that salvation might be sunk. Holt's habit of two packs of smokes a week and two beers a day at the local club could see him on the Basics Card black list.
Lee Ann Platz volunteered for Income Management in Perth. She has had her Newstart allowance of $568 a fortnight filtered through her Basics Card.
“When I first went onto the Basic Card I was like ‘what’s this crap? My money’s been locked and I can’t touch it.’ Then I started to realise it’s stopped that compulsive spending where I really didn’t need to do it,” Platz said.
“It’s been great for the budget. Once I got into a routine everything started running smooth. I had heaps of food in the house, bills were getting covered, rent was covered and everything was running really well.”
Social worker and executive officer of Woodville Community Services Pam Batkin is fighting the social reforms as part of the Coalition of No Income Management - Not In Bankstown, Not Anywhere.
“We know that Income Management doesn’t work. And that’s the issue - we know from all the research and from speaking to everyone that it doesn’t actually help them buy better food, and look after themselves better. I also have a concern that once you’re over eighteen in this country, you have a right to buy alcohol, you have a right to gamble, and you have the right to look at pornography. But these cards treat adults like children,” Batkin said.
But Vanessa Findler on parenting payments welcomes the intervention. It might help her quit her deadly habit.
“For me the Basics Card would be a good idea if it stops me buying me cigarettes yeah. It’s just one more incentive I suppose,” Findler said.
2UE talkback host, James Morrison supports the card. He says some in the community simply can't be trusted with their money.
Bankstown resident and activist Rebecca Darwiche is concerned with the effect the Basic Card will have on local business.
“People are going to going to be forced to shop at the major chains. Businesses are already hard enough as it is. We're going to see local businesses going bankrupt,” Darwiche said.
Income Management was introduced by the Howard Government in 2007 to the Northern Territory Aboriginal communities to great protest. It was passed - justified as an ‘emergency’ measure, claimed to be protecting Aboriginal children.
It's since been hailed a disaster by the Ombudsman in a recent report.It's a tricky issue for the Government, trying to ensure the welfare of children who rely on the payments their parents receive. But is this taking things too far?
This reporter is on Twitter at @DamienHansen7
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