Kimberley cop supports cashless welfare

Lucy Hughes Jones

A police officer from Western Australia's far north has backed the federal government's cashless welfare card, saying it's contributed to a reduction in alcohol-related offences in an Aboriginal community where it's already in use.

The Turnbull government will soon roll out its income management program to two new communities, saying it has proven effective in the East Kimberley trial site with a recent review finding alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling had fallen.

These elements were present in the lives of 13 young indigenous people who took their own lives in the Kimberley over three-and-a-half years, an inquest into their suicides has heard.

Senior Sergeant Steve Principe, who's been Officer in Charge of Kununurra since 2015, gave evidence at the inquest, noting a 60 per cent reduction in police attendances for alcohol-fuelled antisocial behaviour on two of the community's main streets since the scheme began in April 2016.

From working on the frontline he's also noticed that gambling hardly occurs in public areas anymore.

The cards quarantine 80 per cent of welfare payments to be used on essentials, while the remainder is free to be withdrawn as cash.

"People are purchasing larger quantities of food than they had before, and children are better clothed. There's been a definite shift," Sgt Principe told WA Coroner Ros Fogliani on Thursday.

"We are in a crisis situation and there needs to be change of some sort, or we'll be here in 10 years time saying the same thing."

The Greens remain flatly opposed to the cards, pointing to WA Police stats showing a spike in non-aggravated robberies, theft and threatening behaviour at Kununurra since the cards were introduced.

An academic earlier told the inquest the compulsory program started without proper community consultation and has further disempowered vulnerable families.

University of Melbourne development studies lecturer Dr Elise Klein currently leads a research project examining the "punitive" policy, saying it made money management "much harder" for people already living below the poverty line.