Mixed reviews plague scrapped cashless card scheme

Mixed findings from a review into the scrapped cashless credit card will be considered by the federal government with Northern Territory MP Marion Scrymgour saying it was only one tool in the policy toolkit.

The Albanese government abolished the cashless card in 2022 and it became voluntary for people in Ceduna, Bundaberg, the East Kimberley and the Goldfields.

The program - introduced by the coalition government in 2016 - was designed to reduce social harm by quarantining up to 80 per cent of a person's welfare payments on to a debit card that could not be used to withdraw cash or buy alcohol or gambling products.

Marion Scrymgour.
Federal MP Marion Scrymgour says the government will review the university report. (Neve Brissenden/AAP PHOTOS)

A review by the University of Adelaide found the majority of past participants of the scheme and a minority of stakeholders, particularly those in the Bundaberg-Hervey Bay area, believed ending the program was a "positive step".

Yet a majority of stakeholders and a small number of past users of the scheme were "disappointed" by the program ending, the review said, and "were concerned about increasing social issues" since it ended.

The review also concluded "no causal statements could be issued from the analyses", with a number of of factors straining these communities, such as the high cost of living and the housing crisis.

Speaking to ABC radio on Monday, Ms Scrymgour said all research into the matter was "important for government to have a look" and it would inform next steps.

"The card ... is just one tool in a number of tools that need to be brought in place here," the Lingiari MP told ABC radio on Monday.

Though she questioned the increase in alcohol usage flagged in the report, saying it needed to be compared with the time period before the card came into play.

"Was the card brought in to some of those areas because there were increases in alcohol and gambling and violence?" she said.

Alcohol consumption, public intoxication and alcohol-fulled violence was "suggested to have risen considerably" in Ceduna, East Kimberley and the Goldfields since the card was axed, the report said.

Opposition health spokesperson Anne Ruston said the decision to abolish the card was done "solely for political reasons".

Anne Ruston at a press conference.
Opposition health spokesperson Anne Ruston says the card worked to create positive change. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

"I oversaw the continuation of the program in 2020 also in direct response to calls from community leaders, who told us the card ensured more money was being spent on essentials and supported positive changes," she said.

"It is heartbreaking to see that the repeal of the program is now resulting in worse outcomes in these communities, including significant concerns for the welfare of local children."

Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said there were a number of "complex, intergenerational issues" across remote and rural Australia and the government was working with state and territory governments to address them.

A total of $174 million in Commonwealth funding will be spent on former cashless debit card sites to support them, on top of state level assistance, she said.

"Ensuring communities can chart their own pathway to addressing entrenched disadvantage is how we will see sustained change," Ms Rishworth said.

She said there was a mix of views on the cessation of the card, including in the University of Adelaide review.

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