Federal Member for Durack
The Welfare Debit Card is designed to encourage people to further their education and seek other employment opportunities, as well as to reduce welfare-fuelled alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence and increase childhood school attendance.
The trial of the card has the support of Labor with the bill passed in Parliament late last year. Ceduna in South Australia was the first trial site which started last month, and Kununurra and Wyndham are scheduled to start later this month.
Card holders are able to access 20% of their welfare payment in cash, with the remaining 80% accessed by the Welfare Debit Card. Direct debits can be set up on the card, and BPAY is also available - so card holders can pay things like rent, mortgages and bills. People are able to apply to opt out or opt in to the trial.
The Federal Government is currently considering whether Geraldton could be a potential third trial site. Around 10% of the Geraldton population is on some form of payment from the Government. This includes some 3,000 people on a payment equivalent to "the dole". Unlike the other trial sites Geraldton is a city and welfare recipients are predominately non Aboriginal. It is likely that should the trial proceed in Geraldton that only those on Newstart or Parenting Payment would be captured in the trial, but this decision has yet to be made.
But what is so special about Geraldton? Does it have a worse crime rate and major social issues when compared to similar size towns in regional Australia? Of course not. What it does have though is a desire to be better, innovative. It has leadership that wants more for its city and its people. It wants to put the ice dealers out of business. Get all of its children living safely and going to school and provide more opportunities for adults to get into employment and get off welfare.
Under the leadership of the Hon Alan Tudge, the Minister for Human Services, the Government is consulting widely in Geraldton about the city being a trial site. At the same time reviewing the services available to support those impacted. Like in other trial sites, it is critical that we ensure we have services like drug and alcohol support, financial planning, sufficient child care, family violence support, job services and other practical advice and assistance readily available. Even practical assistance like help to get a driver's license.
Opponents of the welfare debit card argue that people will find a way to game the system. Yes, there will be some that will go to any length to access more cash. Others argue the card is a breach of human rights. Personally, I am more focused on the rights of the children to lead a healthy, happy life. As one of my constituents wrote to me and said “the situation of children, who are some of the most vulnerable members of our community, must not be overlooked. They too have a right to choice, and even more basically a right to food, clothes, a place to live, physical safety and to be loved.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Now, not everyone is doing the wrong thing by their family; most people are trying hard to make a better life. As someone who has been a single mother, I know firsthand how hard it can be to get ahead, when balancing work and family commitments. The worst thing is dealing with the stigma of being a single parent and convincing an employer to give you a chance.
Change is never easy. But nothing changes if nothing changes. I hope that if Geraldton is chosen as a trial site for the Welfare Debit Card it has the courage to embrace change.