Why I changed my mind on the Cashless Welfare Card

When Andrew Forrest first put forward his idea to politicians for a cashless income management system to tackle some of the alcohol and drug abuse that was occurring in our communities, I was fond of the idea.

Having worked first hand with youth in Geraldton I have seen the effects of alcohol abuse on young kids in our communities.

I supported Geraldton being given a chance to trial the card. As Mr Forrest put it, what we're doing now isn't working; we need to try something. And I agreed.

But as time has gone on, and I've spent time trying to research the implementation of the card, I have changed my mind.

There are two reasons.

First, no metric has been decided upon to measure whether or not the card is achieving its stated goal. If crime increases after the implementation of the card, will the government guarantee removing the card and admitting they wasted our money? Would crime rates have gone up anyway and will the card be unfairly blamed? If crime decreases after the card is introduced, how will we even know if it's because of the card, or will the proponents of the card try and take credit? If the people known to abuse alcohol regularly simply move to another town (like what happened in the Pilbara), will the government get rid of the card? We have no idea.

The "trial" seems extraordinarily vague and unscientific. 

Secondly, and this is the main reason for my change of heart, is the stigma that will be attached to the very distinct card.

Like it or not, being unemployed and on the dole has a large social stigma attached to it. Heck, most of our surnames are our ancestors' occupations. What we do for a living is a massive part of our self identity in our culture, for better or worse. Think back to any 'small talk' chat you've had with a new acquaintance since you left school. "What do you do?" was most likely one of the 'get to know you' questions. And if you were on the dole, you didn't say "I'm on the dole." You said "I'm looking for work, but I'm a painter." Or "I used to be a teacher but I'm not working currently, I'm a full time carer for my sick mother."

Not all of us are keen to announce our current employment status to the world, just like some of us like to keep private our marital status, or our religious beliefs, or our sexual preference, or our membership at alcoholics anonymous.

But once this card is brought in, every time you pull it out to pay for something, you're loudly announcing to the person serving you, and the people in line behind you, that you don't have a job and rely on tax payer money to make ends meet.

Some of those people serving you will quietly put you in a box in their minds. Some of those people in line behind you will judge you while they inspect what you've chosen to buy with their hard earned tax money.

Some will not.

My credit card doesn't have my job written on it. And thank God too. I don't want to announce what I do for a living everywhere I go.

And I don't think it's right to stigmatise our fellow humans who, for one reason or another, find themselves without a job.

4000 years ago the Israelites had a system whereby farmers weren't allowed to harvest all the way to the edge of their fields. Why? So the poor could obtain food without being stigmatised and having to beg.

Are there people abusing the system, who have no intention of looking for work, and love their tax payer funded drug use?


Are they the majority?

Of course not.

Should we stigmatise everyone who's currently unemployed because of the few bad apples?

I don't think so.

Could we consider instead a system just for people known to DCP that need income management help?