The Healthy Welfare Card will be trialled in Ceduna in South Australia from February next year after being voted through the senate.
The Visa debit card will hold 80% of welfare payments, with recipients unable to convert the quarantined funds to cash or spend it on alcohol or gambling.
Depending on family circumstances, most recipients will have between $60 to $150 cash a week.
The government has also set aside part of the $1 million funding of the program to increase card payment services in and around Ceduna.
The proposal was first floated in Andrew Forrest’s government funded review of Indigenous training and employment last year.
A second trial is being scheduled for the Kimberley region in Western Australia, and talks are ongoing in Halls Creek and Kununurra to adopt the plan.
Ironing out controversy
The card is not without controversy, with concerns still to be addressed.
They include how recipients can reduce the amount of quarantined cash if necessary, and how some recipients that may be disadvantaged by the card, can opt out.
Pensioners and veterans are already exempt from the card but have the ability to opt in, as there is some concern they may be targets of criminals seeking their cash.
However, it has the support of indigenous leaders in Ceduna, and the town’s mayor Allan Suter.
Town dependency targeted
According to the Parliamentary Secretary overseeing the trial, Alan Tudge, the trials are targeting towns with high welfare dependency.
While not specifically targeted at indigenous communities, about two-thirds of Ceduna expected 1000 recipients of the card will be indigenous.
Ceduna has a hospitalisation rate from assault 68 times the national average, which much of the crime from alcohol, abuse, according to Tudge. Last year there was 4500 admissions to the sobering up centre from a community of 4000 people.
New card replaces failed earlier version
The Healthy Welfare Card is an extension of the Basics Card program, which is a reusable PIN protected card used by about 20,000 Australian’s to access about half their welfare entitlements.
Andrew Forrest claimed the Basics Card was a failure as it provided too much access to cash.
Prohibited items for the Basics Card include alcohol, pornography, tobacco, gambling products and services and hone-brew kits and chemicals.
The new Healthy Welfare card uses advanced technology to effectively “switch off” access to every bottle shop and gambling outlet in the country, Tudge told the Senate in a speech yesterday.
And it can be very specific. For instance the main venue in Ceduna is the Foreshore Hotel, which has different payment terminals for food and beverages. The food terminal will be “switched on” but the alcohol terminal will be off.
The program is also being supported with additional funding to support drug and alcohol affected individuals, including a new $2.4 million residential rehabilitation centre to be opened shortly.
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