Tasmanian Liberal senator Wendy Askew has supported the government's move to make the cashless debit card permanent in former trial sites, but the Greens fear it could pave the way for its further expansion into other parts of the country.
Senator Askew, who is chair of the Community Affairs Legislation Committee, provided the committee's report into the continuation of the welfare card last week following a Senate inquiry.
It recommended approving a government bill that would make the card permanent in the East Kimberley, Ceduna, Goldfields and Bundaberg, and to transition the entire Northern Territory and Cape York into the scheme.
In the report, Senator Askew discussed evidence from a community paramedic who observed a reduction in family violence and alcohol consumption, participants in the scheme who noted improved nutrition for children and an improved ability to save money.
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"Since its introduction, the CDC has had positive impacts on addressing violence and antisocial behaviours. Evidence received from the Goldfields CDC trial site indicated local police and ambulance officers have noticed a decrease in offences and callouts," she wrote.
The report cited mining magnate Andrew Forrest's Minderoo Foundation on multiple occasions, along with regional councils, as providing positive "lived experiences" in the communities. Lived experience was a theme backed up by speeches from government members last week.
Senator Askew stated that concerns around stigma were being addressed by the expansion of the range of eligible retailers and improving the technology, which would mean card users would not have to line up separately at certain stores.
But in their dissenting reports, Labor and the Greens raised a range of concerns about the consultation process, including the government making a decision before the release of an impact evaluation by the University of Adelaide that it commissioned for $2.5 million.
Professor Tony Dreise, from Australian National University's Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, described the evidence relied upon by the government as "flimsy and largely anecdotal, not rigorous and reliable".
In their report, Labor claimed that 68 per cent of people on the card are Aboriginal Australians, with concerns it was discriminatory. They also claimed that Social Services Minister Anne Ruston did not visit communities to consult, as promised.
The Greens stated it was cruel for the government to expand the scheme during the COVID pandemic.
"It is astounding that the government refuses to make any decisions about the base rate of the JobSeeker Payment due to the changing economic conditions but is happy to prematurely entrench compulsory income management," their report states.
"Another question is whether the government will move to permanently expand the CDC to additional sites, or nationwide, without any requirement to undertake community consultation."
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