VANGUARD - Expressing the viewpoint of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist)
For National Independence and Socialism •


SA rally against cashless “welfare” card

Nick G.

About 60 people rallied in Adelaide yesterday against the Healthy Welfare card first proposed by billionaire miner Twiggy Forrest.

Abbott and Hockey intend trialling the cashless welfare card in communities where there were problems with "welfare-fuelled alcohol and drug abuse".

In his report to the government last year, Forrest, whose Fortescue Minerals Group evaded company tax over a 7-year period to 2011, described welfare as a “cash barbecue”.

This is the contempt for the poor that sits behind pious nonsense about “welfare-fuelled alcohol and drug abuse”.

The largest number of trial communities are likely to be those with high concentrations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) peoples.

They were the guinea pigs, under the racist Northern Territory Emergency Intervention, when Coalition and Labor governments introduced and implemented compulsory income management (CIM) through the Basics Card which quarantined between 50 and 70 percent of welfare payments.

No study of CIM has ever found it to have been successful in addressing the alleged problems it was meant to solve.

Yet it was expanded from NT ATSI communities to other place-based communities in low SES areas such as Playford in SA, Shepparton in Victoria, Bankstown in NSW, and Logan and Rockhampton in Queensland.

Punishing the poor

The Healthy Welfare Card, like the BasicsCard before it, singles out the poor and the disadvantaged for punishment – for being poor and disadvantaged.

The Sydney Morning Herald recently headlined a story on the Forrest card “’Healthy Welfare Card trials’ to tackle violence and alcohol abuse”.  But domestic violence and the abuse of a whole assortment of so-called recreational drugs are by no means confined to the poor.  It is just that they are the ones who cannot afford to hide these problems behind lawyers’ fees and lifestyle camouflage.

Forrest admitted in his report that in the short term (!) crimes rates would rise following the introduction of his cashless welfare card. He called for “having state police commissioners alerted that, in the short-term, as lifestyles are adjusted, levels of petty crime may be temporarily elevated…” He was not talking of the Sydney North Shore or Adelaide’s leafy green eastern suburbs, but of the low SES suburbs and regional centres where cash-starved welfare recipients (and not just those with gambling or drug addictions) will be forced to jump the fence and pinch cash from their neighbours, or walk a few streets from home and engage in aggravated assaults and bag-snatching to get some cash.

Nijole Naujokas (from SA’s Anti-Poverty Network) drew attention to the consequences of a cashless welfare card when she addressed the rally:

“Here are just some of things that you will never be able to buy or access if you have no cash. Parliamentary Secretary Alan Tudge says "If you are on welfare and not a heavy drinker or gambler, the impact of the card would be absolutely minimal." I wonder how minimal an impact this would have. The poorest people who have no laundries in their houses won't be able to wash clothes.

-Cannot use laundromat as no coins for machine
 -Cannot drive into town as no coins for parking machines
 -Cannot buy food at Central markets or farmer's markets
 -Cannot buy a bus ticket on the bus
 -Cannot buy a can of drink from a machine
 -Cannot buy second hand clothes from garage sales or Gumtree
 -Cannot put money into a communal birthday present
 -Cannot give cash for lunch to children going on an excursion
 -Cannot buy second hand fridge or freezer from the paper or friends
 -Cannot buy goods from many small Op-shops as they operate on cash
 -Cannot give children pocket money (This in turn reduces their ability to learn how to budget)

“Apart from this small list, taking all cash away from a part of the population is a violation of human rights. It creates a sub-class of people immediately identified as not worthy of control over their own lives. It does NOTHING to reduce domestic violence, child abuse or drug addiction. Taking away cash from addicts doesn't stop them needing drugs. An addiction is a physical need and addicts will be forced to turn to crime to feed their habit. Men who abuse women will not stop because their partners don't have cash. If anything it will enrage them more and they will take out their anger on their partners.”

Other speakers were Christine Abdullah (Ngarrindjeri elder), Jamie Newlyn (Maritime Union SA President and SA Unions President), Members of the Legislative Council Tammy Franks (Greens) and Kelly Vincent (Dignity for Disability), and Kirstyn Jones (Playford resident and Basics Card victim).

Jones is a 22-year old who left home at 17 and survived on the “unreasonable to live at home” Youth Allowance.  She does not drink, smoke or gamble, has had part-time work, and was able, over 3 years to manage her money without going into debt.  Reporting to Centrelink after moving into new rental accommodation in Playford she was asked if she had heard of the BasicsCard.  She hadn’t, but she was placed on it for no reason other than her new postcode.  As a consequence of Centrelink taking over her rent payments through the BasicsCard she found that she had a $500 debt.  Their mismanagement, not hers.  But at least she had access to 50% of her Youth Allowance.  People on the Healthy Welfare Card will not even have that small measure of personal dignity.

Kirstyn’s story illustrates what is often overlooked by society’s fat controllers when they stereotype those on welfare, namely, that welfare recipients are among some of the best money managers.  They simply have to be.

As the unions start to ramp up a campaign to defend living standards from the Abbottoir, the plight of our unemployed and under-employed welfare recipients must be at the forefront.

Low income Australians who cannot find regular employment are doing it tough enough without being denied access to cash.  Unemployment benefits and welfare allowances must be substantially raised.

Punish the rich, not the poor!