Goldfields torn over controversial cashless debit card end after Labor election win

Kaelah Hill says the new Labor Government’s promise to scrap the cashless debit card could end four years of shame and stress.

Since 2018, Kalgoorlie’s mother and disabled son have had 80% of their earnings quarantined to be spent at licensed vendors, which they cannot convert to cash.

All welfare recipients who live or have lived in the Goldfields and East Kimberley areas of WA, as well as Ceduna in South Australia and Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland, are placed on the map.

As the election approached, Labor Party officials reiterated that they would abandon the system if they won.

New Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney said that was still the plan, but communities wishing to keep the card could do so.

New Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney has said Labor will keep its promise to scrap the map. (ABC News: Xavier Martin)

Want more autonomy

Kaelah Hill said the involuntary system made her feel “punished” for receiving payment from the government and living in Kalgoorlie.

Ms Hill said neither she nor her son had ever had any problems with drinking, gambling or money management.

“It makes me feel less than [a second class citizen]because even a second-class citizen would have a choice,” Ms Hill said.

A gray bank card held in the fingers of a woman
Some recipients say the cashless debit card has made budgeting harder, not easier. (ABC Goldfields: Isabel Moussalli)

She said she was looking forward to regaining her financial freedom and being able to empower her son.

“If you’ve ever been in an abusive relationship, you don’t realize you’re being controlled and abused until you’re out of it.”

Some leaders say it works

But some in the Goldfields were worried the project would be scrapped.

In the small town of Laverton, 350 kilometers northeast of Kalgoorlie, Shire chairman Pat Hill said the program had worked wonders in reducing anti-social behaviour.

Patrick Hill standing in front of the Laverton Hospital grounds.
Pat Hill says if the new government wants to scrap the card, they should be prepared to increase police and ambulance resources. (ABC Goldfields: Jarrod Lucas)

He urged any politician looking to ditch the system to spend time living in the community to see what life was like without him.

He said if the new government wanted to scrap the program, it should be prepared to support an increase in anti-social behavior.

“We want to see double the police in Laverton, we want to see permanent paramedics here, and we want to see the new hospital as soon as possible and more staff to look after it,” Cr Hill said.

Poorly designed and poorly administered

Still 550 kilometers further down the road, on the edge of the Gibson Desert, residents of the vast lands of Ngaanyatjarra often find themselves caught up in the system, despite being outside the test area.

Damien McClean helps a local woman with her Centrelink claim in Warburton, WA.
Damian McLean says the map caused headaches in Ngaanyatjarra lands.(ABC Goldfields: Tom Joyner)

Ngaanyatjarraku Shire chairman Damian McLean said locals were put on the map when visiting Centrelink offices elsewhere and found it difficult to exit the system.

“They have been in Kalgoorlie for one reason or another and have had contact with Centrelink, and they have been transferred to the map,” Mr McLean said.

He said his community didn’t support the map and was looking forward to seeing it removed.

“People who managed their money properly before the cashless welfare card continued to do so, but those who didn’t always tried to manipulate or move [it].”

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