Cashless welfare does help to improve lives
Children turning up to medical appointments wearing new shoes instead of coming in barefoot. Sales of fresh food and vegetables increasing while alcohol sales are falling.
Big reductions in crime, most importantly for family violence offences and assaults linked to alcohol abuse.
This is the new reality of life in WA’s Goldfields, just six months after the Federal Government expanded the trial of the cashless debit card into the region.
I was lucky enough to take a tour of the Goldfields last week and was overwhelmed by the positive stories I heard, even from those who admitted they were initially opposed to the program.
As one shopkeeper in Leonora told me, she used to think that the Government had no right to tell people how they should spend their welfare dollars.
She’s now a convert having witnessed first-hand the steady improvements in her community, not to mention the increase in sales over her shop counter of family essentials and medicines.
I am not suggesting that cashless welfare alone has been the sole factor behind these improvements.
It is not a silver bullet. But there is no denying that things are getting better in the Goldfields and the card must be given credit for helping to drive that positive change.
For those not familiar with the trial, 80 per cent of a welfare recipient’s benefit payment is quarantined on their card so it cannot be used to buy alcohol and drugs, or be gambled away.
The remainder can be withdrawn at an ATM and spent on anything a person wishes.
More than 3000 Goldfields residents have been moved on to the card since March and despite some early grumblings, most are now getting comfortable with it.
Yet I am still amazed to hear strident opposition coming from the likes of Labor and the Greens who have gone as far as to label cashless welfare as a human rights violation.
To those MPs and Senators I would offer one simple bit of advice — go and see for yourselves just how effective this trial is proving to be.
Community leaders in the towns of Laverton and Leonora have told me they have issued invitations to the noisiest critics.
But those invitations have so far been met with silence.
I would also ask the critics to consider the children in those communities and to stop and think for a moment about their human rights.
Surely those children deserve the right to have food in their stomachs and to live without the constant fear of violence in their homes.
In Laverton alone, police tell me that the crime rate has fallen 52 per cent this year. That is an incredible result.
Officers in Leonora told me they have only had to attend one after-hours call-out in the past three months.
Going a week with a call-out was unheard of just six months ago.
Leonora locals also described how streets once littered with broken glass every morning are now mostly clean and clear.
And the one thing I was told everywhere I went was how quiet the towns were at night.
While we are yet to see official figures from the WA Health Department, there are anecdotal reports that hospital emergency department admissions have dropped, especially for assault-related injuries.
There are also anecdotal reports that rental property evictions have been falling due to the fact that people are now paying their rent on time.
These are the outcomes that the coalition envisaged when we first brought the cashless debit card policy to Parliament.
Yet Bill Shorten and his Labor team are continuing to fight our efforts to roll it out even further. Only last week Labor described cashless welfare as “draconian” and an “ideological obsession” of the Government.
Tell that to the community leaders in Laverton and Leonora who are desperate for the trial to become a permanent fixture in their towns.
Despite Labor’s opposition, the Government has secured Senate approval to introduce the cashless debit card at another trial site.
The communities of Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland will be the locations for this trial.
I look forward to hearing similar positive stories emerging from those regions as the benefits of the card begin to take effect over the coming months.
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