Cash­less wel­fare does help to im­prove lives

The West Australian - - OPINION - Michael Keenan Michael Keenan is Fed­eral Min­is­ter for Hu­man Ser­vices and Dig­i­tal Trans­for­ma­tion

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.

Signed Al­ston prints are avail­able, framed or un­framed, from www.west­ or by phon­ing 9482 2378.

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