The election and the Cashless Welfare Card

Article published 27 April 2022

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DURING federal election campaigning, the issue of the Cashless Welfare Card has again risen its head.

CPSA is opposed to anybody being put on the Cashless Welfare Card who does not want to be put on it.

The Cashless Welfare Card is compulsory in four so-called trial areas.

Anyone on a social security payment living in a Cashless Welfare Card trial area has no choice. Most of their Centrelink payment is put on the Cashless Welfare Card. This Card cannot be used for alcohol purchases and gambling. It also restricts the number of places where people can buy goods and services.

In three of the four trial areas, people on a social security payment who are of pension age are exempt. This exemption does not relate to the Age Pension but to the pension age. So, anybody of pension age on a Disability Support Pension or a Carer Payment is also exempt in these three trial areas.

But in the fourth trail area no one is exempt.

In late 2020, CPSA became concerned generally about statements by the Social Services Minister. These statements indicated she wanted a national roll-out of the cashless welfare card to cover all Centrelink payment recipients.

In other words, there would be no more trial areas. The roll-out would be everywhere in Australia.

CPSA is primarily a seniors organisation. So, CPSA’s question was whether people of Age Pension age on a social security payment would be exempt in this national roll-out.

Chances were that they would be exempt. Only a government with an electoral death wish would make millions of Age Pensioners drink just fruit juice and play cards for matchsticks. Through sheer numbers, Age Pensioners have more political pull than any other category of payment recipients.

CPSA wrote to the Social Services Minister, asking her for a statement to put the matter of the pension age exemption beyond doubt.

Her response was a long time coming, but eventually it did come.

Her letter unequivocally states that the Government “has no intention of extending [the Cashless Welfare Card] to Age Pensioners”.

Clearly, the Minister has committed the Government to not putting Age Pensioners as a group on the Cashless Welfare Card.  This is good news for Age Pensioners (except those in the trial area of Cape York). But it does nothing for all those other people in receipt of a social security payment.

CPSA made statements about the Cashless Welfare Card exemption before it received a response from the Social Services Minister. At that point, CPSA said that an exemption for Age Pensioners might not exist.

These statements are now being used on social media and elsewhere to incite fear among Age Pensioners.

But after receiving the Minister’s response, CPSA accepted that people of pension age would not be put on the Card compulsorily.

CPSA again wants to reassure Age Pensioners that they can set aside any fears that they as a group will be put on the Cashless Welfare Card.

This will not happen.

What is important is for Age Pensioners to press any party and independent election candidates to commit to an independent review of all social security payments. This is to ensure that no one lives in poverty.

And no one should be on the cashless welfare card unless they choose to.

The Opposition has said that it will make the Cashless Welfare Card voluntary for all social security recipients, if it wins office. The Government is committed to continuing with the Card on a compulsory basis.

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