Greens senator Rachel Siewert has criticised the government following a recent Senate estimates meeting that revealed around $28 million was spent on the cashless debit card (CDC) scheme during 2019-20.

Key points:

  • Around $28 million went to the card provider, technology, departmental and legal costs in 2019-20
  • Greens senator says those funds should have been directed to support services “that work”
  • Federal Liberal MP says he gets “virtually no complaints” from people on the trial

The card ensures 80 per cent of an individual’s welfare payments are quarantined from paying for alcohol or gambling products and has been trialled in Ceduna in South Australia, the East Kimberly and Goldfields in WA and Hervey Bay and Bundaberg in Queensland.

Senator Siewert requested a breakdown of the costs, which showed the amount went to the CDC provider along with departmental, communication, technology and legal costs.

She said those costs should have been directed at helping communities on the cashless card trials.

“That’s $28 million that could have been spent on delivering services and support that actually work; not on a program which causes shame, discrimination and where people feel like they want to get off the card.

Rachel Siewert says the money should have been spent on targeted services.(AAP: Lukas Coch)

An evaluation of the controversial scheme released last week by the University of Adelaide found alcohol use had reduced in communities where the card had been introduced but that it could not be attributed to the card alone.

University of Adelaide researcher Luke Greenacre, who ran a separate study on the program, said that from the evaluation, the positive impacts were negligible.

“The fact that we’re able to continue having this debate about whether there is an impact or not tells us that, even if there is an impact, it must be tiny,” he said.

“Because of this lack of consensus across multiple reports, it suggests that, on average, it’s probably not achieving anywhere near enough to justify its cost.”

‘Appalling’ late release of report

Senator Siewert also criticised the government’s late release of the University of Adelaide evaluation, which came after the Senate voted to extend the trials for another two years.

“It’s appalling that it wasn’t released earlier so that when we were debating the extension of the card, we had this information in front of us,” she said.

“The so-called trials were not set up as trials, there was not the proper process put in place to enable a proper evaluation — it cost $2.5 million for again no outcome.

“They’ve got this ideological obsession with income management which is what the CDC is; it’s time they gave it up and invested that money in programs that work.”

Rowan Ramsey says he has only heard complaints from people not on the card.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

Defending the scheme, Liberal Member for Grey Rowan Ramsey, whose electorate covers Ceduna, said he thought the University of Adelaide report was generally pretty strong.

“I agree with Rachel that there wasn’t clear benchmarking done before the trial started, and that makes it harder to sort out in retrospect just what the improvements have been,” he said.

“But I get virtually no complaints from people on the ground that are on the trial — all the complaints I get are from people outside the trial.”

Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Ruston has been contacted for comment.