This was one of three welfare policies which were passed by Coalition government of Liberal Party and National parties in the 2015 federal budget.
What was it’s genesis?
This was a recommendation in a report by Andrew Forrest, the chair of Fortescue Metals in WA. He was asked to do the report by the then Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
That report was entitled “The Forrest Review Creating Parity” and it made a raft of recommendations relating to First Nations People. Chapter 2 deals with a new idea called The Healthy Welfare card. This became the cashless Debit card under the Coalition government.
To be fair to the report it said had some good initiatives, like Health and Education, leading to better health and job prospects in remote areas of Australia.
Success for the Healthy Welfare Card was supposed to look like the following
• Home and communities are illicit-drug free.
• Homes where welfare dependency is common have very low alcohol consumption.
• Families budget responsibly, rent is paid and school fees and school support is met normally.
• Food and items needed to sustain healthy individuals are met before leisure.
• Costs are incurred.
• Welfare supports life’s essentials.
The government accepted this part of the report and in 2015 developed a new policy called Social Security Legislation Amendment (Debit Card Trial) Bill 2015.The Parliamentary digest for the bill said the following.
Having completed a Business degree majoring in Marketing, everything we did had to be referenced back to an analysis of the Product and the marketplace. Sure assumptions had to be made but those assumptions had to be valid. We had to prove that such and such a product would do well in a particular segment because of a certain set of provable characteristics.
So the first Question I would ask as a marketer in these circumstances is:-
“What is the extent of Gambling, Alcohol use drug use in the Aboriginal community in Ceduna?”
“What is the incidence of crime related to the use of Drugs and/or Alcohol and/or gambling?”
“Would the introduction of a Cashless Debit card reduce Alcohol consumption, Drug usage or Gambling in the trial area?“
And a last question would be “would the introduction of the CDC reduce crime in the Area?”
The very first thing I would do is to analyse the Trial Area. Let’s choose Ceduna.
Using the Australian Bureau of Statistics data for the 2016 Census, we see that Ceduna has a population of 3408 people who were 49.5% male and 50.3% female. They were in 875 families in 2068 dwellings.
The population consisted of 546 people over the age of 65 (CDC does not apply to them) and 746 persons under the Age of 15 (CDC would not be likely to apply to them either). So we have a population of 2116 who could be on some sort of Welfare benefit covered by the measure. 1395 people were either in full time or part time work and 55 people were unemployed.
There were 866 Aboriginals in Ceduna.
This is illuminating because the Ceduna trial had 757 people in Ceduna on the card. See page 5/17 of the Review of the Cashless Debit Card Trial in Ceduna and East Kimberley (East Kimberley had a total of 1247 people on the card).
The Forrest review saw the card as integral to bring the First Nations people back to parity with the rest of Australia, including in Health and social outcomes such as incarceration. Yet the only part of the report that was really taken up was the Cashless Debit Card minus the name Forrest had given it, The Healthy Welfare card.
Next we look at the statistics available for health in Ceduna. These are for the local hospital and can be found for Ceduna District health Service. They give hospital Statistics at a high level and cannot really be related to the instances of admission because of Alcohol, gambling or drug usage.
The link back to gambling, drugs and alcohol is yet to be shown. Perhaps the reports do exist, I have yet to find them in existence, let alone being used to inform Government policy in this area.
The next area we should look at is the crime statistics. They are available and in a form that can also be analysed to give us some idea of the types of crime committed in Ceduna. They can be found easily on line.
With these I am going to analyse 3 years before the trial in Ceduna was implemented and 5 years during the trial.
Offences against the person.
These offences are
2010 -2011 153
The trial was introduced in 2015 budget and did in fact show a reduction between 2014-15 of 46 offences against the person, which may well have been attributable to the introduction of the CDC. But in 2016-17 it shot up by 48 offences during that year. In 2020-2021 it was at it’s highest level of 164 offences in those 4 groups and the CDC trial was still in existence.
Hard to say whether offences against the person were reduced by the trial looking at these figures.
Other metrics I would like to have accessed were the levels of consumption of Alcohol and the levels of gambling as well. Also what other intervention policies were going on at the same times of the CDC and may well have required an evaluative input into whether the trials were working.
Like the circumstances surrounding Robodebt and the justification of that scheme, it appears that an analysis of the actual target population was not done to the level required for new policy to be implemented.
It is not enough for someone to write a report and propose a scheme without any data analysis and make conclusions that its introduction will make a substantial difference to the affected targeted First Nations people.
Also the opportunity for other policies to affect social outcomes was not taken after IT WAS ESTABLISHED THAT THERE WAS A GAMBLING, DRUG AND ALCOHOL PROBLEM IN THE WHOLE OF THE TARGET POPULATION.
Otherwise this policy looks and smells like what I suspect it was. Ideologically and racially driven.
Like Robodebt no one was keeping these bastards honest. It’s a classic top down approach form entitled White Australia and highlights what happens when First Nations people don’t have a Voice and are not consulted about Policy which directly affects them.