Welfare card deals in currency of hope

Monday, 26 February 2018

Opinion piece by Minister for Social Services Dan Tehan.

Courier Mail, February 27, 2018.

WHEN it comes to getting people off welfare and into work, actions speak louder than words.

The extension and expansion of the Cashless Debit Card trial until mid next year marks an important milestone in the Government’s commitment to significant welfare reform.

Cashless Debit Cards are helping people manage their income and break the cycle of welfare dependency.

Communities at trial sites at Ceduna, South Australia and East Kimberley in Western Australia have seen less money spent on drugs, drinking and gambling.

The card is working.

A third trial site, in the Goldfields region of WA, has been approved. And the Government will keep fighting to ensure the next region to benefit from the Cashless Debit Card (CDC) will be the area that covers Bundaberg and Hervey Bay.

It’s a radically simple idea. The CDC quarantines 80 per cent of welfare money on to a card that can’t be used to withdraw cash, gamble or purchase alcohol.

This means money is spent on the things that matter – like food, rent, electricity and school supplies.

I was in Bundaberg recently and met community leaders and citizens deeply concerned about the impact of welfare dependency.

Concerned citizens told stories about starving kids coming into shops because mum and dad had spent their welfare money on grog and gambling.

They said “ideological warriors” opposed to the trial were running a scare campaign and shutting down legitimate debate.

The Greens-backed renta-crowd are doing a lot of talking but no listening.

“We’ve got to stop welfare being a career choice,” one local told me.

“If we do nothing, then nothing will change,” another said. “We can’t just sit and watch. I don’t want to watch more young lives destroyed.”

The Bundaberg-Hervey Bay region has the second highest youth jobless rate in Queensland, at 26.4 per cent.

This is more than twice the youth unemployment rate for the rest of Australia.

It’s estimated that nearly 60 per cent of people aged under 30 in Bundaberg on unemployment benefits will still be receiving welfare payments in a decade. Some young people have never seen their parents, and even their grandparents, hold down a job.

The CDC is just one of the innovative approaches the Turnbull Government is prepared to try because we believe the best thing we can do for people on welfare is to get them into work.

The Government has cut the number of people on welfare by around 140,000 (from 2.54 to 2.4 million) since 2014. The proportion of the working age population on welfare is now at its lowest in 25 years.

One young, indigenous leader described his journey from sceptic to convert.

“You must be brave enough to change your mind.”

That is the message that Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt and I will be taking to Labor and the crossbench.

Be brave enough to change your mind because if we always do what we’ve always done, then we will always get what we’ve always got, and that is simply unacceptable.

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