Attempts to turn NT into cashless card trial site must be abandoned

By Tony Zhang|26 March 2020

It would be irresponsible and potentially deadly for any attempt by the Morrison government to turn the Northern Territory into a cashless debit card trial site at this time, said the Human Rights Law Centre.

The Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019 should be abandoned according to the HRLC during COVID-19.

The proposed law, which would see the cashless debit card implemented for over 22,000 people across the NT, is currently before the Senate.

Compulsory income management has already been widely opposed by Aboriginal communities and organisations across the NT, who would have said previously they would be disproportionately impacted by the government’s bill.

“For the government to try to push the bill through now and attempt to roll out the cashless debit card would put Aboriginal peoples’ lives at risk, particularly in remote communities,” the HRLC said.

“COVID-19 presents acute risks to the lives and health of Aboriginal peoples in remote NT communities because of the high rate of life-threatening health conditions, such as diabetes; the extreme lack of housing, which forces overcrowding; and the significant barriers to accessing appropriate healthcare.”

The risk of spreading the virus across the NT is increased by an attempt to roll out a large-scale social policy according to the centre.

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Further, the inevitable implementation issues that could arise would lead to people not being able to access money and needing to travel to access essentials at a time when ensuring food security and minimising movement are vital.

Previously, Families and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said if the cashless debit card (CDC) program is introduced in the NT, recipients will still get 50 per cent of their welfare payments in cash.

The CDC was designed to curb drug and alcohol abuse by limiting access to cash through quarantined welfare payments – putting up to 80 per cent of a person’s welfare payment on the card which cannot be spent on alcohol or gaming.

However the HRLC said that now more than ever, COVID-19 remains the central issue for NT and the government needs to listen to and work with, Aboriginal people in order to “prevent COVID-19 entering and devastating remote Aboriginal communities and families.”

“This must be the priority and the stakes could not be higher,” the HRLC said.

The risk factors for COVID-19 are greater than the H1N1 virus in 2009, which resulted in death rates among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population six times higher than the non-Indigenous community and the need for ICU admissions 8.5 times higher.

Attempts to turn NT into cashless card trial site must be abandoned
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