The Guardian • Issue #1946

No cashless debit card! – No more economic control!

  • by B A Ford
  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1946
Debit card

Early in December 2020, the racist and punitive Cashless Debit Card (CDC) trials were extended for another two years, a compromise on the attempts to make the CDC trials permanent. The passed bill also potentially expands the scope of the trials as the previous 15,000 participant cap was removed from the legislation. The current locations of CDC trials are in Ceduna, SA, East Kimberly and Goldfields regions, WA, and the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region, QLD.

The trials are for anyone of working age and on income support including unemployed people, parents, and disabled people. The scheme is a form of forced income management that quarantines eighty per cent of a person’s income onto the Indue credit card. The scheme is to restrict participants’ autonomy and force them to spend only where Indue cards are accepted under the guise of “helping” control social issues such as alcoholism, gambling, and domestic abuse. There is no easy way to exit the trial. Back in 2019, the Guardian UK published an article that claimed out of 5,000 CDC participants, only 100 were allowed to exit the trial.

Anne Ruston, Minister for Families and Social Services, said that although the original bill to make the trials permanent did not pass, it did not change the government’s commitment to moving to a permanent scheme, but that the government has “more work to do in the future to convince the parliament.” Of course, this is despite very little investigation into the outcomes of the trials or consultation with the relevant communities.

The CDC has its roots in the racist Northern Territory Emergency Response – “the Intervention” – that has seen NT live under extreme state control since 2007 that is incomparable to any other states and territories.

One aspect the Intervention brought into the lives of select communities and people receiving social security payments was forced “income management.” This compulsory income management quarantined a person’s social security income if they were either living in designated areas of NT, if their child had poor attendance or was not achieving well enough at school, or if a child protection officer deemed it necessary that a parent has a portion of their income quarantined. According to the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), “approximately eighty-two per cent of people currently subject to IM […] will transfer to the CDC scheme.”

According to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS), the CDC trials “target, and disproportionately impact upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and women: Around seventy-five per cent of people captured by the trial in Ceduna, and eighty per cent in East Kimberly identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. Fifty-four per cent of participants in Ceduna and fifty-nine per cent in East Kimberly are female. In the Goldfields, nearly half of those captured by the trial are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, fifty-nine per cent of whom are female.”

It seems pretty clear that the CDC, like the Intervention and compulsory income management, disproportionately targets First Nations people as a form of financial control. Just by looking at a map of the current CDC trials, you can see how this is true since there are no trials located in white-majority areas. NAAJA even refer to the CDC trials as a “second intervention” into the NT.

These aren’t the only economic controls imposed by the state onto First Nations people. Another such program is the Community Development Program (CDP). The CDP is the racist counterpart to the mainstream JobActive program that JobSeekers are forced to participate in, and over eighty per cent of its participants are Aboriginal.

The CDP is set up to exploit the labour of Aboriginal people and, as NAAJA points out, it operates alongside the CDC. CDP participants have to do almost twice the compulsory “activities” that JobActive participants do and the punishments are more frequent and severe under the CDP. According to the Australian National Audit Office, based on snapshot reports in January 2017, “fifty-four per cent of all non-compliance reports across the two programs [JobActive and the CDP] that triggered Human Services’ investigation and decision making process were CDP generated, despite the CDP comprising around five per cent of the Jobactive caseload.”

Participants in the CDP work twenty-five hours per week for both non-for-profits and for-profits companies without being covered by the Fair Work Act. Abolishing the CDP is the main campaign of First Nations Workers Alliance (FNWA) set up by the ACTU in 2017.

The CDP and the CDC operate alongside each other as they both exist to economically control the lives of First Nations people. The CDP controls their labour by forcing First Nations people to work, not for a fair wage, but for social security benefits that amount to approximately thirty-eight per cent of the minimum wage (assuming maximum weekly income on JobSeeker is $278 and the national minimum wage per week is $719). Rather than participating in community development projects through secure employment, unemployed workers in the CDP, who are also captured by the CDC trials, have eighty per cent of their income frozen onto the Indue credit card.

The grassroots group “No Cashless Debit Card Australia” published an infographic depicting the various organisations profiting for the CDC trials. These include banks, multinationals such as Wesfarmers, News Corp., Employment Service Providers,  Crown Casino, and the Liberal Party. These are the corporations that are complicit in and profit from the economic control of First Nations people.

Rather than forced economic control to “help” manage social problems in Aboriginal communities, NATSILS demands the abolition of forced income management and CDC schemes, to be replaced with voluntary, opt-in schemes, culturally appropriate financial literacy programs run by Aboriginal people, and significant financial commitment to Closing the Gap.

Since British invasion 228 years ago, white supremacist policies of economic control have been used to oppress First Nations people in the name of colonial-capitalism. A 1930 article in the Party’s Worker’s Weekly put it succinctly as: “The Aboriginal natives of Australia are exploited as ruthlessly as the natives of any other land which flies the flag of the British Empire.”

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