Wren's Week: Will Senator Lambie support cashless welfare card?

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Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie is facing criticism over her support of the Indue card (Screenshots via YouTube)

Senator Jacqui Lambie is likely to back plans to expand cashless welfare card trials despite the humiliation associated with the card, writes John Wren.

THERE HAS BEEN consternation about the cashless welfare card rollout over the last week with much of the criticism levelled at independent Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie, who has committed to supporting it. Why she has committed to it is unclear.

The card itself a full-force attack on the most vulnerable people in Australia, especially battlers who Lambie once pledged to support. Last year, Lambie also rolled over on the Medevac repeal Bill, revealing to the public her apparent lack of morality, so it comes as little surprise to many that she would screw over her traditional support base by backing it.

A bit of history. The Indue card was founded by a group of former Coalition MPs led by Larry Anthony, the son of former Country Party leader Doug Anthony. He and others allegedly still hold significant shareholding in the card via complex family trust arrangements.

WA mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest also seems to have a strong financial interest in the card. Forrest has been at the forefront of the campaign to gain Lambie’s support, lobbying her in Canberra and arranging visits to remote indigenous communities who have been using the card so that she can see how it works in the real world.

Importantly, she was accompanied by the staff of the Minderoo Foundation, which is Forrest’s own “charity”. So, the staff members were effectively his employees. They seem to have acted like tour guides in the DPRK, who strenuously ensure tourists never get to see the real poverty-stricken North Korea.

The card is income management — no more, no less. It has been trialled in remote communities where alcohol abuse is a problem. A welfare beneficiary has their benefits paid into the card which can then be used as a debit card to pay for things such as food. It cannot be used to pay for alcohol.

This all sounds well and good so far. Few people would argue that taxpayers’ funds should be spent on alcohol over basic needs of food and clothing. It is interesting to note that the coalition parties often hold the power of the free market as the solution to all society’s ills. Income management is the direct opposite of free-market thinking. As usual, the wealthy get the free-spending option, battlers get controlled. Hypocrisy reigns.

But the card supposedly costs somewhere between $4,000 and $12,000 per card to administer. It’s hard to get a fix on an exact number as there are many conflicting accounts, but even at the lower end of the scale, it’s exorbitant. Why has got me stumped until, of course, we think back to the ownership of the card. That money is almost all profit — for every individual placed on the card, taxpayers’ funds are funnelled straight into the bank accounts of the card company’s owners. Remember them from above? The former coalition MPs. As we know, the Coalition is adept at siphoning public funds into the hands of themselves and their cronies. This is no different.

The card is also effectively a form of the old company store scam. I suspect this is where Forrest gets his kicks. Company stores are stores owned by the company usually in remote locations such as mine sites. These stores sell supplies to employees often at inflated prices due to their effective monopoly in the region and will often rack up very large credit accounts that are then deducted straight from an employee’s pay.

Tennessee Ernie Ford sang his famous song ‘Sixteen Tonnes’ about the company store. In these remote locations, the company store can be the only retail outlet for hundreds of kilometres and is the only place cardholders can spend their money. This means they have no cash to buy fresh meat or vegetables from neighbours or things like second-hand clothes. They are trapped in paying high prices through the company store, meaning the already meagre amount they are allocated effectively becomes even less. They will often struggle to buy low-priced items online with the card.

The card is also humiliating. Its use is a mark of shame. Using one implies that one cannot support oneself. Food stamps are a common welfare item in the USA. These are effectively vouchers that can be exchanged for food in certain stores. Those who rely on these stamps will often tell you how humiliating it is to pay for food with them at the checkouts. The cashless welfare card serves the same purpose. It is deliberately humiliating. And it is deliberate. Remember, the current government is led by a Pentecostal who follows an unchristian prosperity theology. A follower of this doctrine considers poor people to be lazy, ungodly and unworthy. The humiliation is quite deliberate.

But above all else, the card simply does not seem to work. In areas where it has been trialled, alcohol abuse rates, domestic violence and other crime rates have not significantly dropped. In fact, there is evidence that petty crime has increased as the only way many people can get by on the card is via theft such as break-ins.

It is very clear that the long-term plan for the card is for it to be used ubiquitously across all welfare sectors. Once the remote locations are rolled out, expect it to be rolled out to Newstart recipients in the cities, aged care pensions will likely be paid on it, as will Defence Veterans payments and many others. These new cardholders will be faced with the same challenges Indigenous card recipients have faced. There will be limited outlets in which to use the card (it’s unlikely that your corner store will accept it). Buying cheap fruit and vegetables with cash at farmers’ markets — forget about it.

It’s already rumoured that there are many ways to circumvent the card to get cash and/or alcohol as well. The simplest being paying for your mate’s groceries with the card and him/her paying you the cash for them. I have no idea how they’ll police that

Lambie has pledged to look after ADF veterans (she is one herself). I wonder how she will explain her action to them if she supports this card and they find they too are inflicted with it. Maybe not next year, or even the year after, but it will catch them in the end. It’s coming. Lambie can stop it, but has she the guts? Based on her Medevac rollover, I’d say not.

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