Council to decide on cashless welfare card trial for Moree; Humphries will vote “no”
MOREE Plains Shire councillors are divided over a proposal to trial cashless welfare cards in the community, with the contentious issue going to a vote on Thursday after a notice of motion was last week put on the table by councillor John Tramby.
At least four of Moree’s nine councillors are believed to be in favour of trialling the cards in the shire.
The crucial vote however is not cut-and-dried if council decides to push ahead with a cashless welfare card trial.
There will still be a lot of further consultation to be had between numerous stakeholders, with the ultimate decision in the hands of the federal government.
Moree mayor Katrina Humphries is strongly against the proposal.
She firmly believes small businesses, especially those in the shire’s villages, will suffer dramatically while genuine welfare recipients who budget their finances accordingly will be discriminated against.
A similar plan for Moree was suggested nearly two years ago however council heeded the community’s collective opinion and overwhelmingly voted against the trial.
“A couple of years ago our community conferred, consulted and discussed the pros and cons of Moree being a designated pilot for a cashless welfare card trial,” Cr Humphries said.
“At the time there was overwhelming support for the township of Moree not to be singled out and used for such a trial.
“Council supported the wishes of the community and voted unanimously not to support such a trial.
“However, it has again been recommended by a Moree Plains Shire councillor that the whole of the Shire be used as a trial, with the exclusion of aged and veterans’ pension recipients,” she said.
Cr Humphries says Moree could see a spike in crime if the trial goes ahead, adding that people with problems associated with gambling, drugs and even cigarettes and alcohol will be tempted to break the law.
“My arguments have not changed since the initial push two years ago,” Cr Humphries said.
“Sadly, people will find a way to get a hit by fair means or foul. We as a community have been working extremely hard on law and order issues and this trial could be a catalyst for a whole new range of bag snatches, elder abuse and cash robberies from local businesses,” she said.
Cr Humphries also believes the trial could also allow a black market to thrive in the community.
“This has the potential to see desperate welfare recipients buying a trolley of groceries worth $500 and selling it to some parasite for $250 cash,” she said.
“And mark my words – this sort of thing will happen.”
Cr Humphries also believes legitimate businesses in Moree Plains Shire will unfairly suffer should a cashless welfare card be trialled.
“We are trying to keep businesses in our town and villages,” Cr Humphries said.
“It is a huge struggle keeping any sort of retail business operational so why should those that exist –
and those that are struggling to exist – be punished.
“Yes, some are licensed premises with gaming machines that sell cigarettes and alcohol. But they are legal tax-paying entities. They employ many people, and sometimes they are the biggest employers in our smaller villages.
“Our licensed venues are also some of the biggest sponsors and supporters of sport and charities in our communities. These businesses have also invested heavily in their sites, and not only provide one of the oldest existing services in our country, but also provide a great venue for social gatherings and get-togethers.
“This is another reason why I cannot support such a pilot program,” Cr Humphries said.
The mayor also questions why regional areas are being singled out for a pilot program.
“Why isn’t greater Sydney being considered,” she said.
The Department of Social Services said in a media release that a cashless debit card will not change the amount of money a person receives from Centrelink however it will change the way recipients receive and spend fortnightly payments, with 80 percent paid to the cashless card and 20 percent paid to a regular bank account.
“The cashless debit card has been designed to help disadvantaged communities decrease the level of consumption of drugs, alcohol and gambling which impacts on the health and wellbeing of communities, families and children,” the department says.
The Australian Government last month introduced legislation into parliament to enable the expansion of cashless debit cards to new regions.
In the 2017-18 Budget, the government announced it would extend the card in the two current sites of Ceduna, South Australia, and the East Kimberley, Western Australia, and additionally would expand the card into two new regions.
The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017 gives effect to these Budget measures, with two new communities for the card to be announced in the coming months.
Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge said the proposed Bill provides flexibility to communities and responds to calls for more ways to address social harm.
“Many local leaders around the country have shown interest in having the card in their community,” Mr Tudge said.
“There is a sense of urgency from these leaders who want action to address the devastating impact of alcohol, drugs and gambling on their people.
“The Government will be working with leaders from interested regions to design interventions that meet the communities’ needs.
“The card is not a panacea but the evaluation indicates it’s helping reduce alcohol and drug consumption, and gambling. Very few other initiatives have had such impact,” Mr Tudge said.
Story: Bill Poulos