Pushing people who fail drug tests onto the cashless debit card could increase the shame and stigmatisation connected to the card, a leading researcher says.
The government has announced a plan to trial moving welfare recipients who fail drug tests onto the cashless debit card, which quarantines 80 per cent of a person's payment onto a card that can't be used on alcohol, gambling or tobacco. Limiting access to cash is also aimed at limiting recipients' ability to buy drugs.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also signalled the government is moving ahead with a plan to move welfare recipients in the Northern Territory and Cape York off the basics card (which quarantines half a payment on the card) onto the cashless debit card, which has already been trialled in Ceduna in South Australia, the East Kimberley and Goldfields region in Western Australia and Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland.
Dr Eve Vincent, anthropologist and senior lecturer at Macquarie University, has visited Ceduna throughout the trial of the card and spoken to welfare recipients about their experiences.
Dr Vincent said people felt insulted, punished and degraded by being forced onto the card, which looks like a regular credit or debit card, but is grey and bears the name "Indue" - the company contracted by the government to run the program.
"Those people keenly felt the stigmatising and shaming aspects of being on the card," Dr Vincent explained, saying the card marked out those on welfare to shopkeepers and others.
If the card was only given to those who failed a drug test in the trial areas of Logan in Queensland, Canterbury-Bankstown in New South Wales and Mandurah in Western Australia, that effect could be exacerbated.
"I can imagine that stigmatisation would be of a different order, and you can only imagine would be stronger."
Dr Vincent said her research hadn't looked at whether people felt the card had helped them get off drugs or consume less alcohol, but she had concerns with the way some of the government's evaluations of the trial had been conducted.
While Dr Vincent said some people liked using the card and that it helped with budgeting, there were also issues with reliability, with the cards not working even if money was in the account.
Peter Pav, a resident in Ceduna and activist against the card called it "horrendous" and said during a days-long blackout people on the card didn't have access to money.
The government needs Senator Jacqui Lambie's vote to pass both the drug-testing trial and the Northern Territory and Cape York expansions of the cashless debit card, but the Tasmanian senator won't give her vote easily.
Senator Lambie said rehabilitation services must be in place for her to support the drug-testing bill, as it won't be effective without help for addicts.
"You put the services in place first, the common-sense way to tackle this issue, and then we can look at doing random drug and alcohol testing, on welfare recipients," she said on the ABC.
The government has pledged $10 million in support services as part of the bill, but Senator Lambie said she would only vote for it when more rehabilitation beds were in place, not on the promise of more funding.
Senator Lambie said she had been visiting the four trial sites of the cashless debit card and while she had no problem with it being expanded in the Northern Territory and Cape York, the program wasn't ready to be rolled out nationwide.