You may have seen headlines last week about the argy-bargy in the Senate over a ‘cashless credit card’ system for paying income support. These are payments made by the Treasury to cover some or all living costs for people disadvantaged by disability, youth, old age, being a carer or a student, or unemployed or underemployed, and more.
Why this is in the news now is that the Morrison government wants that money, which has traditionally been paid into people’s bank accounts, to be paid instead to a private company called Indue. If you are in the system you’re supposed to use the Indue debit card to buy things, except it can’t be used anywhere that offers alcohol, drugs, or gambling.
Card not effective
This system of ‘income management’ was introduced by the Howard government in 2007 to stop Indigenous Australians on support from wasting themselves and their money on sinful spending. Back then it was called the BasicsCard and basically, it didn’t work – and it doesn’t work now that it’s called the Indue card.
Federal governments – LibNat and Labor – have spent more than $20 million on establishing this Card-of-Shame system, and studying its effects. None of the reports we the taxpayers have funded found the cards are effective, which is why Labor, Greens, and cross-bench senators voted against expanding the thing in Parliament last week.
Racist and colonial
Jacqui Lambie spoke of ‘people who feel the pain of this policy failure’ and pointed out that, ‘Rather than treating the card as a single tool in the tool kit, government after government has treated it as the whole kit’.
Greens Senator, Lidia Thorpe, told the senate, ‘Management of income is racist and colonial nonsense all over again and it is demeaning to us… it’s putting black people back on rations.’
As usual the Morrison government tried to bully through their plan – which was to make the cards permanent in the trial areas and to expand them to 20,000 more Australians on income support. And as is becoming more usual, their bullying pissed off enough senators that the scheme was put on hold, except for continuing the trials for another two years, during which time the bullies need to table a plan.
Why are the Morrison Bully Boys pushing this?
All the impassioned speeches in the senate were about the pain and shame caused by the card, and the lack of evidence that it causes anything else. Many of them described the government’s mission here as ideological, which it is: the LibNat’s right wing libertarian dingbats reckon all poor people should just get off their arses, and Morrison himself reckons God’s light shines on those who make a lot of money.
That’s what passes for ideology in the Coalition, and it’s one of two reasons behind this Card-of-Shame sham.
Tax dollars for private business
The second is also an ideological conviction; that only business people, and private enterprise, are competent to run anything. In the 1970s, this antisocial premise launched a crusade, led by Thatcher and Reagan, to demolish public healthcare, education, housing and everything else not primarily designed for profit, like public spaces, environmental protections, art in any and every form, and thinking hard.
Howard and subsequent LibNat PMs followed the Reagan/Thatcher lead, being dutiful lapdogs of elitism, and set about demolishing our public service, unions, and the notion of common wealth. Then they handed over the tax savings to private businesses and told them to provide a mean and nasty version of a social support system (crowning glory being RoboDebt).
A monster child
Which brings us back to the Indue card. This thing is the monster child of the failed BasicsCard, a version of ‘income management’ first spearheaded by former Nationals Party boss Larry Anthony. It gives income support a privatised layer of money finagling that doesn’t need to be there, except to siphon off more of what used to be our tax money. It’s also a way for the LibNat Bully Boys of politics – Morrison, Dutton, Frydenberg, Angus Taylor etc – to make obsolete one of the aspects of government they hate most: accountability. How much does Indue rip off from us taxpayers, and how can we know about it?
That revolutionary mob called the St Vincent de Paul Society had a go at explaining it: ‘The Government spent nearly $18.9 million to trial the cashless debit card, which equates to over $10,000 per person in the trial. More than half ($9.8 million) of the total funding was paid to Indue, the private company contracted to cover all operational aspects of the cashless debit card.’
And on top of all that, the core crime here is the continuation of the degradation, impoverishment, and bullying of Australia’s First People.
♦ Phillip Frazer calls out bullies at Coorabell Ridge