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Byron Shire
July 2, 2022

Pension protector?

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Powerful Protector of the Pension? Well, not exactly…

ABC Fact Check has looked closely at claims made by local MP, Justine Elliot, that the Coalition plans to ‘force all pensioners onto the cashless welfare card’. Ms Elliot has spearheaded an expensive advertising campaign around these claims. Meanwhile, Queensland MP, Brittany Lauga, was forced to withdraw similar statements about the government’s intentions and apologise in Queensland parliament ‘if she had unintentionally misled the House’.

So – what did Fact Check find?

1. The whole campaign claiming pensioners are to be forced onto a debit card system was based on ONE anonymous Facebook post.

2. It is NOT in the government’s policy platform or in their plans. Ms Elliot has campaigned relentlessly on this issue spending thousands of taxpayer dollars to broadcast it. She has published links to a social media site full of spurious, unsubstantiated claims on the issue.

3. The Cashless Welfare Card (CDC) – what is it? and who uses it?

Instead of welfare payments made in cash, 80 per cent of the payment is placed onto a debit card controlled by the Australian government. The scheme aims to minimise community harm by preventing spending on drugs, alcohol and gambling. Its use has almost totally targeted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across the Northern Territory and other states. All working-age recipients are forced to use it whilst those on ‘age’ or ‘veteran’ pensions are given the option of volunteering for the program. Understandably – few have. Department of Social Services data from January 2022 showed there were a total of 24 age pensioners using the card across all sites – mostly voluntarily.

It is bemusing that Ms Elliot and the Labor party are so focussed on this angle. Although the scheme is now widely viewed as being harmful and punitive, for age pensioners, it is a non-event.

Even more bemusing is the fact that Labor supported this program when it was introduced by John Howard in 2007 as part of the Northern Territory ‘Intervention’. Once in government they continued and expanded compulsory income management to those on Newstart, Youth allowance and Parenting Payments.

It is great to now see a complete turnabout in their stance as numerous independent evaluations show there is little evidence of benefits from the scheme whilst it is discriminatory, paternalistic and intrusive for participants. Labor have finally come around to The Greens’ position. From the very start The Greens opposed the Cashless Welfare Scheme owing to inconclusive evidence that it reduces social harm – citing studies showing that poverty and child health in the Northern Territory are often adversely affected by the scheme.

So, if you truly want to protect pension schemes in Australia look, to the party who has consistently called for a living payment, the party with a policy to increase payments to $80 per day so people can eat and pay the bills.

You won’t find that in Justine Elliot’s ‘Pension Paranoia Politicking’.

Marion Riordan, Farrants Hill

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  1. The Greens can promise what they like – they won’t have to deliver.

    Much as I respect the ABC Fact Check’s work the Guardian did add a little detail.

    ‘Labor cites statements such as when the social services minister, Anne Ruston, told Seven News in February 2020 that “we’re seeking to put all income management on to the universal platform, which is the cashless debit card”, and a statement to Nine newspapers that the card may become a “more universal” platform.

    ‘The government also passed legislation extending the cashless debit card in the four existing trial sites, which defined the age pension as a “restrictable payment”’.

    It’s hardly a policy that will be announced on the eve of an election – unlike the suggestion that you should raid your retirement savings because everybody knows that they are there to solve any problem that arise from a policy vacuum.


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