It is a convenient truth, universally acknowledged, that the blame for poverty should rest cumbersomely on the shoulders of those experiencing it.
A convenient truth for leaders who wish to shout loudly and distract us from what really causes social disparity and economic vulnerability, who want to demonise the vulnerable while casually sweeping the inconvenient truth of the inevitability of unemployment in a capitalist economy under the rug with an Italian leather-shod toe.
In a country renowned for rooting for the underdog, we seem to be quick to jump on the bandwagon of thumbing our noses at welfare recipients. These people seem to be pegged as an easy target and are often treated to trolling, aggressive stereotyping and the application of assumptions that allow the rest of us to sleep easy after we witness (or heaven forbid, lead) the cruel treatment of people who fall into this category.
However, the greatest issue here appears to be how this social behaviour demonstrates the way that we can be so easily influenced. We are led like sheep with a few deliberately placed media bombs, usually from our nation’s leaders, to gaslight us into a blind, blanket, fist-waving response categorically aimed at demonising those of us who need our support the most.
At the end of last week, the Indue cashless welfare card was rolled out in two more areas, this time in Queensland across welfare recipients including those on carer support and parenting payments.
The drive behind the introduction of this card has been coloured as a government response to minimising “social harm” through attempting to limit the purchase of alcohol and gambling services.
In a country renowned for rooting for the underdog, we seem to be quick to jump on the bandwagon of thumbing our noses at welfare recipients.
We have been fed information with regards to the impact of “misspent” welfare money and the impact that it has supposedly had on communities with high welfare recipient numbers as justification for the rollout of the program. Haven’t you heard? We are being protected from ourselves!
Even notwithstanding the extensively reported ties between Indue Pty Ltd and Liberal National Party members that raise significant questions with regards to the personal profiteering of government policy makers; even if we overlook the estimated $3.2 billion that it would cost in administrative fees being paid to Indue if the program was rolled out across all welfare recipients; and even if we could somehow close our eyes to the ACOSS report that reminds us of the emotional and psychological impact on welfare recipients when they are singled out as incapable of managing their own income solely through virtue of its origin, we are still left with a rather large elephant in the room.
Economic control is the first step towards totalitarianism.
The roll out of this card on a “trial” basis is a clear step towards economic control; a step being taken by our government to protect us from our own perceived inability to make autonomous decisions.
Sure, the card may well “only” restrict the purchase of products and services deemed to be “inappropriate use of welfare funds”, but it also curtails people’s economic choices.
If a cashless card holder wants to gain more than $200 cash in 28 days, say, for the purchase of a second-hand fridge, they have to seek permission from the government, who will then decide whether or not they will allow the purchase.
Even if we were OK with our government telling us what was “appropriate use,” the groundwork has been laid for our leaders to change the items considered “appropriate” as they see fit.
We are literally witnessing the establishment of a welfare underclass within a construct of social apartheid in Australia, the “land of the free,” without evidence of the success of the cashless card in addressing the “social harm” it was designed for in the first place.
Furthermore, we are actively denigrating those who are the first to feel the economic noose, seemingly unaware that it paves the way for the demise of our wider socio-political structure.
Freedoms are eroded infinitesimally under the guise of a greater good – and often under the Orwellian understanding that while all men are created equal, some are created more equal than others.
We must never forget “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)
Zoë Wundenberg is a careers writer and coach at impressability.com.au
Correction: This article has been amended to remove a reference to people on disability services being included in the recent Queensland roll out of the Indue cashless welfare card. An incorrect reference to tobacco being a prohibited item for purchase on the card has also been removed.
The Department of Social Services has issued this response to the column:
The Comment article "We must not allow this social apartheid" (by Zoe Wundenberg, February 5, 2019) says the cashless debit card roll out in Bundaberg-Hervey Bay includes people on disability support. In the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region, the cashless debit card applies to people aged 35 years and under who receive Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance (Job seeker), Parenting Payment (Single) or Parenting Payment (Partnered). It does not apply to people on disability support.
The article says that the card has been “coloured as a government response to minimising ‘social harm’ through attempting to limit the purchase of alcohol, tobacco and gambling services”. This is also incorrect. The cashless debit card can be used to purchase tobacco but cannot be used to buy alcohol, gambling products or some gift cards.
Lastly, your report says there is “no evidence” of the card in addressing “social harm”.
An independent evaluation of the cashless debit card trial in the Ceduna region, South Australia, and the East Kimberley region, Western Australia, show the card was having a “considerable positive impact”. Of participants surveyed, the evaluation found: 41 per cent of participants who drank alcohol reported drinking less frequently; 48 per cent of participants who used drugs reported using drugs less frequently; and 48 per cent of those who gambled before the trial reported gambling less often.
Anecdotal evidence shows that people are better able to save money; parents have more money available to buy essential family items like nappies, food and clothing; police report fewer domestic violence callouts and health workers report fewer domestic violence presentations; and people say their town feels quieter and safer with less public drunkenness.