Legislation to enable Centrelink's new income management debit card - the Healthy Welfare Visa card - went before the parliament and passed into law tonight - Wednesday 14 October 2015.
Labor Senator Penny Wong's office told singlemum.com.au today that Labor were supporting the Healthy Welfare laws and senate debated the bills. Only The Greens senators and a couple of independent senators had serious concerns about it. This morning the second reading of the bill passed the senate 38 votes to 10. the final vote happened tonight, with a final vote count of 37 in favour and 10 against.
The Healthy Welfare Visa card is a compulsory income management tool. The card will hold 80 per cent of the Centrelink payments of recipients. The Healthy Welfare Visa card will not permit alcohol or gambling related purchases and will not allow cash to be withdrawn.
The other twenty per cent of the Centrelink benefits will be paid to the recipient's standard bank account and can be withdrawn as cash or spent in any way the card holder chooses.
The Healthy Welfare project will be trialled on the 4,425 people who live in the Ceduna Shire Council area in the far west of South Australia.
While the government has grand, national plans for the Healthy Welfare Visa card, only one community has so far been found where opposition to the plan is not overwhelming.
Already the other proposed trials in the NSW country town of Moree and the East Kimberley towns of Halls Creek and Kununurra have been called off due to local opposition.
Liberal Senator from Victoria, Mitch Fifield told the senate that Ceduna has been chosen as a trial site for the Healthy Welfare Visa card because of the high rate of violence and harm arising from alcohol and drugs. Last year there were more than 500 presentations to hospital in Ceduna arising from alcohol related violence said Senator Fifield.
Senator Fifield, who is manager of government business in the senate, came under heavy sustained questioning from West Australian Greens senator Rachel Siewert, Victorian Senator Ricky Muir and South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon on Wednesday morning over the Ceduna trial.
And thanks to that questioning, we learnt a lot more about how the card will work - or not.
Firstly, it seems that it will take a long time before the Healthy Welfare card is rolled out to all Centrelink recipients, as promised by the Forrest Report.
Fifield said, while the government has plans for the Healthy Welfare card to go national, no other trial sites have been chosen and no other communities are currently being spoken to about a possible trial of the Healthy Welfare Visa Card.
Secondly it seems that no one really cares what you spend your money on, as long as it's not alcohol or gambling. That was what we learnt from this animated exchange in the senate today:
Senator Siewert raised her concern that the government might monitor all the transactions of Centrelink recipients and ‘red-flag' reasonable purchases. To make her point, the senator raised her hands and exclaimed:
"Look how much that person spent at the restaurant!
"And they are on income support!"
Senator Fifield replied that: "There is not the intention or the physical capacity or the desire to go through everyone's transactions."
We also learnt today that there are some massive loop holes in the Healthy Welfare Visa card income management program. Fifield today confirmed that people with a Healthy Welfare Visa card who travel outside of Ceduna will be able to use the card to buy alcohol.
Yes you read that correctly - People who travel out of the trial area will be able to buy grog.
Rachel Siewert asked: Can the card be used in a food business that also serves alcohol:
"If I'm in a cafe can I pay for a combined meal with a beer or glass of wine?"
"The card will work for that purchase," replied Fifield who explained that "particular arrangements" in Ceduna will prevent the purchase of alcohol in the trial area.
There could be other ways to buy alcohol as well.
Senator Xenophon said he thinks that online alcohol merchants will be able to accept the Healthy Welfare Visa card and deliver to Ceduna.
Xenophon also said online gambling sites may also be able to circumvent the ban because increasingly they hide the true nature of their business behind apparently unrelated trading names like "www.FluffyPillows.com"
Other senators were looking for indications that the Healthy Welfare Visa card might be introduced to their areas soon.
Victorian Senator Ricky Muir, who admitted he was a bit of a cynic, said the Healthy Welfare Visa card trials are being held in an area of very low socio-economic indicators to ensure that it will look like a success and then rolled out across Australia.
Senator Fifield denied that and said Ceduna was chosen because of the high rate of harm recorded from alcohol and drugs.
The Ceduna Community Heads Group is a committee of community leaders and firmly supports the Healthy Welfare Visa Card.
"We want to build a future for our younger generation,"" said the group in statement read to parliament.
"We can't do this if our families are caught up in the destructive cycle of alcohol or drugs."
Business & Finance Journalist
Jason is a business and finance journalist with 20 years experience, and is also a member of the SingleMum.com.au Expert Opinion Panel. He has a regular weekly column in the Sunday Mail (Brisbane) and writes regularly for the Business Daily section of the Herald Sun in Melbourne and many other newspapers and magazines.
Jason's personal website is www.centrelinknews.com.au
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