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Cashless Welfare Card Will Tear Apart Poor Communities, Residents Warn

"It's about control of the poor people".

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A cashless welfare card trial being rolled out in Ceduna, South Australia, for people on Centrelink benefits is facing fierce opposition from the local community.

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The card is also set to be trialled in the east Kimberley region of Western Australia.

The card works like a normal bank debit card, except the owner will not be able to withdraw money.

Residents opposed to the card have already had one large protest, saying it penalises the poor and will have a significant impact on the large Aboriginal community in the area where unemployment is high.

"The people, black and white, are all banding together and we have already had one march and we will have another one, another protest," Susan Thiselton, one of the organisers of the protest, told BuzzFeed News.

"A lot of people had no idea they were going to be on it and they're getting very upset. Getting letters in the mail and suddenly realising they would be on it".

"You simply can't control people like this".

Thiselton says the community also had fears that the introduction of the card will see the crime rate skyrocket and put elders, who are are exempt from welfare quarantining and largely carry cash, may be victims of opportunistic robberies.

"We're worried about the crime, the old people and the tourists. The police seem to be anti it as well," Thiselton says.

"We reckon you can expect more breaking into cars and the stealing of handbags. The ATM will be a dangerous place to go, especially at night time".

Everyone on Centrelink benefits, aside from those receiving an age pension and those on veteran payments, will be issued a card and will have 80% of their payments quarantined to the card while 20% will be available as cash.

A memorandum of understanding between the Commonwealth government, the Ceduna local shire council and several Aboriginal groups was signed last year which paved the way for the card to be rolled out.

Julian Smith / AAPIMAGE

Alan Tudge, the former Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, said last October that the trial would help reduce staggering high rates of alcohol use and assaults in the local area.

“In 2013-14, presentations to the hospital emergency department due to alcohol or drug use exceeded 500 - more than one per day. The local sobering up facility had a staggering 4,667 admissions that same year from a regional population of 4,425,” Tudge said.

“The package will aim to support individuals to tackle their dependence on drugs and alcohol and improve individual capabilities and opportunities.”

The Greens have been vehemently opposed to the card, citing the failure of the Basics Card in the Northern Territory as an example that income management doesn't work.

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Greens Senator for Western Australia Rachel Siewert moved a motion to stop the trial earlier this week, but was voted down.

"We have already trialled income management. It's called the Basics Card and has been going for early nine years in the Northern Territory. Evidence shows it has not delivered on its objectives," Siewert said.

"It is alarming that both the Coalition and Labor party won't back a motion calling on the Government to adopt evidence based policy that will actually help people struggling with substance abuse".

Allan Clarke is an Indigenous Affairs Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Allan Clarke at allan.clarke@buzzfeed.com.

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