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Government's Welfare Card Will Destroy Families, Indigenous Leaders Say

A group of community members in South Australia want to stop the roll out of a cashless welfare card.

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Centrelink's Healthy Welfare Card, which is used to quarantine the income of Australians on welfare, will be trialled in Ceduna, on South Australia's west coast in February.

But the introduction of the card is meeting fierce opposition from locals, who say it discriminates against the local Indigenous population.

A group of 45 locals opposed to the card met with independent senators Jacqui Lambie and Nick Xenophon last week in Ceduna to raise their concerns.

"The community here was not consulted about this card even though that’s the way it seems," Sue Haseldine, a local Indigenous elder who is leading the talks told BuzzFeed News.

"We’ve been told by the premier and cabinet that if you're not doing anything wrong then you've got nothing to be worried about. Well, my question is if I am doing nothing wrong why are they putting me on it?"

The card is designed to minimise the amount of cash available to people receiving Centrelink payments. Those on aged pensions are exempt.

People on the card will be able to receive 20 percent of their payments as cash in their bank accounts while the other 80 percent will be quarantined on the cashless card, which can then be used to buy goods and services. The card cannot be used to purchase alcohol and people will be unable to gamble with it.

"I think properly implemented, the healthy welfare card does have potential to do a lot of good but I think if it's not implemented properly, if there aren't a whole range of other services in place to address some of the root causes of the issues that the healthy welfare card is meant to tackle, then it won't work," Senator Xenophon told the ABC following the meeting.

Haseldine says the card is a painful reminder of her youth on a mission where Indigenous people were under the control of the government.

"This is going back to ration days. I was born and grew up on a mission. I don't want to go back there where the government had total control of us, where I was given a piece of fruit and told to eat it, and I don't want that future for my grandchildren if they are ever unemployed," Haseldine said.

A memorandum of understanding between the Commonwealth Government, the Ceduna local shire council and several Aboriginal groups was signed earlier this year paving the way for the card to be rolled out.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Alan Tudge (Julian Smith / AAPIMAGE)

In a statement Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Alan Tudge said 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."

Haseldine, who currently receives a carers payment, says the card will punish those who are doing the right thing.

"I’m a carer because my husband is too sick to take care of himself. So what does this [the card] make me? An incompetent carer?"

"It basically says that I can't manage my own affairs even though I can look after my sick husband, but I can’t look after my own finances? This is discriminating against everyone who is doing the right thing."

"This should definitely be voluntary, I’ve got a niece on it voluntarily and she loves it and it's working for her. It should also be targeted: Three strikes and you get rehab, if that doesn’t work then you are put on it, it certainly should not be mandatory."

The Healthy Welfare Card will be trialled for a 12 month period, and if successful other regions have expressed interest in implementing the card.

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Formerly with BuzzFeed News, Allan Clarke is a NITV reporter based in Sydney.

Contact Allan Clarke at arielle.benedek+AC@buzzfeed.com.

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