What is the CDC?
The Cashless Debit Card (CDC) is a form of compulsory income management, developed by the Abbott government in 2014, that disproportionatly targets First Nations communities.
The CDC is designed to minimise community harm, increase employment and improve child health outcomes through controlling welfare recipients’ spending. Instead of making welfare payments directly into recipients’ bank accounts, 80% of recipients’ social security payments and 100% of lump sum payments made by Centrelink are issued onto a Visa debit card issued by the Australian Government and managed by the private company, Indue. The card subsequently cannot be used to withdraw cash or purchase items in stores that sell drug, alcohol, and gambling products.
Many First Nations communities and leaders have expressed concern about the negative impacts of the CDC. Despite a number of reviews and reports that have questioned the program’s efficacy, the Federal government has continued to extend and expand the CDC to new sites.
Where is it being implemented?
As of 2016, the CDC has been trialled in Ceduna in South Australia; the East Kimberley and Goldfields regions of Western Australia; and the Bundaberg-Hervey Bay region of Queensland. In late 2020, trials were extended in all these regions with additional CDC trials announced in Cape York, Queensland and the entire Northern Territory.
Despite claims to the contrary made by the Government, the CDC is a racist policy that disproportionately targets First Nations people. As of 2021, they account for 76% of participants in Ceduna, 82% in the East Kimberley, 48% in Goldfields, and 18% in the Bundaberg-Hervey Bay region. Additionally, the Northern Territory and Cape York each have significant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.
Where are we now?
Since first being trialled, the CDC has remained a contentious policy that has failed to generate broader community support, whilst multiple evaluations and studies have demonstrated limited or inconclusive evidence of its effectiveness. Additionally, there is mounting evidence to suggest that the scheme has been linked to a variety of negative consequences for trial participants. These include:
- Feelings of shame, stigma and disempowerment attached to the use of the card.
- Increased material poverty as a result of being excluded from the cash economy, which many remote communities depend on for meeting their basic living needs.
- Negative effects on maternal and newborn health and wellbeing, including a higher incidence of low birth weights and lower average birth weights overall.
- Breaches of the human right to privacy and personal autonomy.
- Increased difficulty in managing money.
- Inconveniences and frustrations caused by design and implementation issues.
Mining billionaire, Andrew Forrest, submitted a review of Indigenous jobs and training to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, containing recommendations for the implementation of a ‘Healthy Welfare Card,’ which formed the basis for the development of the Cashless Debit Card.
Trials of the Cashless Debit Card, based on Forrest’s review, began in Ceduna and the East Kimberley Region under the Turnbull Coalition government.
The Cashless Debit Card Act 2018 extended the trials in Ceduna and the East Kimberley until 30 June 2019 and made amendments for the Government to expand trials to one more site. Rollout out for the CDC Trial began in the Goldfields the following month.
The CDC Trial Expansion Act 2018 expanded the trial to the electorate of Hinkler, encompassing residents of Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, until June 2020, under the new Morrison Coalition government.
The Continuation of Cashless Welfare Act 2020 extended the CDC trials in all regions for another two years until December 31st, 2022, as well as established the Northern Territory and Cape York as CDC program areas.
For further information on the CDC policy, the following resources offer great starting points.
ANTaR Background Paper – Cashless Debit Card, published 20 May, 2021.
Cummins, Penny 2021, ‘The Cashless Debit Card: An Exercise in Australia’s Ongoing Colonisation of First Nations People’ ANTaR Blog, published 11th May, 2021.
ANTaR Factsheet – Cashless Debit Card, published 11 May, 2021.
Hunt, J 2020, ‘Evaluating the Cashless Debit Card: How will it solve poverty and unemployment?’, CAEPR Topical Issue 2/2020, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences: Canberra.
Hunt, Janet 2020, ‘Who Knows Best About the Cashless Debit Card?’, ANTaR Blog, published 30 November, 2020.
Klein, Elise 2019, ‘There’s mounting evidence against cashless debit cards, but the government is ploughing on regardless’, The Conversation, published 1 November, 2019.