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Long-awaited Cashless Debit Card evaluation made public

Rachael Knowles -

The $2.5 million report by the University of Adelaide into the Cashless Debit Card scheme has been released to the public, almost five months after it was made available to the Morrison Government.

The report, commissioned by the Federal Government, was submitted to the Government on October 27.

Social Services Minister Anne Ruston noted on October 29 that she had not reviewed the draft reports despite legislation being pushed in early October to move the four trial sites of Ceduna in South Australia, the East Kimberley and Goldfields regions of Western Australia, and Hervey Bay in Queensland to permanent Cashless Debit Card programs.

The legislation would also transfer Northern Territory communities from the BasicsCard to the Cashless Debit Card.

The Bill was instead amended and passed in December to extend the trial sites for two years â€" a decision which hinged on Centre Alliance Senator Stirling Griff's voting absence.

The commissioned report was released after the Opposition issued a freedom of information request on February 10 and Senator Anthony Chisholm tabled an order for the production of documents in the Senate on Wednesday.

The report stated that 25 per cent of participants had reported less alcohol consumption and 21 per cent reported less gambling activity.

"These findings are consistent with the more than 10 other evaluations that the CDC leads to people consuming less alcohol, gambling less and feeling safer in their communities," said Minister for Families and Social Services, Anne Ruston.

"This report will help the Government improve the program and we are already addressing issues such as stigma through our commitment to improving the technology to ensure the CDC works in the exact same way as any other bank card."

"We know that taxpayers are more than happy to support Australians who have fallen on tough times but want to know that money is spent on the essentials."

The report did note, however, that because of multiple influences it cannot be said the Cashless Debit Card was solely responsible for the decline in tested behaviours.

"The presence of concurrent influences that cannot be distinguished from one another, suggests that given the evidence at hand such comparisons would be unsafe to make and that the impact of the CDC could not be isolated from the other influences that we have mentioned," the report read.

"In such circumstances it is advisable that we note the problematic empirical surrounds and we do not attempt to make any causal statements about the impact of the CDC."

Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services Linda Burney voiced her disappointment in the Morrison Government for their lack of transparency.

"It is no wonder the Government kept this report a secret during the debate in the parliament last year," she wrote in a statement.

"This is $2.5 million that could have been better spent to address the issues that the Government says this card is supposed to.

"After more than five years and millions of dollars spent by the Morrison Government trying to find the evidence to back its ideologically driven card, it is clear this card simply doesn't work."

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert noted the lack of ability of the Government to claim that any change within community was the result of the Cashless Debit Card.

"The evaluation itself notes the difficulty in evaluating the so-called trials because they were never set up to be properly evaluated. A point that was repeatedly made when the Card was first introduced," Senator Siewert said in a statement.

"These trials were always about targeting First Nations peoples, stigmatising people on income support and those with addiction issues rather than addressing the underlying causes of disadvantage.

"The card is racist and discriminatory and should be abandoned."

Amnesty International Australia Indigenous Rights Lead Nolan Hunter echoed both Burney and Senator Siewert's sentiments.

"The report into the trial, conducted at great expense, found that people involved in the trial of the CDC felt discriminated against and shamed for receiving welfare payments," he said.

"Shaming people doesn't improve anyone's situation but condemns them to the same discriminatory treatment they've experienced for generations."

Hunter said the program is another example of Australia's First Peoples being treated as "second-class citizens".

"The CDC is dehumanising and attempts, unsuccessfully, to treat the symptoms of colonialism and dispossession," he said.

"What we need from Government is to trust Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to know what's best for us and to support us in community-led solutions."

By Rachael Knowles

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