Indigenous organisations are opposing a Bill seeking to enforce permanent compulsory income management through the Cashless Debit Card (CDC) scheme.

Currently, the CDC is being trialled across four sites—Ceduna in South Australia, the East Kimberley and Goldfield regions in Western Australia, and Hervey Bay in Queensland. The Bill, introduced to Federal Parliament last Friday, would see these communities transfer onto a permanent CDC program.

The Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory (APO NT) voiced their opposition.

“We did not ask for the card, yet 22,000 of us will be affected if the card is imposed on NT income recipients,” said APO NT spokesperson, John Paterson.

“The Bill is a new Intervention. It will perpetuate the torment of our powerlessness. It denies our basic freedom to control our lives. It locks the many of us who live below the poverty line out of the cash economy and undermines our small businesses that rely on cash payments.”

The Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation (ALPA) joined APO NT in frustration, recognising that of the 22,000 people the transition will affect, 75 per cent are Indigenous. They said the Bill undermines the recent Closing the Gap restructure.

“It is a new Bill, there has been no consultation on it whatsoever … it is going to have a very long-term impact on a lot of people and a lot of communities,” said Liam Flanagan, ALPA General Manager of Community Service.

“The credibility of Government is incredibly … low when they say one thing and do the immediate opposite.”

“The entire assumption of this policy is that every single person in a remote Indigenous community in the Northern Territory has drug problems, has gambling problems, participates in domestic violence. It is a horrific categorisation and it is not reflective at all of reality.”

Flanagan said the level of funding administered to the CDC scheme could be redirected to address issues such as access to housing, healthcare and education.

“The issue that we are having time and time again is that Government want a quick, silver-bullet solution and they only look at the symptoms. They don’t look at the causes of what is happening,” he said.

“It is not out of reach for the Government to put significant investment in place that would over the next five years take a lot of these underlying issues that have been there for generations off the table.”

Greens Senator for Western Australia, Rachel Siewert, also voiced her opposition to the proposed Bill.

She was joined by others who voiced their concerns on Twitter.

A spokesperson for Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said “the Government is confident that welfare quarantining measures, which have been in place in various forms since 2007, have positive impact on participants and the broader community”.

“Income Management is already an ongoing program in the Northern Territory. This change is not an expansion to new participants or communities, it is a transition to an improved card and user experience for those currently on Income Management,” said the spokesperson.

Over $17 million has been allocated to targeted support services which will assist participants in transitioning in the Territory and Queensland.

By Rachael Knowles