The Morrison Government’s cashless debit card permanency Bill is on its way to the Senate after narrowly passing 62 votes to 61 in the House of Representatives on Monday.

The Bill, Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020, will see users within the four trial sites of Ceduna in South Australia, the East Kimberley and Goldfield regions of Western Australia and Hervey Bay and Bundaberg in Queensland move onto a permanent program. It will also see those on the BasicsCard in the Northern Territory move onto the cashless debit card.

Minister for Environment Sussan Ley, Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton, Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge and Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt all voted for the Bill.

Member for Sydney Tanya Pilbersek, Leader of the Greens Adam Bandt and Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney voted against.

The Bill will be voted on in the Senate on Wednesday, with the fate of the Bill resting predominantly in the hands of two independents, Palawa woman and Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie and South Australian Senator Rex Patrick.

Social Services Minister Anne Ruston took Senator Patrick on a tour of Ceduna over the weekend in an attempt to secure his vote.

The South Australian Senator spoke to Elders and community members in an attempt to inform his decision before the vote on Wednesday.

Although adamant that welfare quarantining in the form of the cashless debit card works, the Government has suffered criticism for the Bill.

A $2.5 million policy evaluation by the University of Adelaide was commissioned by the Morrison Government was provided on October 27.

However, it was revealed at a Senate Estimates hearing two days after the report had been submitted that Social Services Minister Anne Ruston had introduced the Bill without having read the evaluation.

There have also been concerns regarding the rushing of the Bill with the matter appearing before the Senate in the last three days of Parliament for the year.

Many Senators have spoken out against the Bill, including Northern Territory Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy who condemned the Bill in Parliament on Tuesday.

“There is a great deal of work that still needs to be done. There is no need to rush something through that the Government has had on the Notice Paper for 12 months in relation to those four trial sites,” she said.

“It is not the fault of this Senate that the Government has been unable to get its act together. It is not the fault of the Senate that the Government has failed to evaluate those four trial sites.

“It is not the fault of the Senate that the Government has refused to allow us to see the University of Adelaide report which it spent $2.5 million to evaluate those four trial sites in order for this Senate to review, to examine, to investigate — as we should do in the Australian Parliament when we are making decisions about people’s lives.”

Senator McCarthy’s concerns were echoed by her colleague, Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney.

Burney criticised the Government’s refusal to make the $2.5 million report public, noting that there is no evidence showing the policy works.

“The Government expects the Parliament to vote on the Bill while refusing to disclose the much anticipated $2.5 million report and its findings,” she said.

“If the report proved the card worked, the Government would have released it by now.”

The Shadow Minister noted Labor put questions to Minister Ruston, which addressed the insufficient evidence of outcomes, community concerns, the disproportionate impact on First Nations peoples and plans for national rollout. Minister Ruston refused to answer questions.

“How can the Government expect Parliament to vote on this bill while it keeps the University of Adelaide report secret?” she said.

“What is clear is the Government plans to make changes that will affect thousands of lives based on hearsay, and not on evidence.”

Labor Senator for Western Australia Pat Dodson and Labor Senator for ACT Katy Gallagher voiced their concerns on Twitter.


Greens Senator for Western Australia Rachel Siewert also raised concerns regarding the Government using the last sitting week of 2020 to push through the legislation.

“We’ve had 13 years of this discriminatory punitive policy. 13 years of targeting First Nations peoples and those on low incomes with income management,” said the Senator.

The Senator also took to Twitter.

“The Cashless Debit Card Bill essentially entrenches one of the most paternalistic measures of the Northern Territory Intervention,” she wrote.

“This is not a Bill for the crossbench to make deals over.

“This is about vulnerable people’s lives.”

By Rachael Knowles