GREENS Senator Rachel Siewert has spoken in front of a crowd of people at Hervey Bay Community Centre, sharing her concerns about the Federal Government's cashless welfare card, which could be introduced in the Hinkler electorate.
She was critical of the newly released Final Evaluation report and the way it had been represented in the media.
The report was released last week in relation to the Cashless Debit Card trials in Ceduna and surrounds and in the East Kimberley region.
"I very freely acknowledge I've only had a limited time to read the report because of course the idea is that the government gets it out there, makes all their statements ... and we all play catch-up regarding the report," she said.
She said a quick analysis of the report revealed that on average across the two sites, one in two participants were more likely to indicate the card had made their lives worse than better.
"Did you hear the Government saying that on the radio or television this morning? I certainly didn't," Ms Siewert said.
She said there was no baseline data that the Government could compare when it came to verifying the claims that the card had reduced alcohol and drug consumption in the communities.
Ms Siewert said the report relied very heavily on anecdotal evidence.
"They call that qualitative evidence. Qualitative evidence is the more descriptive type of evidence.
"When they go up and ask you 'did you drink less?' and I'm from the Government, what are you going to say? 'Yes'," she said.
"You're not going to say, 'oh no I've been out on the town every night'.
"So that's what they call qualitative evidence.
"Quantitative evidence is where you've got the numbers and you've got stats, you know, sort like those from the WA Police Department that shows in Kununurra theft has increased, threatening behaviour has increased."
Ms Siewert said she had spent the days preceding her visit to Hervey Bay at the Senate enquiry into the Government's Welfare Reform Bill. "We heard consistently from drug and alcohol addiction specialists that were saying you can force people into treatment, but the evidence shows it doesn't work, because people haven't made that decision themselves, they're not ready yet."
She said for people on welfare, the compulsory form of income management was taking their agency away and taking away their control over the most personal things in their life.
"Therefore you don't have the permanent behaviour change," Ms Siewert said.
"It's a similar sort of circumstances we're talking here about drug and alcohol addiction." She said she was greatly concerned about the impact of drugs and alcohol on communities.
"I'm deeply, deeply concerned to make sure we are growing up children healthy and strong and supporting people into work.
"I absolutely agree with the Government that those are the things we need to be aiming for. But I strongly disagree with the way they are doing it and that they will get permanent change through compulsory income management."
Ms Siewert said there was more evidence to suggest that voluntary income management was more successful because the individual themselves had chosen and committed to it.
Government says card is working
A REPORT into the Federal Government's Cashless Debit Card had found 41% of drinkers reported drinking less and 37% binge drinking less; 48% of gamblers reported gambling less; 48% of drug takers reporting using illegal drugs less often.
But Federal Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt said no decision had yet been made regarding whether the card would be unrolled in his electorate.
Mr Pitt said the Final Evaluation report had revealed a significant improvement on a range of issues from child welfare to alcohol abuse.
The reports also found that 40 percent of participants who had caring responsibility reported that they had been better able to care for their children (up from 31 percent at Wave 1).
"When I first started talking about the Cashless Debit Card I said it could be the catalyst for positive change in the Hinkler electorate," Mr Pitt said.
"While no decision has been made if the Cashless Debit Card will be implemented in this community, the ORIMA Research report released today reinforces the positive impact the card is having on the trial sites.
"There has been a decrease in requests for emergency food relief and financial assistance in Ceduna, and merchant reports of increased purchases of baby items, food, clothing, shoes, toys and other goods for children.
"Welfare payments are to help people in a time of need and should be spent on the essentials of life: rent, food, clothing and equipment for school," Mr Pitt said.
Mr Pitt said another positive outcome noted in the report was an increase in participants saying they have been better able to save money: 45 percent, up from 31 percent at Wave 1.
Mr Pitt said that people who opposed the card were yet to offer any alternative.
"While people who oppose the card are yet to offer any alternative, the Cashless Debit Card could have significant outcomes for people and their families in Hinkler."
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