‘On you, not me’: Lambie’s ultimatum
Independent senator Jacqui Lambie has delivered an ultimatum to the government over its cashless welfare cards, with the bill's future now coming down to one crossbencher.
The Coalition hopes to make the cards (CDCs), which freeze 80 per cent of the holder's welfare so it can only be spent on items deemed necessary by the government, a permanent fixture.
The government argued CDCs had effectively prevented welfare money being spent on harmful products like drugs, alcohol and gambling.
It will introduce a bill to the Senate this week, the final sitting period of the year, that would make the card permanent in trial sites across South Australia, Western Australian and Queensland.
The bill would also add more than 25,000 Northern Territorians onto the scheme.
Senator Lambie said she believed the cards had potential but was "washing her hands of this policy".
"No matter how much promise the card has, it won't work without a government prepared to make it work. We don't have one of those," she said.
"Rather than treating the card as a single tool in the tool kit, government after government has treated it as the whole kit.
"There are people who like the card, who are benefiting from the card and who want to stay on the card. You can't dismiss their experiences as being anecdotal. They're real.
"There are also people who feel the pain of this policy failure without getting any benefit from it."
She said the trial sites had "genuine problems" with alcohol and drugs, and those problems would not disappear with or without the cards.
The trials had been set to end on December 31, but Senator Lambie said the scheme "dropping dead mid-stride" would abruptly leave cardholders in the lurch.
She has instead called for the scheme to end in six months but not be expanded in the interim.
She argued a stay of execution for the policy would give the government enough time to create an alternative for card users.
"The cliff that's coming when this card's over, and nothing's there in its place, (is) a consequence of your decision to play chicken with people's lives," she told the government.
"That's on you, not me. The crossbench didn't treat vulnerable people like bargaining chips. If anything, we gave you the chance to help them."
Her decision has raised the stakes for fellow independent Rex Patrick, whose vote will decide the bill's future.
Senator Patrick said he had not made a final decision on whether he would back the legislation.
He has been on a fact-finding mission, including using a CDC for four weeks and visiting a South Australian trial site.
"The operation of the card is actually quite good, but there are parts to the moving wheel that are quite complex," he told Sky News.
The government has refused to release empirical data on whether the cards effectively reduced spending on alcohol and drugs. Mr Patrick described that as "a failure of government" that made it harder to support the bill.
He said CDCs could not be used as a "silver bullet" and, if used, should be part of a broader package.
He has previously voiced concern the scheme could have racist connotations given the majority of card users are Indigenous.
Originally published as 'On you, not me': Lambie's ultimatum