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Senate sends controversial cashless welfare card to scrapheap

Cashless welfare cards will soon be scrapped despite pushback from the federal opposition.

Cashless welfare cards will soon be scrapped despite pushback from the federal opposition. Photo: AAP

More than 17,000 people living in remote communities will soon come off cashless welfare cards after the Senate voted to scrap the scheme.

The upper house sounded the death knell for the controversial card after the Albanese government secured the votes of the Greens and key crossbenchers.

The cards quarantined up to 80 per cent of a welfare recipient’s income, which could be withdrawn in cash or spent on gambling or alcohol.

Labor and the Greens argued the cards were punitive and humiliating while the opposition claimed the welfare program helped curb drug and alcohol abuse.

The Senate sat late into the night on Tuesday to ensure the legislation could clear both houses this week, paving the way for welfare recipients to move off the card by October 4.

A protracted trial of the cashless welfare cards was due to finish at the end of this year.

Labor will introduce a voluntary welfare income management card by March.

Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth appeared on the ABC before the laws cleared the Senate, raising one example of someone adversely affected by the cards.

“A gentleman couldn’t take his five kids to the football because they only accepted cash at the gate,” she said.

Independent senator David Pocock voted to scrap the card despite wanting the government to go further and abolish all income management.

“This bill is far from perfect but is clearly needed and any significant delay in its passage will subject people to further distress,” he told Parliament.

Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie originally voted for the cashless welfare cards, hoping they would improve the lives of people experiencing substance abuse issues and family violence.

She then voted to scrap it after accusing the coalition of setting the card up to fail by not putting in place necessary support services.

Senator Lambie also attacked Labor for failing to outline an adequate transition plan to support people coming off the card.

“I’ve met those kids and those families. With or without the card they aren’t getting the life they deserve,” she said.

Northern Territory senator Jacinta Price said the government was ignoring the suffering of vulnerable children in favour of adults “controlled by addiction”.

The Indigenous Coalition senator said those responsible for abolishing the cards couldn’t comprehend what it was like to “constantly have your income demanded from you by addicted relatives”.

“This is fact. I live this culture,” she said.

-AAP

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