Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Cashless Cards and other salvos in the war on the poor

  • 06 June 2017


The phrase was coined by Seretse Khama's country folk, in reprimand to the British public servants who refused to 'permit' him to be the Botswana chief because of his marriage to white British woman, Ruth Williams. Sixty-seven years later 'dislike for the unlike' well sums up the attitude of the ruling classes over and against the subject classes of a former British colony — Australia.

In 1978 Kaurna/Narungga woman, Georgina Williams, said to me that Aboriginal people tend to be first on the receiving end of governmental oppressive practices and, when that works, the practices are extended to other poor Australians.  

Thirty-nine years later, almost every day brings new evidence of a relentless campaign against the poor. In post-Budget May, the Guardian Australia had two examples in one day: first, that welfare payments would be cancelled for those who don't accept 'suitable jobs', and second, that sewage would be tested to find areas of high drug use during trial drug testing of welfare recipients.

The federal government, too, via the disputably named Human Services Minister Tudge, has yet another confident solution to the problems of the poor — the Cashless Card.

In 2007, in the federal Senate chamber, I witnessed Kaurna/Narungga elder Dr Alitya Rigney's horror to see Labor Opposition members cross the floor 'laughing and talking' to legalise the repressive, all-encompassing Intervention into the lives and organisations of the Northern Territory Aboriginal peoples.

Shamefully, the Intervention, rebadged and extended by Labor in government, continues now in its tenth year, almost unnoticed by the rest of the country.

Just one of these Interventions to Aboriginal people on Social Security was the BasicsCard. Later, chiefly to technically comply with the Racial Discrimination Act, the 50 per cent cash-quarantined card was spread to include other poor Northern Territorians. Later still, it was extended to six disadvantaged areas nationally — largely encouraged by their respective Members of Parliament.

The mining billionaire Andrew Forrest's 2014 proposal of the 100 per cent Cashless Card was among 26 of his repressive recommendations accepted by the Abbott Government. In 2017, the proposal was incorporated to two areas, naturally both of high Aboriginal population: the East Kimberley and South Australia's Ceduna area, incorporating Yalata and Oak Valley. It was indiscriminately imposed on all 'welfare' recipients; 80 per cent of their income is quarantined.


"Interviewed about the Cashless Card and the decision to extend the trial in Ceduna and East Kimberley, Tudge spoke of the present tactics