A NATIONAL welfare card May 8, 2008 11:58:38 GMT -5
Post by Flash on May 8, 2008 11:58:38 GMT -5
A NATIONAL welfare card that will allow the Government to control payments to negligent parents across the country will be unveiled in Tuesday's budget.
The debit card - to be introduced in selected indigenous communities before being rolled out across Australia - will ensure half of the cardholders' welfare payments are spent on approved goods and services, such as food and clothing for their children, rather than wasted on alcohol and drugs.
The card will not carry a photograph but will be PIN-coded to prevent it being sold on the black market and abused by welfare-dependent parents.
The Government last night confirmed plans for the card, saying it would slash red tape for business and make it easier for welfare recipients to obtain goods by widening the number of outlets where quarantined welfare payments could be accepted.
It will initially be introduced into Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory and the Kimberley region of Western Australia, where the Government has begun quarantining welfare payments toimprove standards of care for children.
But the Government plans to roll the program out across the country and into white communities.
The budget will provide more than $17million to put arrangements in place for the new cards, expected to be available for use soon after July 1.
Welfare recipients will be unable to use the cards to buy alcohol, tobacco or pornography or for gambling or withdrawing cash.
Family and Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin said security measures would stop people selling the cards for cash.
"We have to make sure that payments are spent in the interests of children," Ms Macklin said.
"This debit card will prevent people from swapping cards for cash and make sure money is not spent on prohibited items such as drugs, alcohol and pornography.
"We are determined to stamp out the use of welfare payments on things that will hurt children. The Government supports income management to make sure that all welfare payments are spent on itemsthat are essential for the wellbeing of children."
Ms Macklin said 9734 people were income-managed in the Northern Territory, with results showing an increase in the purchase of food in many stores.
The system of quarantining welfare payments, first proposed by Cape York indigenous leader Noel Pearson, was introduced under the Howard government's Aboriginal intervention in the Northern Territory.
In Territory communities, welfare recipients are forced to have their unemployment benefits quarantined regardless of whether they are good or bad parents.
When the system is rolled out across the nation, non-indigenous people will have their welfare quarantined if they are found to be bad parents based on reports by child protection authorities.
These individuals will face crimps on all their government payments, ranging from the dole to family tax benefits.
The Rudd Government is working with state and territory governments on the plan, but they lack the power to compel states to sign on, and haveto negotiate with each state individually.
Centrelink will issue the debit card to customers and provide support to those who may need assistance in learning how to use it.
Centrelink will work with local businesses through the rollout and accreditation of the new system.
For most customers, the debit card will replace the existing system in the Territory, which uses store cards and accounts. This system is riddled with problems, with evidence emerging that stored-value cards issued to Aboriginal people for food and clothing are being traded on the black market for cash.
The new system will be more secure than store cards and will be used in shops with Eftpos facilities which agree to the Australian Government's terms and conditions. They include not selling alcohol, cigarettes, pornography and other prohibited goods to card holders.
Federal Human Services Minister Joe Ludwig said the current welfare-quarantining system was not working and was open to abuse. "The previous ad hoc system of income management led to high administrative costs and imposed excessive red tape on the business community," Senator Ludwig said.
"This card means that we can focus on the people. It will now be easier for card holders to choose from a greater number of stores to buy their essential goods."
The Government said the new card would make it easier for small businesses to participate in the income management scheme and that it would increase competition and give families greater choice in buying groceries and clothes for their children.
"Some small businesses have complained of delays in getting access to the system," Senator Ludwig said. "They had difficulties in setting up accounting systems to accommodate income management. Under this plan, businesses can use their existing electronic systems to be involved in the income management scheme easily and quickly."
Next week's budget will contain a range of measures to support the Government's move towards income quarantining, with extra support given to Centrelink to support stronger controls against welfare fraud.
The budget will allocate another $25 million for next financial year to maintain law and order measures and health checks in the Aboriginal communities. And the budget will also contain more money for the Northern Territory intervention.
While the Howard government provided $556 million in 2007-08, only $310 million was provided in 2008-09 as a contingency and only $200 million in 2009-10 for the intervention.