No – the evaluation of the trial of the cashless debit card does not demonstrate that it has been effective. Despite this, the Government has relied heavily on the evaluation, cherry-picking and misrepresenting contested findings to justify the card’s continuation and expansion.
The Evaluation Report provides conflicting and inconclusive findings, and has been widely criticised for its reliance on piecemeal and skewed data, anecdotal evidence, and questionable research methods. In two separate reviews, Deputy Director of the ANU Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Janet Hunt, identifies “serious flaws” with the evaluation, noting problems with the survey design, lack of baseline data, invalid assumptions, and interpretive flaws. The Report ignores critical data, including a sharp rise in assault incidence reports in the East Kimberley. It also does not separate the outcomes of the cashless card from the effects of other programs operating in the trial sites, such as the Takeaway Alcohol Management System in the East Kimberley.
The Government has also ignored the negative outcomes of the trial. The Evaluation Report indicates a third of card users said the card “had made their lives worse”. A majority reported that since using the cashless card they had experienced either no change in alcohol consumption, gambling, or illegal drug use, or an increase in these behaviours. In addition, a majority reported that violence in their communities had either remained unchanged or increased. Nearly half said they had run out of money to buy essential non-food items for children, with nearly a quarter (23%) saying the card had made their children’s lives worse.
There is also evidence that, for some, the card has increased financial hardship, social exclusion and stigma, while at the same time eroding self-reliance and autonomy. The card cuts people off from the cash economy and more cost-effective means of purchasing items, such as second-hand markets and garage sales. Additional costs also result from surcharges for card payments and shops requiring a minimum spend for EFTPOS purchases. For many families struggling to survive on very little, the card has made managing their meagre budget more complex; accessing account balances is not always easy, and cards have at times been faulty and beset with technical problems.