By Sarah Martin The Australian 21 June 2016
Poker machine use in the South Australian town of Ceduna has plunged by a third in the past three months as a result of the federal government’s cashless welfare card, new figures show.
Based on average poker-machine turnover in the area, this translates to as much as $7500 a week, or almost $400,000 a year of welfare benefits diverted from spending on gambling in the town.
The dramatic reduction since the card was introduced in April, and reported by the South Australian Liquor and Gambling Commissioner, has been accompanied by reports of a rise in food consumption and a reduction in anti-social behaviour.
Results from the 12-month card trial in Ceduna will be used to determine whether the government rolls out the plan more broadly for welfare recipients in other communities, Human Services Minister Alan Tudge said.
“It is early days but these results are very encouraging and if these results continue then we may well have found a model which breaks the serious dysfunction which characterises so many remote locations,” he said.
“If the trials are successful then of course we will explore whether other regions are interested in adopting the model.”
He said the trial results suggested that the card was dramatically reducing the negative social effects of excessive drinking and was directly helping local families.
“A key part of the success has been the community leaders who have worked hand-in-glove with me and the government in co-designing and overseeing the implementation of this, and without their local leadership we would not be in the position that we are in today,” Mr Tudge said.
The trial in Ceduna, 790km northwest of Adelaide, covers about 800 people, with another 1200 covered by the program in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia.
About $800,000 a fortnight is being allocated to the so-called Healthy Welfare card across the two locations, money that cannot be used on alcohol or gambling products and cannot be converted to cash. It represents 80 per cent of welfare payments, with the remaining 20 per cent accessible as cash.
Since the card’s introduction, local businesses have reported an increase in trade, including more spending on food at the local supermarket, while the remote community of Oak Valley now receives two food truck deliveries a week instead of one.
The Ceduna Koonibba Aboriginal Corporation told Mr Tudge that the rollout of the card had resulted in more children with “cleaner, newer clothes” and a significant decline in the number of people requesting basic supplies such as milk and sugar from the community office.
Ceduna district mayor Allan Suter reported that police matters “appear to be substantially lower” and the local drug trade had been “severely affected” because of a lack of cash, with at least one suspected dealer leaving town.
“The very strong consensus … is that this is easily the best our town and community behaviour has ever been and this is being credited to the debit card initiative coupled with the various other measures we have taken,” he said.
Original article here