Apr 26, 2022

Pensioners targeted in cashless debit card scare campaign

Cashless card pension scheme

But Scott Morrison has labelled the claims an “absolute lie”, and an aged care advocate has warned ‘fake news’ has the potential to “scare” older voters and derail genuine discussion about reform during the election campaign.

Labor is behind social media posts targeted at aged pensioners, which claim the government will expand the cashless debit card to control their spending. In the last year, ads supporting the claim have been made on social media targeting the over 55s in 15 seats, reaching up to 460,000 voters, according to an ABC Fact Check

Voters in Bribie Island in Queensland, which has a high pensioner population, have been handed pamphlets claiming the government wants to “expand the cashless welfare card to include all aged pensioners”, according to reports in The Courier Mail

Last week opposition leader Anthony Albanese quoted a 2020 speech by Social Services Minister Anne Ruston, which said, “We’re seeking to put all income management onto the universal platform, which is the cashless debit card.”

Social services minister Anne Ruston also denies the claim, stating the government “will not force age pensioners onto the cashless debit card”.

In recent days, Labor’s spokesman for health and ageing, Mark Butler, conceded that neither the prime minister nor the social services minister have directly called for the cashless debit card to be expanded to include pensioners.

But he said, “What I can point to is comments from Scott Morrison, who said that the cashless welfare card handed itself to wider application.”

‘Scare campaigns’ have been enlisted by both sides of politics in recent years. 

Labor was behind the “Mediscare” campaign in 2016, where voters received text messages claiming to be from Medicare warning the government will sell the popular healthcare system if reelected.

The Coalition used similar scare tactics in 2019, claiming Labor would introduce death duties if it won power.

A focus on scare campaigns “distracts from discussion of real policy issues that neither major party has spoken about – like an oral and dental health scheme for older people, or reviewing the age pension income test and Work Bonus”.

The cashless debit card requires recipients to have 80% of their income quarantined and only used for products and services other than alcohol, gambling or withdrawing cash. The remaining 20% of the income goes into a normal bank account. 

A report by The St Vincent de Paul Society claims the scheme has risks “unintended and expensive” consequences for the government and contributes to “social exclusion and stigmatisation, increased financial hardship, and the erosion of individual autonomy and dignity”.

The scheme is being trialled in a small number of select areas in Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory.

Labor has committed to scrapping the cashless debit card if it wins office.

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