Two years after the Labor government ended the cashless debit card program, a review has found both positive and negative outcomes.

In a recent University of Adelaide survey, most past users said they viewed the abolition as beneficial, reducing stigma and discrimination. 

Many reported negative effects, including “poor decision making” and financial coercion.

Introduced in 2016 by the Coalition government, the cashless debit card allocated 80 per cent of welfare payments to a debit card restricting purchases of alcohol and gambling products. 

The card was used in regions like East Kimberley, Ceduna, Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Cape York, and the Goldfields.

Labor abolished the card to enable participants to access cheaper food and goods. Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth described the card as “dehumanising and stigmatising”, noting that without the card, people could “reduce cost of living pressures by purchasing second-hand items or food from the local market”.

The University of Adelaide's review found increased reports of alcohol use and gambling in areas where the card was used but did not establish a direct cause. Other factors like local trends and the cost-of-living crisis were also considered.

A 2022 report by the Australian National Audit Office criticised the cashless debit card scheme, noting the Coalition had failed to demonstrate its effectiveness. 

Critics had concerns that ending the program would increase social issues related to alcohol, gambling, or neglect.

In the survey, many former participants viewed the program’s end positively, but a majority of stakeholders were disappointed, citing the card's positive impacts and concerns about increasing social problems.

There was dissatisfaction with the government’s consultation process about the program’s end. Respondents reported feeling they had “insufficient time ... to prepare for the ending of the program”. 

Some participants reported a smooth transition, while others raised concerns about inadequate information and support.

The cessation of the card reduced feelings of discrimination and shame, giving individuals more control over their finances. Others hoped CDC funds would be redirected to more effective services.

However, many stakeholders, including service providers, Indigenous leaders, police, and health organisations, did not support ending the CDC. 

Some participants admitted that increased autonomy led to poor financial decisions and a rise in alcohol and gambling misuse. Others reported an increase in financial coercion.

The review detailed significant increases in alcohol misuse, public drinking, and alcohol-related violence in Ceduna, East Kimberley, and the Goldfields, as well as increased gambling in Ceduna and East Kimberley. However, it stressed that no definitive causal statements could be made.