The federal government has said it is looking at a fifth site for the controversial cashless welfare card, as the social services minister announced the existing trials would be extended for another 12 months.
Paul Fletcher said on Friday the government would extend the trial of the Cashless Debit Card (CDC) and the income management program until 30 June 2020.
The government argues the cards, which quarantine 80% of a welfare recipient’s payments for use at selected stores, lead to a reduction in violence and harm related to alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling.
But critics say they cause stigma and make it harder for people on low incomes to buy second-hand goods and services in the cash economy.
The Greens have opposed the program, while Labor said it did not support a recent expansion into Queensland’s Bundaberg-Hervey Bay region.
The Greens community services spokeswoman Rachel Siewert said during a visit to the Queensland sites this week that pubs and clubs were among the venues where cardholders could check their account balances. The cards are aimed at reducing alcohol and gambling dependency.
Guardian Australia reviewed a list of 130 ATMs across the four sites where the operator, Indue, tells cashless cardholders they can check their account balances at no cost. More than a quarter – 37 in total – were in pubs or clubs.
The government has cited an evaluation of the program in Ceduna, South Australia and East Kimberley, Western Australia that found it had a “considerable positive impact” and was linked to reduced violence and harm related to alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling.
“This will give further certainty to communities about the CDC program that is yielding significant positive results,” Fletcher said.
However, an Australian National Audit Office review found there were major flaws in the evaluation and said it was “difficult to conclude” where social harm had been reduced due to a “lack of robustness in data collection”.
Labor’s shadow minister for social services, Linda Burney, said: “Labor’s position is clear – we will not support a further expansion of the trials unless there is fully informed consent from the local community, underpinned by rigorous evaluation and evidence.”
Siewert said on Friday the trials should be abandoned. “The government is falsely claiming there is evidence that these trials are working, the evidence is not there, they are simply pursuing their ideological agenda,” she said.
“The money wasted on income management needs to be spent on better employment services, raising Newstart and drug, alcohol and mental health services.”
The cards are currently being trialled in the Goldfields in Western Australia, as well as Ceduna and the East Kimberley. The fourth trial is due to begin in Bundaberg-Hervey Bay next month.
The government said the trial extension would be included in next week’s mid-year economic and fiscal outlook.