The Australian government has released the final evaluation report of its cashless welfare debit card trials today. The evaluation is commissioned by the Department of Social Services and conducted by ORIMA Research. The report can be found here.

The government has also announced that cashless welfare debit card trials would be expanded to a third site, Kalgoorlie in the Goldfields-Esperance region of Western Australia. The two existing trial sites are Ceduna in South Australia, and the East Kimberley in Western Australia.

Below is a media statement by Alan Tudge, the Minister for Human Services, on the release of the final evaluation report:

Media Release: Evaluation finds “considerable positive impact” from cashless debit card

The final independent evaluation of the Cashless Debit Card trials has found that it has had a “considerable positive impact” in the communities where it has operated.

Conducted by ORIMA Research and released today, the evaluation concluded that the Cashless Debit Card “has been effective in reducing alcohol consumption and gambling in both trial sites and [is] also suggestive of a reduction in the use of illegal drugs” and “that there is some evidence that there has been a consequential reduction in violence and harm related to alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling.”

Across the targeted behaviours, the final evaluation showed an improvement in the outcomes compared to the Wave 1 evaluation conducted at the mid- point of the trial.  It also demonstrated that people had become more accepting of the card over time.

ORIMA Research found that there was a “large degree” of support from stakeholders and community leaders in the trial locations for “it to be extended across the country because of the positive changes that had been observed as a result of the Trial, which were considered to be applicable on a broader scale”.

In particular, the evaluation found in relation to alcohol:

  • Of people who drank alcohol, 41% (up from 25% in the Wave 1 survey) reported drinking alcohol less frequently; 37% of binge drinkers were doing this less frequently (up from 25% at Wave 1).
  • A decrease in alcohol-related hospital presentations including a 37% reduction in Ceduna in the first quarter of 2017 compared with first quarter of 2016 (immediately prior to the commencement of the trial).
  • A 14% reduction in Ceduna in the number of apprehensions under the Public Intoxication Act compared to the previous year.
  • In the East Kimberley, decreases in the alcohol-related pick-ups by the community patrol services in Kununurra (15% reduction) and Wyndham (12%), and referrals to the sobering up shelter in Kununurra (8% reduction).
  • A decrease in the number of women in East Kimberley hospital maternity wards drinking through pregnancy.
  • Qualitative evidence of a decrease in alcohol-related family violence notifications in Ceduna.
  • A noticeable reduction in the number of visible or public acts of aggression and violent behaviour. Nearly 40% of non-participants perceived that violence in their community had decreased.
  • People are now seeking medical treatment for conditions that were previously masked by alcohol effects.

The evaluation found in relation to gambling:

  • 48% of gamblers reported gambling less (up from 32% at Wave 1).
  • In Ceduna and surrounding local government areas (which covers a much bigger region that the card’s operation), poker machine revenue was down 12%.  This is the equivalent of almost $550,000 less spent on poker machines in the 12 month trial.

The evaluation found in relation to drug taking:

  • The card has had “a positive impact in lowering illegal drug use” across the two sites.
  • Of drug takers, 48% reported using illegal drugs less often (up from 24% at Wave 1).

The evaluation also found “widespread spill-over benefits” from the card including:

  • 40% of participants who had caring responsibility reported that they had been better able to care for their children (up from 31% at Wave 1).
  • 45% of participants have been better able to save more money (up from 31% at Wave 1).
  • Feedback that there has been a decrease in requests for emergency food relief and financial assistance in Ceduna.
  • Merchant reports of increased purchases of baby items, food, clothing, shoes, toys and other goods for children.
  • Considerable observable evidence being cited by many community leaders and stakeholders of a reduction in crime, violence and harmful behaviours over the duration of the trials.

Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge, who has led the design and implementation of the trials, said the evaluation demonstrated that the trials had been a success in reducing alcohol, gambling and drugs.

“The card is not a panacea, but it is has led to a fundamental improvement in these communities. There are very few other initiatives that have had such impact.

“As many local leaders noted, these communities were in crisis largely due to massive alcohol consumption paid for by the welfare dollar.

“I hope that we can look back in a decade’s time and say that this initiative was the beginning of the turnaround.

“A large part of the success has been the close working relationship with local leaders, who have co-designed and implemented the trial with us. They have demonstrated true leadership.”


The Cashless Debit Card trials operated in Ceduna from 15 March 2016 and the East Kimberley from 26 April 2016 for a period of 12 months. The Cashless Debit Card’s operation in the two communities has been extended.

Under the trials, 80% of all welfare payments were placed into an account that was only accessible by the Cashless Debit Card. The Card is a Visa debit card that operates like any other Visa debit card, but does not work at liquor stores, gambling houses and cash cannot be withdrawn from it.

The trial sites were chosen on the basis of a demonstrable need plus the support of local leaders.

As noted in the Initial Conditions Report, there was widespread local concern about high levels of alcohol consumption and, to a lesser extent illicit drug use and gambling. Most community leaders and stakeholders indicated that these issues “had been becoming progressively worse over the past 5-10 years” and that excessive alcohol consumption was at a “crisis point”, and having “wide-ranging negative impacts on individuals, their families and the community”

In the 2017-18 Budget, the Government announced it would expand the Cashless Debit Card into two new regions. The announcements of the two new locations will be made in the coming months.

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