Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Opinion: Cashless cards must go now

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Samuel Davis, Cape York Weekly

“Excuse me brotha, can you help me?”

A gentle hand touched my arm and a man with a pained expression met my eyes as I turned. Standing with a credit card in one hand and a sheet of paper in the other, he stood next to an ATM inside a Cairns shopping centre.

*Caleb was his name, he explained, and he was desperate to get home to Aurukun.

The only problem was Caleb’s new credit card wouldn’t work. Reluctantly, I leaned in to see if I could help.

After checking the PIN and swiping the card, Caleb and I thought we were in luck.

I could hear the grinding and clicking inside the machine except, instead of dispensing money, we received a paper slip.

It read: Invalid transaction.

‘That seems odd,’ I thought. We tried again with the same result. I glanced at Caleb’s card for clues.

I’ve seen BasicsCards and Cashless Debit Cards before – cards used to restrict people’s access to welfare payments – but this one was different.

Nonetheless, the result was the same. The card limited how much money Caleb could withdraw from his account. With little time left before his plane departed and a beautiful toddler expecting dad home tonight, Caleb became anxious.

Checking the time, I told him we could still catch his flight if we left now.

After hot-footing it to the departures lounge in my beat-up old sedan we said our goodbyes and he took off on a flight bound for western Cape York.

Exiting onto Tom McDonald Drive, I thought about how many people, like Caleb, may not have caught their flight home.

Every week dozens of Cape residents are forced to travel to Cairns for family or medical reasons.

Some of them are on cards that place them on welfare restrictions. These cards don’t work at most stores and won’t let you withdraw cash from an ATM.

All of a sudden, simple things like catching a bus or hailing a cab become much harder.

Welfare reforms in Cape communities were introduced to make life better – and in some cases they do.

Other times though, it makes it that much harder to make it home, hug your child and tuck her in at night.

Ultimately that should be the goal.

Because there are some things in life you just can’t put a price on.

*Not his real name

Cape York Weekly 6 September 2022

This article appeared in Cape York Weekly, 6 September 2022.

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