“I feel like in the Government’s eyes I’m a lesser person. In the public’s eyes it’s much, much worse,” Kerryn Griffis told 7.30.
“What have I ever done for the government to treat me this way? To treat thousands of other people this way?
“We’ve been branded as drug addicts and alcoholics and gamblers and dole bludgers.
“Most of us are just doing the best we can to get by.”
There are 6,000 people on the trial in the region. All are under 36 and receive a Newstart, Jobseeker or Parenting allowance.
They have 80 per cent of their payments quarantined on a special debit card, that cannot be used to buy alcohol, drugs or gambling products.
It is the fourth community in Australia under the cashless debit card system, after the scheme was introduced in the East Kimberley in WA and Ceduna in SA in 2016, and to the Goldfields regions in WA in 2018.
But some of the people taking part in the trial feel the cashless debit card places unreasonable restrictions on their spending and can even make it more difficult to save.
They said they could no longer buy second-hand goods online, often don’t have enough cash for cheaper supermarket food, and the debit card restricts payments to money owing on credit accounts.
“It’s definitely made things a lot harder, I’ve found it harder to budget,” Childers resident and single mother Hannah Leacy told 7.30.
“I’m losing out on interest that I could potentially be building up in my savings account if I’d been able to transfer that.”
She feels she is being penalised for something she hasn’t done.
“I got my first job at Domino’s when I was 13, and I’ve had a job ever since,” she said.
“I’ve been independent up until now, and now at 34, I’m now deemed to be incapable of making appropriate choices, financially.”
Despite the complaints by users, some community leaders in the Bundaberg-Hervey Bay region say the debit card is working well.
“People are finding that they’re able to budget a lot better, they’ve got money left over,” said the president of the Burrum District Community Centre, Fay Whiffen, who also sits on the Department of Social Security’s reference group assessing the local reaction to the trial.
She said if card users were experiencing problems, they should speak to the department.
“If they do want to buy some second-hand things on eBay or they do want to go to markets … they can contact the department and get an additional payment in cash as long as they can prove it’s what they want it for,” Ms Whiffen told 7.30.
“The only thing the Government is saying you can’t do with your money, is saying you can’t gamble, and you can’t drink and you can’t buy drugs.
“How could someone get upset at that if they’re trying to do the right thing?”
Hervey-Bay-based food charity We Care 2 said the cashless debit appeared to be having the desired effect.
“We have noticed, since about July, a significant decrease in the amount of people coming in for free food through the emergency relief program,” operations manager Jan Carlson told 7.30.
“In three days we would get 30, maybe 36 people through emergency relief, previously. Now we would probably see 12 a week.
“The other thing we’re finding is that people are actually volunteering to go onto the card.”
Ms Whiffen acknowledged there had been teething problems with the implementation of the trial, but insisted any problems had been swiftly dealt with.
And she said it was important no money was wasted.
“This is the taxpayers’ money and I think the taxpayers have a right too, to know where their money is going,” Ms Whiffen said.
“Welfare is supposed to be a hand up, it is not supposed to be career choice.”
But for Ms Griffis, the trial feels like a punishment.
“If my partner was to quarantine some of my money and tell me where and when I can’t spend it, tell me it’s for my own good … people would be screaming financial abuse,” she said.
“Why is it OK for the Government to do it?”