Booze-fuelled parties have made way for pot plants on front porches following the trial of cashless welfare cards, an indigenous leader says.
The federal government will continue to use the debit cards at trial sites at Kununurra in Western Australia and Ceduna in South Australia after initial success.
The cards quarantine 80 per cent of welfare payments, which cannot be used to buy alcohol or gamble, but can pay for housing, food, clothing, household supplies and essentials.
The remaining 20 per cent of a welfare payment is placed in a person’s regular bank account and can be withdrawn as cash.
An independent review found the debit card has been effective in reducing alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling.
“The card is a not a panacea, but it has led to stark improvements in these communities. There are very few other initiatives that have had such impact,” Human Services Minister Alan Tudge said on Tuesday.
The study found one in four participants who drank reported consuming alcohol less frequently.
Just under a third of gamblers in the trial reported reducing their habit, while 24 per cent told of using illegal drugs less often.
However, half of the participants surveyed said their lives were worse than before the trials.
“There is still a lot of work to do, but if we can continue on this path then over time we can make these communities safe, healthy and prosperous once again,” Mr Tudge said.
Ian Trust, the executive director of the Wunan Foundation, an Aboriginal development organisation in the East Kimberley, said there were clear differences before and after the trial.
“You could easily tell when there was money in town because there was wild parties everywhere, people drunk in the park during the day, the money manifested itself as more alcohol,” he told AAP.
“People are now buying more food, they’re even going to the hardware store and buying pot plants for their houses, which has never happened before.”
The trials will continue in the two locations with six-monthly reviews.
Mr Trust said he would support the card being rolled out across the country as drinking, drug and gambling problems were not unique to his community.
But Cassandra Goldie, head of the Australian Council of Social Service, said the report relied too heavily on anecdotal and self-reported evidence and the group opposed compulsory income management.
Greens senator Rachel Siewert said the trial’s extension would come as a shock to many who were told they would only be on the card for a year, arguing there was no evidence to support a national rollout.