In recent decades some western nations such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand have adopted a stigmatising approach to social security payments with increased surveillance and control of the poor. Cashless welfare transfers are part of this general global trend, where intensive regulation of the poor is increasingly prescribed to address their allegedly deviant dispositions. In Australia, industry interests have played a key role in the development and expansion of cashless welfare transfer cards.

The government has enacted a host of Cashless Debit Card (CDC) legislation purportedly to address substance abuse and foster socially responsible behaviour. Their CDC narrative of policy success and redemptive prospects is deeply contentious. The vast majority of people on the CDC have been forced on to it, and Indigenous social security recipients are overrepresented under the scheme. The legislation restricts 80 per cent of a person’s social security payment for expenditure via the CDC, which is not universally accepted at places where CDC holders need to make purchases.

The dominant discourse describes this resource intensive surveillance measure as a supportive, caring mechanism for welfare recipients that will build a bridge towards their redemptive end. Yet care is defined in terms of colonial authorities and neoliberal entrepreneurs rather than reflecting the perspectives of those subject to the CDC. The paper explores whether the CDC embodies a trend towards ‘new, commodifiable forms of repressive violence’ (Povinelli 2011: 127) working in conjunction with longstanding oppressive colonial hierarchies. The paper will also explore how the state seeks to construct ‘cognitive coherence’ in its law and policy narrative on cashless welfare transfers, inventing ‘a logic that connects their account of the world, the legitimacy of their power, and the virtuous nature of their actions’ (Mulgan 2007: 102) whilst marginalising the voices of those subject to the scheme.

Presenter biography

Dr Shelley Bielefeld

Before her employment at Griffith Law School as an ARC DECRA Fellow and Senior Lecturer, Dr Bielefeld was the Inaugural Braithwaite Research Fellow at the School of Regulation and Global Governance at the Australian National University.

Dr Bielefeld’s interests include Indigenous law and policy issues, welfare law and policy, race discrimination, racial states, racism, governance and regulation, and poverty surveillance.

Her current research projects are an ARC DECRA: Regulation and Governance for Indigenous Welfare: Poverty Surveillance and its Alternatives (DE180100599) and an ARC Discovery Project: Conditional Welfare: A Comparative Case Study of Income Management Policies (DP180101252), the latter with Professor Greg Marston, Associate Professor Philip Mendes, and Associate Professor Louise Humpage.



Level 2, Forgan Smith building
The University of Queensland
St Lucia campus
Sir Harry Gibbs Moot Court

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