Coalition MP Keith Pitt has defended the former government’s cashless welfare program with a claim that an Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report found the scheme was mostly meeting its objectives.
The claim is misleading. The ANAO report assessed the quality of the administration of the cashless debit card (CDC) program, not the scheme’s overall success. The report said that while administrative oversight of the program was “largely effective”, the government had “not demonstrated that the CDC program is meeting its intended objectives”.
When asked if there was any “concrete evidence or data” to show the program had a positive impact in the communities in which it operated, Mr Pitt referred to a June 2022 ANAO audit that assessed the administration of the program.
“In fact, there was a table in that report which demonstrated that it was meeting the criteria in pretty much every area apart from a couple,” Mr Pitt said.
A spokeswoman for Mr Pitt confirmed to AAP FactCheck that the MP’s comments referred to table 3.4 in the report (‘Assessment of 2020–21 performance measures for the Cashless Debit Card’), which can be found on page 48.
Mr Pitt’s office did not reply to a follow-up question asking what he meant by his claim that the report showed the CDC program was mostly meeting its criteria.
Mr Pitt and other coalition members made similarly misleading claims in parliament in August.
“I have in front of me table 3.4, ‘Assessment of 2020–21 performance measures for the Cashless Debit Card’ of the ANAO report. Guess what it says… The report finds that it (the CDC program) ‘fully and/or mostly meets requirements’. The report actually says it meets the requirements for reduction in social harm in communities,” Mr Pitt said in parliament on August 1.
On August 2, Mr Pitt’s coalition colleague Michael Sukkar also used table 3.4 to claim the scheme was meeting its aims.
“The performance measure in table 3.4 is the ‘extent to which the CDC supports a reduction in social harm in communities’. The conclusion from the ANAO is that it ‘fully and/or mostly meets requirements’… The consequences are that it supports a reduction of social harm in communities,” Mr Sukkar said in parliament.
The CDC program was a welfare management policy introduced by the former coalition government in 2016 and managed by the Department of Social Services (DSS).
The program aimed to reduce social harm by quarantining up to 80 per cent of a person’s welfare payments on to a debit card that could not be used to withdraw cash or buy alcohol or gambling products.
The objective of the 2022 ANAO audit was to “examine the effectiveness of the DSS’ administration of the cashless debit card program” (page 7), including a review of recommendations the ANAO made in an earlier audit of the scheme.
The ANAO listed three evaluation criteria it applied to draw its conclusions (page 8): the effectiveness of risk management, procurement and contract management processes; the implementation of performance measures; and evidence that a 2021 expansion of the program was informed by lessons learned from the original trial sites.
The table cited by Mr Pitt assessed the robustness of two external performance measures used by the DSS – harm reduction in communities and the frequency of card use (table 3.3, page 48) – and whether those measures were reliable, verifiable and free from bias, as required by public accountability rules.
But despite the suggestion by Mr Pitt, table 3.4 reported only on the quality of those two performance measures, not whether the performance measures were met.
Instead, the ANAO report said that while administration of the CDC program was “largely effective”, the DSS “has not demonstrated that the CDC program is meeting its intended objectives” (page 8).
An ANAO spokesman confirmed that table 3.4 showed an assessment of the DSS’ 2020-21 performance measures relating to the CDC program and not an assessment of the scheme’s broader effectiveness.
“Table 3.4 is about the quality of the Department’s performance measures. Table 3.4 does not assess how well the Cashless Debit Card performed,” the spokesman told AAP FactCheck in an email.
“The finding of the annual performance statement audit was that one of the two performance measures was fully or mostly related, reliable, verifiable and free from bias; and the second of the two measures was fully or mostly related and reliable, but that it was not verifiable or free from bias.”
In September, Labor passed the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill, fulfilling an election promise to abolish the scheme.
Keith Pitt’s claim that an ANAO audit of the cashless debit card program found the scheme was meeting its criteria is misleading.
The ANAO report in question assessed the quality of the CDC program’s administration and performance measures, not the broader success of the scheme. The report found that while administration of the CDC program was “largely effective”, the DSS had not demonstrated the program was meeting its intended objectives.
Misleading – The claim is accurate in parts but information has also been presented incorrectly, out of context or omitted.