Australians on cashless welfare cards remain in the dark on whether the scheme will be in place next month, with a key crossbench senator still unsure if he will support the plan or not.
The Morrison government has until Thursday to pass a bill that would make the cards permanent in its current trial sites, otherwise they will end on December 31.
The bill also moves more than 20,000 people in the Northern Territory onto the cards from another income management scheme.
Independent senator Rex Patrick has the deciding vote and is still on the fence, but is negotiating with the government.
“I’m engaged in discussions with the government on whether or not we can get the right package to make this plausible, particularly in circumstances where the government has failed to give any data – empirical data – as to whether it’s achieving its objectives,” he told Sky News on Wednesday.
“I haven’t made a decision yet because, actually, it’s really complex.
“There are lots of moving parts to this decision.”
Senator Patrick has visited Northern Territory’s Arnhem Land and South Australia’s Ceduna region to speak with people affected by the cards.
The cards freeze the majority of welfare payments so they can only be spent on items the government deems essential, in a bid to curb spending on alcohol, gambling and drugs.
Trials are occurring in Ceduna, the East Kimberley and Goldfields in Western Australia, and Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland.
Senator Patrick has been using the card for the past four weeks “without issue”.
But he acknowledges there are both positive and negative aspects of the income management system.
“It’s the only decision I think I can say where I’ve really lost sleep over in my time in the Senate,” the South Australian said.
“It has to be dealt with over the next 24 hours.”