Crossbench senators are being urged against cutting deals with the Morrison government, in a campaign to prevent the cashless welfare card becoming permanent for some Australians.
Australia’s top lawyers have also joined the chorus against the plan, asking the government to ditch it.
The Morrison government needs the bill to pass this week, before parliament rises for the year, otherwise current trials across the country will end on December 31.
The bill narrowly passed the lower house on Monday afternoon 62 votes to 61 despite Labor’s attempts to curb its progress, setting it up for a Senate battle.
Its fate is in the hands of two independents, Tasmanian Jacqui Lambie and South Australian Rex Patrick.
They want to base their decision on feedback from those affected.
Senator Patrick has visited Northern Territory’s Arnhem land and late last week went to SA’s Ceduna region.
He met with Indigenous leaders, health officials, business people and locals but remains tight-lipped on his decision.
Greens senator Rachel Siewert is urging him to vote against the bill.
“Supporting this bill essentially entrenches one of the most paternalistic measures of the Northern Territory intervention,” she said.
“This is not a bill for the crossbench to make deals over. This is about vulnerable people’s lives.”
Law Council president Pauline Wright is concerned the plan is being chased without proper information on trial results.
A review of the program hasn’t been released by government.
“The bill also proposes to remove the need for independent evaluation, which will further undermine the community’s ability to know whether the card is effective in addressing harm to individuals or communities or has unintended consequences,” Ms Wright said.
Liberal MP Bridget Archer spoke out against her own party’s policy last week, calling the scheme a harmful and punitive overreach, but she did not vote against the bill.
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 in South Australia’s Ceduna region, the East Kimberley and Goldfields in Western Australia, and Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland are due to end on December 31.
The bill permanently puts welfare recipients in those areas on the cards, and transfers people in the Northern Territory to the scheme from another type of income management card.