The makings of a toxic triad: conditionality, automation and privatisation – the case of the Cashless Debit Card

Stream: Compulsory income management
Date: Tuesday, 10 September 2019
Time: 10.55 am – 12.35 pm


This paper draws on work-in-progress towards a PhD research study: ‘Conditional Welfare: A political economy of its neoliberal manifestation in the form of the automated and privatised Cashless Debit Card and its effect on First Nations Australians’. Through analysing government documents and media statements, this PhD traces the genealogy of automated and privatised income support delivery systems, referencing to the Cashless Debit Card. It investigates the nature of these technological and administrative mechanisms, the political imperatives that underpin them, and the impact of digital welfare governance techniques on income support recipients.

This paper highlights how – in the context of neoliberalism and globalisation – the insertion of automation and concomitant privatising/outsourcing of social welfare systems are viewed by policy makers as necessary and axiomatic accompaniments to the adoption of welfare conditionality.

The focus is on the political economy of automation and privatisation as instruments of conditional welfare. Particular attention is paid to the increased surveillance of the private spheres of income support recipients’ lives (Zuboff, 2019; Eubanks, 2017) and the erosion of people’s sense of agency, rights and control (Fine, 2014; Whitfield, 2012; Bonefeld, 2014).

It is argued that automation and privatisation serve particular vested interests and, far from enhancing people’s rights in the name of digital inclusion, serve to undermine existing rights and are integral to the monetisation of personal data. The toxic mix of automation and privatisation has come at the expense of equity, human rights and decency, resulting in punitive and discriminatory attitudes towards income support recipients.


Sue Tilley (Presenter), Uniting Communities and UniSA
Sue Tilley is currently a PhD candidate at the University of South Australia, with a research focus on the political economy of the automation and privatisation of conditional welfare in Australia and its impact on First Nations income support recipients.
She is the Manager of Aboriginal Policy and Advocacy at Uniting Communities.