House debates

Thursday, 26 October 2017


Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017; Second Reading

4:25 pm

Photo of Emma HusarEmma Husar (Lindsay, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Labor supports the genuine, intuitive policies that acknowledge the problems and opportunities that are unique to remote and discrete communities. Because of the tireless efforts of Jenny Macklin and Linda Burney, we understand that a cashless debit system may be part of a solution. While I mention Linda Burney's name, I would just like to pass on my sincere condolences to my colleague Linda and thank her for all of her work and efforts in making sure that this system is got right. It's a shame that she isn't here today, but I am very privileged to stand up and honour the work that she's been doing.

We also understand that most people are quite capable of managing their own incomes. It is vital that we understand that it can be only a part of and not a holistic answer to complex historical problems. These problems vary from community to community, country to country and state to state. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. We need to develop the levers that provide access to support when and where it is suitable: programs that address alcohol and drug-related problems, not empty promises and half-baked attempts that may be more likely to hinder and not help. We need to listen to communities to find out what assistance they require and to tailor programs to suit specific localities. We also need to empower people to help themselves. One size does not fit all.

That is one of the reasons that Labor does not support a nationwide rollout of the cashless debit card. I also note that Labor only supported the rollout of the cashless debit card in 2015 after extensive consultation and the promise of additional programs designed to work in partnership with the trials. This position was decided after—and only after—consultation with community leaders. The development of a memorandum of understanding with the Ceduna community was also critical to this process.

At this point I note that some community leaders in Kununurra have changed their position on the card due to the lack of support programs wrapping around and actually working in their communities. We support local community action in delivering tailored programs that suit their needs: programs that complement the objectives of the cashless debit card. This is considered vital for the success of any trial. We need to understand the reasons for the shift in support in Kununurra.

I turn to the cost of these trials undertaken so far. As we have previously heard, the government has spent around $18.9 million on the East Kimberley and Ceduna trials alone. We believe the Senate inquiry will reveal whether this money has been well spent, but that is an extraordinary amount of money. It is also hoped this will shed light on the $7.9 million paid to Indue to manage the payment system. Surprisingly, ORIMA Research was funded to the tune of $1.6 million for research that in the opinion of many has questionable value as either indicator or research tool.

We rightly question the reason why this legislation is being brought forward when there are still so many questions that need to be answered. The 2016 census tells us that Australia's Indigenous population has grown by 17.4 per cent since 2011. That's an estimated 3.3 per cent of our total population, an estimated just under 800,000 people who are concerned about the implications of a rollout of a cashless debit card system. We need to be mindful of the implications of those trials and the psychological impact they have on every single Indigenous person, regardless of where they live. It is imperative that we take the actions of previous governments into account when we are discussing serious amendments, such as the one before the House today. It is also important to note that these populations are centred in the major cities, particularly in electorates like mine in Lindsay.

The impact of these trials is surely an underlying worry for many people in how they view their future. These are people who have suffered and have been hurt by our collective actions, however well-intentioned they may have been. These people need to be reassured of our commitment to the implementation of effective education, rehabilitation and training programs as essential. They are essential to ensure that the inequity, suspicion and historical dislocation is addressed in ways that are well researched, well resourced and effectively delivered.

While we know that most people have the ability to self-manage their incomes, we also understand that some people need a hand. Whether extending the rollout of the cashless debit card is the answer is yet to be fully understood. Labor is committed to consulting widely in the Hervey Bay and Goldfields areas. I reiterate that we mean proper consultation that includes working together with communities to ensure they get the programs they need and desire, and not lecture them. We will not lecture the communities we visit, but we will commit to listening, discussing and acting.

Debate interrupted.