House debates

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Bills

Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018; Second Reading

12:03 pm

Photo of Cathy O'TooleCathy O'Toole (Herbert, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise in this place today to make it very clear to the Turnbull government that the community in my electorate of Herbert will not support the cashless debit card. But what we will support is early intervention and prevention programs that would assist people to move past their desperate and often very complex circumstances. We are repeatedly witnessing attempts to expand the use of the cashless card across the country. I know that it won't be too long before the Turnbull government will focus on my electorate of Herbert, and, as I have stated, under no circumstances will we accept the implementation of the cashless card in my electorate.

The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018 seeks to extend the cashless debit card trial to Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. If this bill is successful, all recipients of Newstart, youth allowance (other) and parenting payment who are under 36 in the electorate of Hinkler will be forced to become trial participants. The cashless debit card quarantines 80 per cent of income support payment onto a special debit card that cannot be used to buy alcohol, to gamble or to buy gift cards, which could in turn be used to purchase alcohol or to gamble.

The evaluation clearly questions these measures. The ORIMA evaluation into the effectiveness of the existing trials is inconclusive at best. The evaluation has been thoroughly criticised by leading academics, and there is insufficient credible evidence at this point in time to support the establishment of further trials. It is expected that around 6,700 people in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay would become trial participants. The mayors of both local government areas in the trial region, Bundaberg and Fraser Coast, publicly oppose the introduction of the cashless debit card in their areas. The community doesn't want it; the local council doesn't want it. So why on earth is this government rolling it out? Does this government think it knows better than the mayor, the local councillors and the local community?

I fully support community-driven initiatives to tackle drug and alcohol misuse. That is why, at the last election, I committed $5 million towards the Salvation Army drug and alcohol detox facility for young people—a commitment, I might add, that the LNP did not match. That's how governments should be supporting communities.

Community social problems will not be solved by a blanket income-management program. The vast majority of income support recipients are more than capable of managing their own finances.

I do not support a national rollout of the cashless debit card. Labor has said all along that we will talk to individual communities and make decisions on a location-by-location basis. Labor will only consider the introduction of a new trial site if the Turnbull government can demonstrate that they have an agreed, formal consultation process with the communities involved, as well as an agreed definition of 'consent'. The Hinkler area has said that they don't want it; that is why Labor will oppose this bill.

The Turnbull government is hell-bent on targeting the most vulnerable citizens. The implementation of the card is an assumption that all those who are 35 years of age and under and receiving Newstart or youth allowance for jobseekers, parenting payment single or parenting payment partnered, are using their money inappropriately. I ask the members of the Turnbull government: how would each of you feel if you were labelled an alcoholic? How would the members of this government feel about automatically being labelled gamblers? How would members opposite feel if they were labelled drug addicts? I assume that they would not be very impressed at all. Essentially, this is what the cashless debit card is doing to those who are already struggling to survive.

I represent the electorate of Hinkler, which includes the remote community of Palm Island. Palm Island is a small community of over 3,500 people. The island has an unemployment rate of 29 per cent and an underemployment rate of 20 per cent. According to the 2016 census, 24.1 per cent of households on Palm Island had a weekly household income of less than $650. The census also showed that, of the people aged 15 years and over on Palm Island, 74.9 per cent did unpaid domestic work in the week before the census. Palm Island is a developing community and a hidden gem in North Queensland. Given that Palm Island doesn't have a big economy, people look at the debit card as a way backwards, certainly not a way forward. The Palm Island council and the residents of Palm Island want job creation and economic development opportunities, because job creation is a much better option for the people on Palm Island than a cashless debit card.

Townsville has an unemployment rate of over eight per cent and a youth unemployment rate of over 20 per cent. To date, we have seen no investment in our region by the Turnbull government, and, after nearly three years, we are still waiting on NAIF to actually move past announcements and put some money on the table for the projects that have been announced, as that will get jobs underway. Palm Island, Townsville and all of the communities in northern Australia need investment. Investment in infrastructure projects, tourism and education will not only kickstart our economies; they will be the catalysts for job creation in a number of industries.

Labor's position on the cashless welfare trial has always been to support trial areas where the community has a desire to try something new to address drug and alcohol misuse. I am always open to considering genuine efforts to assist and support people in my community who are struggling with drug and alcohol dependency to access appropriate treatment. I don't believe that income support is best utilised to support a drug habit. However, vulnerable people's lives are very complex. As community representatives, we must remember that we are talking about people's lives. These are entrenched social issues that cannot and will not be solved by income management alone. We must address the core issues that contribute to drug and alcohol misuse. The vast majority of income support recipients are more than capable of managing their own finances, and many of the people I have spoken to feel it would be deeply insulting to have such a regime inflicted on them.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights conducted a review of the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Debit Card Trial) Bill in 2015 and noted that the cashless debit card engages and limits three human rights: the right to social security, the right to a private life and the right to equality and nondiscrimination. By reducing a person's choice in how and where they access and spend their social security payments, the Cashless Debit Card program limits the right to a private life. Labor has said that we never support a blanket approach to income management. We will not support a trial where the community insists it does not want a trial and also knows that it is not the solution it is seeking. That is why we do not support this bill. Labor will continue to consult with individual communities to ensure that their requests are met, while addressing social hardships.

The Turnbull government released the evaluation of the trials on 1 September. The evaluation showed mixed results. There have been serious concerns regarding Kununurra and Ceduna particularly. If you look at the report, 78 per cent of the people said there had been little to no change, and some said they had in fact been worse off. The Senate inquiry committee heard from the people of Kununurra, who stated that the card isn't working. Police reported increased levels of violence, and the not-for-profit sector in the town reported that children were going hungry. You can't just put a card in place without other interventions and expect behavioural change to occur, particularly when First Nations people in that area stated that they weren't asked about the card and weren't consulted about what they thought were more appropriate solutions.

I have received numerous emails and messages from members in my community who are against the implementation of the cashless debit card in Townsville. People have a grave fear of privacy invasion and that the cashless welfare card is a bandaid attempt to address a far more complex social matter. The people of my community would prefer the funds for this card to be invested in things like infrastructure that would actually create jobs. Townsville is in desperate need of water infrastructure investment. Federal Labor has committed $100 million towards securing a long-term solution to Townsville's water needs as well as $200 million towards developing hydroelectricity on the Burdekin Falls Dam. Labor has also committed $75 million towards our port expansion project. This single investment alone will generate more than $500 million for our local community as well as hundreds of jobs.

These projects should be priorities for the Turnbull government, not implying that people who receive welfare supports are criminals who frivolously spend their money. The best way that we can address the situation that we find ourselves in, where people are struggling with alcohol and drug misuse, is to fund early intervention and prevention support programs—programs that focus on the social needs of families who are struggling in communities, programs that support kids to get to school and programs that ensure that young people get a good education so they can move into work. Funding infrastructure creates jobs. Pretending that working on an income management strategy will cure the ills of the world and get people into work is simply not clear thinking by this government. I urge the government to seriously consider early intervention and prevention and to consult with the communities it thinks will benefit from income management programs, because I am sure these communities can tell you loudly and clearly what they need to support people living in their communities.

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