Wednesday, 27 November 2019
Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019; Consideration in Detail
The amendments in question were announced by the minister acting for the minister in the other place without any discussion with the Labor Party. We were able to negotiate for us to have some time to look at those amendments, which we have subsequently done, and I recognise that we were given that flexibility. I have looked very closely at the amendments and consulted with the appropriate people within my party on the amendments. We are not going to be accepting any of the amendments. The three amendments are not acceptable to the Labor Party.
As I have made clear to the House, Labor does not support this bill in its current form. We do not support compulsory income management being forced on whole groups of Territorians simply because of where they live, who they are or what payment they are on. Twelve years after the intervention in the Northern Territory, it is absolutely clear that compulsory broad based income management in the Northern Territory has not worked. It has, however, marginalised, stigmatised and made everyday life much, much harder. It has not improved the lives and circumstances of First Nations people. This cashless debit card proposal is discriminatory. It goes against the evidence, and it is wrong to force it on so many Territory communities who have clearly said they do not want it. That is why we will be opposing the amendments.
In a media release on 25 March this year, the former social services minister, the member for Bradfield, said about the government's plan for the cashless debit card in the Northern Territory:
For existing participants on the Income Management and BasicsCard program, there will be no change to the operating principles, including the percentage to be quarantined, which will remain at 50 per cent …
That's a very definite statement by the minister. Let's see what's happened. We know this is not what the government really wants, and these amendments today prove it. They are the first step in a plan to quarantine 80 per cent of payments in the Northern Territory making it harder for people to buy food and second-hand goods in remote communities. The cashless debit card restricts 80 per cent of a person's income everywhere else. It is only a matter of time before the government uses these amendments to snatch 80 per cent of people's benefits in the Territory as well. If the government were serious about keeping the quarantine rate at 50 per cent, that is what the amendment would say. Instead, the secret plan they've had all along is now in black and white. We also see amendments in relations to age pensioners. Let me be clear: if the government was really serious about not putting Territory pensioners—or other people who manage their money well, have never taken drugs and deserve to be treated with respect—onto the cashless debit card, they would withdraw the bill altogether. What communities in Northern Territory need is access to more jobs and economic development opportunities, access to clean water and secure food supplies, and access to better health and education services.
I recently met with the emergency relief providers in Darwin, who said that the punitive social security breaching practices of this government were forcing people in remote areas to give up and stop claiming social security. This is trapping whole communities in poverty. There are stories of food being so short that people are forced by the system to lock themselves in their bedrooms to eat. This is wrong. It should not be happening in Australia. There is so much the parliament could do to fix it, but this bill and these amendments are not the solution. This bill will only make matters worse.