House debates

Tuesday, 2 August 2022


Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading

4:54 pm

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022. It is both an absolute honour and a privilege to be speaking on this bill, because it delivers on the Albanese Labor government's election commitment to abolish the cashless debit card.

We were very proud to make that commitment, and we are proud now to be abolishing the cashless debit card for all of the devastation it has brought across the country. On day one of this new parliament, the Minister for Social Services introduced this bill into the House. This bill, which is the product of extensive community consultation, will end the cashless debit card and allow approximately 17,300 participants to transition off the card.

We also announced last week that, as part of abolishing the scheme, the government will close the cashless debit card program to all new entrants from 1 August. So, as of today, no new people will be forced onto the card. The fact is the cashless debit card is privatised welfare. There is something deeply, deeply wrong when private, for-profit companies control people's income support payments or determine where people can actually spend their money.

We know the former government spent $170 million on the cashless debit card program—money which could have been better invested in the support services that local communities need. The cashless debit card has been operating across Australia for six years in those trial sites. The former government introduced the card in Ceduna in 2016, but over time it was expanded to the East Kimberley, Goldfields, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay areas, and, most recently, to the Northern Territory and Cape York as well.

The concerns that many people raised were that the previous government actually intended to roll it out even further—much further.

An opposition member: Yes!

It's good to now hear the opposition confirm their plans and confirm that they were going to roll out the cashless debit card across the country. Labor shared all of those concerns. The cashless debit card was wrong and destructive. We know the former government wanted to roll it out further—even to age pensioners, who were very concerned about that.

The cashless debit card has been a complete failure and it has destroyed lives. There has never been evidence to show that the cashless debit card is actually working. There have been so many evaluations, inquiries and audits that have repeatedly shown, in clear data, that the card does not work. It just does not work. Just recently, the Australian National Audit Office released its latest audit on the performance of the cashless debit card, highlighting once more the lack of evidence available to demonstrate any success of the card at all.

I was recently in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, and I met with many people who were forced onto the card—people like Kerryn Griffis, who, in fact, was then rejoicing that she was finally able to get off the card after being forced onto it for an incredibly traumatic three years. Kerryn's a mother of five and is one of the thousands of Australians whose spending was restricted, as she lived in one of those trial sites. As Kerryn said: 'It has massively negatively impacted mine and my kids' lives. It has been a nightmare being on the card. It's been traumatic. There just isn't a better word.' Kerryn said that life without the card meant her family would have their freedom back. 'I cannot wait', she said. 'I'm going to be able to have flexibility with my finances. I'm not going to be restricted by which bill I will and won't pay, and my kids are looking forward to having pocket money again.'

Being forced onto the card meant that those people had 80 per cent of their government payments placed onto the Indue controlled cashless debit card, which could only be used in approved locations for approved purchases and could not be used to withdraw cash. In opposition, we established the Protecting Pensioners Taskforce. As the chair, I was inundated with heartbreaking stories from those people who had already been forced onto the card, people who were cruelly directed by the previous government about where and when they could actually spend their own money.

Today I'd like to especially acknowledge the secretary of that task force, my good friend the member for Bruce, who also worked tirelessly to get rid of this cruel card. For many months we campaigned on this issue. We committed to abolish the card, because of how destructive it has been. And now we are delivering on this. We listened and we're acting.

We know that the former government wanted to roll the cashless card out nationally. We heard them say it many, many times, and they wanted to extend the card's operation to many more pensioners, including age pensioners. Our seniors built this nation. They worked hard, paid their taxes and raised their families, and they deserve to be treated with respect, and that's exactly what they get under an Albanese Labor government. They are being treated with respect.

Many individuals and community groups have worked incredibly hard for years to get rid of this card. I would like to especially thank groups like No Cashless Debit Card Australia and Say No Seven for your tireless work. I want to acknowledge Kathryn Wilkes and Amanda Smith. Your commitment and hard work is inspirational. Groups like Say No Seven and No Cashless Debit Card Australia have worked so hard for so long for this to happen. They have been advocating everywhere for years to get rid of this card. They have been collecting stories and evidence from across the nation. Thanks to both of you. You are wonderful. And thanks so much to the more than 50,000 people across the country who signed our petition to get rid of this card.

I have spoken with so many people who have described the impact of being on the card and how it stigmatises them and makes their lives so incredibly difficult. Examples such as: 'Usage of the card is actually extremely restricted at the locations that it can be used at. The card is often declined.' Many people are not able to buy basic food or groceries. Families often have to leave their groceries at the store. They're not able to buy them. Their card is so often declined. Many families are unable to pay their rent. Many people have been forced into bankruptcy. Many have been unable to make car repayments. In so many cases, they're not able to buy second-hand clothes or school uniforms because they can't access cash to buy them. A lot of people buy them through Facebook groups by using cash to buy second-hand uniforms. They can't afford to buy them. So this has had a devastating effect on individuals. It is degrading. And this card has stripped away many people's rights and in many cases their dignity.

I'd like to highlight again a case I've told the House before, the case of Bianca. Bianca has to wear plus-size bras—size 16H. She can only afford to this buy this specific bra on eBay, which is a blocked merchant under this scheme. So what did Indue make Bianca do? They insisted she send photos of the bra. Then she had to get permission to do it. Then show proof of purchase. She was completely humiliated buying a bra that she could've bought on eBay. Instead she had to go through this really degrading process.

There is also the case of Joslyn, who is 65 years old and on a disability pension, who was forced on to the cashless welfare card just because of where she lives. She has always managed her own finances. As Joslyn says, 'I don't need anyone else to do it for me or to know what I am spending my money on. It's hard enough being on a pension without 80 per cent of it being put on a card you can't use everywhere.' This card is insulting and demeaning. It is downright wrong.

Pending the passage of this legislation, this bill will enable more than 17,300 existing cashless debit card participants to be transitioned off the card, which we aim to be from September this year. It will also ensure that the Family Responsibilities Commission can continue to support community members by placing them on income management where the need exists or they do want to be on it.

I want to make it clear that for participants transitioning off there is no requirement, after this bill passes, for a participant to prove anything in order to move off the card.

Secondly, every participant will be transitioned off the card once this bill passes the parliament. The CDC will be abolished; it will no longer exist. Of course, where participants require continued assistance with budgeting, transferring direct debits from the cashless debit card or referrals to other support services, there will be help available. We want to ensure we provide that support to people as they transition off the card. We are consulting with them to make sure there are support services for them, unlike when they were placed onto the card. It just happened.

Part of that support includes the option for voluntary income management if people choose. That's what voluntary income management is. They have to choose that. And when it comes to income management, the primary principles around it should be that it's voluntary, that it is not privatised, that it's supported by evidence and that it's subject to ongoing evaluation. We respect the rights of some individuals or communities who may want to voluntarily be on income management. But it is being approached in a very different way by this government, as opposed to the former government, who forced so many people onto the card.

Our government is committed to ensuring communities and individuals are properly supported to transition off the card. We will continue to keep consulting with those people on the cashless debit card in those communities about the future of the support services that had been funded through this program. We do want to provide that individual support to people who may need assistance with processing issues, particularly around moving payments and where they may be taken from.

We have listened to many people. We have listened to First Nations community leaders, we have listened to service providers and, very importantly, we have listened to cashless debit card participants in these communities. We have heard them loud and clear. Thousands and thousands of people that have been on this card have made their views incredibly clear to us over a very long period of time.

The fact is, as I said early on in my contribution, privatised welfare does not work. I think nothing highlights that more than the disaster of the cashless debit card. So many people have told me, have told us, about the shame and anguish the card brings, and it makes them feel like they are constantly being punished and demonised. Well, the Albanese government has said enough is enough. We are calling time on the cashless debit card. We have listened. We know what people have been through. The fact is that there is a better way.

That's why the Prime Minister said that removing the card would be absolutely central to our agenda if we were elected to government. We have moved very decisively to abolish the cashless debit card in the first week of the new parliament. As I said, the minister introduced this on day one of the 47th parliament. We did that because we have listened to what people have said across the country. We know how harmful this card has been. It would not have been without the loud voices of people across the country, particularly, as I said, No Cashless Debit Card Australia and Say No Seven, who made their voices so clear and made this happen, and the Australian people who voted for change for a number of reasons. One of those reasons was to get rid of the cashless debit card.

Now we're doing that. We're doing all of that because our government, the Albanese Labor government, believes no-one should be left behind at all, and these people had been left behind by the previous government. We are looking out for the most disadvantaged and the most vulnerable in our country. It's for that reason that I am very privileged to be speaking today on abolishing the cashless debit card. I commend the bill to the House.


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