Tuesday, 2 August 2022
Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading
I rise today to oppose the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022. I want to put on the record, firstly, my acknowledgement of the courageous and compassionate members of my Goldfields community who have fought so hard since 2015 to secure and retain the cashless debit card trial in the city of Kalgoorlie-Boulder and the shires of Coolgardie, Menzies, Leonora and Laverton. I stand proud of the achievements of community leaders like John Bowler, shire presidents Mal Cullen, Peter Craig, Pat Hill, Greg and Jill Dwyer and their CEOs and elected councillors and the longstanding residents, strong advocates for the communities they love. I herald the bravery of Indigenous elders and leaders who spoke out about the realities of how grog, drugs and gambling were ruining their daily lives, eroding their culture and robbing their children and youth not only of their youth but also of hope.
I've spoken many times in this House about how the cashless debit card came to the goldfields, and one of the things that I find most offensive about the minister's second reading speech and also her answer to the dorothy dixer in question time last week is that the cashless debit card was imposed because of some ideological bent of the coalition. In November 2015 I travelled to the town of Leonora, 236 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, to attend the end-of-year school presentations. I arrived in town to find the people absolutely devastated because that week two 16-year-old girls had taken their own life. No-one will ever know those girls' stories, but what I was told by the people there was that repeated sexual abuse was the most likely reason that those beautiful young people decided that their life wasn't worth living.
That evening I was having dinner in the Central Hotel, and one of the local elders, Nana Gay Harris, came up to my table and sat down. She poured out her frustration, her despair, at the situation that their community found themselves in. I said to her: 'I'm sorry, but I don't have an answer that's going to solve your problems. But I have heard about a cashless debit card trial that we're running in Ceduna which quarantines some income to a card and some income to your normal bank account.' I actually didn't know much about the detail of it at the time, but I said to Nana Gay, 'Would you be interested in learning more about this?' She said, 'Absolutely we would be.' So I rang Minister Alan Tudge, who was then Assistant Minister for Social Services, and I explained the situation. Within two weeks Minister Tudge was sitting in the shire chambers in Leonora with Nana Gay Harris, other Indigenous leaders and the local shire council to discuss and explain what the cashless debit card meant and how it might work to help their community. This was in December 2015.
What followed then was a process of consultation across the goldfields. The other goldfields communities said, 'We'd be interested in learning more about this.' The Department of Social Services carried out consultations, and 270 consultations later—I attended some of them, not all, but everybody had an opportunity to come along and listen, hear what was on offer, hear what the implications of having a card were—at the end of the day they were pretty keen to give it a go because their communities were suffering. I gave a commitment, as the member for O'Connor, that no community would have the cashless debit card enforced on them. In the community of Tjuntjuntjara, which is 600 kilometres east of Kalgoorlie and is part of the Menzies shire, they didn't want to have the card. I flew out there with the DSS, and we sat under a tree in 42 degree heat. We discussed the card, and at the end of that discussion one of the local elders, Deb, stood up and said: 'We don't want this fella here. We don't want the card.' I said, 'That's fine, you're not going to have the card.' Tjuntjuntjara is in the shire of Menzies, 600 kilometres away, and in the town of Menzies the late Mr Tucker, the Indigenous leader there, insisted that they wanted the card in the town of Menzies. So as part of the legislation, as we drew it up, Tjuntjuntjara was exempted and the town of Menzies was in. We went to every length possible to make sure that those communities who didn't want to be on the card weren't forced to be on the card and those communities who asked to be on the card, after consultation over 270 times, were given the opportunity.
After listening to the speech by the Assistant Minister for Social Services, I wasn't sure whether I was in the right chamber or whether we were talking about the same thing. This is a cashless debit card. It's a Visa debit card. I had one. I used it for two years everywhere around Western Australia. I used it in Canberra. You use it to go and buy any product at any store, except at a till that sells alcohol, where it won't work. You can't go online and buy gambling products either, just quietly.
A trial participant has 80 per cent of their payment put into this account and 20 per cent of their payment put into their normal bank account. For a single parent with three children, their fortnightly payment—when I checked about three years ago—was about $1,500. It's probably considerably more now. That means that $300 a fortnight cash goes into their normal bank account and $1,200 goes into this account, and, through Centrepay and other mechanisms, they can set up direct debits so the rent is paid and the utilities are paid. If they've got a car payment, some people have been using a wonderful service that we've got in WA, a no-interest loan service. There is no interest on the product as long as a direct debit is set up to make the repayments. That is how the card works in practice for many, many people.
It's a great account, I've got to tell you. If you make a transaction, you get a text message immediately: 'You've just spent $23 at the IGA.' I have used my card all over Australia. It works everywhere, unless you're trying to buy alcohol with it. I've not tried to buy any online gambling products. So that's a cashless debit card. That's how it works. This one actually belongs to one of my staff members. It's still active and it will work anywhere.
Today the Minister for Social Services had an op-ed in the West Australian newspaper. It starts by asking people to imagine being a parent and not being able to buy your kids shoes because you're on the cashless debit card. I don't know who wrote that for her—actually I do know who wrote it for her—but they obviously didn't understand how the card works. You can walk into any shoe shop anywhere in the world, probably, and buy a pair of shoes with it. So we have a minister here who doesn't understand how the card even works, who is working overtime at the moment to remove the card.
One of the claims by the Assistant Minister for Social Services and others who have spoken on this is that there is no evidence that it works. Well, firstly, there is the evidence that I've seen and the people that I speak to have seen—like the owners of the Coolgardie IGA, the only grocery store in town, which also happens to have a section that sells liquor. There are two aisles, one for the liquor shop and one for the grocery store. Anecdotally they tell me that the amount of trade that has shifted from the liquor aisle to the grocery aisle since the introduction of the debit card is unbelievable. That's what they tell me.
We've had the ORIMA report and the University of Adelaide report. They ask a series of questions. Are you better off? If you're an alcoholic and you're on the card, maybe you're not better off. Maybe you've got to work a bit harder to find the cash to buy your booze. So the answer to that question might be no. Does that mean the card is not working? I wouldn't be 100 per cent sure that that would be an accurate representation. But the ORIMA report did say that 41 per cent of participants were drinking less alcohol after the card was introduced than previously. It said that 48 per cent of participants surveyed who used drugs reported using drugs less frequently, and 48 per cent of those who gambled before the trial reported gambling less. The University of Adelaide have a more contemporary report. Their findings said that 45 per cent of cashless debit card participants believed the cashless debit card had improved things for themselves and their families. For 45 per cent life had improved. So I have to say to those opposite: are you really prepared to take that away from that 45 per cent? Do you really believe that you can sleep easy at night knowing that almost half the people across the Goldfields trial of 3,200 were better off but you're going to take that away from them? The consequences will be severe.
The ANAO report has been widely quoted by the minister. But, as the shadow minister reported, on page 48, in table 3.4, it states that performance measures for the cashless debit card had reliably met requirements to support a reduction in social harm in the communities and participants were reliably using their cashless debit card to redirect income support payments to essential goods and services, including the support and wellbeing of participants. What's the opposite of that? If you take the card away and you get the opposite of that, it means an increase in social harm. That's the opposite of a reduction. If you take this away then logically you'll get an increase. If income support payments for essential goods and services, including the support and wellbeing of participants, is a consequence of having the card, the opposite of that is that their wellbeing will be diminished. But here we have the Labor Party proudly inflicting this on the people of the Goldfields.
I can go on and talk about evidence in 2019. The Kalgoorlie-Boulder Chamber of Commerce and Industry did a survey and found, 12 months after the introduction of the card, 72 per cent of the respondents to the survey had seen a decrease in antisocial behaviour in the CBD of Kalgoorlie, 86 per cent of respondents felt the cashless debit card had made positive changes throughout the Goldfields and 86 per cent would have liked the cashless debit card to continue.
I was speaking earlier about the minister's completely ill-founded comments about no consultation. I can tell you one area that hasn't been consulted about the removal of this card, and that's the Goldfields. There has been no visit and no contact. I believe that the assistant minister is scheduled to travel to the Goldfields some time in the next few weeks, but the legislation has been introduced. It's an urgency motion. It's going to be dealt with in the next 24 hours. So why bother going to consult with those people? You have made up your minds. You are not going to listen to anything that they say. I'm just appalled at the way my people have been treated and the consequences that are going to flow from this decision.
In the remaining time that I've got my question to those on the other side is: what happens next? What happens to the people of the Goldfields and my communities when this card, which has led to dramatically reduced social harm and antisocial behaviour and has had all these positives flowing from it, is taken away? What's plan B? As I said, the assistant minister is travelling to the Goldfields next week or the following week. I think my people deserve to hear what the Labor Party are going to do for the people and the community of the Goldfields to rectify the damage and the tsunami of antisocial behaviour, alcohol abuse and harm that is going to be inflicted on my communities as a result of this legislation.