Tuesday, 2 August 2022
Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading
Make no mistake: the removal of the cashless debit card from remote communities will lead to hundreds more women being assaulted and children being neglected. Now, I'm not exaggerating in saying this. It is the inevitable outcome of putting hundreds of thousands of dollars of welfare cash into these grog-soaked communities. Labor knows this. They've been to these damaged places; nevertheless they have made the repeal of the cashless debit card one of their first acts of government. To say that I am disgusted with the Labor Party on this bill is an understatement. It is classic ideology trumping the safety of women and children.
I was the architect of the cashless debit card, designing it and implementing it in concert with Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders in both Ceduna and the East Kimberley. But this is not the reason that I am so passionately against the card's repeal. Rather, my passion comes from having worked in and around Indigenous issues for over 20 years now, including having worked as Noel Pearson's deputy director before coming to this place, and having seen the devastating impact on the ground that welfare-fuelled alcohol abuse has in these places. It comes about because I've seen so many other programs deliver just so little. My passion comes about because this initiative, unlike almost all other initiatives in remote Indigenous communities, was having an impact. That's why I'm so devastated that the Labor Party prioritises repealing this, knowing the damage it's going to cause when it is repealed.
Alcohol paid for by the taxpayer through welfare payments is the absolute poison that runs through remote communities, and anybody who has been to these places knows exactly that. But take a look at the data if you don't believe me. Now, consider this: in the Northern Territory one in 27 Indigenous women is assaulted each year. Overall in Australia, one in 35 Indigenous women is hospitalised from assault every two years. Think about that. One in 35 Indigenous women every two years is hospitalised from assault, and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare says that 75 per cent of that violence is connected to alcohol and other substance abuse. I've been told that in some communities almost every single girl has been sexually abused. I know that there are some communities where one in four babies is born effectively brain damaged from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. All of this is paid for by the taxpayer dollar.
We often use the word 'crisis' in this place, but the greatest crisis that I know of in this country is what is occurring in remote communities at the moment, particularly in relation to the safety, or lack of safety, for women and children. We've all been complicit in this carnage that I've been describing—those hospitalisation rates, those assault rates, the neglect of children, the fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. We have all been complicit because we've been aware of what has been occurring, yet we have continued to hand over the welfare cash, knowing that it will go to alcohol abuse, to drug abuse, to other abuse and therefore to kids going hungry, to violence occurring and to communities being unsafe.
The cashless debit card changed that equation. It was deliberately designed to stop the flow of welfare cash being spent on alcohol, drugs and gambling. And it did this through quite clever technology—through a Visa debit card, like everybody else's Visa debit card that you may have in your pocket right now. It worked at every single shop across the country but it didn't work at two places. It didn't work at your bottle shops or your gambling houses and you couldn't take cash out from it and, consequently, couldn't purchase illicit substances. But otherwise, it is like any other Visa debit card, and 80 per cent of a person's welfare payment was placed on that card.
We complemented that card with a suite of additional support services including drug and alcohol services. This card and the services were designed hand-in-glove with the leaders particularly from Ceduna and the East Kimberley. Nothing went ahead without those elders signing off on it. Every element of the card, from the percentage placed on the card down to the colour of the card, was agreed by the local leaders in those communities. When you reflect back on this card and how well it has been going, it has been getting results, unlike almost any other initiative that has ever been tried in these remote Indigenous communities. So many countless services and initiatives that we tried failed to make a difference but this one did. It's been evaluated so many times and every single evaluation shows it was making an impact.
The most recent evaluation was the University of Adelaide one. I'm going to quote just a couple of its findings in the executive summary. The evaluation '… found consistent and clear evidence that alcohol consumption has reduced since the introduction of the CDC in the trial sites.' It '… found that the CDC has been helping to reduce gambling, with positive impacts especially in the context of family and broader social life.' And it '… found that safety had been improving since the introduction of the cashless debit card.' That was the University of Adelaide at the beginning of last year.
The people that I've spoken to in these communities say when they go to the supermarkets now in, say, Kununurra, they see families who trolley loads of grocery rather than just a couple of bag loads of groceries because of the additional cash they have to spend on the food. The mayor of Ceduna says the town has never been so good since the introduction of it. Places like Leanora and Laverton, which are very troubled communities, are now completely different because of the reduction alcohol abuse which has occurred there.
All this is going if this bill goes ahead and, what's more, it's not just that those benefits are going but you can guarantee that carnage will be unleashed when the welfare cash comes at these communities like a road train. We have seen it before. We know that this happens when there's big royalty payments which occur. Exactly the same is going to happen here and this will be on the Labor Party's head. They know this. But what they lack is the courage to go and properly consult and speak to the people who actually stood up and said we want this card in our community.
I will never forget Betty Logan, an Indigenous leader from the Goldfields, who is an inspiration, saying to us, 'If you don't believe we need the cashless debit card, just have a look in the eyes of a 10-year-old girl that's been abused and then tell me we don't need a cashless debit card.' Or go and speak to Ian truss, one of the most inspirational leaders in Western Australia or Corey McLennan in Ceduna, strong leaders who stood up and who wanted to bring control to their communities.
We are supposed to be a parliament which backs Indigenous leaders. So what happens, Labor Party? Why aren't you listening to those leaders who want to take responsibility? I think this is disgraceful. I am angry about this. I am angry because we found something which was working and I'm angry because I know the impact which is going to be unleashed when this cash flows into these communities. The Labor Party, they're oh so righteous at the moment about the abolition of this card. And it's very easy for them to be righteous, knowing that their own children are sleeping soundly tonight in their nice suburban homes. Meanwhile, they'll be unleashing carnage on hundreds of children hundreds of kilometres away. I think that's a shame on the Labor Party. This is ideology trumping the safety of women and children. This is what's at stake. I hope the Senate rejects this, because this has been an initiative which has been making a difference, and it needs to continue.