Tuesday, 2 August 2022
Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading
I'd like to join the member for Aston in saying that this is a sad day for this parliament, and he's right to be angry. All of us are angry and sad on this side because good public policymaking is being thrown out the window today and ideology is winning. That is really, really sad for the communities that will be impacted.
I had the great honour of being social services minister for eight months. I would have loved to have continued on in that role, but I was given the great honour of being education minister. The thing that struck me, and the thing that still sticks with me, from my time as social services minister is how important this cashless debit card was. And for those members here, in particular, whose electorates house the communities that the cashless debit card has benefited from, they have a right to be bitterly, bitterly disappointed.
I'd like to thank those members, their communities and the leaders in their communities for standing up for what is right and for being able to say no to those who tried to pile on to make sure that this policy wasn't put in place. This policy has saved lives. This policy has protected the vulnerable. The sad reality now is that, with the cashless debit card going, we will see lives ruined. We will see lives damaged and, in particular, we will see young children impacted. That's why this is so sad.
The public policy that set the cashless debit card up has been good public policymaking. All the way through it, there has been analysis done, and the Australian National Audit Office has been called in to examine what has been occurring. I know that, from my time as minister, that occurred. This is what the ANAO report found that the Department of Social Services had done in setting up the cashless debit card:
Social Services established appropriate arrangements for consultation, communicating with communities and for governance of the implementation of CDCT. Social Services was responsive to operational issues as they arose during the trial.
The report also identified room for improvement, and that is what we did. We took on board all the recommendations to make sure that it was continuing to be built on and continuing to be improved. The sad reality now is that all that work, over many, many years, is now being thrown out the window. It's being thrown out the window without the government sending ministers in to listen to communities. Not only is all the public policy development and analysis that's gone into this being thrown out; it's being done so without any proper consultation.
In the time I was minister, I went to Kalgoorlie, I went to Boulder, I went to Coolgardie, I went to Port Augusta, I went to Ceduna and I went to Bundaberg because I wanted to know what was happening on the ground. I wanted to be able to listen to those communities and hear whether the card was being effective, whether it needed improving and whether it could be built on.
I must say, from my point of view, I think the card was such an overwhelming success that we should have continued to roll it out further into additional communities. I am happy and proud to stand by the record of the cashless debit card, because everything that I heard and saw said that it was changing lives. I remember going to Coolgardie. I remember visiting the IGA supermarket there and the owner of the supermarket saying that, as a result of the card, mothers were coming into the supermarket with their young children and were able to provide healthy lunches for them to take to school because they were not being pressured to come into that supermarket and buy alcohol for people who wanted to abuse it and who, sadly, had no care or no responsibility for their loved ones—in particular, their young children—and that it was changing lives. I can still remember that conversation as clear as day.
I remember talking to Betty Logan, an absolute inspiration. I remember Betty Logan saying that if you really wanted to understand the impact that the cashless debit card was having then you needed to look into the eyes of the young whose lives it was improving, was making better. It was allowing them to go to school not having been awake all night. Not only that; they were able to go to school knowing that they would have food in their stomachs so that they could study and get the type of education that we want all Australians to have.
One of the things the government was absolutely determined to do was make sure that this card, no matter where you lived or what your background was, was going to be there to help and support you. That's why we looked to move it and expand the trial to Bundaberg. There had been erroneous criticism that we were using this card and targeting it. We've already heard from the member for Hinkler of the outcomes and results of the trial in Bundaberg. The sad reality is that no-one from the government has spoken to any of the members of parliament on our side who host these trial sites to ask them how they have viewed the card. No-one has properly consulted with any of the communities where this card has been rolled out to discuss what the impacts have been and what the response has been. If they did that, they would have seen that there has been remarkable success—in particular, in making sure that money wasn't being spent on gambling, on alcohol and on drugs but was being spent on improving the lives of the people who lived in those communities and were beneficiaries of the public policy decision-making that has built the cashless debit card up to be a card that is getting meaningful and impactful results on the ground.
I say to those opposite: you should reconsider this legislation. You should halt what you are doing, you should go out and you should properly consult. You've said that this is going to be a new parliament—you're going to let the sunshine come in, and it's somehow going to be different to what has taken place before. If you are true to your word, then you would not be putting this legislation through this House in the manner that you are at the moment: gagging debate and rushing it through this parliament so that proper consultation will not take place. And the sad reality is that, as a result, people's lives will be changed for the worse—people's lives will be changed for the worse.
This is a really, really sad day for this parliament and this country, because a problem that we've all grappled with for over 100 years was starting to be fixed, and now it will go backwards. It's a shameful day, it's a sad day, and I feel sorry for all those communities that are going to be impacted by it.