House debates

Tuesday, 2 August 2022


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

6:30 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

Yes, this, indeed, is a tragic situation that we find ourselves in, in this House, this evening. We all, I hope, have ambitions to come and serve in this place to do good things for the people of Australia, for our constituents, to make positive change to people's lives, to come here and be a part of taking our country forward, of growing our economy, of improving the lives and welfare of people and giving them a better future. Instead, tonight, we are debating a measure that, whilst opposed by this side of the House, will undoubtedly take some of the most vulnerable people in this nation backwards. We are here fighting in vain against a circumstance where this House, tomorrow, when we vote on this, may well be supporting a measure that is going to be demonstrably bad for some of the most vulnerable people in some of the most disadvantaged communities in our nation.

It is truly depressing and distressing to be helpless in standing here in a gagged debate, being given a precious 10 minutes to speak about something so significant, knowing that tomorrow morning this bill will progress, no doubt, through this House, and, despite our best endeavours, we will be confronted with a situation where the government progresses something that will undoubtedly lead to harm of vulnerable people, particularly women and children. When there are other matters before this House that I am looking forward to supporting that will bring about a positive change for women and children in particular, it is so depressing that in that same environment we are confronted with this circumstance where we're going to see a measure that will be demonstrably bad for them.

One of the great things about this chamber is that people from all 150 electorates across our nation come together, and the point of that, apart from the important democratic processes and the principle of one vote and one value, is that all different communities from across our nation can bring their perspectives into this chamber via their locally elected member. What is extremely significant in this debate is listening to the local members of parliament who have communities that are participating in this program in their electorates. That's the whole point of local members speaking in this chamber. It's so they can say: 'Hey, we're having this debate. Let me bring you a perspective from my own electorate that will inform the decision-making process.' We have heard from the member for O'Connor, the member for Hinkler and the member for Grey—I've spoken, too, about this many times—all members that have this cashless debit card operating in their electorates and doing so much good in their electorate, and they have brought a perspective to this debate that I can't, because this is not a program that is operating in my constituency. Their stories are the most important and significant to me and should be the most important and significant to anyone that is genuinely thinking through the consequences of the proposition currently before the House.

Some of their stories, their firsthand stories, are confronting and powerful. Some of them are very sad circumstances that relate to sexual abuse, suicide and a whole range of other awful things happening in communities. The common thread in all of their reports to this House and in these debates is the positive change that this measure has brought about in those communities since it was introduced. The fear that they have, as local members of parliament, is that if this bill passes, and if this important tool is taken away from those communities who are desperately trying to address significant challenges around alcohol abuse and other issues, unfortunately—what they report to us—they will see a repeat of the circumstances that occurred in those communities before this measure was available to them, and that positive change will completely reverse around.

There are some of my colleagues who have talked about the motivations of the government in doing this. Many talk about putting ideology ahead of practicality and listening to people on the ground. I do think that that is an element of the government's approach here. They are deciding ideologically that they don't support this. Therefore, despite the evidence, despite the position of leaders in communities—a wide variety of leaders, not just one category of leaders, but all different leaders from these communities that have been a part of these programs, that have been a part of the problems beforehand, that have seen the good work that has been done, that have seen the solutions that this measure brought about. Despite those stories being brought forward briefly in this debate—because it is a truncated debate. We don't have the opportunity to give as much compelling information to the House as we should have on such a significant issue, because we're having to finish this debate tonight and vote on it in the morning.

I think ideology is one motivation. I will be blunt, I think another motivation by the Labor Party throughout this has been politics, and particularly the appalling, disgraceful, disgusting scare campaigns that they have sought to run for an extended period of time around this program and the proposition that there was some kind of motivation to extend it more broadly.

On a regular occurrence I had my own constituents contact me in fearful circumstances. Pensioners in my electorate were saying they had been led to believe by certain members of the Labor Party that all pensioners were going to be put on to a scheme like this. Obviously the Labor Party saw this as an opportunity to lie, mislead and trick people into supporting them. To have that avenue of a political attack, of course, they had to hold the policy position that they were going to abolish the whole thing. And because they were abolishing the whole thing that meant that they were the only ones who weren't going to put every single pensioner in this country on to this scheme, which was obviously complete rubbish.

The Labor Party will always prioritise winning votes over what is in the best interests, from a good policy outcome point of view, of the people of this country. The consequence, unfortunately, on the other side of an election is that they have to follow through. They got the value of the politics around those lies that were told to pensioners in particular. But in order to tell the lie they had to have this position that they're now enacting, and that is to the great detriment of some of the most vulnerable communities in our nation.

I find it absolutely disgusting and appalling—to hold a position that you will put at risk the most vulnerable in our society, particularly women and children—that you will proactively return the capacity of people, within their communities, to bring alcoholism, drug abuse and other addictive issues that this scheme was able to curtail. You will put those problems back into these communities and the collateral associated outcomes, which include sexual abuse and domestic violence. I find that absolutely appalling.

Yes, congratulations, you were able, I suspect, to trick some people into voting for you, because of the way you misled them about this scheme. Congratulations on the politics there. You probably did trick people, incorrectly, into voting for you. You scared them. You frightened them. People like myself did my best to correct the lies. But it is probably the case that politically you got a dividend from this disgraceful policy and now you're implementing it. You got the political benefit. You frightened and tricked certain people into supporting you and now you are implementing a policy which will lead to devastating outcomes in some of the most vulnerable communities in our nation. It is absolutely shameful and I am appalled at the whole thing, particularly this requirement that we ram this thing through tonight in this curtailed debate and that we won't get the opportunity to do our very best to reason with people, some of whom on the other side of this chamber might possibly have a conscience on this matter and might accept the evidence on the ground about this. We can't do that; this debate is being curtailed. It is one of the most shameful examples of the disgraceful tactics the Labor Party will use to frighten people into voting for them at the expense of some of the most vulnerable in our society. It is a disgrace.


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