Tuesday, 2 August 2022
Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading
I'll start by reinforcing the member for Sturt's last comments. Scaring people with false information is about one of the lowest forms of politics there is. I can confirm what he said because I was dealing with the emails and phone calls myself. The issue tonight is the cashless debit card, and I've had a bit to do with this. I was very keen in the early stages for a town in my electorate to be one of the trial sites. So, with the member for Grey, I visited Ceduna and met with the community leadership there, including the council and leaders of the Aboriginal community. I was very impressed with their resolve to do something practical about the serious issues in Ceduna to do with excessive alcohol use and lawlessness in that town. I feel particularly sad tonight because those community leaders showed incredible courage to back this. This was a courageous act by the local community, and they've had the rug pulled out from under them at the moment. I feel very sad about that. You've heard the member for Grey's contributions in here about the changes that card has made in the town of Ceduna.
I and the minister responsible for this at the time, the member for Aston, looked at the town of Moree in my electorate. I got verbal approval from the local mayor at the time that it might be an issue that they would be supportive of. Members of the department spent some time in that town consulting with various members of the community. Word got out amongst some that this was a racist card and that it was going to be bad for them, and they started a protest. It got to a stage where, at one of the heated meetings with the councillors, basically there were threats of harm—of vehicles being burnt, of houses being burnt and the like—if there was support. Sadly, under that pressure, the council backed down.
The other form of pressure and the major charges against this, which were particularly telling and the bit that upset me most—and the publicans that were in town then aren't there now, so I can say this—were from the publicans in town. When you think about it, taking money that was meant to buy food, clothing and school supplies for kids and putting it through poker machines was part of the business model of those pubs. One of the publicans came into my office and wanted to know how much compensation there would be for his business if this card came in. Another one who employed at the time, I think, 22 people said that he'd be laying people off and the renovations that he was planning for his pub wouldn't go ahead if this card came in. That in itself really explains why this card was needed.
Why did I want to do this in Moree? It's pretty well my hometown, the closest large centre, and I've got an office there. I wanted to do it because the people on welfare in Moree are about 50-50 Indigenous and non-Indigenous. I think this should be seen as a welfare card, not an Aboriginal welfare card. As far as those things go, we should be colour blind in this House. Moree was a good example because it wouldn't have just been the Aboriginal community that was part of this trial; it would have been everyone. I think it's a similar situation in the Hinkler area, where there's not a high proportion of Aboriginal people. As a result, part of the mindset of the minister and government at the time was that this wouldn't be forced on any community, so as a result we backed off and it didn't go into Moree, much to my disappointment.
What's interesting is that probably some time later some of these same hotheads who were calling it the race card and screaming about this terrible card said to me: 'Maybe we should have a crack at this. We've still got a lot of our younger people not being fed because of the cash that comes into the family being taken. We're still seeing some of our elders are getting pressure for their money because there's cash in the house.' That's part of the misinformation that came out before the election, because elders weren't part of this card. They could choose to be if they wanted. Many of them, I think in other places in Ceduna, the goldfields and up in Hinkler, probably did, because they liked the idea of not having the cash. Just in round figures, off the top of my head from memory, a couple with three school aged children, with all the payments for the children and family assistance, got roughly $1,700 a fortnight. There was 20 per cent in cash and they could do what they liked with it. You could take it out the backyard, set it on fire, buy grog, gamble, whatever. That's like $340 of cash that you could do what you want with. The rest was on the card, and the card would be used at the tuckshop at school, would pay for school excursions, could be used down at the supermarket, the coffee shop, to get a taxi. All of that, this card would have been used for.
I'm terribly sad about the lost opportunity in my electorate, because I think it was worthwhile. We're in politics, and being a member of parliament should not be a popularity contest. I know at times it is; you've got to get re-elected. But, quite frankly, sometimes you have to make courageous decisions because quite often the easiest path is not the best path. I had other towns in my electorate where the Aboriginal leadership was saying, 'Why don't you bring them here?' The time had elapsed, and we missed the opportunity. I think this is an incredibly bad decision by this government. I think people will be harmed by this decision. What is interesting is it's symbolic, because, back to the popularity thing, none of these trials were in Labor held seats. It's not like they need to do this to win the next election. What we see more and more is the virtue signalling. I was speaking about the virtue signalling last night with the change of distribution priority areas for medicines, and now we have doctors moving from more remote and isolated towns to more highly populated areas because of a decision that was made without thinking through the ramifications.
Obviously, this change is going to happen. The numbers in the House are aligned that way. But I really wish the members of the government would have a bit of a think about what they're doing here. You know, there's a lot of hubris at the moment. I understand that; I spent time in opposition and came into government. There's a lot of hubris, but, please, when you want to change the world in two weeks, just think about the real lives of people that you're impacting, and this is going to impact on a lot.