Tuesday, 2 August 2022
Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading
I would just like to begin by taking the opportunity to tell you, Deputy Speaker Freelander, that this is my first opportunity to speak after my first speech earlier last week. What we have seen tonight is an appalling display of arrogance by the Labor government in guillotining this debate on a very, very important issue. It is an attack on the democracy of Australia. The people of Australia put people like me here to speak on these things and for the Labor government to guillotine this debate by calling it an emergency bill is just absolutely appalling. Having said that, I rise to oppose the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022.
As of 1 July 2022, there were 17,795 participants using the cashless debit card. The cashless debit card looks and operates like a regular bank card. It cannot be used to buy alcohol, gambling products, some gift cards or to withdraw cash. Eighty per cent of the recipient's welfare payment is quarantined into the card. The remaining 20 per cent of the recipient's social security payments are transferred into the recipient's bank account and can be withdrawn and used without restriction. The cashless debit card was an important recommendation in the Forrest review report Creating Parity as a means of reducing social harm caused by welfare-fuelled alcohol, gambling and drug abuse.
Evaluations of the cashless debit card show the program is working. The first independent valuation released in late 2017 showed that the card has shown considerable positive impact in the initial trial sites, including 41 per cent of participants surveyed who drank alcohol reported less drinking, 80 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 often. There have been more than a dozen evaluations of the cashless debit card that have provided consistent evidence about welfare quarantining policies that show decreases in drug and alcohol issues; decreases in crime, violence and antisocial behaviour; improvements in child health and wellbeing; improved financial management, and ongoing and even strengthened community support.
In January 2021 the evaluation of the cashless debit card, the CDC, was released after research was conducted by the Future of Employment and Skills research centre at the University of Adelaide. The evaluation was extensive, with quantitative survey contacting 4,424 CDC participants and receiving 2,041 responses. I wanted to use some of the time of today's speech to specifically mention some of the key findings in this evaluation. The evaluation found that alcohol consumption was reported to have been reduced since the introduction of the cashless debit card. Between one-third and a half of the cashless debit card participants who drink reported frequency of drinking was down by 11 per cent, the amount of drinking was down by 14 per cent, and both frequency and the amount were down by 11 per cent. Around 20 per cent of all cashless debit card recipients reported the cashless debit card had helped decrease illicit drug use for themselves, family, friends, community in all trial sites. One in five cashless debit card participants reported that the cashless debit card has helped reduce gambling problems in at least one of the following dimensions: for themselves, for their family, for their friends and where they live. Cash previously used for gambling was directed towards spending on essentials such as food. This evaluation proves that the cashless debit card has helped address longstanding issues in their communities.
What I want to know is how the Labor government will help people in their communities if the cashless debit program is removed. Quite simply, what is their alternative? How do they plan to address the complex social issues that each of the cashless debit card trial sites face? What I also want answered is what the Labor government intends to do with the job programs that help individuals into work, including cashless debit card participants.
Just this year the former coalition government opened proposals for new projects that will provide employment and training opportunities for cashless debit card participants within their communities. The $10 million Jobs and Infrastructure open competitive grant opportunity was part of the former coalition government's $30 million Job Ready package. The grant opportunity was to fund infrastructure projects and other support services to provide cashless debit card participants with training and job opportunities. The funding round was responding to the feedback from communities who were seeking to be empowered to create jobs that will help break the cycle of welfare dependence and support their communities to thrive.
Once again, what does the Labor government intend to do with these programs? Nobody knows. If the government put aside its ideological opposition to the cashless debit card, it would again hear firsthand how the cashless debit card is making a real positive difference in these communities. For any major reforms, community consultation is critical. Community consultation enables communities to articulate their own concerns and identify the appropriate responses and solutions to problems that affect them. Do I believe that the Labor government has completed extensive community consultation? The answer is no. Do I believe that the new Minister for Social Services has gone to the communities that have participated in the program and spoken to them about how the cashless debit card has helped address social issues in their communities, including alcohol abuse, illicit drug abuse and gambling? The answer to that is no. Is the Labor government willing to see social issues worsen in these communities if the cashless debit card is scrapped? This is something that I believe will happen if this bill passes.
In conclusion, I want to quote a section of Senator Price's maiden speech. Senator Price is a proud Territorian and Australian, a former business owner and former director of Indigenous research at the Centre for Independent Studies. Senator Price said:
… we see the removal of the cashless debit card, which allowed countless families on welfare to feed their children rather than seeing the money claimed by kinship demand from alcoholics, substance abusers and gamblers in their own family group.
If that's not a reason to continue the cashless debit card trial, I don't know what is. I urge the House to oppose this bill.