Tuesday, 2 August 2022
Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading
I rise in opposition to the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022. This is a shameless, needless destruction of a really life-changing set of policies that have been rolled out in regions with some of the most vulnerable people, people with huge problems. I don't know how many on the other side who have been advocating for this have actually visited any of these sites or spoken to local practitioners, local mayors or people who are involved in the trial who were willingly and quite happily involved in it. It has been a major benefit to all the communities.
I've had the opportunity to visit two of those sites, first of all with the good member at the dispatch box, who is now the assistant shadow minister, the member for O'Connor, who himself has a cashless debit card and uses it, just to demonstrate it. I think he's probably got other cashless debit cards. He and other users of it in Kalgoorlie showed me how it works. It specifically limits payment for alcohol, gambling and drugs. And there are a lot of people on the card who have those problems and who used to get their funds ripped off by other family members with alcohol, drug and other problems. It looks like a Visa debit card and it acts like one. It's so specific and so sophisticated. If you walk into a hotel, you can buy a meal and pay for it, but you can't buy alcohol in the same hotel. People don't know. There's no stigma with it. You're just using it like normal.
I met with Indigenous groups. I met with people who are willingly and happily going onto it in Kalgoorlie. I got so much positive feedback from the local peer leaders in this situation. In Hervey Bay and Bundaberg, the good member for Hinkler, who I've been with, has many people who have benefited from it. Youth unemployment has gone down in the short time it's been there. In that area, it isn't predominantly in the Indigenous community; it's among general community members. Anyone under the age of 35 on JobSeeker, youth allowance or parenting payment single or partners goes onto it and, if they demonstrate their success in managing their affairs over a period of time, they can apply to come off. If people really have mental health issues, they can apply to come off it. But it has been very well received by quite prominent members of social services in that region. There are 6,552 people, all young people of working age, who are getting a better outcome because they are on it.
People in the Northern Territory, up until this bill, have had the right to transfer over from the BasicsCard, which is also run by Indue. In Far North Queensland, those on income management have had the right to go onto it. There are roughly 17,000 people using it to manage their affairs. They still get a cash component, but the amount they get is exactly the same as for anyone who's not on the card. It is very usable and very handy.
Why is it that there is this ridiculous ideological obsession that it is restricting the rights of people? People who are being supported by the community, by taxpayers, have a duty to try and get off welfare. All the stories that I was hearing about this income management were the same: there's less drug and alcohol violence and there are fewer presentations to accident and emergency. The police like it because they have less violence, and even the mayors in some of these towns have vouchsafed their views on the genuine improvement from it. As I said, the actual people on it were happy because they were facing less pressure from their families to hand over money that would be wasted on alcohol and/or drugs—or gambling, for that matter, too.
I have some other specific examples. I spoke to the member for Grey, whose electorate includes the town of Ceduna, which is another site. He's been to two elections with a 62 per cent favourability in Ceduna. He was very disappointed that the now Minister for Indigenous Affairs visited Ceduna but didn't meet with any of the people who are proponents of and supporting the system. She just refused to be taken by him to meet these people.
The cashless debit card also had other measures attached to it. There was a $30 million jobs fund to get people job ready, and there was support for local support services. There was $50 million for drug and alcohol residential rehabilitation facilities. The Western Australian police commissioner, Col Blanch, said the card has been beneficial in remote communities, and you've seen all the dysfunction that has happened in those areas. In fact, when I served in the parliament two parliaments before this one, the 45th, I was Assistant Minister for Children and Families, and we saw a lot of this violence in the East Kimberley, up in the Northern Territory and in North Queensland. This was a great initiative.
One of the ministers speaking on this said it is privatising social welfare. What a load of hogwash! The BasicsCard, the Indue card, is also run by private enterprise. Is there a push from members in the Department of Social Services? Are they thinking that some business would like to take over social security? Are they dreaming? It's not a business; it is a government service. It's just that we wanted a card, just like what was developed, to be seamless and not appear to be different from any other credit card and it was working so well. So it's very disappointing that the first thing this incoming government does is destroy something that has delivered huge social benefits, has empowered a lot of people who have had a disorganised life to get some sense of regularity in feeding their kids, getting off alcohol and drugs. School attendance of their children improves. Some of them have transitioned to work.
As I said, in the seat of Hinkler youth unemployment, which has been double the national average, has gone down. It has helped these young people because the money is not so available. They can't just go and spend it on Sportsbet or other forms of gambling or load up on alcohol, drink to excess or use cash, which is the way you get drugs. If everyone that I visited was tallied up here in this room, they would all be shouting from the bleachers, 'Keep it, keep it, keep it.' It's working, and you will see there will be an outbreak of all those things that have been reduced.
So what's the plan? In the second reading speech, the minister mentioned he is going to transition people back to income management and back to the other cards. Well, what's the point? I mean, seriously. But to get rid of it altogether is just a tragedy, so I'm not in favour of it. It wasn't a sinister plan to privatise social welfare in Australia, as the minister outlined in his speech. It was a great initiative that had the runs on the board in the East Kimberley. The member for Durack has spoken in favour of it as has the member for O'Connor, the member for Grey, the member for Hinkler, mayors, individuals, social services; it's universal. It just doesn't make sense for this government to come in and destroy something that has been improving people's lives and that's why I'm against the bill.