Tuesday, 2 August 2022
Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading
Mr Deputy Speaker Goodenough, congratulations on the deputy speakership role. I stand here today in absolute disbelief. Labor's relentless pursuit of damaging remote and regional Australia is consistently present in their words and their actions. Federal Labor have consistently demonstrated that they don't understand or, worse, don't care about regional Australia, particularly the very remote parts of our country. In the first sitting after the election, Labor has decided to scrap the cashless debit card. In doing so we'll see thousands of Australian families revert to a life of financial uncertainty. This will put many families in an incredibly dangerous situation.
Labor has recklessly walked away from the communities of Ceduna in South Australia, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland and the Goldfields. The card is also being scrapped in O'Connor, my dear friend Rick Wilson's electorate, and in my seat of Durack in the East Kimberley. Labor has told the nearly 18,000 participants that are currently using the cashless debit card, including the 1,335 people in the East Kimberley, that it is no longer here to support them. We should not be very surprised that Labor is happy to walk away from these communities. This is the sadness of it, because, after all, they're just regional communities, aren't they? Labor doesn't care about regional communities.
The shire president of Wyndham-East Kimberley, David Menzel, recently commented that he expects to see an increase in social issues after the card trial ends. Local Kununurra community leader Des Hill has expressed concerns over the scrapping of the cashless debit card. Mr Hill understands that certain individuals were abusing their money on alcohol, gambling and drugs. Mr Hill also understands that solutions such as the cashless debit card can provide assistance to local families in dealing with these endemic issues. Executive Chair of the Wunan Foundation in East Kimberley, Ian Trust, said that, although the cashless debit card was not a silver bullet, it was 'something that could have been improved and made better. Going back just to cash welfare is going back to a status quo—and we have had that for 40 or 50 years and that hasn't worked'. He is a very, very respectful and respected man in the Kimberley and he speaks the truth.
This is just commentary from leaders on the ground who have to deal with the issues of remote and regional communities every single day. They are a long way from Canberra. Support for the cashless debit card does not stop there. WA Police Commissioner Col Blanch said the trial had been beneficial for communities. He said:
It gives opportunity for the more senior people in families and the elders and some of the Aboriginal communities to use the money on food for the kids and other things.
It just seems to settle the community down and gives them better opportunity to spend their money on priority needs.
This is Western Australia's most senior law enforcer, who, I have no doubt, knows the issues being faced on the ground in the East Kimberley.
If Labor actually took the time to truly consult with law enforcement and Indigenous and community leaders, then they'd be aware of the benefits of the cashless debit card, especially in my electorate of Durack and across the sites that I mentioned earlier. They would be aware that 41 per cent of participants surveyed who drank alcohol reported drinking less frequently. They would be aware that 48 per cent of participants surveyed who used drugs reported using drugs less frequently. They would be aware that 48 per cent of those who gambled before the trial reported gambling less often.
Instead, Labor have chosen to ignore the facts in order to appease their virtue-signalling base. They are not interested in making the difficult decisions to make Australian lives better. They are only interested in playing politics and pandering to the city elite.
The federal Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth, insultingly referred to the cashless debit card as a Liberal Party ideological obsession. Well, let me say this very clearly: if doing your best to help the most vulnerable people in your community is nothing more than a Liberal Party ideological obsession, then I will take that moniker any day you like. We are coming to expect this sort of rhetoric from the new Labor government.
Those opposite have made reference to a recent report from the Australian National Audit Office which details the implementation and performance of the cashless debit card trial. Labor claim that this report highlighted a lack of evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of the cashless debit card. Maybe you could call that gilding the lily or being disingenuous, as this could not be further from the truth. The ANAO report clearly outlines how the cashless debit card's first performance indicator—how well the card supports a reduction in social harm in communities—was related and measurable. The second performance indicator—the extent to which participants are using their cashless debit card to direct income support payments to essential goods and services—was also found to be related but not measurable at this time. The ANAO report made two specific recommendations, and neither of them was to abolish the cashless debit card, because even the ANAO—and I don't always agree with what they say—know that removing this measure hastily and without proper consultation with communities and leaders on the ground is irresponsible, and it's purely dangerous.
The abolishment of this card will flood the affected communities with welfare cash, in turn exacerbating the issues we have spent so many years working to curb: alcohol abuse, drug abuse, gamble addiction, children going without food, family violence. Now, I agree that the cashless debit card is by no means a silver bullet; we have never claimed that it is that. But we do know that the cashless debit card is having a positive impact on the lives of Australians who need it most. And let me tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker Goodenough: these Australians are some of our most vulnerable. If this bill, the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022, is passed, the Albanese government will be directly responsible for whatever horrible circumstances our most vulnerable are left to live with. Shame on Labor!