Tuesday, 2 August 2022
Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading
Deputy Speaker Goodenough, I congratulate you on your new role.
It is really important, when we have the discussion and look at this challenge, that we look back at first principles and understand why this cashless debit card was introduced. As the member for Wright correctly articulated, the coroner's report from 2011 was a key pillar of the decision to save lives—and we need to remember that this is about saving lives. The cashless debit card was also an important recommendation from the Forrest review report, Creating parity. It was developed as a means of reducing social harm caused by welfare-fuelled alcohol, gambling and drug abuse. This is not about politics. It comes from independent reports, coroner's reports. It is to reduce alcohol consumption, gambling and drug abuse.
For me, the worst part of the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022 is that the minister introduced the bill, spoke on the bill and sat here today and offered no alternative to the card. The challenges and problems in these communities still exist, and the minister does not have a solution. But she is prepared to take away a mechanism that is working. I'll quote the minister's own words:
Extensive community consultation will continue on the broader question of income management, to explore the future of this and other supports that are needed in communities in line with our core principles.
… … …
These diverse perspective on local needs will strongly inform our next steps. Consultation is central to everything we will do as a government. We want to ensure changes or measures we implement are actually helping.
We have heard from many members today that this consultation has not occurred, but the most damning thing about these statements is an admission that the minister and the government do not have a plan to solve these challenges of alcohol abuse, drug abuse and gambling. So why are the government rushing through this bill, using their new urgent powers within 48 hours to rush it through, when they don't even have a plan to solve this? This is the challenge that we face. In government, you're supposed to have a plan to make people's lives better, not rush through legislation because it suits your ideology.
It's interesting to note, as a new member in this House, that no government members are prepared to speak on this bill. For me, it speaks volumes that they're gagging the bill and no-one is prepared to defend the bill. It's important we understand the numbers: 1 July 2022; 17,795 participants. These aren't statistics; these are people. We've heard how this policy has saved families and prevented abuse. This policy has saved lives. Given this government has articulated no plan other than more consultation, why are we rushing this through if we know lives are being saved? Surely our role in this House is to improve every life and take the time to get these policies right.
The minister has spoken about consultation and acknowledged she needs to do more. And I know that our role in this House is to listen. Many new members have talked about how important it is to listen and represent their communities. Many members on this side of the House have shared their stories. So I want to share some of the stories of voices that the government have not listened to, like the Kalgoorlie-Boulder mayor, John Bowler, who expressed his frustration:
I would have liked for them to come here, consult with us, consult with the community, and then make a decision.
This government is making decisions without consultation. Their words do not match their actions. As I have said, people's lives are going to be negatively impacted, and I will continue to repeat that, because it is so important that we understand the magnitude of the decisions we make in this House. The WA police commissioner, Col Blanch, in speaking about the card, has 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.
Further, he said:
It just seems to settle the community down and gives them better opportunity to spend their money on priority needs.
This is the consultation the minister has not taken. The Wunan Foundation, a leading community organisation in the East Kimberley region, in their submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs, stated:
… more than four years on from the beginning of the CDC trial, circumstances in the East Kimberley today represent an improvement on the lived experience of people before the trial began in April 2016.
That is more evidence of people's lives being positively impacted by this card.
Generation One reiterated its support for the cashless debit card in its submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs, stating:
Our support is grounded by our ongoing community consultations with trial sites since the establishment of the CDC. We continue to see the incredible positive impacts the CDC is making for individuals, families, and communities, and wish to see this continue.
It staggers me that the minister would sit here with no plan other than more consultation and that the government would rush this bill through, gag debate, use their new urgent powers, when they've got no other alternatives but more consultation. I say again: why the rush on a policy that impacts people's lives and that we know makes people's lives better?
Forty-one per cent of participants surveyed who drank alcohol reported drinking less frequently. Forty-eight 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. That is more evidence that this card is working and saving and improving lives.
The other thing I found interesting today was that, when the minister was asked, she said that this doesn't work, that there's no evidence, and she referenced a report that said that 60 per cent of people did not see an improvement. For me, in one sentence, she has summed up everything that is wrong with this, because that means that 40 per cent of people have found a benefit to this card and this program. Forty per cent of people have had their lives improved, have had their families improved. How many lives have been saved that are not reported in the statistics? That's 8,000 people and 8,000 families that have had their lives improved by this card. Yet the minister is prepared to rip it away from those people and their families and communities. For what? More consultation. We're rushing through an urgent bill for more consultation. It's staggering that the government can sit here and say they're all about not leaving people behind. They're very happy to leave behind these communities and these people, with no plan but more consultation.
So I'm proud to speak out against this bill and stand with my fellow members who have been impacted. I hope the minister will take the time to reconsider and understand that there are people who are impacted: 40 per cent—8,000 people, 8,000 families and many communities impacted by this decision.