Tuesday, 2 August 2022
Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading
I have been one of perhaps a handful of people in this place—perhaps fewer—who have not only spoken on this bill and researched it in depth and talked about the card many, many times in this place but also visited Ceduna and spent time in Hervey Bay with NGOs and participants to really get a very good understanding of this card. Now we have before us a bill, the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022, that will impact more than 17,000 people, who will have the opportunity to leave the cashless debit card.
I think we need to go back to the point of the card. The point of the card was to trial it at a number of isolated areas to see the impact of quarantining 80 per cent of a person's Centrelink payment—working-age Centrelink payment, not pensioners; there was a real scare campaign in the last election that pensioners were going to be put on this card, and I saw no evidence of that at all—and, with that, to encourage people who are on the card to spend their money on needs that they have and not on alcohol and drugs or on gambling. Twenty per cent they could spend on alcohol and drugs and gambling, but it was really to encourage people to make positive choices with the Centrelink funds that they had. It's important to note that not everybody has a drug and alcohol issue or a gambling issue. But the point of the card was really to address antisocial behaviours in many communities.
I think it's also really important to note that, while we have this bill before us, those in the Northern Territory and Cape York will still remain on mandatory income management, whereas the income management will move to a voluntary basis for those on the cashless debit card. I don't quite understand that, because both of the cards are managed by Indue, but there we go. That is what we have before us.
I thought what I would do is perhaps talk a little bit about when I went to Ceduna and spent time in that community to get a good understanding of the experience there and also about when I was in Hervey Bay. In Ceduna, when I went there, the results were mixed. What is important to note, though, was that there was a 12 per cent reduction in poker machine revenue in Ceduna and the surrounding local government areas. That, to me, is a real positive effect. I tried to get some updated information on that, and unfortunately it was really difficult to get that data, but I did hear anecdotally from many members of the community that in the past, in the Ceduna pub, people would be overflowing out of the pokies room. When I popped my head in to have a look, there were many, many empty chairs.
When I met with the District Council of Ceduna, they said that the card had been transformational and had fundamentally changed the community, in a positive sense. The foreshore was no longer littered with bottles and four-litre casks and antisocial behaviour. People weren't carrying around casks of wine and drinking during the day.
One of the challenges that I saw in Ceduna was that, while there was a plethora of services available—I also visited the town camp and the sobering up unit, and I met with the Red Cross—they didn't have, at the time, some long-stay drug and alcohol services. People had to go to Port Augusta for that. There was also a lack of training facilities. I think what we wanted to see with this card was that people had actually moved off Centrelink, that they were able to address their barriers and to gain employment.
Overall in Ceduna it was mixed. It was difficult. We couldn't meet with SAPOL. I think part of that was perhaps that the state government at the time was discouraging those of us who were interested to see how effective the card really was. But, anecdotally, when I talked with community members, it was supportive. It had a positive effect. Tourism had gone back into Ceduna. For those in this place—it's not in my electorate; it's in the member for Grey's electorate—Ceduna is a beautiful part of South Australia. I hope that if you are travelling through South Australia you have a chance to get there, particularly if you're heading over to Western Australia.
I'll talk briefly about my time in Hervey Bay. I met with councils. I met with the police. I met with a round table of participants. I met with organisations right across the region. I also went to headspace. Participants felt that their rights had been infringed. However, police said that it had been overwhelmingly positive, despite initially having concerns in the Hinkler electorate before the trial commenced.
When I sat with St Vincent de Paul they wanted the trial to continue, because they saw positive signs. They saw fewer people getting emergency food relief. They saw more people coming in and buying clothes.
We Care 2 provide emergency food relief and have a bit of a supermarket—a bit like Foodbank. They saw an increase in people purchasing food at their low-cost supermarket and a decrease in people seeking emergency relief. That's what we wanted to see.
Participants felt stigma with the Indue word written on the card and so the government removed that. New cards that were issued didn't have the word on it. Essentially it looked just like any other credit card.
I have not been ideological on this in any way. I've been looking at how we can positively affect the lives of people. I would like to see these trials extended.
The Australian National Audit Office report doesn't say to end the trial in any way. The two recommendations were with respect to internal performance measures and for the Department of Social Services to conduct an external review of the second impact evaluation of the card.
What we should be looking for here though is concrete evidence that this works. Unfortunately, many of the reports that were done were flawed from the beginning. They didn't have baseline data. They were largely subjective. They were asking people if they wanted to be on the card, rather than asking the police whether there had been a drop in alcohol fuelled violence, whether there had been a drop in assaults, whether there had been a drop in drug possession offences, whether rates of domestic violence and family violence had reduced. Positively—had there been an increase in school attendance and community engagement and an increase in people moving from the card into employment?
I think it's important that we allow this to continue. I'm disappointed that this bill has been rushed through the House. We seem to have these urgent emergency powers now for nearly every bill that's before this place. I would urge the minister to sit down and spend time with the regional councils, who will bear the brunt of antisocial behaviour. The purpose for the card, while it was originally rolled out, was to address that antisocial behaviour.
I want to end with what I see as a broader concern. We now have, in our nation, third generation welfare dependent Australians where no-one in three successive generations has had a job. To me this is a terrible loss of opportunity for the individual, for the family and for our broader community. I still believe that this card had tremendous potential to turn that around, for people to move from poverty to prosperity. The card alone would not do that; you would need to have a range of support services around it. But I do very much fear for the communities of Ceduna and Hervey Bay that I went to if the card is ended with absolutely no supports and no plan for the future.