House debates

Tuesday, 2 August 2022


Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading

8:50 pm

Photo of Stephen BatesStephen Bates (Brisbane, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

The cashless debit card is punitive and discriminatory. Since this program was introduced in 2016 it has overwhelmingly caused hurt, distress and humiliation to those forced to used it. The current rates of income support are so meagre and are barely enough for people to survive on. The added layer of compulsory income management makes people's lives even harder than they already are. People subjected to this paternalistic policy face stigma and shame for using the cashless debit card. They are constantly living in fear that they won't be able to access essentials, like groceries, or even pay their rent, because of issues using the card. My Greens colleagues and I have met with people in the communities impacted by this card. We have been contacted by people who have become homeless due to the compulsory income management and have struggled to pay for their health care due to their payments being unnecessarily quarantined.

The Liberals constantly talk about a trial and research, but the recent ANAO report was scathing about the lack of policy evidence for this card. We know that this card does not work. Research has shown that this card has had a negative impact on people's financial wellbeing, and an Australian National Audit Office report on the card earlier this year found that the Department of Social Services had not demonstrated that the program had met its objectives.

The cashless debit card should never have been introduced, and it has been allowed to harm people for too long. This card serves no purpose other than to punish people living in poverty. The Greens have been opposed to this card since its introduction in parliament, and my colleagues Senator Janet Rice and former Greens senator Rachel Siewert tirelessly advocated against the program and consistently challenged the previous government to prove its effectiveness.

We believe that a socially just, democratic and sustainable society rests on the provision of social services to everyone who needs them. Everyone has the right to access high-quality resources to enable them to participate fully in society. Our social security system should work for the people who need it most. It should not be punishing people on income support, and private companies like Indue should not be allowed to profit off it.

The Greens welcome the Labor government's commitment to end the compulsory use of the cashless debit card. The end of this discriminatory system has been the work of communities, individuals and groups, such as No Cashless Debit Card Australia, who fought tirelessly against the introduction and subsequent expansion of the card.

Abolishing the card is an important step towards social equity and racial justice, but we must not forget the many people who will continue to be subjected to other forms of compulsory income management once the cashless debit card ends. According to the DSS, there are over 20,000 people on the BasicsCard in the Northern Territory and around 1,500 people in other parts of Australia. These people will continue to have their payments forcibly quarantined, despite the end of the cashless debit card, and to feel the stigma and shame of this cruel system.

Compulsory income management disproportionately impacts First Nations people and undermines human rights and fundamental freedoms. The cashless debit card and the BasicsCard are a continuation of discriminatory and racist intervention policies. Abolishing all compulsory income management will help generate savings for the government that can go to programs that are actually proven to reduce disadvantages and tackle issues of addiction—like early intervention.

We support the broad objectives of the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022 and thank the Labor government and the minister for acting quickly on this urgent issue. But we urge the Labor government to end all forms of compulsory income management with the same urgency. We must not let these racist and discriminatory practices continue.

We understand that the process of ending the cashless debit card and compulsory income management is complicated and involves many different communities and individuals with varying perspectives. But prominent community voices should not override an individual's choice to be taken off the card. In the introduction of the cashless debit card, we saw poor consultation from the previous government result in divided communities, where some voices were elevated above others. For this program to end equitably, we cannot allow this to happen again. We must protect people's right to autonomy. The Greens will work with the government to assure that individuals on the card are listened to and that the involuntary transfer of individuals onto this program is urgently stopped. We will also push the government to ensure that First Nations people are front and centre of all decision-making around the cashless debit card and compulsory income management.

The cashless debit card has caused widespread harm by punishing recipients of income support. We must use the end of the card as an opportunity to ask and investigate how our social security system became a tool for punishing people experiencing poverty. Too many people in Australia are living in poverty. While the rich get richer, millions of Australians are struggling to afford the most basic living costs. People are facing hunger, eviction and illness. Our income support system should provide support to everyone who needs it, but harsh and punitive measures have made it inaccessible to those who genuinely need to access it. The system is deeply broken, and it must be fixed. The government must abolish all punitive elements from our income support system. It must also raise the rate of all income support payments to above the poverty line. The Greens will continue to advocate for a fairer social security system. We will fight for a guaranteed liveable income where punitive measures like compulsory income management and mutual obligations are abolished, and income support payments are enough for people to live on.


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