Tuesday, 2 August 2022
Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading
It is sad that I rise at this hour to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022—this urgency bill. I agree with everything the member for Page just said. He said it with passion and said it with experience. I know the member for Page, as he just described, has been to many of these communities—as have I. I wonder how many of those opposite, perhaps those new to the parliament, have been to these communities? Have they seen the sorts of things that the member for Page and I have seen in some of these more remote communities, or heard the stories from those people directly affected—and they certainly will be affected—by the repealing of this important provision?
The cashless debit card has made a big difference. It has made a difference to the lives of so many—to so many children. If we, as the Parliament of Australia, are to look after one thing, one sector of society, it should be our children. They are our future. I know that sounds glib and I know that sounds trite—perhaps, even, corny. But we have to look after the kids, and the cashless debit card did just that. It looked after the kids who, in many ways—certainly, in many remote communities—are the voiceless. Before the cashless debit card was put in place they did not have a voice. They didn't have food at the table. They went to school hungry, they came home from school and, if it was a good night, often mum didn't bashed. The cashless debit card made such a difference.
I know that some of those opposite may well, as the member for Page said very eloquently, see this as a slur on their civil rights and liberties. I understand that. I understand that they come to this motion, this debate—this gag bill; call it what you like—in good faith. But the cashless debit card did, as I said at the outset, make a difference. It has been described variously by members opposite as 'cruel', 'insidious' and 'a cancer', and that it would be liberation day when the bill passed. It won't be liberation day for those children who have gone to school with a full stomach of food, who have gone to school knowing that mum was safe and who went back home from school knowing they were going to get a good night's rest.
This cashless debit card worked. It worked in regional Australia. It worked in remote communities. Don't just take my word for it; take Jacinta Price's. Her inaugural speech last week was one of the best I've heard and no doubt all of those in the Senate chamber have heard as well. The member for Parkes said to me, 'They will still be talking about this speech in a hundred years,' and he's right. In her speech the new senator from the Northern Territory talked about how it allowed 'countless families on welfare to feed their children rather than seeing the money claimed by kinship demand from alcoholics, substance abusers and gamblers in their own family group.' I don't suppose and I don't suggest that I know any better than the Country Liberal Party member for the Northern Territory. I know she knows. I know that she has been in those communities. She's seen the dreadful toll that alcoholism, problem gambling and substance abuse have wreaked upon those families and those communities.
The cashless debit card worked. It worked in the Ceduna region. I'm glad the member for Grey, who spoke earlier in this debate, is here in the chamber. It worked in the Goldfields and East Kimberley regions in Western Australia. It worked in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, where I know the member for Hinkler started off this discussion, this debate, the coalition's position on this earlier this evening. It worked in selected Cape York communities, including Doomadgee in Queensland, and the Northern Territory. I've spoken to people in the Doomadgee community. They're good people. They're great folk. I've spoken to women in that community who knew of the benefits of the cashless debit card and who told me how important it was.
The cashless debit card program has been operating in the Cape York region of Queensland and across the Northern Territory since March 2021. I can't reiterate this enough: it has worked. If let be, it will continue to work; if taken away, those communities and those families are at risk. What I would implore government members to realise and understand is that we should be here listening to the voices of the voiceless—the children whose lives are going to be so gravely and perhaps sadly and tragically affected by the decision to repeal the cashless debit card. As I say, our children should be our No. 1 priority, particularly in relation to this bill. The member for Page said, 'Be it on Labor's head,' that this is the first urgency motion, the first 'gag' bill if you like, that the Albanese government is putting through the parliament. Whilst I appreciate that the Indigenous affairs minister and others have come to this place in good faith, they too should realise that this is going to have such a profound effect on those families who have benefited from having the cashless debit card in place.
The government's bill removes the ability for new entrants to be put on the cashless debit card and enables more than 17,000 existing CDC participants to be transitioned off the card. How sad, how dreadfully sad, for those families who, for the first time in a long time, had had money being spent on the things that families should be spending money on: food, clothing, school provisions for the children. One of the great advantages of the cashless debit card was that it wasn't able to be spent on alcohol, on gambling products, on some gift cards or to withdraw cash. I've heard the argument from those opposite that grandparents couldn't go out and give a few bucks to their grandkids for Christmas. I say poppycock to that, I really do. That's just a silly argument. I know that alcohol is such a dreadful disadvantage to these communities and to these families.
Governments are there to make decisions to help all Australians. Not every decision that we reach, take or make is going to be agreed upon by everybody. We know that, and that's why we have members from all sides of politics making up this very diverse chamber. But that is also why we, as a collective, need to make the right decisions to bring about the right outcomes at the right time in the right communities. The cashless debit card did just that with 80 per cent of the recipient's welfare payment quarantined onto the card. The remaining 20 per cent of recipient's social security payments was transferred into the recipient's bank account and could be withdrawn and used without restriction. It has been operated in trial sites, the earliest being March 2016.
I know the member for Gray has spoken volumes about what it did for the communities that he represents. These communities extol the virtues of the cashless debit card. I know others have done the same. Again, I say to those opposite: think long and hard about the decision, about the vote, that will be taken probably tomorrow morning. It is one of the most important decisions you will make in this 47th Parliament. It is going to have such a profound effect on those families who have benefited so much from having that cashless debit card.