House debates

Thursday, 8 September 2022

Matters of Public Importance

Pensions and Benefits

3:50 pm

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | Hansard source

That's why they're in here today! The fact is that the cashless debit card is privatised welfare, and there is something deeply, deeply wrong when private for-profit companies control people's income support payments and they determine where they can actually spend their money. It wasn't a government department, a private company did it. What happened when people contacted them and said: 'I can't access a lot of goods. There's no money in my account, what's going on?' They got no help and they got no support because it's a private company. If you had any problems with the card nobody was interested, nobody would listen to you.

We know that the former government spent more than $170 million on the cashless debit card program, money that would have been better used for support services in those vulnerable communities. We also have a lot of evidence that it just didn't work. We know that. In fact, we had the Australian National Audit Office just recently release its latest audit on the performance of the card, highlighting once more the lack of evidence. But we also know that because of the extensive consultation we've done with communities. Both the social services minister and I have consulted widely with the impacted communities. I have been in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, and spoken with many people there about how they've been impacted. That includes community members, participants and service providers. I was in Cape York as well, and listened firsthand to their community and what they want to see moving forward in terms of income management. We went to Western Australia, speaking with many participants and local councils as well, particularly many individuals whose lives have been devastated by being on this card.

But, as I said, the reason those opposite were so angry before is that they did want to roll it out right across the country. We know that was their agenda: to put more recipients on the card. The fact is that it has devastated so many lives. So many people I've spoken to have had their lives impacted: the card was very restrictive, it was often declined and people couldn't buy basic food or groceries. People couldn't pay their rent, they couldn't make car repayments and they couldn't buy second-hand clothes. It's had a devastating impact on individuals because it stripped away their dignity and they have felt so stigmatised by it. In fact, I was handed a number of notes at the many consultations that we've had, with people saying, 'I can't pay my rent because at the time my landlord takes cash, and it's really embarrassing.' They can't pay their rent. They can't pay for things that require a BSB payment and they're judged everywhere they go. Also, they can't speak to anyone when they have a problem.

But we are approaching abolishing the cashless debit card in a responsible way, to ensure that communities and individuals are in a properly supported transition off the card. We will keep consulting with them, particularly in relation to the issue of voluntary income management as well. We have listened to people, we have listened to First Nations community leaders, we have listened to service providers and, really importantly, we have listened to participants.

The fact is that privatised welfare does not work. No matter how much those opposite keep pushing it, it does not work at all. Nothing highlights that more than the absolute disaster of the cashless debit card. It brought lots of very vulnerable people a huge amount of shame. They were stigmatised everywhere, and they couldn't access the basic services they needed. They felt like they were being punished and demonised. But these people opposite are still pushing the benefits of it, despite the thousands of lives that they ruined because of it. Do you know why? It's because they are so obsessed with privatised welfare and they are so annoyed that we stopped them rolling it out across the country so they could stigmatise and ruin more lives of vulnerable people. We are abolishing it.


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