House debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023


Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management Reform) Bill 2023; Second Reading

11:04 am

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Social Services) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Today I am introducing the next step in the Albanese government's election commitment to reform income management—the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management Reform) Bill 2023.

This bill builds on changes made by the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Act 2022, which established the enhanced income management program and repealed the Cashless Debit Card program.

The amendments made by this bill will facilitate an effective and efficient transition to enhanced income management for existing income management participants who choose to access the superior banking product, and ensure that new entrants into the program are provided with the contemporary technology of the SmartCard.

This is to be given effect through three key reforms, to be implemented from a date to be set by proclamation.

Firstly, the bill extends the enhanced income management regime to include all of the measures that are in place for the income management regime. This will allow newly eligible participants to enter the enhanced income management regime, which offers improved technology and access to over a million outlets across Australia, as well as tap-and-go transactions, online shopping and BPAY.

Secondly, the bill gives people subject to the income management regime under part 3B the choice to move to enhanced income management from the commencement date, thereby allowing them to access the BasicsCard bank account and superior SmartCard.

Thirdly, the bill directs all new entrants to the enhanced income management regime, ensuring that no new participants are issued with a BasicsCard. All participants will receive a SmartCard, and we will undertake further consultations on the long-term future of income management. Former cashless debit card participants in the Northern Territory and Cape York and Doomadgee regions, and those who choose to remain on the cashless debit card program in other areas, transitioned to the enhanced income management program on 6 March 2023.

This bill offers the same choice to use the contemporary technology to more than 24,000 existing income management participants in the Northern Territory and other place based locations nationally. We will also ensure that all newly eligible participants will be part of the enhanced income management, to ensure no new participants are given the BasicsCard.

The more modern SmartCard provides banking functions, including, as I said, the tap-to-pay payments, online shopping and BPAY bill payments. Importantly, the SmartCard is delivered by Services Australia and has a PIN for added protection.

Our absolute priority is to ensure participants are supported and given access to a modem financial experience.

The service offering of the BasicsCard has become increasingly out of step with modem expectations. Submissions to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry into the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of the Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022also gave us a clear message that the BasicsCard is out of date, and not sufficient to meet the needs of people in communities.

The former government did not invest in the BasicsCard because they were focused on pushing more people onto their privatised cashless debit card. We have listened, and this bill responds to a clear message that the BasicsCard is out of date and that it is important for this bill to be dealt with as soon as possible.

The Albanese government is working with communities on the future of income management and what it looks like for them. Any decisions about the future of income management will be based on genuine consultation with affected communities, state and territory governments and experts in the field. Until that time, this bill will ensure that income management is more in tune with the needs of participants based on the feedback we have already heard.

Further, this bill will specifically exclude age pensioners and special-needs pensioners as eligible payments for the vulnerable welfare payment receipt measure of enhanced income management. This reflects the Albanese government's strong view that it was never an appropriate measure under the existing income management program, and it ensures that any future government is unable to enact this change without standing here in this place and attempting to justify it. It will also specifically exclude veterans' payments as eligible payments for enhanced income management.

It is important to be clear here to provide communities with certainty about what these changes will mean for them. This bill does not remove the income management program or amend the underlying policy, which is based on applying restrictions to an individual's welfare payment when they meet specific eligibility criteria, to ensure a portion of their payment cannot be spent on restricted goods.

This bill does not change the eligibility criteria which determine whether an individual is placed on income management. As such, no participants will exit the scheme who would otherwise be subject to income management. Any new participants who will be placed on enhanced income management would otherwise have been placed on income management.

This bill does not change the portion of payment which cannot be spent on restricted goods, which will remain consistent with the portion currently restricted based on eligible measure.

It also does not change the items to be restricted, which are alcohol, gambling services, pornography and tobacco.

Importantly, it also does not change the current ability for state and territories to refer people to income management where there are concerns, for example, relating to child protection. This ability exists in the income management regime and will be protected by inserting the equivalent sections into the enhanced income management. I will also be consulting with my state and territory ministers on any additional referral pathways they may wish to have access to in order to refer an individual to income management, recognising that states and territories are well placed to respond to social issues within their own jurisdictions.

Feedback from First Nations community leaders told us more consultation was required on the future of income management. We heard that any change needs to be measured and responsive to communities' needs. Decisions that impact First Nations people will be made in partnership, involving extensive consultation.

As I said in this place when I introduced our bill to abolish the cashless debit card last year, we will continue consulting with and listening to a wide range of stakeholders, including First Nations leaders, women's groups, service providers, communities, people receiving welfare payments, and our state and territory government counterparts. These diverse perspectives on local needs will strongly inform what the future of income management looks like. Consultation is central to everything we as a government do. We want to ensure changes or measures we implement are actually helping those who need it.

Our focus and our objective as a government remains clear: to empower people, empower communities, and provide individuals and communities with a range of supports that they can choose to use when and how it best suits them.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.


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