Tuesday, 6 February 2018
Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017; Second Reading
Attendance with police protection is the norm, and ongoing conflict around the sick and injured while they're being treated by the attending St John volunteers is a nightly experience. When ambulance volunteers who deal with alcohol illness and the consequences of alcohol fuelled violence every night tell you that the cashless debit card is making a big difference, then we need to listen.
The card is working well, but other factors are creating some limitations. Sly grogging from neighbouring communities is a problem, as is the influx of people from out of town during the wet season. Quick booze like Poker Face, which is a cheap, sweet white wine in plastic squeezy bottles and easily sculled, remains an issue. Royalties payments continue to inject cash into the community and are not included in the income management of the cashless debit card.
Despite some of these challenges, positive impacts on employment have been found in the second evaluation. The cashless debit card is shown to increase motivation to find work. Motivating young people and getting more people employed is a key strength of this bill, especially with its inclusion of the Youth Jobs PaTH supplement on the cashless debit card. I am a very strong advocate of this program. The Youth Jobs PaTH intervenes with early investment and training to get people into work and off a path to lifelong welfare dependency. This program increases young people's employability and provides them with real work experience to get the start they need in the workforce. And the Youth Jobs PaTH helps to instil confidence in young people and is all about helping young Australians by getting them ready, giving them a go and getting them a job. Eligible participants are paid $200 a fortnight in a supplement in addition to their income support payment. The intent of this payment is to assist participants with the cost of travel to and from work and the purchase of clothing or equipment for their on-the-job training. This bill will ensure that the payment of the Youth Jobs PaTH supplement will be managed also through the cashless debit card and will not give participants and other community members access to more discretionary cash, which would undermine the community benefits we are seeing from the use of the cashless debit card.
There is some concern that the cashless debit card only targets majority Indigenous communities. This is direct feedback that I received from community members in Kununurra, and I'm not surprised that some people feel this way. The Indigenous proportion for the first two trial sites was approximately 78 per cent, but the cashless debit card does not target or distinguish. The cashless debit card applies equally to all participants regardless of background, race, religion or any other factor. The next trial communities, the Goldfields in WA and the Hinkler region in Queensland, have a greater proportion of non-Indigenous population. This should dispel perceptions that the card only targets Indigenous communities. With the addition of the Goldfields and the Hinkler region, the Indigenous proportion of cardholders will drop to approximately 33 per cent.
The cashless debit card is not designed to stigmatise or penalise people, and it doesn't. It doesn't take welfare payments away from people with alcohol, drug or gambling issues. In fact, it quarantines more money to spend on the good stuff—food, clothing and the kids. The cashless debit card aims to ensure that income support payments are spent in the best interests of the welfare payment recipients and their dependants. Regardless, it is so important to remember that the cashless debit card is only being rolled out to communities that strongly support its introduction. The cashless debit card is a policy for all Australians.
The announcement that two new communities would be added to the trial has opened the floodgates of support. There are community leaders lobbying for their community to be included in the extensions of this program. They want to be part of the success of this program, which is making lives better. And there is some sense of urgency from these communities, which are looking for more tools to address the devastating impact of alcohol, drugs and gambling on their residents.
In my home state of Western Australia, around 3,400 people who are recipients of working age payments such as Newstart and youth allowance will receive the card in Kalgoorlie, Boulder, Laverton, Leonora and Coolgardie. Like the East Kimberley and Ceduna trials, community consultation has been the key. At the new Goldfields trial location, community consultation has been extensive and inclusive. More than 30 consultations have taken place with local government across five local government areas. More than 45 consultations have taken place with local service providers and peak bodies on the front line working with disadvantaged families. There have been more than 50 consultations with frontline state government officials delivering health, education and public safety services and 10 community information centres hosted by the Department of Social Services in Kalgoorlie, Leonora, Laverton and Kambalda. These were attended by more than 180 people.
The bill maintains the legislative safeguards of the original trial, protecting how, when and where the cashless debit card can operate. The bill continues to ensure that the program cannot be implemented in any location without the introduction of a disallowable instrument. These instruments can also specify additional parameters, meaning the government can work constructively with additional communities to tailor the cashless debit card program to meet the needs of that community. These safeguards also ensure that parliament retains the right to consider each proposed new cashless debit card site. Instead of passing legislative amendments for these hypothetical communities and participants, this place can accept or reject new sites by considering the impacts and the level of community support for the measure on a case-by-case basis. The cashless debit card is a very considered and very well designed program. It is designed closely with the individual's community where the card is rolled out.
The announcement that two communities would be added to the trial has opened the floodgates of support. I'm quite sure that this parliament will back the support for this program by Goldfields and Hinkler, and the broader community, and pass these amendments as soon as possible. If there is dissent from the members opposite, it is ideological. In speaking against the cashless debate card, they are going against what the community and trial locations want and demand. By refusing an extended rollout into the Goldfields and Hinkler, they are precisely saying that this card is okay for those majority Indigenous communities but not okay for other non-Indigenous communities. That's shameful on their part.
An intervention on alcohol and drug dependence and violence and social unrest comes with this. I commend the work of the former Minister for Social Services and the former Minister for Human Services. Their reforms, which were announced in the extension of the cashless debit card, with greater mutual obligation provisions for welfare recipients, are bold but fair and they have my full support. The continuation of the cashless debit card in the East Kimberley and Ceduna, and the extension to the Goldfields and Hinkler, demonstrates this government's commitment to reducing social harm in areas with a high level of welfare dependency and to supporting vulnerable people, families and communities. Working-age welfare should not be compensation for the situation someone finds themselves in; rather, it must be an investment in where they can go. The lazy application of cash just isn't working; the cashless debit card is.
The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017 allows the existing trial of the cashless debit card, currently in Ceduna and the East Kimberley, to be expanded to additional sites. The government has named two sites they wish to extend it to: Hervey Bay and Bundaberg, and the Goldfields in Western Australia. The Labor opposition will be opposing this bill. I want to explain why that is. At various times, the Labor opposition supported the early trials in Ceduna and East Kimberley. But, looking at the plans to expand and looking at the reports on those programs to date, we don't believe an expansion can be justified.
Clearly, Labor supports community driven initiatives that tackle drug and alcohol abuse. There'd be nobody in this House who doesn't want to assist people who suffer from addictions to build better lives. We support community driven initiatives to tackle drug and alcohol abuse but we don't believe that the vast majority of social security recipients aren't capable of managing their own personal finances, so we would oppose completely the cashless debit card being rolled out nationwide. But it is still worth looking community by community at what the needs are and what that community wants, which is why initially we supported the Ceduna and East Kimberley projects when they were put forward. We did so after consulting with local community leaders. We did so after securing additional funding for wraparound services, including drug and alcohol counselling and more mental health support services. It's really important to recognise that, in the case of Ceduna in particular, the community leaders were very supportive. In fact, in 2015 a formal memorandum of understanding was signed with community leaders, including the Ceduna Council, the Community Heads Group and leaders from the surrounding Aboriginal communities. So there was very real support for the trial in Ceduna.
The government is now seeking to expand this project quite considerably and Labor can't support it. In 2017, the government announced that it would roll out the cashless debit card in two further locations: the Goldfields, and Bundaberg in Queensland. The bill would allow the existing trial to be extended to the additional sites. The original trials would end in June 2018. In the Ceduna and East Kimberley trials, the program applies to all people who receive a working-age welfare payment, with the exception of age pension and veterans' pension recipients. The Bundaberg and Hervey Bay program will apply to people aged 35 and under who receive Newstart, youth allowance, jobseeker parenting payment partnered and jobseeker parenting payment single. As I said before, it also ends the trial in Ceduna and East Kimberley in June 2018.
Labor's position is really quite clear. We will be moving amendments in the Senate to reflect the position that the trials in Ceduna and East Kimberley should be extended to June 2019. That's something the community itself asks, but we'll limit the trials to only those two discrete trial areas. We'll oppose the removal of the limit to 10,000 participants. We'll specify how people in the trial areas who are on the cashless debit card can have a proportion of their income support payments on the card reduced or exit the trial. We'll also specify funding for wraparound services in trial sites formally in the legislation. Our position is really quite clear. I commend our shadow minister, Jenny Macklin, for the amazing work she has done on this. She has consulted widely. She has been to the areas. She has worked incredibly hard on this, and our position is clearly outlined in her speech on the second reading. If anybody wants the full 30-minute version, shadow minister Macklin has laid it all out in her speech on the second reading.
The Senate is inquiring into this program now. It's unfortunate the government hasn't waited until that inquiry reported before bringing this bill on for debate in the House; we might all be better informed, including those on the government side, if that were the case. A number of submissions have been put forward to the inquiry, and those have been available. They make for very interesting reading. It's really clear that there has been insufficient consultation in the two proposed trial sites of Goldfields, in Western Australia, and Hervey Bay and Bundaberg in Queensland. As I stated earlier, from the Labor perspective it's incredibly important that any trials of this kind that affect an entire community are only undertaken after extensive consultation and agreement with the local community across the board. This is a very complex area that we're talking about here and something that profoundly impacts the capacity of people to manage their own financial affairs. Consultation must be extensive—and it hasn't been.
There are also very mixed views on the evaluation of the program by the company, ORIMA. They did quite an expensive evaluation for the government, and there is extensive criticism of this evaluation in the submissions made to the Senate inquiry. One of the big criticisms concerns the nature of the survey itself. It was done in person. People had to give their own names. You can imagine, Mr Speaker, if someone asked you: 'So, did you take more or less illegal drugs after the cashless debit card was introduced?' I don't imagine there would be many people who would answer that question accurately. 'Did you drink more or less?' 'Have you been driving drunk more or less?' I assume you do not do that, Mr Speaker, but I'm sure you get my point. With the Indigenous community, in particular, who already have quite a suspicion towards authority, it's hard to imagine that the local populations in Ceduna or East Kimberley answered those questions accurately. One would suspect that you would get a bias towards good behaviour in the answers whether it was there in reality or not.
There's also a bit of cherrypicking of the results themselves: 45 per cent of the users surveyed found they were better at saving—that's true, but what is not publicised as much is that 50 per cent found they were not; 23 per cent said it made their life better, but 42 per cent said it had made their life worse; and 40 per cent could better look after their children, but 48 per cent said they could not better look after their children. So we've seen a bit of cherrypicking. In the figures provided in the original research, you can cherrypick and get quite good results, but when you look at the overall results they're not as glowing as the government would have you believe.
When participants were asked about the impact of the trial on their children's lives, 17 per cent reported feeling that their lives were better, but a bigger group of parents, around 24 per cent, felt that their children's lives were actually worse. And, in the conversations that reflected on the trial's impact on their lives, 32 per cent reported that it made their lives worse, compared with only 23 per cent that said it improved them. People responded too that it made things that seem so simple quite difficult. Transferring money to children who were away at boarding school, paying at the swimming pool and buying food at the markets, for example, were all rather difficult under this trial.
Cost, though, was something that really stood out for me. We've seen reports that the cost to roll out this card is somewhere between $7,900 and $10,000 per person per year. That's an extraordinary amount of money per person. I look at that and think: 'Okay, is there a better way to use that amount of money? If the government's prepared to spend $10,000 per person rolling out this card, are there other services that might actually improve a person's capacity to manage their income that would work better than that one?'
The biggest criticism for me in addressing that $10,000 per person is that I can't see how income management of this kind actually teaches a person about financial management in the long run. I can understand that, by taking away the capacity of a person to make good decisions on their own, you might get a short-term bang for your buck until, I would say, people start finding ways around it. Every system you introduce can be gouged and rorted. It immediately comes to mind that you'd find sly grog doing quite well on the side. You'd find the occasional corrupt shop that was prepared to accept a higher price for goods that weren't allowed on the cashless debit card and essentially cook its books to show it didn't do that. You'd find a person who would say, 'You buy me that fishing rod; I'll give you this carton of beer.' There are ways that people can find around these sorts of programs if they choose, and it's not hard to work out what they are. Over time, addicts will find a way to get access to the drugs they want. Gamblers will find ways to get access. And others in the community who have fewer moral convictions of their own will find ways to enable that for a fee. That's what will happen in the long run. It's impossible to imagine that that wouldn't be the case.
I was looking at the rules for this card and comparing it to the way I manage my money. I actually think I'm quite good at managing mine, but I would find it very difficult to manage my money under this card because it has several pages of rules. In fact, even on the unexpanded version on the Indue website, there are 10 pages of rules. One of those that first struck me as something that would make my system unworkable is the limit on automatic transfers. You can transfer zero dollars per month for housing and $200 per month for other expenses on your Indue card. Now, you can go in and get that changed. You can apply to the department. You can go online. There are all sorts of things you can do—lots of online stuff—if you want to get those amounts changed, but it's quite complicated to do that. I would ask whether a person who actually was finding it so difficult to manage their money that the Indue card might be an advantage would be able to manage the complex systems that would allow them to structure their card for their best benefit. Housing payments of zero dollars per month—that means no automatic transfer of your rent unless you contact the department and get that changed.
I sat down one week several years ago and moved all of my automatic payments so they all happened within three days of being paid. So my gas, my electricity, my rent, my insurances—everything is paid by automatic transfer. There is no capacity on the Indue card to do that without an incredible amount of paperwork. Again, I would ask whether a person who found it necessary to have this sort of system would be capable of navigating that process. I would argue that a person who is capable of navigating that process probably doesn't need income management because they know what they're doing. And, again, I can't see that this system works for people who are good at managing their expenses. It is quite an interesting challenge to get this sort of thing right.
Another issue that came up in the review, and it's there in the submissions to the Senate inquiry, is the difficulty people have in getting out of this system. My understanding is that from the beginning the people in Ceduna, for example, were told they would be able to opt out—if you were good at managing your finances, and you didn't have drug and alcohol problems, you could opt out—but it's actually proving quite difficult to do that. The rules relating to how you actually opt out of this system and how you get people off it are very, very vague. Again, that's one of the reasons why we'll be moving amendments in the Senate to clarify that.
I would argue that there are people in the community for whom income management would be very beneficial, but it's not across the board. There are many, many people in every community who are perfectly capable of managing their finances. I would argue that perhaps it might be more sensible for a government to look at an opt-in system, a system where people can be referred to income management because of the circumstances of their lives, and that any attempts to further expand this system take place after extensive consultation with experts on what is the best way to use the extraordinary amount of money that this program is costing.
I've been involved in this process since the pilot of the cashless debit card, and have seen the statements and comments from the communities that were taken into consideration. And while the pilots were done in two remote communities, I know there are actually people in my community who would benefit from such a program.
Somehow, and in some way, we need to help turn the tide on the dependency cycle of drug and alcohol addiction and the subsequent social and cultural damage that are the results. Some people will think I'm referring only to the cashless debit card that has been trialled in these two very self-motivated communities in remote Australia, who wished to do it and who were consulted during the whole process, but I'm not. This initiative was set in motion by a request from that community—from their elders, from all of the stakeholders in that community. It was their desperate project to rescue their children, their neighbourhood and their self-respect.
Alcohol and drugs are the causes of so much destruction: whether it's the physical damage to the jaw of the woman, the virginity of the child, the broken leg of the young boy, the hole in the wall, the wreck of a car accident, or the effect on the unborn child who will develop learning difficulties at best or the incapacity to learn due to brain damage and disability because of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. How can anyone think that this is not a good policy?
The previous speaker, the member for Parramatta, spoke of questions in relation to the survey from the interpersonal responses. Any survey can be interpreted in any way, depending on the perspective of the researcher. The opposition are fundamentally opposed to this scheme, so of course they will find little pieces of statistics in there that match their counterargument. They talk about the $7,000 to $9,000 cost per person; we actually see this as an investment in these people. We're trying to prevent the car accidents that come about because of drunken drivers; we're trying to prevent the hospitalisation of women and children because of domestic violence; we're trying to prevent them losing their children because of their bad behaviour and their inability to manage how they spend the money they receive. All of these preventions are actually savings for the community and giving them the ability to deal with what's going on in their lives.
These issues are so significant to me and they're not just related to remote communities. All the above issues—the domestic violence, the child sexual abuse, car accidents, hospitalisation and FASD—are not limited to remote Australia. They exist in everyone's backyard to a greater or lesser extent. This is everyone's problem, and we must seriously work together to repair the damage that, in some communities, is entrenched.
The cashless debit card cannot and should not be summarily dismissed. That would effectively be turning our backs on the communities who are plagued by drug and alcohol addiction and gambling abuse. The cashless debit card has been in operation in Ceduna in South Australia and in the Kimberley in Western Australia since April 2016, and is planned for introduction into the Western Australian Goldfields, and Bundaberg and Hervey Bay from early this year. It was introduced with the support of the local leaders to combat the excessive welfare-fuelled alcohol abuse in particular.
I hate to think that we would stop bringing in a good program because some people will try and get around a good program. Bad people will always invent a way to continue to be bad. But does that mean that we stop the social benefit—because of somebody's bad social ingenuity? We can't stop them all the time, but we can do our best, because every human life is valuable. We do our best to try and prevent drug addiction. We do our best to try and prevent alcohol addiction. We do our best to try and prevent gambling abuse. You can't actually teach that person unless they admit to themselves they have a problem. Then they start that cycle but don't have as much ready cash. It's part of the game of changing their behaviour, and it's so important.
But, honestly, the main game here is to look after the vulnerable. The main game here is to look after the women subject to domestic violence. The main game is to look after the children—their education, their food. How can they learn if they're hungry because their parents have spent the money on something else? This is the main game of this program and that's something we should never lose sight of.
One of the previous speakers said you can't automatically transfer funds for renting your premises. Last time I spoke to Centrelink, people who were renting a house had rent assistance and it went straight to the landlord or the department of housing or whatever, but Centrelink took care of that for them. So I seriously don't think that that should be a problem.
In East Kimberley, one of the elders said they supported the card because 'alcohol abuse is destroying our community and our culture and devastating the lives of the children'. How can a drunk adult teach their children about culture in an Indigenous community? I doubt they could even get the dots on a dot painting in a straight line, let alone teach them about their history and philosophy, and the beautiful culture that goes along with their guardianship of the land. It's just not going to happen.
It's estimated that a quarter of all babies in remote communities are born with brain damage from alcohol abuse. This is scary. This is absolutely scary. FASD isn't even a diagnostic tool with all doctors. Some doctors don't even know about it. So how can they diagnose it and get more teachers and more resources into a school for children who have been affected by alcohol during that first trimester of pregnancy?
This card, which restricts money spent on alcohol, drugs and gambling, was subject to an independent evaluation—done by ORIMA Research—which, as I said, can be interpreted in different ways according to different people because statistics always can be, but there has been a considerable positive impact in the communities where it is operating. Forty-one per cent were drinking less, 48 per cent were gambling less and taking fewer drugs, and 40 per cent said they were better able to care for their children. Even more importantly, the number of car accidents was reduced, the number of hospital entrants was reduced, the number of domestic violence incidents was reduced and there were more children attending school. Those are undeniable facts and undeniable statistics.
In the Goldfields, each of the elected councils in the region supported the card's introduction. There were over 270 consultations undertaken. In Hervey Bay, there were over 110 consultations, including public forums and a community-wide survey to which 75 per cent responded in favour. In Gilmore, there are many community advocates also requesting the introduction of this card. I agree there should be proper community consultation, but not that costs us an arm and a leg, quite literally—where children are damaged during a domestic violence fight. Let's make sure we get our stakeholders on board and make sure we bring this in properly. It is my belief that most of these potential participants will be only too keen for the card, to break the cycle.
We know it will help make a difference to young kids' lives. Some kids are neglected, and parents are out of control, which is why we have so many custodial grandparents. We can't stop that unless we do something to intervene. Some of the Indigenous people said that they are burying people. They still have funerals ahead of them to lay people to rest, because of abuse of alcohol. Somehow, someway, we have to change the cycle. These communities are crying out for help to stop the drug and alcohol abuse, to stop the violence and to build better lives for their children. The cashless debit card is not a silver bullet, but it has led to fundamental improvement in these pilot communities.
There are very few other initiatives that have had such an impact. If we can develop a better way to use money, where the welfare support is spent on food for the family, school uniforms, toys and all the other trappings of a better home environment, surely that is a worthwhile target. Surely we can aim to reduce the number of young people coming into hospital. Surely we can reduce the number of children being beaten up. Surely we can reduce the number of women presenting with a broken jaw, teeth knocked out, black eyes, broken arms. Surely we can stop it. Surely we can reduce the number of children being removed from their homes because the parents, addicted to ice, are incapable of looking after their children.
I have one family back home where the grandmother is desperately trying to get access to her grandchildren, because the mother is addicted to ice. The father is the dealer of ice. Every time people come in they say to the family, 'We're going to come in and inspect your family,' so the lady cleans the house up, because she is not actually on ice at that moment; she is in her regular time. FACS comes in and says, 'Yes, they're fine.' The grandmother knows that these children are at risk. She's desperate to bring this in, because she knows it will help break the cycle.
Surely we can get less gambling debt, less alcoholism and end this cycle of drug-taking. This card is most definitely a step in the right direction to help all of those in our community who have not had the chance to learn about balancing budgets, or that food comes before dope, beer, ice and the pokies. Financial literacy is not about giving people a booklet on how to put your money in the bank and take it out only when you need to spend it on things that are important to your family. That's a long-term learning curve for some families if they haven't learned it in their own family. I have third-generation families who have never put a cent in the bank themselves. They don't know how to. The only money they've ever had is income support.
Let's not squander this opportunity for breaking the cycle of what's happening in some of our lower socioeconomic-status areas and some of our areas where people really don't know that this isn't the way to behave for their children. Let's put our kids first; let's put our women first; let's put our communities first. In the end it's putting our nation first.
I rise to oppose the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017. Labor does not believe in a blanket approach to income management. We do not support a national rollout of the cashless debit card. I speak as a mental health and drug and alcohol worker and as someone who strongly supports community-led, evidence based initiatives that address drug and alcohol dependency. I make the point that drug and alcohol dependency is not something that discriminates. It affects people across our communities.
Labor believes most income support recipients are capable of managing their own finances. Labor has said all along that we will listen to individual communities and make decisions on a location-by-location basis. The cashless debit card is currently being trialled in the East Kimberley in Western Australia and in Ceduna in South Australia. The government announced in the 2017 budget that it would establish trials of the cashless debit card in two further locations from 1 December 2017, and this bill enables that. Since introducing this legislation, the government has announced that it wants to establish trials of cashless debit cards in the Goldfields in Western Australia, and in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland.
This bill was referred to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, which has now reported. After hearing the evidence presented to the Senate inquiry and after speaking with people in Bundaberg and the Goldfields, it has become clear that Labor cannot support this bill in its current form. The dissenting report by the Labor members of the committee identifies a number of significant concerns. It is apparent that there has been insufficient consultation with the communities in the proposed new trial sites and that there is no clear framework to establish whether these communities consent to trials being established in their areas.
There is insufficient evidence at this point to support the establishment of further trials. The ORIMA evaluations are inconclusive at best. The evaluation has been thoroughly criticised by leading academics. We are also concerned that two years is not long enough for communities to see whether there has been any real benefit from the introduction of the cashless debit card. Given the significant costs of the trials, an accrued cost of around $25.5 million, which equates to around $12,000 per participant, we need to be sure that the cashless debit card can achieve its stated objectives. We're hearing that the communities in existing trial sites want to continue using the card and see the trial through. For these reasons, we will support the continuation of the trials in Ceduna and the East Kimberley.
Labor knows that entrenched social issues cannot and will not be solved by income management alone. That's why we insisted that the government provide additional supports for participating communities. We are calling on the government to support our amendment that funding for these critical wraparound service will be guaranteed in the bill.
As someone who has worked in mental health and drug and alcohol areas for most of my life, I know that this is a complex problem and it's not one that can be addressed by one measure. This must be community led in order for it to be successful. Labor will also move an amendment to ensure that no new trial sites can be introduced, by changing the allowance of three discrete trial sites to the existing two. In the future, Labor will only consider the introduction of new trial sites if it can be demonstrated that the community have agreed that a formal consultation process with the community has occurred, that there is an agreed definition of 'consent' and that there is an evidence base established through robust evaluation.
As I have said, Labor does not support a blanket approach to income management or a national rollout of the cashless debit card. In my electorate there is a real concern from people who are currently recipients of income support that this will be broadly rolled out and that they will be captured by this. Two young men in my electorate, Daniel and Danny, both currently disability support recipients, raise this concern with me often. I spoke to Danny's dad, Ken, today. They make the point that having a disability does not make them incapable of managing their finances, but this would be the inference made about them if they were forced onto a cashless debit card. Wendy, a Toukley constituent, wrote to me:
I am rather worried about the Cashless Card proposed as they will probably want to roll it out to everyone on benefits. I pay private rent. So what would happen to someone like me? Could I end up homeless with a card in my pocket because who knows if a real estate agent would take it for rent. There is so much wrong with the whole idea of a card that it staggers belief that they would consider this.
These are real fears that people are experiencing in my community, because this is being discussed, because of the government's overall approach to income support recipients—people in our community who are most vulnerable.
Matt, from an adjoining electorate, wrote the following about the cashless card:
I despair that the goal of the Coalition is to roll it out nation-wide. I want it stopped in its tracks and for the government to treat social security recipients and pensioners more empathetically.
In addition to concerns about what the cashless debit card might be seen as saying about their standing in the community, my constituents have practical concerns relating to its implementation and impact.
Another constituent, Margaret, also from Toukley, said:
The 'Cashless Welfare Card' is a big mistake. I know from experience that many purchases of groceries etc. were not made from big supermarkets. Much was sought and bought by joining with others in similar situations and purchasing in bulk and dividing the burden. This would not be possible with the welfare card. Other household items were sourced second-hand and again the Welfare Card would not work. So forcing people onto this system would only disadvantage them more.
Again, these are real fears held by people in the community who are most at risk.
Another letter, from Greg, who is associated with a local food bank, shows that there is a belief that a blanket rollout is already happening and also raises a further practical concern. Greg wrote to me—and he also raised this when I visited their food bank in Toukley:
With the introduction of the new cashless Welfare card for Centrelink recipients, who make up a large number of those we help, we have recently purchased an EFTPOS terminal, so that card holders will still be able to purchase food from us. We are a NFP—
organisation. My question is will the Government subsidise the purchase of the terminal and reimburse the cost charged for each transaction? From memory I think ours is 1.98% of the total amount.
Further, Greg says:
As you are aware, with the more outlay we save the more food we can purchase from Foodbank so it follows that we can help more families and individuals in distress.
So it's not just individuals in the community who have concerns about this; it's not-for-profits and other providers who are concerned about the direction in which the government is heading.
To reiterate: Labor supports community led initiatives to address drug and alcohol dependency. As I've said, as someone who has worked in inpatient mental health and drug and alcohol wards in our community, I understand that there needs to be a wraparound approach. No single measure is going to address these issues, and it needs to be done with respect. As a mental health worker what seems to me to be missing in this debate is respect, dignity and real empathy for people who are experiencing drug and alcohol dependency. As I said, there seems to be this view that drug and alcohol dependency affects only certain pockets of our community. Drug and alcohol dependency does not discriminate; it affects across our communities.
To reiterate: Labor supports community led initiatives to address drug and alcohol dependency. Labor does not support a national rollout of the cashless debit card. Further, unlike the current government, Labor does not believe in marginalising income support recipients. Unlike the current government, Labor doesn't believe in kicking income support recipients when they are down. Unlike the current government, Labor does not believe in slashing programs designed to assist income support recipients to improve their education and boost their job prospects.
I said 'unlike the current government' because time and again we see the government proposing measures that do these things—measures like establishing a trial of drug testing for jobseekers and compliance changes relating to drug and alcohol testing, a measure for which there was no basis in evidence, a measure which united the entire medical profession in opposition and a measure which was roundly condemned by charities, welfare bodies and experts. So why would the government propose such a measure? It is because the government wanted to hint—just hint—that some income support recipients are simply not worthy of a helping hand from fellow Australians.
Unlike the government, Labor does not believe in hurting income support recipients. Labor believes that everybody, particularly the most vulnerable in our community, must be treated with dignity and respect. Let's look at the mean-spirited measures this government has in store for income support recipients—measures like cutting the bereavement allowance, a measure which will hurt people at a particularly vulnerable time in their and their families' lives. Unlike the government, Labor does not believe in cutting programs which will assist income support recipients to take up study to boost their employment prospects. In the last sitting we debated a government proposal to reduce the education entry payment and pensioner education supplement—modest payments made to people with a disability, carers, single parents and jobseekers who study so they can meet the additional costs arising from that study. Those measures are yet further examples of this government cutting support to low-income and vulnerable Australians.
I grew up in Wyong on the Central Coast of New South Wales. I worked in our local Wyong hospital for the 10 years before I was elected. For most of that time I worked in mental health wards, inpatient units and drug and alcohol services. We need measures that are evidence based. We need measures that are community led. We need measures that are just. We need measures that are fair. We need to treat people with respect and dignity. We cannot continue to let people down, to marginalise people and to victimise the vulnerable people in our community.
What the government is doing continues to send a signal to people who are vulnerable in our community, who most need our support, that it doesn't care and that they don't matter. Unlike the government, Labor understands that entrenched social issues cannot and will not be solved by income management alone. That's why we insisted that the government provide additional supports for communities participating in trials of cashless debit cards. That is why we are calling on the government to support our amendment that funding for these critical wraparound services be guaranteed in the bill.
Last week I met with Coast Shelter, who provide a range of services to vulnerable people in my community. I met with them at Rondeley, which provides housing for women and families, particularly women with children who are fleeing family violence. Those are the sorts of services that we should be supporting; those are the sorts of services that we should be boosting. The government cannot continue to undermine, to victimise, to marginalise the most vulnerable people in our community. I go back to Danny and Daniel, young men in my electorate, young men who work hard, young men who live with disability, young men who have a very real fear about what this might mean and how this might be rolled out. As I said, I spoke to Danny's dad, Ken, this morning and let him know that this is being debated in the House today. They have grave fears for Danny and his welfare, and other people like him living with disability. I oppose this bill. I ask that the amendments be looked at very closely in the Senate and that a fair, dignified and empathetic approach be taken to those in our community who are most vulnerable.
I want to thank the member for Dobell for her very informed contribution to this debate, for exposing us to her experience working in the health field around the community in which she lives and for her perspectives that she was able to outline to us. In 2007, the then Department of Human Services developed what came to be known as the BasicsCard in the Northern Territory. This was the forerunner to the cashless debit card. It was introduced across the Territory to a whole population of people who were welfare recipients or receiving other government payments. It was not targeted. It was ham-fisted. It did not achieve the outcomes that it was purported to achieve. It stigmatised people and, in my view, had a very negative impact on many, many people. I must say that there were some who thought it had some positive elements to it, particularly in terms of allowing older people to control their incomes and not have cash in their hand and be exposed to 'humbugging', which means they would lose that money.
But the universal application of this measure, in my view, has had a detrimental impact on the broader Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community—or, in this case, the Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory. We see people lining up in a store with a BasicsCard and being stigmatised by that very thing. Many of these people were quite capable of managing their own incomes. They had been using the Centrepay system in the Department of Social Security to manage payments. There were some, of course, who require their income to be managed because of the way they deal with alcohol and other drugs or other substances and because of the need to protect their family and make sure there was sufficient food on the table. But that's a small minority of people. We are here debating the cashless debit card. In my view it suffers largely from the same things. In terms of its universal application, I recall very vividly discussions about whether the communities of Ceduna and Kununurra were supportive of this trial. I made the point that whilst significant organisational leadership might be in support of a particular trial, that did not mean their broader membership or, indeed, community members would be so supportive. What has come to pass and has now been exposed, certainly in the case of Kununurra, is that large sections of the community were not supportive of the trial, and it remains without support in their community.
Now I think I understand the objective of this measure. Its purpose is to provide to people who are, as we say, in difficult circumstances the capacity to be able to manage their lives and look after their families. Many do that anyway. Of course, the key issue around much of this is to do with the abuse of alcohol and other substances and the failure of adults in their responsibility to ensure that the people in their care are properly looked after, have a safe place to live and have food on the table. I understand totally that in those examples there could be a need, and perhaps there is a need in many cases, for people to have their income managed in a way which safeguards the interests of their families—but not for a whole population. If this were a targeted scheme, it would have greater merit. I have no objection in principle to the idea of a debit card—none at all—if it provides people with the capacity to manage their own income. But to say to people they can have, say, only $30 cash out of every $100 provides an enormous limitation on their capacity and ability to make choices about their own lives. It is not something which the broader community would tolerate, and I don't think we should expect Aboriginal people in these communities to tolerate it.
This proposal to extend the debit card to other locations is based on the false premise that this debit card has achieved the objectives for which it was developed. We now know that is not the case. We know that there was an evaluation done by ORIMA. That evaluation was itself flawed and was seen to be flawed by others who have far more experience in these matters than I. They made it very clear that the process of this review was very dramatically flawed. I refer to the Library's wonderful piece of work on this in the Bills Digest. On the next to last page, it refers to comments by Janet Hunt of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at ANU in which she explains scepticism about claims that the trials had been a success, citing the Prime Minister's claim that there has been a massive reduction in drug and alcohol abuse and violence. Dr Hunt writes:
Someone needs to tell them [Minister Tudge and the Prime Minister] that the report does not say that. Indeed, the authors qualify a number of their apparently positive findings with various caveats, but, at the same time, the evaluation itself has serious flaws, so even these findings are contestable.
And indeed they are. It would be wrong to believe that the research itself was not contestable and that there were no major concerns about it. There were major concerns, for example, around the lack of baseline information and assessment prior to the establishment of this trial. There was no survey of potential CDC participants—the debit card recipients—to assess their usage of alcohol and drugs or the extent of their gambling. This did not occur until some months after participants had been on the card. There was never, in the later analysis, a breakdown of the income support payment categories among people interviewed, so no-one has any idea whether the card is good for some groups of recipients and not for others.
This is a significant shortcoming of the evaluation. This is not the fault of ORIMA, the researchers, but is, of course, the fault of the government, who didn't actually bother to commission an evaluation of the trial prior to the trial commencing, to allow it to develop the baseline data that would be required to make a successful evaluation of whether the trial was in fact successful.
The most significant findings of the evaluation produced by ORIMA were that, amongst families, 27 per cent said the trial had made their family better while, conversely, 30 per cent said it had made their families worse off. Across participants interviewed, 22 per cent said it had made their lives better and 49 per cent said it had made their lives worse. These changes were fairly consistent across the two trial sites. This is according to ORIMA.
Alternatively, if you reinterpret the data, Dr Hunt's evidence concludes that for just 77 per cent of participants the trial had been of no positive impact. The indefinite extension of the cashless debit card in the East Kimberley and Ceduna was, as Dr Hunt provides, a very premature decision and could be a mistake that may lead to poor public policy and bad public expenditure.
We won't be supporting the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017 in this chamber. What we've done is respond now to the 172 submissions that were received during the Senate inquiry process, which concurred that the experience of community members and services in the trial region was mostly negative, that the quantitative data contained within the ORIMA evaluation lacked rigour and about the government's unwillingness to appropriately assess and invest in alternatives—and that's clear. The government's got in its mind's eye that this is the only possible thing it can do.
I won't go through all those people in the Aboriginal communities who have expressed their opposition, but I will refer to just a couple. The Ceduna Koonibba Aboriginal Health Service Aboriginal Corporation and the Tullawon Aboriginal Health Service have made clear their concerns, particularly around the lack of resourcing for wraparound services to deal with people who have alcohol and other drug dependency issues and the opportunities that need to be gained by those communities. The Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australia report that they have concerns about it. One of the really key points here is that they say:
We heard that at the time of the Card's proposed introduction in 2016, consultation was targeted to a select few in the community. Most of those impacted by the Card only became aware of their participation through the media once it was announced. This is despite the Government promoting at the time, that it had engaged in widespread consultation.
As I said earlier, that's a view I expressed at the time, and I think now it's been demonstrated that I was absolutely correct. I won't go through the other criticisms because there are too many of them. If people have an interest, I encourage them to refer to the submissions made to the Senate inquiry.
I want to just emphasise that it seems to me that this is a poor way of making public policy, without doing the appropriate consultation and providing the capacity for the proper research to be done at the time of the development of the program. But, more importantly, in many parts this is largely around issues to do with harm reduction and family violence. We know that there is a real issue around those questions. But, in one of the submissions made by the Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australia, they said:
… we have heard more recent reports of concerning flow-on effects since the Card has been introduced. These include, but are not limited to: increases in elder abuse; reports of child prostitution; and, non-cash services (such as Taxi's) charging increased fees in return for cash. It is clear that there are many ways around the Card, and these are being exploited to the detriment of those most vulnerable.
The other area that I briefly want to touch upon is the measures being adopted, not universally, around alcohol and other harm reduction. It seems to me that the principal issue, and the cause of most of this strife, is access to alcohol and gambling. What we don't have is a uniform approach to restricting alcohol access in many communities or a capacity for there to be, for example, changes to the taxation treatment of alcohol to make it less attractive for people. That can be done. There's plenty of work which has been done by preventive health agencies across this country advocating changes to the tax regime on alcohol. We don't need the plethora of outlets that are available in most remote communities across Australia, and we do need to limit access to alcohol to many people—that's clear. It's not hard to do; it's just a matter of will. It needs cooperation across jurisdictions so that there are common approaches to the way in which we deal with these issues. That, to me, is far more important in the first instance than handing out a cashless debit card. There might be some merit in it in the context of particular groups of people, but not as it has so far been universally applied. I've got particular concerns, as I've expressed. I come from the experience of the introduction of the BasicsCard in the Northern Territory. I've seen the negative outcomes of this, and now I have seen the negative outcomes of the cashless debit card.
It is an absolute pleasure to rise after the member for Lingiari, who has a long interest in the issues before us today and whose positions and knowledge, of course, we on this side all value.
Labor have always said that we believe in a community-driven approach to tackling deep and persistent social issues such as alcohol abuse. The cashless debit card trial in Ceduna and East Kimberly was supported by Labor for this reason: because these respective communities, when consulted by us, wanted to take a new approach to tackling alcohol abuse and disadvantage in their community. The cashless debit card system sees 80 per cent of social security payments received by all working-age people in the trial sites being separated. This 80 per cent portion cannot be used to purchase alcohol—feeding into the deep social issues of these communities. Instead, 80 per cent of social security payments are only able to be used to purchase groceries, pay bills and for day-to-day items required to keep households running. It was on this basis that Labor agreed to support the idea of this bill in the House, which saw the implementation of the trial sites.
The bottom line is, we see now that these cashless debit cards are a thought bubble used in theory to assist communities crippled by alcohol abuse but, in practice, we need to fully examine the outcomes and benefits before we glorify them and commission a wider rollout. We need to be listening to the communities involved in the trials, many of whom are feeling disengaged and disenfranchised by the cashless debit card. My Labor colleagues and I have concerns with specific aspects of this bill which will see a further rollout of the cashless debit card trial, which has not had adequate evaluation. The government brings this bill into the House, having failed to establish a formal framework for consultation prior to a further rollout.
The proposed amendments that Labor would see inserted into this bill are around the provision for rigorous evaluation of the existing trial sites in Ceduna and East Kimberly. We suggest that this needs to be done urgently. In order to do this, more time needs to be afforded to the trial sites. We cannot be extending further trials when we do not know the outcomes of already existing trials. This is just common sense and, as you heard from the member for Lingiari, there have been many issues raised about the current sites and the report, which has now been widely criticised. There is no benefit to be made by extending the cashless debit cards if they are flawed and not benefitting the community. A rigorous evaluation might also throw up changes to the current system that would be better suited and give us the outcomes that are desired.
As the member for Lingiari quoted, there are many critics of the cashless debit card, including Dr Jane Hunt from the Australian National University who said that the evaluation does not 'present adequate evidence of the trial leading to successful outcomes for participants'. That pretty much sums up the things that I have read from people very close to and very experienced in this work. And it highlights for us that at this juncture it is not the time to be widening the number of sites before we review and refine the way this system works.
Obviously, this leads to the second issue with this bill—that is, there needs to be a formal framework for consultation and for confirming whether communities support a trial in their area. As I outlined, Labor supported the initial trials on the back of the knowledge that those communities sought to be a part of this process. Now it will be rolled out to other communities without a considerable framework and without consideration of how to best consult with those communities to ensure you've got buy-in from the outset. There has also been a Senate inquiry that has said that the position is inconclusive in terms of what outcomes are being met by this program. And, of course, there is the ORIMA evaluation, commissioned by the Department of Social Services, that's also been widely criticised.
My colleagues and I agree to support the existing trials in Ceduna and the East Kimberly to continue until 30 June 2019, and we agree to move amendments reflecting this position because members of those trials genuinely want to see this through. Specifically, the amendments we seek will see the following changes to the bill in its current form: there is an extension to the current trials in Ceduna and the East Kimberly to 30 June 2019 to allow more rigorous evaluation; the trials are capped to the current two sites in Ceduna and the East Kimberly; it's ensured that places are capped to 10,000 participants in each respective community; it's specified how people in the trial areas can have a proportion of their income support payments in the card reduced or can exit the trial; and there is guaranteed funding for wraparound services in trial sites formally in the legislation. Labor will oppose the bill if the aforementioned amendments are not successful. This is because we need further consultation on the success of this program before further rollouts occur.
In terms of the evaluation and consultation, the fact is the trials in Ceduna and the East Kimberly have not been going for long enough to make a thorough, detailed analysis of the effect being had on the community. In the 2017 budget the government announced that it would establish a further two trials of the cashless debit card. This is presumptuous given the subsequent lack of evidence in the review to support this and the lack of a clear framework for consultation. The bill enables these further trial sites by repealing one section of the Social Security (Administration) Act, which means that all trials must end on 30 June 2018. Trials are limited to occur in up to three discrete trial areas and the trial areas would include no more than 10,000 participants in total. This reflects ridiculous thinking from the government. That it expects a trial can be established almost overnight and then an outcome be reached in a matter of months only demonstrates that this government is not genuine about testing the effectiveness of the cashless debit card. It suggests, in fact, that they are determined to widen the use of this system despite lacking an evidence base that it is achieving the desired outcomes. This smacks of a belief that this is a magic bullet for social ills when we on this side all know that complex social problems require complex solutions. The fact is that although this bill provides the framework to allow additional trials to be implemented, it does not enable any specific trial sites. These trial sites need to be established by a legislative instrument.
Labor believe that in order for the cashless debit card system to be successful we need to ensure that there is proper community consultation. We, therefore, need a framework. The Senate inquiry demonstrated that there has been insufficient consultation with communities, specifically those communities which have been identified by the government to participate in what they consider as the next round of trial sites: Goldfields in Western Australia, and Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland. Further to the Senate inquiry's consultations, these specific communities have demonstrated again and again that consultation has been minimal and that there is no clear framework to establish whether they consent to trials being established in their community. Ultimately, we need to respect the views of the communities involved. The government, through lack of consultation, have demonstrated that they do not respect a process that would ensure this.
For the Department of Social Services cashless debit card, ORIMA Research was commissioned to undertake independent evaluation. The ORIMA evaluation of the existing sites was flawed, to say the least. The report compares data gathered throughout the evaluation period, being April 2016 to July 2017. Adverse consequences experienced by trial participants included that people who spent their money appropriately felt as though they were being penalised or discriminated against by being forced to participate; the stigma and shame associated with having a cashless debit card was creating other social ills; and being unable to make purchases from merchants or services where EFT facilities were unavailable was limiting their genuine ability to get the best value for money, in some cases, on their weekly purchases. Limiting transactions in regional communities in this way means people cannot access markets or op shops; the cards only work where there are sophisticated EFT facilities available.
As someone who was part of school processes where we introduced the capacity for schools to use EFT, I wonder at the provisions in these regional communities around those sorts of things. If I think about a normal family week and the number of times you put your hand in your pocket to pay for things at school, including excursions and paying for sport through the week—in regional communities, those sorts of things are limited where limited EFT is available. This definitely would be narrowing down people's choices about the way they pay for things.
I have to echo the sentiments of the member for Lingiari in terms of the ability of these trials to bring about the outcomes that are desired. We know that any evaluation stretching over a certain amount of time faces changes, but one would have to ask, in the case of the evaluation done in this instance, what parameters were put in place and who the control group was. If we want to do a serious scientific evaluation of something, it needs to be more than a thought bubble built around the notion of a magic bullet.
Labor will continue to work towards insisting to the government that, if they are intent on pursuing the expansion of the cashless debit card, there are parameters that need to be met, the first of which, of course, is consultation processes and a consultation framework with those communities. The second, which is a priority for me when I think about the way this works, is about the notion of a blanket approach to a card and a system whereby there isn't provision and a clear framework for how people can reduce their use of that card or have the income attached to that card reduced over time. In fact, in education terms, we would call it the release of independence or the release of control, gradually, over time. If somebody needs to have their expenditure controlled in this way, then it needs to be a sophisticated program, in my view, that allows people to demonstrate when they feel more comfortable in managing their own affairs and therefore can be slowly or gradually released from this provision.
It's an important issue. I know everyone on this side of the House is critically concerned about the effectiveness of the card and about ensuring we are not broadening the use of this card outside of those agreed areas where communities had expressed a desire to be involved. Personally, I would like to see that evaluation include measures that might improve this system rather than just assuming that it's the magic bullet that will fix the social ills. I'd also want to, of course, see measures included to assist families and the people involved to ensure they are getting the support services that they require alongside any kind of economic management system.
I think it is fair to say it beggars belief that the government would be contemplating significantly expanding the cashless debit card system when what we've seen so far has been so problematic. I would have thought it'd be much more appropriate for us all to come in here in a collegiate way and discuss ways to remedy the current arrangement or at least give the current trials more time so that we can understand what we've got better and can, indeed, remedy it in the future before we even start a conversation about legislating to allow it to be rolled out in broad geographic areas.
There's already a lot of evidence pointing to the fact that this is not working as intended. For a start, the survey results are showing that about 75 per cent of the members of the community who are carrying these cards are telling us they don't drink, they don't smoke, they don't gamble, they're not on drugs and they can't for the life of them understand why they are being punished in this way and being forced to lose their independence and to carry one of these cards, with the limits it places on those people. Of course, that means that 75 per cent of the people carrying these cards haven't changed their behaviour, because there's no behaviour to change.
We've also learned already that this is very expensive. In the two trial sites in Ceduna and the East Kimberly, over two years, it has cost about $10,000 per card to establish and maintain the system for those cards. That's ludicrous. That's an absolutely absurd amount of money that is being, I suggest, wasted in the pursuit of the current arrangements.
I'll go further. What we've got currently is, frankly, racist. Let's not kid ourselves here. Let's not mince our words. Let's not forget the origin of the cashless debit card system. It was part of the Northern Territory intervention. It was a racist policy, and I think it is reasonable for people in the community to be concerned that it will continue to have a racist element or undertone to it, because it will be more likely to be expanded into geographic areas with Indigenous communities.
So it's too blunt an instrument, it is covering too many people that don't need it or shouldn't have one of these cards, it's too expensive and it's racist. No wonder there is such concern in the community. Even in my electorate of Denison, in Tasmania, as I go about my business I am routinely confronted by constituents who are concerned that the cashless debit card is coming their way. They've seen the way that this government and the previous Abbott government have responded to the community with, quite frankly, a real ideological vendetta, and they've seen any number of other changes that have happened with the welfare system in this country that give them reason to suspect that the cashless debit card is coming their way.
We've just got to look at the way the government under-resources Centrelink. Last financial year, 55 million calls went unanswered at Centrelink, an increase from 29 million the year before. We've had the robo-calls scandal. We had the attempt to implement policies that are focused unfairly on people who need the disability support pension, Newstart or youth allowance. We've seen these Taskforce Integrity letters go out co-branded with the Australian Federal Police logo. No wonder members of the community feel that this government is waging an ideological vendetta against anyone in the community who needs some help from the government in the form of a pension or payment.
A disproportionate number of people around Hobart who have expressed concerns to me about the cashless debit card are older Australians. They have also seen the way that this government, and the previous Abbott government, has gone after older Australians: the way super has been changed, including defined benefit pensions; the way access to the age pension has been reduced; and the way funding of aged care has been slashed.
This is now about a lot more than the residents of Ceduna or East Kimberley or the residents of some small areas the government might want to talk about. This has become an issue and a concern for many Australians, including many Tasmanians, who I think are quite understandably concerned that they're going to be lumbered with a cashless debit card themselves one day, even though they don't smoke—they can't afford to smoke!—they are not on drugs and they don't gamble. They are responsible with their money and they appreciate the money they receive from the taxpayer. They're worried that they also will be lumbered with the cashless debit card. Make no mistake: if this bill becomes law it will authorise the government to roll out the cashless debit card across broad geographic areas, virtually wherever it wants to. It is a slippery slope.
I notice that some members have already spoken, I think quite rightly, about the need for other government responses to what are often complex problems in the community. Why isn't the government talking about reforms to reduce the rate of alcoholism in this country? Why aren't we having a conversation about advertising and trading hours and the taxation regime for alcoholic beverages? Why aren't we having conversations in this place about more effective ways to deal with drug abuse and the ice epidemic in this country at the moment? Why isn't this place doing anything much about gambling reform? Instead of going after all of these people, most of whom don't have any problems with any of these substances or with gambling, why aren't we putting in place sophisticated solutions to what are complex social problems: alcoholism, domestic violence and gambling addiction? For a brief moment, like a falling star, there was a conversation the other day started and quickly ended about a sugar tax. Why aren't we talking about those sorts of things? Why aren't we talking about fixing the taxation regime on alcoholic beverages so that we don't have the ridiculous arrangement at the moment where someone can walk into a bottle shop and walk out with five litres of cheap wine for 11 bucks. No wonder we have alcoholism. They're the sorts of measures this place should be talking about and the sorts of issues this government, with the support of the opposition and the crossbench, should be addressing.
While we're at it, let's not forget that the main reason that people who rely on a government pension or payment get themselves into financial strife is that they're not getting enough money to live on to live a dignified life. Why aren't we having a conversation about raising the level of government pensions and payments so that people in this country who need a disability support pension, who need youth allowance, who need Newstart, and who need the age pension can live a dignified and reasonable life? Heavens, we can afford it! I don't know if people in this place understand it, but we are the 13th biggest economy in the world. There are almost 200 economies in the world and we're the 13th biggest. Our national wealth per capita is second only to the Swiss! By that measure, we are the second-richest country in the world, not the 13th. Surely we can afford to have sophisticated solutions to complex social problems. Surely we can afford to ensure that everyone who relies on a government pension or payment receives enough money that they can live a dignified and nice life.
The fact is, people who rely on government pensions and payments need pensions and payments. They're not dole bludgers or some other form of bludger. Almost all people on the disability support pension desperately need the disability support pension. Almost everyone who's on Newstart desperately needs Newstart. Just about everyone who is relying on the age pension, either in part or fully, needs every dollar of that money. They're not bludging off the taxpayer. I think it is downright scandalous that this government, the Turnbull government, and the Abbott government before it, have waged such a crude and shocking ideological war against the disadvantaged of this country and against the people in this community who need some financial support. We can afford it. We're the 13th richest country in the world. We're the second-wealthiest people in the world in national wealth per capita, after the Swiss. We can afford it.