House debates

Tuesday, 27 February 2018


Welfare Reform

7:45 pm

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It sounds like a wonderful weekend coming up in Indi. Mr Speaker, you're welcome to come to the Wagin Woolorama in my electorate next weekend, if you have time. Tonight I rise to update the House on the progress towards rolling out the cashless debit card in the Goldfields region of O'Connor. Again, I thank Ministers Tudge and Tehan for their steadfast support of this initiative, and those here in the House and the Senate who supported the passage of this legislation.

The ink was barely dry on this legislation when I headed back to the Goldfields last week. In Leonora I popped in to The Food Van Cafe and the owner, Fi, said: 'I keep hearing conflicting stories. Promise me we are going to get the cashless debit card here in Leonora.' I was pleased to reassure her that we were.

I joined the Leonora Shire Council for a meeting where councillors were discussing the rollout logistics. The shire has just purchased a roving EFTPOS machine for use at community events, and is working to ensure all businesses will accept the card. The shire already has liquor and gambling restrictions in place for times of unrest, but are considering further liquor accords and ancillary support measures. At the Leonora District High School, I met with the principal and discussed how the school could support cashless debit card participants and help monitor outcomes of the trial. Next, I travelled to Laverton, a town that supports a thriving mining industry that last year contributed almost $2 billion to the Australian economy. The Shire of Laverton invited me to speak at their annual mining liaison meeting. I took this opportunity to discuss the cashless debit card, and reinforce the important role of the mining industry in providing employment for locals trying to break the cycle of welfare dependence. I also attended an Indigenous business workshop where discussion was around forming businesses that would train and employ Indigenous people.

Meanwhile, the Department of Social Services has already engaged respected Laverton community member Marty Seelander as their community liaison officer. Marty will support the cashless debit card participants in Laverton and the outlying Aboriginal communities of Mount Margaret, Cosmo Newberry and Mulga Queen. He will make sure they can all access the benefits of the card and connect them with any wrap-around services they may require. Marty and I visited the police to discuss identifying measurable outcomes of the card as part of critically evaluating the trial as it progresses.

We talked to people on the streets and in businesses. It was encouraging to hear the level of support and enthusiasm for the cashless debit card trial in the Northern Goldfields. The following day in Kalgoorlie, I hosted a round table discussion with the Department of Social Services, the Shires of Coolgardie, Menzies, Laverton and Leonora and the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder. We were joined by Simone de Been, CEO of the Kalgoorlie-Boulder Chamber of Commerce and Industry. We spoke about the logistics of ensuring that cashless debit card participants can use the card to make any of their usual purchases, excepting alcohol and gambling products. The shires were informed they would receive their local partner contracts by 5 March, and the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder could engage at least six people to assist the transition onto the card.

The cashless debit card office will be located in Kalgoorlie and in the Boulder Town Hall. In Leonora, Menzies and Kambalda cashless debit card support officers will work out of the community resource centres. In Coolgardie they will be based in the shire administration building, and an office has been secured in Laverton.

During the stakeholder round table, the department also debunked some of the myths that have circulated through the Goldfields community on social media, much of them peddled by city based armchair activists. To those trolls who have never experienced the social harm being done in our communities, I quote an Aboriginal woman who spoke at a recent women's gathering:

They need to come here and stay here for a while. Go for a walk at nine o'clock at night and see what the town's like when these people get drunk and start fighting or breaking into things. We need the card to try and curb that behaviour. They need to see what it's like living out here.

Regarding some of the falsehoods about this card, I state categorically: this card will be accepted by all outlets that accept Visa; the vast majority of merchants do not have to sign a contract with the card service provider unless they sell alcohol or gambling products; the only merchants who are blocked are those who supply alcohol, gambling products or cash to card holders illicitly; and all direct debit requests, loan repayments and electronic transfers will be honoured by the card provider unless the participant does not have the funds to make these payments. Additionally, participants can elect to receive real-time account balances on their mobile phone to ensure there are always sufficient funds to cover scheduled payments.

It is my hope that this finally allays the fears of those welfare recipients who have called my office after reading false information. I'll continue to work hard with all levels of government and the private businesses and service providers of the Goldfields to ensure that no participant is disadvantaged by the card. I believe that together we can work to reduce the social harm that's being experienced in our communities.