Thursday, 21 June 2018
O'Connor Electorate: Cashless Debit Card
I rise today to provide an update on the rollout of the cashless debit card trial across my electorate of O'Connor. While some of the local media and social media sites have focused on any negative stories that they can dredge up, I stand here today to recount the positives we're seeing even at this early stage across the Goldfields community. The staggered rollout has gone smoothly, and nearly 3,000 participants are now receiving their full support payments, with 20 per cent deposited into their regular savings account accessible as cash and the remaining 80 per cent placed onto a visa debit card that cannot be used for the purchase of alcohol or gambling products or for withdrawing cash.
I worked hard to secure the Goldfields as a third trial site for the cashless debit card, and I did this in response to concerns raised by respected community members and elders in response to the serious social issues being experienced at that time. There were stories of child neglect, teen hopelessness and suicide, vagrancy, alcoholism, and violence in the streets, forcing merchants to close their businesses in the middle of the trading day. I invited then Assistant Minister for Social Services, Alan Tudge, to visit these Goldfields communities several times, latterly with the Prime Minister, for them to see the issues for themselves. In addition to these visits there were over 285 departmental consultations, and I personally conducted a postal survey of all Goldfields residents as well as online and hard-copy petitions, accompanied by information on the cashless debit card. The assessment was that the cashless debit card could bring positive changes to the lives of many of those living on welfare support in the region.
Today, I'm going to recount some of the encouraging feedback I have received. The department reports that, of the 3,000 cashless debit card trial participants, over 2,100 activated their card online, with another 650 activated in the seven cashless debit card shopfronts that have been set up throughout the area. Over 20 local people have been directly employed as local partners in the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder and the four surrounding shires. They are tasked with assisting people with card management face to face. They provide information on wellbeing exemptions and financial counselling and personally assist in the setting up of direct debits, mortgage, rent and utilities payments. Two weeks ago, the Assistant Minister for Children and Families, Dr David Gillespie, came to Kalgoorlie and announced the allocation of a further $125,000 for financial counselling services, which is in addition to the $1 million allocated to wraparound services. I implore participants with any concerns to reach out to those best qualified to give real in person assistance. There is also support from the department via a 1800 helpline and a dedicated cashless debit card email address.
In my experience, any issues raised have been resolved very promptly and professionally, once the correct connections to assistance have been made. I know of numerous wellbeing exemptions being granted to those most vulnerable, and all concerns that I referred to the department have been assessed on their individual merits and suitable arrangements tailored accordingly. I've been heartened by the positive feedback coming to me from the various Goldfields communities. For instance, Robert Hicks, CEO of the Goldfields Individual & Family Support Association, has not had any issues raised by the disability sector since the implementation of the card. A recent survey of members of the Kalgoorlie-Boulder chamber of commerce reported no technical issues with card transactions. An increased police presence in the main street is contributing to a reduction in antisocial behaviour, and I look forward to the city introducing ranger patrols in the next two weeks.
Thus far, it's been reported that there's no evidence of any increase in property-related crime, and supermarket owners in Coolgardie, Laverton and Leonora are reporting that people are spending up on groceries and that they are seeing new faces that they've never seen before in their shops. Parents are spending more on their children, and some have openly commented they have never had so much money in their bank accounts. The Leonora pharmacist commented that he was almost solely used as a dispensary for PBS items, but, since the introduction of the card, he has been selling baby food, asthma spacers and other non-PBS products. A boarding house owner reported that tenants were using the cashless debit cards as an excuse for defaulting on payments, but the CDC team provided the requisite housing declarations to allow regular payments to be scheduled, so now both landlord and tenants fulfil their mutual obligations. Informal tenancy arrangements with parents, carers and friends are also being honoured. In circumstances where unexpected cash is needed—and I know there have been some cases—exceptional arrangements have been made.
I take these last few moments to thank those who are working to make this card work for the Goldfields community: the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder and the shires of Coolgardie, Menzies, Laverton and Leonora, who are reporting less social harm in the communities that they love and serve; the service providers, who are seeing reduced need for emergency relief and greater uptake of counselling and other ancillary services; the CDC team, who will continue to help people as needed each and every day; and the participants. I know not everybody feels they should be on this card, but if it can reduce the welfare fuelled alcohol and drug abuse— (Time expired)