House debates

Thursday, 21 June 2018


Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018; Second Reading

11:07 am

Photo of Linda BurneyLinda Burney (Barton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018. This bill proposes to extend the cashless debit card trial to Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. If this bill is successful, all recipients of Newstart, youth allowance, parenting payments and other payments in the electorate of Hinkler, and who are under 36, will be forced to become trial participants. They will be forced. The cashless debit card quarantines 80 per cent of an income support payment onto a special debit card that cannot be used to purchase alcohol, gamble or buy gift cards that could, in turn, be used to purchase alcohol or gamble. It is expected that around 6,700 people in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay would become trial participants.

Labor does not support this bill. As we've said many times now, Labor supports genuine community driven initiatives to tackle drug and alcohol abuse. We believe they must be genuinely community driven, not driven from the top down. Labor does not believe in a blanket approach to income management. We do not support a national rollout of the cashless debit card. Let me repeat that, because I know there is a lot of misinformation on social media about this issue. Let me be very, very clear: Labor does not support any nationwide rollout of the cashless debit card.

Labor understands that the vast majority of income support recipients are more than capable of managing their own finances. We understand that income management simply isn't necessary for many people. Labor has said all along that it will talk to individual communities and make decisions on a location-by-location basis. After hearing the evidence presented to the Senate inquiry, and speaking with people in Bundaberg, it is absolutely clear that the community in Bundaberg do not want to be part of this trial of the cashless debit card. They do not want it in their town.

The mayors of both local government areas in the trial region—Bundaberg and the Fraser Coast shire—oppose the introduction of the cashless debit card in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. That is a very important point that Labor has considered in our decision. The Mayor of Bundaberg, former LNP stalwart and Queensland state minister Jack Dempsey, says his community has turned against the cashless debit trial after learning the cost. Key groups from the Bundaberg region felt ignored by the government's consultation process on this issue. This is another really important point we have considered.

Representatives from the Gidarjil Development Corporation explained that Gidarjil is probably the largest Indigenous organisation in Bundaberg and there hasn't been any approach on any matter, including the rollout of this trial, from the federal minister. That is a very telling fact—top down. Representatives from a community advocacy group in Bundaberg explained to the Senate inquiry that there has been little to no public consultation, and what consultation has taken place has been done behind closed doors.

Labor will only consider the introduction of a new trial site if the Liberals can show that they have agreed formal consultation processes with the community, as well as an agreed definition of consent. The flawed evaluation is another important point to consider. On top of that, the ORIMA evaluation into the effectiveness of the existing trials in Ceduna and East Kimberley is inconclusive at best. The evaluation has been criticised by leading academics, and there is insufficient credible evidence at this point to support the establishment of further trials.

Janet Hunt, the Deputy Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the Australian National University, said the evaluation showed that the cashless debit card had not actually improved safety and violence, despite that being one of the trial's objectives. Hunt is critical of the methodology used in the ORIMA evaluation. She argues that people interviewed for the evaluation may have told interviewers that they drank less than when the trial began but that such recall over a year is not likely to be very reliable. Furthermore, people had to give their identification to the interviewer. They may have said exactly what they thought the interviewer wanted to hear. They certainly would not have incriminated themselves. This is particularly true for the Aboriginal population, who, for historical reasons, are likely to view authority figures with deep suspicion.

Yet last year the former Minister for Human Services described the cashless debit card trials as a huge success. And the Prime Minister himself has said that the card has seen a massive reduction in alcohol abuse, drug abuse, domestic violence and violence generally. But Janet Hunt made it clear that this was not the case. She stated that 'someone needs to tell them that the report does not say these things at all'. This is important because the government's argument for expanding the rollout of this card rests very heavily on this evaluation. When participants were asked about the impact of the trial on their children's lives, only 17 per cent reported feeling their lives were better as a result. To be very frank, I thought the ORIMA evaluation was substandard and I don't believe any government should be making significant policy decisions off the back of such poor-quality evaluation. Labor will only consider the further expansion of the cashless debit card trial sites when there is much greater evidence—and credible evidence—of its effectiveness.

The cost of the rollout of the cashless debit card is a very important consideration in this debate. We know that the government has already paid $7.9 million to the debit card provider, Indue, and almost $1.6 million to ORIMA Research to provide a poor-quality evaluation. That is well over $8 million in total. Labor understands that the current accrued cost of the cashless debit card trial is around $24 million for the two sites to 15 March 2018. That is over $10,000 per head.

There is a better way to achieve the objectives, and it is quite extraordinary that we are debating this bill today without any indication from the minister about how much it will cost taxpayers to roll out the card at Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. In fact, they still haven't said how much the trial at the Goldfields is costing, despite the fact that the trial has been operating there since early May. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that a local council in Bundaberg did a survey which showed that when locals were told how much the trial program would cost to administer, support for the trial in the community dropped to just 26 per cent. So the government are deliberately avoiding telling us the cost per head for political reasons. This is simply unacceptable. The government must say how much the trial at Bundaberg-Hervey Bay will cost, as well as the costs for the trials in the Goldfields in Western Australia.

It is important to note that Labor supported the initiation of trials in Ceduna and the East Kimberley, and supports them continuing until mid-2019 to allow more time for a reliable evaluation to determine whether they have been successful. In April last year, the shadow minister for human services, Jenny Macklin, and I went to the East Kimberley to meet with community leaders in Kununurra and Wyndham. We met with the Waringarri, Binarri-binyja yarrawoo, Gawooleng Yawoodeng and Ngonowar-Aerwah Aboriginal corporations, along with the Wunan Foundation, Kununurra hospital, St John Ambulance services, Kununurra police, the Moongong Sobering Up Shelter, East Kimberley Job Pathways and the then Department for Child Protection and Family Support—a fairly significant consultation in anyone's estimation.

The feedback we received on the cashless card in the East Kimberley was mixed. Some people were in favour of the card and others were strongly opposed. Many people thought the card was just worth trialling. Ian Truss, head of the Wunan Foundation, described the card as a potential circuit-breaker for his people. St John Ambulance in Kununurra said the call-outs for alcohol related violence had gone down. At a Senate inquiry, the Western Australia Police Force released data on domestic assaults. The 12 months to 30 June 2017 saw 508 domestic assaults in Kununurra. For the 12 months previous to that, 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016, there were 319. Now, that is an increase.

I also had the opportunity to visit the women's refuge in Kununurra and to talk to some of the women staying there. They did not have a positive view of the cashless card. They told us that life had gotten harder with the card, that there was more violence and more crime as cash had become scarce. Others said that the sly grog trade meant that there were ways that people could easily get around the card if they wanted to buy grog.

A common sentiment that I heard across the week was that things were so bad in the local community that they were willing to give anything a go. Essentially, they supported the cashless card not out of hope but out of despair.

We've continued talking with people in the local community in the period since our formal consultation. So Labor takes a very clear-eyed view of this issue. We are not being ideological in our approach to this issue. We have a set of guiding principles and that determines our position on this debate.

In summary, Labor does not support this bill. We don't support the expansion of the card to Bundaberg and the Hervey Bay area. The evidence presented to the Senate inquiry, as well as our own consultations, shows that people in the community of Bundaberg do not want the cashless debit card in their town. As I said, mayors of both local areas in the trial region—Bundaberg and Fraser Coast shires—publicly oppose the introduction of the cashless debit card in Bundaberg-Hervey Bay.

The ORIMA evaluation into the effectiveness of the existing trials, which the government relies on so heavily, is inconclusive at best. And I have to say that I have read, very closely, that evaluation, and it is of a poor quality. It certainly should not be relied on by the government and it should not be misrepresented by the government as some raging success. The government knows very well that it is not. It says clearly that the card has had no effect, particularly in terms of violence in those communities.

Labor believes that there is currently insufficient credible evidence to support the establishment of further trials. Labor will only consider the introduction of a new trial site if the government can show that it has an agreed, formal consultation process with the community as well as an agreed definition of 'consent'. That is Labor's position. It is completely reasonable, if such dramatic changes are going to be made to so many people in that community, that there be a bottom-up approach so that it is owned by the community, not a top-down approach as we have seen here. Certainly, there has to be support from the local community. Labor opposes this bill.

11:21 am

Photo of Keith PittKeith Pitt (Hinkler, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Barton for her contribution. I'd like to place on the public record an open invitation to the member for Barton to come to my electorate. Don't go to a meeting with the local union hacks. Come to a meeting with the people who are providing frontline services in my community. This is a trial extension, not a nationwide rollout. This is a proposal for one electorate and, can I say, one which is not an Aboriginal community. This is an area where the numbers are nowhere near the levels in the other three trial sites. This trial will be in a typical community on the east coast of Australia. It is strongly supported.

I'd like to make these points. Firstly: the recommendation of the Senate inquiry was that the trial for the Hinkler electorate be commenced—that this legislation be passed. I've got to say, Member for Barton, I will assume that you've been misinformed, because the Senate inquiry very clearly stated that it supported the rollout in the bill. Secondly, in terms of the mayors of Fraser Coast and Bundaberg: the former mayor of the Fraser Coast Regional Council supported it publicly, and I have a two-page letter of support from the Bundaberg mayor. I would also say to the member and to those listening, particularly in the Senate on the cross bench: Brian Courtice is a former federal Labor member for Hinkler, and he is someone who has advocated for this card very strongly and very publicly. He is absolutely committed to his community still, and I commend him for it. There are any number of councillors who have provided us with letters of support and have told me and the Department of Social Services that this is something that we should trial.

In regard to the cost, Minister Tehan stated in May that the cost will be less than $2,000 per person once these numbers in the Hinkler electorate trial are included. That is publicly available and publicly stated. So, once again, I would say to those on the crossbench and to my community: I'm sorry this has taken so long. This has been over a year's worth of debate locally. I accept that there are people who will be ideologically opposed, but, in terms of consultation, how much more can we do? The Department of Social Services had done over a hundred sets of consultation before this was debated last time. I'll have to check exactly how many they've done since then, but they've done extensive rounds of consultations, and not just with consumers, merchants and frontline service providers; they have been there for months and months and months, initially to get an idea of whether there was support. I sent out 32,000 letters. We had an over-10-per-cent response rate. It was very strongly supported. I know there are people in this place and outside who won't believe me. They'll think I have a vested interest. Well, that's not the case, and I would say to them: I'm disappointed that this is necessary, but the community strongly supports it.

The local newspaper engaged ReachTEL. I'm sure this is an organisation that those listening, particularly people in this place, have heard of. ReachTEL is a recognised polling organisation, and it identified that less than 27.8 per cent of the population is opposed. It doesn't get a lot better than that—27.8 per cent. The majority support the cashless card. 'Bring on the cashless card' is the headline. How much more can we possibly do?

We are out there talking to people who are dealing with difficult circumstances. This is not a broad-based rollout; this is a select cohort, as the member for Barton identified: those on Newstart under the age of 36, parenting payment single, parenting payment partnered and another type of youth allowance. The reason we need this amendment is that there are 6,700 people who fall into that cohort. The reason there are so many is that when we consulted with the community and when we talked to the front-line providers—when we did all of that work—they said to us: 'It is about children in our electorate. They are not getting fed. They are not getting the basic amenities of life.' That is completely unacceptable.

I accept that this is not the panacea. This is not the only way to deal with this, but this is the only policy that is on the table. My community supports it. They support it strongly. We have been through all of the social media storm. We have dealt with those people from Sydney, Melbourne and Western Australia. I don't care what they think. This is down to the ones that live there. It is my electorate. I was born there. I have lived my entire life in that place. This is not acceptable to me and it is not acceptable to them, and they want to do something. I would say to the crossbench senators: this is the time to stand up. They're not your people, but it is something that they want. Now, surely in this place we can get to the point where we can accept what the community wants.

We have done all of the consultation. I have had people come to me. I have had the local state member in Hervey Bay telling me how many children he's had to feed that have come through his front door because their parents waste their money on gambling and on alcohol. It is terrible. The people who work in our local schools—they can't come out; they are employed by the state government and are restricted from making comment—have told me that in the district they are feeding over 1,000 children a day for breakfast. This can't continue. We need to make change. Look at gambling: I had reports earlier last year of the average numbers in Hervey Bay and Bundaberg being almost $5 million a month in a small community like that. This is something which will make a difference. It will make a real difference.

The Labor Party were in a bipartisan position earlier. They supported the trial in two sites, in the Kimberley and in Ceduna. They are very strongly Aboriginal communities; I think we both accept that. This is not. We can't say that it is only for those types of communities and not for this one. This is not a nationwide rollout. It is quite simply a trial of 6,700 participants. The Fraser Coast Chronicle reported that the latest electronic gaming machine statistics released by the Queensland government showed that $23.8 million had been lost just on the Fraser Coast, on 1,300 poker machines, since January. This is a card which does not restrict anything else. You can buy whatever you want. It can be used anywhere where EFTPOS is accepted, except for on alcohol and gambling products—and, of course, cash is restricted to restrict access to drugs. Surely we can trial this in one more location which is not an Aboriginal community.

As I said, we did our own consultation very early in the piece to see whether there was significant support to even attempt to do the rest of the consultation and then a rollout in the original trial. We did 32,000 direct mail-outs, phone polling of around 500 and 5,500 emails—as well as the calls and emails into my office—just from my office, from our small team of four people. Here is some of the feedback from local constituents:

I fully support this move. As the drug trade relies on cash, the move to a Cashless Debit Card will hopefully have a significant impact.


Yes the Cashless Debit Card would assist small businesses in revenue and also reap more tax revenue, as Centrelink dollars go to genuine retailers, not to illegal drug sellers who do not have a tax file number for their illegal sale and revenue.

They will not swap a six-pack of spaghetti for ice. This is about making a real change in our region, one which is wanted.

As I said earlier, the local newspaper engaged ReachTEL. They polled 637 people, which is a reasonable-sized sample. Fewer than 28 per cent were against. As well as that consultation, I've said that the Department of Social Services has undertaken significant consultation. This is by the Public Service. I don't think that there is anyone in this place who would say that the Public Service are biased. The Public Service are here to act in the national interest. They are always fair and impartial. From July 2017 to September 2017, DSS conducted 110 meetings in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. As I said to the member for Barton, after the announcement of the site on 21 September 2017, the department continued to consult and engage with the community and conducted a total of 188 meetings to December 2017. We have consulted with business leaders, church leaders and heads of community organisations. They are all keen and eager to trial this for just two years.

As I said earlier, I absolutely accept that there will be people who are ideologically opposed, but there is no other proposal. No-one has put forward any alternative—not one of the complainants, not one of the advocates, not one of the social media warriors. None of them have put forward anything else. It is time to trial this in the Hinkler electorate. My community is sick of talking about this. They just want it implemented. The overwhelming majority of them want this implemented in their region.

Fundamentally, this is about kids. This is not about anything else. We have children who are not being fed. I want to do something about it. My community wants to do something about it. We have outstanding support. There are people who have stood up on their feet and said they support the card and have been criticised by people right across the country with access to a computer and Facebook. They have been threatened. They have been told that their businesses shouldn't be used because they support the cashless debit card. It is absolutely outrageous what has happened there.

So I say to those opposite: this is a trial site for one more location. I don't know what more we can do in terms of consultation—I honestly don't. The department has been there for months. I once again say to the member for Barton: I have an open invitation for you to come to the electorate. I will put you with the people who provide these services, because what they have said to me is that they want to do this. They want to give this a go because they think it will work. If it doesn't work, we will know at the end of the trial. But, if it does not commence, we will not know a thing—nothing; there will be no change. I say to the crossbench: think very seriously about this before the vote comes to the Senate. I know that there are ongoing discussions with the minister and those who are looking to support the bill.

Once again, I thank people like Brian Courtice. Having a former federal Labor member publicly supporting this type of policy should say to not only those opposite but also those in the Senate that this is not a stitch-up; this is a community which is asking for help. The government is trying to roll out something which we think will make a difference and it should be trialled. Once again, I say to the Senate crossbench: support the bill in the Senate. Consider what the local community wants, not what happens with your political masters or those who might have an ideological view. This is about one community. It's my community and we want change.

11:33 am

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am strongly opposed to the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Trial Expansion) Bill 2018. In contrast to the previous speaker, I say there are alternatives to the cashless debit card, and that involves putting in proper social supports for families who have difficulties. This is a philosophical problem. It's quite ironic that, on a day when we're arguing about whether we should give tax cuts to people earning $200,000 a year, we're arguing about whether we should extend the reach of the cashless debit card. I have no problem with espousing my objections to this bill. It's paternalistic. There really is no evidence that it is going to change anything. In fact, for some families and some children, it is very likely to make things worse. If there is a problem with gambling, we should look at the gambling issues. Why do we have so many poker machines? Why do we allow people such free access to poker machines? This is a government that is happy to support the poker machine industry but not happy to support families in distress.

I don't like it when politics becomes personal, but, to me, this is a personal issue. This is a government that is prepared to see the most disadvantaged families in our community being punished for being in the position that they're in and not support them. This is how I see the cashless debit card. There's no evidence that it works. There is very little effort being put in place to increase services for families in distress. In fact, we've learnt recently that the Minister for Indigenous Affairs is reducing support for drug and alcohol counselling for Indigenous families. It's no good for those on the other side to say there is no alternative; there is—that is, to provide proper supports for families in distress.

In the Labor Party, we support the will of the community. From what I hear and see, there is no evidence that the community strongly wants the cashless debit card introduced, in spite of what those on the other side say. We have backed community-led trials in the past, but no real evidence has been produced to show that the cashless debit card is of benefit to these extremely distressed families. Yes, many of these families are Indigenous, but there are others. Indeed, in my electorate, many people are very concerned about the prospect of the cashless debit card being given wider acceptance. I think they are right to be concerned, because this is a government that looks at punishing the poor and supporting the wealthy.

What I truly doubt is the cashless debit card's capacity to deliver substantial and lasting benefits over the longer term. I think that, before we introduce social security measures to the poorest in our community, we should be very sure that they work before we punish the poorest further.

I've worked with these families for many years. They love their kids. They love their families. But they have difficulties. We need to change the argument. Families who have drug and alcohol problems have medical problems—these are medical problems—and we need to look at what we can do to support them.

A huge issue in my community is homelessness and the difficulty of getting stable housing. That is one way the government could help these families. The ability to have a stable place of residence is extremely important for many of these very stressed families, particularly in terms of their children getting a stable education. I see families that have to move their kids' school all the time as their housing changes, and the lack of stable housing is a very important social determinant, not only of their health but also of their learning. Yet we see a government that's doing very little to improve housing, particularly Indigenous housing and particularly Indigenous housing in rural and remote areas.

There is an alternative to this punitive measure, and that's to provide proper social supports—something that this government does not appear to acknowledge. We have increasing numbers of children, particularly Indigenous children, in out-of-home care. This government seems to want to argue that we should adopt all those children into other families. What they don't look at are wrap-around supports for these very distressed families. Once again, this is a government that's intent on punishing the poor and supporting the top end of town.

The way the cashless debit card works is that it can be used for purchases except for gambling, drugs, alcohol, tobacco et cetera. It's run by a company called Indue. It can be used in any sort of bricks-and-mortar store that accepts the Visa debit card, unless the store has been blocked—and I believe a few have been—and it can also be used online. Eighty per cent of an individual's payments used will be on the cashless debit card, with the remaining 20 per cent being placed in their ordinary savings account. It is removing these families' ability to manage their own finances. So, rather than putting in place ways they can be helped to manage their finances, we're restricting how they can use their income and we're not giving them any training in the ability to manage their own finances. It is, again, a further punishment, without a solution.

We are seeing the government wanting to roll this out, town by town, community by community. I am very concerned, as indeed are many people in my community, that the government will eventually roll this out around the country without any discussion and without any proper debate. What we see lacking in this government is any understanding of entrenched multigenerational disadvantage. I've worked in my community now for 35 years, so I've seen many generations of disadvantage, and I agree it is a major, entrenched problem in a very wealthy country like Australia. What I don't see is any understanding or any proposal from this government to deal with entrenched multigenerational disadvantage. It's all about punishment. It's all about personal responsibility and blaming people for being sick or disadvantaged.

When we are having this debate about giving tax cuts to people earning $200,000 a year, it really is time for us to look at lifting up those who are most disadvantaged in our community. That is occurring in education, health, jobs and housing. We need an overall proposal to try to help people on this multigenerational level. Unless we do that we are going to continue with this piecemeal punishment, this blaming, them-versus-us type of mentality. I feel very sad about that, because I've been brought up in a very wealthy country, and there needs to be some acknowledgement that we need to be doing better for those that are most disadvantaged.

We know that the vast majority of income support recipients can manage their own finances if they are taught to do so. In my electorate of Macarthur, the St Vincent de Paul Society, amongst many others, provides some fantastic financial management programs for the most disadvantaged. In fact, at their centre in Campbelltown, they're able to provide interest-free loans, teach people how to deal with their finances and show them how to manage their housing and manage nutrition for their children in an overall package. They do that by providing comprehensive support. They do it in a blameless way, a way that doesn't blame people for being disadvantaged.

In spite of the Prime Minister talking about opportunity and reaping the rewards of hard work, things happen to people, often through no fault of their own, and they end up in disadvantage. We know that we've had increasing numbers of gambling outlets around the country, with poker machines, sports betting companies and online gambling. To me, gambling is a huge problem, and we know that it causes problems, often in those most disadvantaged. We have recently had the rollout of payday lending in my electorate. A machine is now available at Minto, in one of the very disadvantaged areas of my electorate. What the government should be doing is trying to prevent things like that, which will put people at more disadvantage, rather than punishing them by introducing the cashless debit card. It really is not about trying to improve things and help people; it's about trying to corral people who are already extremely disadvantaged in a continuing cycle of disadvantage. It is something I feel very sad about.

We need to look at more radical ways of helping people. We need to look at wraparound services for these very disadvantaged families. One of my paediatric colleagues who works in a very remote rural area has spoken to me about not removing children from very disadvantaged families but, rather, having areas where these families can go and be given wraparound support—where they can stay with their children and be given help with things like drug and alcohol counselling, nutrition and medical problems. These families often have quite significant chronic medical disorders as well. So we need to look at a way of countering this multi-generational disadvantage. The cashless debit card is very likely, I believe, to compound and continue this cycle.

At first sight it may well seem to be an initial way of preventing people from getting their drugs and alcohol. In fact, we know that people who have addictions—and don't forget that addiction is a medical problem—will get their drugs and alcohol in any way they can. That may well mean turning to crime or using the cashless debit card to get things and then on-selling them. This is not an answer, in spite of what those on the other side may think. I would counsel those in the Liberal and National parties to think about what they're doing and think about more comprehensive and more appropriate services for the disadvantaged rather than continuing to blame them. We have had enough of blaming the poor and of corralling those with social disadvantage in a continuing cycle of poverty and dependency. We need to look at more comprehensive ways of getting them out of that. I see the cashless debit card as being part of that cycle and I am strongly opposed to it.

I would encourage members opposite to come into the most disadvantaged areas of their communities and ask them what they think they need. This paternalistic attitude of imposition from above and then not providing support services is becoming a characteristic of this government. We've seen this with cutbacks in Centrelink staff and the difficulty accessing Centrelink for very disadvantaged people. Not infrequently I have people who have no computer skills at all coming into my office to ask me and my staff to help them access Centrelink supports, including, recently, an 88-year-old lady asking for that support. They have no idea. That's very sad and a demonstration of a philosophical problem with the Liberal-National Party government. They do not understand the issues of the most disadvantaged, and I feel very sad about that.

There has been a lot of research work undertaken by those who've had a lifetime in the field of social supports. We know there are social determinants of a whole range of things, including health and education. I would encourage those on the other side to have a look at the social determinants of these things and see what they can do to break the cycle. The continued extension of the cashless debit card is avoiding looking at solutions. (Time expired)

11:48 am

Photo of Ben MortonBen Morton (Tangney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018. Isn't it interesting when we hear all the reasons that this bill shouldn't be passed? Those members from the Labor Party opposite are happy to have the trial—or to support the trial—in majority Indigenous communities but not in white communities. This bill seeks to implement the trial of the cashless debit card in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay areas in Queensland, the fourth trial location for this very important program, where people who are under 36 years of age and accessing Newstart or youth allowance, for jobseekers, or parenting payments will receive the card. This is about 6,700 people. The cashless debit card, or healthy welfare card, is about making lives better. I'm in this place to empower people to take control of their lives and the government, where it needs to, to co-invest in people's future, to help hardworking Australians reach their full potential—to help aspirational Australians reach their potential. Helping these Australians is my focus when we look at our social policy and welfare system.

I remind the members opposite that the cashless debit card doesn't impact on a person's eligibility to access welfare. It doesn't change the amount of Centrelink a person receives. It simply means that they can't use all of their cash to buy alcohol or drugs or to gamble, and they can't withdraw cash. Otherwise, the card operates and looks like a normal bank card.

In our communities, the lazy application of cash as welfare isn't working. In some cases, it's making lives worse. But the cashless debit card is actually making lives better, and the strong, independent evaluation results from the current trial communities are telling us how important this card is. The final independent evaluation of the debit card trial includes results from the first two trial communities, Ceduna in South Australia and East Kimberly in Western Australia, in my state.

The cashless debit card has had a considerable positive impact for the people participating in the trial. Forty-one per cent reported drinking alcohol less frequently, and people are now seeking medical treatment for their conditions that were previously masked by the effects of alcohol. Forty-eight per cent reported using illegal drugs less often; 48 per cent reported gambling less; 40 per cent of participants who have caring responsibilities reported they had been better able to care for their children—better able to care for their children; 39 per cent of participants with caring responsibilities reported they had become more involved in their children's homework and schooling when compared to before the trial; and 45 per cent have been better able to save more money. This card is not a silver bullet, that is certainly true. We know and acknowledge that. But it's an important tool in the fight against alcohol and drug abuse, and the violence and crime that come with those.

This careful and independent evaluation tells us that the cashless debit card is absolutely making lives better. I saw this firsthand when I visited Kununurra and Wyndham in WA's north. I met personally with many people who supported the card, and I met with those who don't. The number of pick-ups made by the Kununurra community patrol service for alcohol was lower. Admissions to the Wyndham Sobering-Up Unit were lower in September. Alcohol-related ambulance callouts were down, and sales at the Wyndham bottle shop—the only bottle shop in Wyndham—dropped.

I visited the Wyndham supermarket, and I was told that because of economic conditions sales across the store had dropped, but that since the implementation of this card sales for baby products had remained at the same levels despite the drop in economic conditions. I met with community leaders who helped me get to the nuts and bolts of this policy. I sat with the mums at the Wyndham Early Learning Activity Centre. I heard those Indigenous mothers talk about their aspirations for their children and the benefits that this card was having in their community. I met with the chamber of commerce and a number of health and cultural organisations, and I met with the police at Kununurra and heard about the issues that they have to deal with day and night. I was pleased to hear that alcohol fuelled callouts were down.

I also spent a 12-hour shift with St John Ambulance—the shift that went from 6.00 pm to 6.00 am—and we were responding to calls. While I can't share with you the precise nature of those calls, for confidentiality reasons, every one of them on that overnight shift was related to alcohol. The living conditions of the individuals who we visited to provide support to, and to meet their medical needs, were shameful They were terrible conditions. The issue of alcoholism in those communities has not been addressed by the mere fact of giving easy money to individuals. It is starting to be fixed under this card, but this card alone won't do it.

When you've got those ambulance volunteers at St Johns Ambulance telling you just how important this card is in dealing with alcohol illness and the consequences of alcohol fuelled violence every night, you have to take their word for it. I'm the government's chair of our social policy committee. You can read reports and you can talk to peak bodies, but to go and spend three days in these communities and see how lives are actually changing for the better makes you a very strong advocate for what we're trying to achieve here. Expanding the cashless debit card trial to the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area will build on the positive, evidence based findings that we've had already.

The Bundaberg and Hervey Bay trial is an opportunity to test the card's effectiveness under new parameters in an area with a significantly lower proportion of Indigenous participants and on a larger scale when compared to the current communities covered under the trial. There is concern that this card targets the majority Indigenous communities. I was told when I was in the East Kimberly that some people called this the 'white card'—the white fella's card restricting how an Indigenous individual can spend their money; they couldn't just go to the bottle shop—and that this was paternalistic. I am happy to accept that.

But one of the things that was said to me by the Indigenous leaders in the East Kimberley was how they wanted this card to be seen not as a tool to deal with Indigenous issues but as a tool to deal with the issues at hand—alcohol in their communities, drugs and gambling in their communities. And the issues of alcohol, drugs and gambling are not racist. They don't care if someone is Indigenous or not. They don't care if they're white or black. That's why it's very interesting that this trial is opposed by the Labor Party. Why are they opposing the extension of this card to Bundaberg and Hervey Bay where there is a majority urban and a majority non-Indigenous population? It is something that I just can't understand. I hope these trials in these new communities will dispel this perception. It is actually very important, and very respectful to those Indigenous leaders in existing trial sites, that we actually do this new trial in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay.

This area has been chosen carefully to address social problems that were identified during the extensive consultations in the community there. Between May and December 2017, there were 188 meetings about the cashless debit card trial with a broad range of stakeholders, including the community sector, service providers, community members and all levels of government. Some of the big issues this area is facing are high youth unemployment and inter-generational welfare dependence, gambling and a high use of drugs, alcohol and gambling.

The Wide Bay region has one of the highest rates of youth unemployment in Queensland. Data from March 2018 shows youth unemployment in the region is 27.8 per cent, which is an increase of four per cent since March 2017. You can't get a job if you're bombed out of your brain on drugs and you can't get a job if you're drunk—you certainly can't keep one as well. For all of those who are aged under 30 on welfare today, 90 per cent had a parent who was on welfare during the past 15 years. Consultations also revealed significant problems with alcohol and drugs and gambling among young families.

Drug use data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows Bundaberg and the Fraser Coast have an estimated usage rate 15.7 per cent higher than the national average. If there is a place where this card needs to be trialled, it is this location. Queensland Health data indicated 1,547 incidents of care for alcohol and other drugs treatment in 2015-16. According to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey, people who are unemployed are 2.4 times more likely to use drugs such as ice and other amphetamines than those who are employed. Trialling the cashless debit card in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area will be an important investment by individuals and governments to stabilise the lives of these young people in the communities by limiting their spending on alcohol, drugs and gambling and by helping to improve their chances of finding a job, keeping that job or successfully completing education or training.

A stable home environment during those early formative years is an imperative for positive lifelong outcomes. Setting the age at 36 means the government in this trial location can work with young people, their families and their children who are receiving welfare payments. Complementing the card in this trial location will be a further investment in community services of $1 million. That's very important. We learnt that in Kununurra and East Kimberly. The card alone doesn't work by itself; you need those wraparound services that the member for Macarthur was talking about. But you can have both. You can have those additional wraparound services and you can have the card. Are we trialling just the card? No, we're not trialling just the card. We are trialling the card and those services to see if they're sufficient.

Already there are a significant number of services in place in this region, including 70 federally funded services in the Bundaberg-Hervey Bay area, which include drug and alcohol services, financial capability services, employment, and family and children programs. At a technical level, this bill also amends the list of restricted goods to include cash-like products. It has been the intention that participants should not be able to purchase cash-like products—such as gift cards, vouchers, money orders, digital currencies—that could be used to purchase alcohol and gambling products. This was one of the issues identified in earlier trials, and one of the issues that I identified when I visited Kununurra and Wyndham.

The Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area is an opportunity for the government to test the card's flexibility as a tool to support people in urban locations and to help address the problems identified during the community consultations. I've updated the House on my own experience from where I've seen the intersection of welfare and drugs within my own family. I don't believe for a second that the life, if you can call it that, being lived by so many jobseekers with drug and alcohol dependence is one they choose to live. The cashless debit card is making lives better in the trial communities. We have an obligation to extend these trials to a non-Indigenous population and to a more urban environment to continue to trial the success of this card.

I commend the work of the Minister for Social Services and the Minister for Human Services. I commend the work of the Attorney-General and the Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, who both previously held ministerial roles in this area and championed this trial significantly. The extension of the cashless debit card has my full support. The extension of this trial to this location has my full support. I have said many times in the past, and I will say it again: working-age welfare should not be compensation for where someone has found themselves in life; working-age welfare must and always should be an investment in where they can go. That's what it must be, an investment, and, if you are investing in something, you need to make sure that investment is getting the outcome that you desire. And the outcome that we desire is to have fewer people on drugs, fewer people on alcohol, fewer people wasting their money on gambling, and more people in work being exactly what they are, what I am—that is, an aspirational Australian, wanting to apply my effort to get ahead.

The Labor Party see the lazy application of cash in our welfare system as the only solution. I say to them: the lazy application of cash is not working, but the cashless debit card is. The Labor Party should get on board and make sure we can work together to improve the lives of people in our community and to make sure that our welfare system does exactly what it should do—that is, to make lives better.

12:03 pm

Photo of Cathy O'TooleCathy O'Toole (Herbert, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in this place today to make it very clear to the Turnbull government that the community in my electorate of Herbert will not support the cashless debit card. But what we will support is early intervention and prevention programs that would assist people to move past their desperate and often very complex circumstances. We are repeatedly witnessing attempts to expand the use of the cashless card across the country. I know that it won't be too long before the Turnbull government will focus on my electorate of Herbert, and, as I have stated, under no circumstances will we accept the implementation of the cashless card in my electorate.

The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018 seeks to extend the cashless debit card trial to Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. If this bill is successful, all recipients of Newstart, youth allowance (other) and parenting payment who are under 36 in the electorate of Hinkler will be forced to become trial participants. The cashless debit card quarantines 80 per cent of income support payment onto a special debit card that cannot be used to buy alcohol, to gamble or to buy gift cards, which could in turn be used to purchase alcohol or to gamble.

The evaluation clearly questions these measures. The ORIMA evaluation into the effectiveness of the existing trials is inconclusive at best. The evaluation has been thoroughly criticised by leading academics, and there is insufficient credible evidence at this point in time to support the establishment of further trials. It is expected that around 6,700 people in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay would become trial participants. The mayors of both local government areas in the trial region, Bundaberg and Fraser Coast, publicly oppose the introduction of the cashless debit card in their areas. The community doesn't want it; the local council doesn't want it. So why on earth is this government rolling it out? Does this government think it knows better than the mayor, the local councillors and the local community?

I fully support community-driven initiatives to tackle drug and alcohol misuse. That is why, at the last election, I committed $5 million towards the Salvation Army drug and alcohol detox facility for young people—a commitment, I might add, that the LNP did not match. That's how governments should be supporting communities.

Community social problems will not be solved by a blanket income-management program. The vast majority of income support recipients are more than capable of managing their own finances.

I do not support a national rollout of the cashless debit card. Labor has said all along that we will talk to individual communities and make decisions on a location-by-location basis. Labor will only consider the introduction of a new trial site if the Turnbull government can demonstrate that they have an agreed, formal consultation process with the communities involved, as well as an agreed definition of 'consent'. The Hinkler area has said that they don't want it; that is why Labor will oppose this bill.

The Turnbull government is hell-bent on targeting the most vulnerable citizens. The implementation of the card is an assumption that all those who are 35 years of age and under and receiving Newstart or youth allowance for jobseekers, parenting payment single or parenting payment partnered, are using their money inappropriately. I ask the members of the Turnbull government: how would each of you feel if you were labelled an alcoholic? How would the members of this government feel about automatically being labelled gamblers? How would members opposite feel if they were labelled drug addicts? I assume that they would not be very impressed at all. Essentially, this is what the cashless debit card is doing to those who are already struggling to survive.

I represent the electorate of Hinkler, which includes the remote community of Palm Island. Palm Island is a small community of over 3,500 people. The island has an unemployment rate of 29 per cent and an underemployment rate of 20 per cent. According to the 2016 census, 24.1 per cent of households on Palm Island had a weekly household income of less than $650. The census also showed that, of the people aged 15 years and over on Palm Island, 74.9 per cent did unpaid domestic work in the week before the census. Palm Island is a developing community and a hidden gem in North Queensland. Given that Palm Island doesn't have a big economy, people look at the debit card as a way backwards, certainly not a way forward. The Palm Island council and the residents of Palm Island want job creation and economic development opportunities, because job creation is a much better option for the people on Palm Island than a cashless debit card.

Townsville has an unemployment rate of over eight per cent and a youth unemployment rate of over 20 per cent. To date, we have seen no investment in our region by the Turnbull government, and, after nearly three years, we are still waiting on NAIF to actually move past announcements and put some money on the table for the projects that have been announced, as that will get jobs underway. Palm Island, Townsville and all of the communities in northern Australia need investment. Investment in infrastructure projects, tourism and education will not only kickstart our economies; they will be the catalysts for job creation in a number of industries.

Labor's position on the cashless welfare trial has always been to support trial areas where the community has a desire to try something new to address drug and alcohol misuse. I am always open to considering genuine efforts to assist and support people in my community who are struggling with drug and alcohol dependency to access appropriate treatment. I don't believe that income support is best utilised to support a drug habit. However, vulnerable people's lives are very complex. As community representatives, we must remember that we are talking about people's lives. These are entrenched social issues that cannot and will not be solved by income management alone. We must address the core issues that contribute to drug and alcohol misuse. The vast majority of income support recipients are more than capable of managing their own finances, and many of the people I have spoken to feel it would be deeply insulting to have such a regime inflicted on them.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights conducted a review of the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Debit Card Trial) Bill in 2015 and noted that the cashless debit card engages and limits three human rights: the right to social security, the right to a private life and the right to equality and nondiscrimination. By reducing a person's choice in how and where they access and spend their social security payments, the Cashless Debit Card program limits the right to a private life. Labor has said that we never support a blanket approach to income management. We will not support a trial where the community insists it does not want a trial and also knows that it is not the solution it is seeking. That is why we do not support this bill. Labor will continue to consult with individual communities to ensure that their requests are met, while addressing social hardships.

The Turnbull government released the evaluation of the trials on 1 September. The evaluation showed mixed results. There have been serious concerns regarding Kununurra and Ceduna particularly. If you look at the report, 78 per cent of the people said there had been little to no change, and some said they had in fact been worse off. The Senate inquiry committee heard from the people of Kununurra, who stated that the card isn't working. Police reported increased levels of violence, and the not-for-profit sector in the town reported that children were going hungry. You can't just put a card in place without other interventions and expect behavioural change to occur, particularly when First Nations people in that area stated that they weren't asked about the card and weren't consulted about what they thought were more appropriate solutions.

I have received numerous emails and messages from members in my community who are against the implementation of the cashless debit card in Townsville. People have a grave fear of privacy invasion and that the cashless welfare card is a bandaid attempt to address a far more complex social matter. The people of my community would prefer the funds for this card to be invested in things like infrastructure that would actually create jobs. Townsville is in desperate need of water infrastructure investment. Federal Labor has committed $100 million towards securing a long-term solution to Townsville's water needs as well as $200 million towards developing hydroelectricity on the Burdekin Falls Dam. Labor has also committed $75 million towards our port expansion project. This single investment alone will generate more than $500 million for our local community as well as hundreds of jobs.

These projects should be priorities for the Turnbull government, not implying that people who receive welfare supports are criminals who frivolously spend their money. The best way that we can address the situation that we find ourselves in, where people are struggling with alcohol and drug misuse, is to fund early intervention and prevention support programs—programs that focus on the social needs of families who are struggling in communities, programs that support kids to get to school and programs that ensure that young people get a good education so they can move into work. Funding infrastructure creates jobs. Pretending that working on an income management strategy will cure the ills of the world and get people into work is simply not clear thinking by this government. I urge the government to seriously consider early intervention and prevention and to consult with the communities it thinks will benefit from income management programs, because I am sure these communities can tell you loudly and clearly what they need to support people living in their communities.

12:13 pm

Photo of Emma HusarEmma Husar (Lindsay, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's always good to follow the hardworking member for Herbert, my friend Cathy O'Toole, who is always standing up on behalf of her constituents and indeed all the people right around this country who will be adversely affected by this bill, the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018, which seeks to extend the cashless debit card trial to regions in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, forcing anybody under 36 to become a trial participant. We oppose this bill. Labor knows that the majority of income support recipients are more than capable of managing their own income.

This morning, I was over in the Federation Chamber, and I was listening to the member for Dunkley, a member on the opposite side of the House, talk about how he received income support when he was a university student. It's a great shame that the member for Dunkley isn't here, because I would be able to ask him how he would feel if, as a recipient of a welfare payment, he were told how, when and on what he was able to spend his own money on.

Communities are not homogenous; they are inherently unique, with their own customs and circumstances. It is an absolute disgrace that this government is willing to paint with one swift brush all of the regional communities where it wants to roll this out. The government refuses to acknowledge not only the importance of consulting on a community-by-community basis and allowing communities to have some decision-making but also the need to support community-driven initiatives. But, again, is it really a surprise that this government, the government of the rich and plenty, wishes to take a top-down approach to the cashless debit card? I think not.

The current limitations placed on the cashless welfare card trials are crucial to ensuring that this government does not overstep its bounds with rural and regional communities. As we've heard from the member for Herbert, there are some significant factors in the breaches of a person's human rights when it comes to these trials and the cashless debit card itself. Extending the trial to potentially include around 6,700 more people in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay without the appropriate consultations is blatantly irresponsible. It brings the number of participants to over 15,000.

Key groups from the Bundaberg region have been ignored. Ignoring the wishes of the Bundaberg community presented to the Senate inquiry is blatantly irresponsible. It's arrogant and it is out of touch—all the key themes of this government. It is clearer than crystal that this Turnbull government has mismanaged and bungled this entire process, and it is the people of the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay regions that will pay the price. Unlike in the East Kimberley and Ceduna trials, the lack of consultation in the Goldfields and Hervey Bay areas is symptomatic of this government, which doesn't listen, doesn't communicate and doesn't implement its promises. The lack of action in the East Kimberley is in stark contrast to the hope that the trial of the card was thought to deliver. Mothers hoped that their families would see support programs and training to help break the treacherous cycle that is disadvantage, but this never materialised. Labor will only consider supporting the introduction of a new trial site if this Liberal government can do its job properly and consult the communities it is planning on affecting. This government needs to show that it is willing to listen to communities and establish an agreed definition of consent.

The trial of the cashless debit card has been viewed through a prism of suspicion and mistrust. It takes a great leap of faith for communities to commit to this implementation, and the government ought to respect that. That's why we on this side of the House have consulted closely with people in Ceduna and East Kimberley, listening to their views widely, discretely and with humility and compassion. We support genuine, intuitive, progressive policies that acknowledge the problems and opportunities that are unique to remote and discrete communities. We are talking about people who have suffered greatly already at the hands of government, their representatives and others. Yet the original problem of systemic inequality and domestic and other violence remains for the very reason we were told these trials were needed. This is hardly encouraging for potential participants in Hervey Bay and Goldfields areas targeted by this legislation.

This government has paid $1.6 million to ORIMA Research to provide a weak and poor evaluation of the effectiveness of the existing trials in Ceduna and the East Kimberley. The results were inconclusive at best and were torn apart by leading academics like Janet Hunt, who stated that people interviewed for the evaluation may have told interviewers that they drank less than before the trial began but that such recall over a year is not likely to be reliable. Importantly, her paper also notes the fact that participants were required to identify themselves prior to participation. This raises serious questions about how they would respond and, in some cases, understand the questions and implications of their answers. It would be surprising if someone with a drug problem who has been identified by the interviewer would suddenly open up and discuss their volume of usage. Only 17 per cent of the trial participants reported that they felt their children's lives were better as a result of the trial. The ORIMA research is not something the government should be basing its policy decision-making on. It is, at best, a poor quality assessment and, at worst, a demonstration of this government's negligence.

These problems vary from community to community, from country to country and from state to state. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. We need to develop the levers that provide access to support where and when they are suitable and programs that address alcohol and drug related problems, as well as policies that seek to address the systemic inequality that has placed these communities in the vulnerable positions they find themselves in. These communities do not need empty promises or rhetoric and half-baked attempts that are more likely to hinder than to help them. They need to be heard and consulted with. We need to listen to communities to find out what assistance they require—and in their voices—and tailor programs to suit specific locations. One size does not fit all. This isn't a scarf, it's not a pair of gloves and it's not a beanie, Minister. This is not appropriate.

To 15 March this year, the trials have cost around $24 million for those two sites. The cost per head is well over $10,000. I do not profess to sit in the Treasury coffers or with those boffins who spend our money for us, but I would assume that that $10,000 per head could have been better directed to things that all actually went to the heart and core of addressing some of the issues that these individuals find themselves in. We have no idea what this minister intends to charge taxpayers to roll out the cashless debit card in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, and I don't know how the minister expects us to debate this legislation without this crucial information.

This is symptomatic of the government's problematic approach to the way they run this country, which we saw this morning. Turnbull's mob doesn't want this parliament to be informed before making decisions, let alone the average Australian. We saw that on trial here this morning. The government needs to be honest with this parliament and tell us how much the trials at Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, and in the Goldfields in WA, will cost. The fact that they haven't already is an absolute disgrace. The government has spent around $24 million, as I said, on current trials alone, with $7.9 million paid to Indue to manage the payment system and $1.6 million for useless and unreliable research. They have mismanaged Australian taxpayers' money and they have damaged lives in the process.

The 2016 census tells us that Australia's Indigenous population has grown by 17.4 per cent since 2011. That's an estimated 3.3 per cent of our total population, and, it is estimated, just slightly under 800,000 people, who are concerned about the implications of a rollout of the cashless debit card. We need to be mindful of the implications of an extension of these trials and the psychological impact they have on every Indigenous person, regardless of where they live. It is imperative that we take the actions of previous governments into account when we are discussing serious amendments and extensions such as the one before the House today. It is also important to note that these populations are also centred in the major cities, particularly in electorates like mine in Lindsay. These are people who have suffered from and been hurt by our collective actions, however well-intended they may have been. People need to be reassured of our commitment to the implementation of effective education, rehabilitation and training programs. They are essential to ensuring that the inequality, suspicion and historical dislocation are addressed in ways that are consultative, well resourced, well researched and effectively delivered.

While we know that most people have the ability to self-manage their incomes, we also understand that some people do need a hand. Extending the rollout of the cashless debit card without appropriate consultation and research is not an effective way of giving people a hand. It also clearly demonstrates blatant negligence and the contempt that the Turnbull government has for some of our most vulnerable Australian communities and people.

Labor opposes this bill because there is insufficient credible evidence to support the establishment of further trials. Who would have thought that you'd need evidence to make an informed decision! In this case, the government may have been a bit confused. Proper consultation means working together with communities to ensure they get the programs they need and desire. Proper consultation means not lecturing communities—you are consulting—but making a commitment to listening, discussing, acknowledging and acting on their aspirations.

Systemic disadvantage cannot be solved by income management alone. This government needs to provide additional support to communities which elect to participate in those trials. That support needs to be targeted and it needs to be based on research and evidence. It is time for this government to sit down and listen to what these vulnerable communities are saying. Thank you.

12:24 pm

Photo of Christian PorterChristian Porter (Pearce, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank all of the members for their contributions to the second reading debate stage of the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018. The bill, as is now well known, seeks to add the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area as a cashless debit card trial area under the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999. The bill specifies trial participants in this site as persons under 36 years receiving Newstart allowance, youth allowance jobseeker, parenting payment single and parenting payment partnered. The trial would cover around 6,700 people in the trial area, and the selection of the cohort in this area has occurred in response to significant consultation with the relevant communities. The bill would allow the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay trial site to operate until 30 June 2020, allowing time to implement the trial and for it to operate for at least 12 months.

The cashless debit card aims to reduce the devastating effects of alcohol, drug and gambling abuse in our communities. The card operates like an ordinary debit card, with the primary difference being that it does not work at liquor stores and gambling houses and cannot be used to withdraw cash. Consequently, illicit products cannot be purchased with the card. The trial restricts what participants can spend their social security payments on but does not detract from the eligibility of a person to receive welfare, nor does it reduce the amount of a person's social security entitlement. The trial of the cashless debit card has been ongoing in Ceduna, South Australia, and in the East Kimberley region, in my home state of Western Australia, for more than two years. In February this year, parliament passed legislation to allow the program to continue in these communities and to be expanded to a third site in the Goldfields area, again in Western Australia, where the trial commenced in March 2018.

The payment types and age group for this site were selected based on extensive consultation by the Department of Social Services. Between May and September 2017, over 188 meetings, including three community information sessions, were held across the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area. These canvassed views from a very broad range of stakeholders, including the community sector, service providers, community members, church groups, the business sector and all levels of government. These meetings demonstrated a clear need for support and intervention in the areas of youth unemployment, young families and intergenerational welfare dependency.

As a result of those meetings with the communities of Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, it was clear that many people in those areas wished to tackle the serious issues of youth unemployment and long-term and intergenerational welfare dependency. Ninety per cent of the people in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay under 30 and on Newstart or youth allowance had a parent or guardian who received income support at some point in the previous 15 years. Further still, of that cohort, around 13 per cent had a parent or guardian who had received income support at least once each year for the past 15 years. Further, research by the Australian Research Council indicates that risk factors such as attitudes to work and welfare, attitudes to alcohol and drug consumption and family influences contributed greatly to intergenerational welfare dependency.

The Australian Research Council also found evidence that young people from welfare-dependent families were more likely to smoke, drink alcohol or consume illegal drugs, thus highlighting the relationship that welfare dependence has on a young person's outcomes in life. A stable domestic environment with limited exposure to risk factors during formative years is imperative for positive lifelong outcomes. The cashless debit card can help to stabilise the lives of young people in the new trial locations by limiting spending on alcohol, drugs and gambling and thus improving the chances of young Australians finding employment or successfully completing education or training.

The government has also announced a second evaluation of the cashless debit card across all three current trial sites, to assess the ongoing effectiveness of the program. The second evaluation will use research methodologies developed independently by the University of Queensland and draw on the baseline measurements of social conditions in the Goldfields developed by the University of Adelaide. The initial and positive findings of the impact of the cashless debit card in Ceduna and the East Kimberly have been encouraging. The expansion to Bundaberg and Hervey Bay will help to test the card and the technology that supports it in more diverse communities and settings. This will, of course, build on the evidence available to further evaluate the impacts and outcomes of the cashless debit card on all participants. The government remains committed to rolling this program out to the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area and addressing the issues of social and economic disadvantage in those areas.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that this bill be now read a second time.