House debates

Tuesday, 11 September 2018


Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018; Consideration of Senate Message

4:28 pm

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the amendments be agreed to.

This legislation concerns the extension of the cashless debit card trial to a fourth location, in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. There is a range of amendments moved by the Senate. In particular there are some variations to the powers of the secretary of the department and also some provisions in relation to an evaluation of a trial review. If the minister or the secretary causes a review of the trial of the cashless welfare arrangements to be conducted—this is to say that after the arrangements are in place—there will be a review. An amendment has been moved in the Senate to provide an independent re-evaluation of that review. I commend the amendments to the House.

4:29 pm

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

I rise to speak very forcefully in this debate on the amendments to the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018. Obviously the minister has moved that the amendments be put through and supported, but I feel that I need to say a few things in relation to this particular trial. There are existing trials in Ceduna and East Kimberley, and Labor have agreed to continue those trials for two years. We did not support the rollout in the Goldfields and we certainly do not support the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay trials. I recognise the local member is very passionate about it, and I recognise his passion and desire; however, our objections are threefold.

Our objections are based on the evaluation that's been done on Ceduna and East Kimberley, which is woeful in its approach. It does not demonstrate that the goals of this card—and there were many, but, in the main the goal was to reduce violence in those communities—were met. There has not been a reduction of violence in those communities. The other thing, of course, is that the Auditor-General's report on the evaluation of the trial is damning. It is really what the government should be looking at in relation to these trials. Labor's position is very clear: we do not support the national rollout of these trials. The nonsense that this is somehow going to address family violence or that this is going to address the many ills that affect so many communities is simply not borne out. Labor is of the view that, if a community truly wants this particular measure, we would not stand in the way of that community, but there has to be demonstrated consultation and demonstrated agreement. We know for a fact that there has not been adequate consultation in Bundaberg or the Fraser Coast, which is borne out by the statements of mayors of those two local shires.

It seems to me that the nonsense about this trial supporting people, fixing up child poverty and doing a whole range of things—for example, health services, drug rehabilitation, education and jobs—is not borne out either. The cost of these trials is extensive. It would seem to me and our party that, if the cost of these trials were re-invested in measures that would address the issues of violence or drug and alcohol use, it would be a very different matter. The notion that somehow or other the mandatory implementation of this card to anyone of a certain age that happens to be on certain welfare benefits will sort out that person's issues is an absolute fallacy.

What is needed is wraparound services. What is needed is early intervention. What is needed is a much more enlightened approach to those issues. There is a mandatory application. It doesn't matter whether you don't smoke, it doesn't matter whether you don't drink, it doesn't matter if you make sure your kids go to school and it doesn't matter if you pay all your bills on time—those things don't matter—but the majority of people are in that position. The application of this card to those people is simply wrong. It seems to me that there needs to be a much closer look by this government at the application of this cashless welfare card.

Senator Storer has decided that he is going to support this measure, which is why we are having this discussion today. I hope for the sake of that gentleman that he has made that decision for the right reasons. I hope for the sake of that gentleman that he understands the implications and the illogical way in which he has gone about making the decision to support this card.

As we've said many times, Labor supports genuine community consultation. A blanket approach to income management is not our preferred option. We do not support a national 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.

4:34 pm

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I will briefly address the issue of consultation. I want to make the point that there was extensive community consultation between May and December 2017. The Department of Social Services conducted 188 meetings in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region with a broad range of stakeholders, including the community sector, service providers, community members and all levels of government, including three community information sessions in Childers, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay.

Question agreed to.