Tuesday, 30 July 2019
Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Cashless Welfare) Bill 2019; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Cashless Welfare) Bill 2019. I move:
That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House calls on the Government to:
(1) present in Parliament by the end of 2019:
(a) a report making clear whether or not there is continuing community support in each of the trial sites for the cashless debit card program; and
(b) a wraparound services plan explaining how the Government has boosted community services in each of the trial sites and what increased investment in services will be made in the future; and
(2) make participation in the cashless debit card program voluntary from 30 January 2020, unless there is clear local community support and consent for the operation of the program".
Labor has serious concerns about the cashless welfare card. We have always opposed this rollout nationally. Labor supported the initial trial of a cashless debit card in Ceduna and East Kimberley because community leaders indicated support at the time. Of course, the original support offered by communities came against the backdrop of inadequate local services and inadequate local job creation and economic development programs—the investments the government should have been making in local social and economic wellbeing. Labor did not support the further expansion of the trial to Bundaberg, Hervey Bay or the Goldfields because of lack of evidence and a lack of any clear community support.
Let me be clear: Labor will not support the expansion of the cashless debit card to new communities unless the communities want the card and there is informed community consent. At the election, the rollout of the cashless debit card in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay was only partially complete. Labor committed to stopping the rollout of the cashless debit card in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay and to taking a case management approach to putting in place alternative support for people who are already on the card, as well as investing in support services and programs that work. Labor has not been able to satisfy itself, through its own consultations, that the same community desire was present in the other trial sites—the Goldfields, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay.
Labor successfully amended a bill in the Senate in April this year to allow people participating in the cashless debit card trial sites to get off the cashless debit card if they are effectively managing their affairs. Labor's amendment required that community panels, which were established in some cashless debit card sites, be the decision-makers. This was consistent with existing arrangements for reducing the portion of a person's income quarantined on the cashless debit card. The government's subsequent consultations with the community panels found that they did not want to be the decision-maker. This was out of concern for the pressure that could be placed on panel members by members of the community who apply to get off the cashless debit card.
On this basis Labor will not oppose this bill, because it is consistent with the amendment we successfully made earlier in the year and because it will give people a pathway off the card. This bill will amend the exit criteria under the current legislation—the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management and Cashless Welfare) Act 2019—to allow for a broader consideration of opt-out criteria for persons participating in the cashless welfare card. The bill will create a single administrative process for the Department of Social Services to make decisions about people getting off the cashless debit card. The bill also combines the pre-existing welfare exemption, which allows DSS to exempt a person from the cashless debit card if it is a threat to their physical, mental or emotional health, with the exit pathway established by Labor's amendment. Further, the bill clarifies that exit applications need to be made in a form that is approved by the secretary of the Department of Social Services and expands the wellbeing exemption provisions so they apply more broadly across all regions.
This bill will ultimately assist participants who are managing their affairs well and want to get off the card. We understand that hundreds of people are seeking an exemption from the trial and have already approached DSS about the opt-out process. This shows there is strong community support for people being able to get off the cashless debit card.
The bill sets out what DSS will need to consider when determining the reasonable and responsible management of a person's affairs, including financial affairs: (1) the interests of any children for whom the person is responsible; (2) whether the person was convicted of an offence against the law of the Commonwealth, a state or a territory, or was serving a sentence of imprisonment for such an offence at any time in the last 12 months; (3) risk of homelessness; (4) the health and safety of the person and the community; (5) the responsibilities and circumstances of the person; and, finally, (6) the person's engagement in the community, including the person's employment or efforts to obtain work. Labor has some concerns about the operation of certain provisions in this bill. We will continue to speak to the minister, and Labor of course reserves our right to seek to make improvements in the Senate.
The cashless debit card trial has been running too long. It is no longer a trial and it is time the government produced some real evidence about the effectiveness of the card, as well as reassessing community support in each trial area. That is why Labor has moved an amendment to this bill, calling on the government, firstly, to table a report in parliament by the end of the year making clear whether or not there is continuing community support at any of the trial sites for the cashless debit card; secondly, to table a wraparound services plan in the parliament by the end of the year, explaining how the government has boosted community services in the trial sites and what increased investment will be made in the future; and, thirdly, to make the cashless debit card voluntary from 30 January 2020 unless there is clear local community support and consent for the card.
This is an incredibly important point. The government simply cannot continue to impose the card on communities where there is not clear support, and they cannot continue to impose that in the absence of evidence about the card's effectiveness. In this context, Labor's future position on the cashless debit card is clear: we will not support the extension of the cashless debit card trial sites or the further rollout of the cashless debit card unless the government can demonstrate there is clear and genuine local community support. That is not because a mayor wants it and it's not because a local member wants it; it's because the local community wants it.
Since the introduction of the cashless debit card trials the government have continually failed to be up-front about the full costs of implementing the cashless debit card. Hopefully, this is something the minister can shed some light on in the course of this debate. The government have already spent $34 million on the cashless debit card, and the budget papers show they plan to spend $128.8 million over the forward estimates, including on new sites and the rollout of a cashless debit card across the Northern Territory. That's over $160 million that could instead have been allocated to employment and economic development, to early intervention services and to drug and alcohol treatment.
It was reported in mid-2017 that the cost of the cashless debit card exceeded $10,000 per participant. In the same year, the Auditor-General found that the annual running costs of the cashless debit card would be over $3,700 per participant. The problem is that we have never had a proper evaluation of what better outcomes would be possible if this money were differently invested. This is incredibly concerning, particularly when you consider the Auditor-General found that there was no evidence—and I repeat: no evidence—that the cashless debit card was effective.
In addition, Labor has become increasingly concerned about the government's persistent clinging to the deeply flawed ORIMA Research evaluation, and I have read that evaluation from cover to cover. The Prime Minister has continued to use this report to sing the praises of the cashless debit card and mislead the Australian people about the extent of its success. Leading academics have referred to comments made by the government as extremely misleading and perplexing. The Auditor-General found deep inconsistencies in the ORIMA evaluation. The government must stop relying on this report to justify the cashless debit card trials.
At the Senate inquiry into the cashless debit card earlier this year, the committee heard evidence that in some trial sites the cashless debit card had been in operation for so long that the opportunity for a proper piece of evaluation to be conducted had passed. In fact, we may never know what, if any, positive impacts the cashless debit card may have had on these affected communities. There have now been a number of inquiries into the cashless debit card scheme. The most recent committee inquiry heard, at best, mixed evidence about the card. Some think it has been beneficial in their communities; others think it has made existing problems worse.
Indigenous leader and Foundation Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne Professor Marcia Langton has said that the cashless debit card is a failure. Professor Langton said:
Because the local community is not involved in implementing the policy, the policy failed.
One wonders at the rhetoric of this government of doing things with Aboriginal people, not to Aboriginal people.
One of the community leaders in Kununurra who initially supported the introduction of the trial, Mr Desmond Hill, has since withdrawn his support. Mr Hill told the recent inquiry that one of the conditions community leaders had had when agreeing to the East Kimberley becoming a trial site was that people would be able to apply to leave the trial. This has not been the case up until now. Another Indigenous leader in the East Kimberley, Ian Trust, who remains a supporter of the cashless debit card, told the committee that he was not opposed to people being able to come off the card in some circumstances. This is why it is important that people can get off the cashless debit card, even in areas where the trial might be supported by the community.
This bill will allow people to come off the cashless debit card. The fact is that many of those people should not have been on the card in the first place. The government has already had enough time to demonstrate the merits of the cashless debit card, and it has failed to do so. That is why Labor is calling for three things in its amendment today: firstly, table a report in parliament by the end of the year making clear whether or not there is continuing community support in any of the four trial sites for the card; secondly, table a wraparound services plan in the parliament by the end of the year explaining how the government has boosted community services in the trial sites and what increased investment will be made in the future; and, finally, make the cashless debit card voluntary from 30 January 2020 unless there is clear local community support and consent for the card. I think they are perfectly reasonable things to expect about such a massive intervention into people's lives.
The bottom line is this: while Labor will not oppose this bill, because it implements an amendment we made some months ago and provides a pathway off the card, we will not support the extension of the cashless debit card trial sites or the further rollout of the cashless debit card unless the government can clearly demonstrate that there is clear and genuine local community support, which has been a total failure in the last two trial sites. Labor will take an evidence based approach to this policy and to income management. We will not demonise social security recipients, as seems to be the habit of this government.
I would like to thank members for their contribution to this debate on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Cashless Welfare) Bill 2019. The cashless debit card is an important part of our plan to improve the lives of Australians by supporting people, families and communities in places where high levels of welfare dependence coexist with high levels of social harm. By reducing the amount of cash available in a community, the cashless debit card is reducing the overall harm caused by welfare-fuelled alcohol, gambling and drug misuse.
This bill continues the operation of the cashless debit card program but improves the processes introduced through recent non-government amendments for participants to exit the program. It provides a more effective and consistent application process and ensures that the welfare of children, families and the whole community is considered when assessing applications for participants to exit the cashless debit card. The passage of the bill will clarify the administrative requirements of the cashless debit card exit process and ensure that the exit process is consistent across cashless debit card regions. There are no changes to the continuation of the cashless debit card program in the current trial areas and no change to the government's commitment to reducing the devastating effects of alcohol, drugs and gambling in these communities.
The government is introducing this legislation following consultations with community leaders to ensure there is a clear and fair process for participants to exit the cashless debit card program. The government thanks the community leaders it has worked with and will continue to work with on the implementation of the cashless debit card. We acknowledge their courage and their leadership to assist members in their communities to break the cycle of welfare dependence, to improve social outcomes and to support people into employment. I commend the bill.
The original question was this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Barton has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the amendment moved by the member for Barton be agreed to.