Tuesday, 26 November 2019
Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019; Second Reading
As I was saying, the gradual transition is scheduled to occur over a nine-month period as of 1 April 2020. The rollout will proceed community by community so we can give our full attention to those areas where the program is being implemented. No two communities are the same. The government recognises this and will seek to work through the implications of these changes with all affected stakeholders. This will not simply be a consultative process, which is all talk and no action. As this government has committed $18 million to support the participants in this transition, we have no higher priority than looking after this country's most vulnerable and helping empower individual Australians chart their own future—
(Quorum formed) We also recognise that the member for Chifley, who called the quorum, is going to be painful the whole afternoon—and to think I let him use my pen when he sits in my chair! It's absolutely appalling.
This will affect a large number of the Indigenous Australians across the Northern Territory and the Cape York region. In addition to working closely with these Indigenous communities, we are providing resources in a range of local Indigenous languages, with access to interpreters as and when required.
This bill is a community driven, bottom-up initiative which helps to provide a strong welfare safety net whilst reducing social harm or welfare dependency. A fair go for all Australians is a pillar of this country's prosperity and, more importantly, since federation, has formed an important part of what makes this the greatest country on earth. This is a bill that goes to the heart of this Australian ideal by providing a hand up and creating better outcomes for communities and users of the cashless debit card. Australia has always been proud of our regional communities as important contributors to national life. Working together, we look forward to helping support the future of regional communities continuing to represent the best of Australian values and culture.
The baseline report into the Goldfields trial site found the program produced very positive results. In addition to the decline in drug and alcohol related issues, there was also a decrease in overall crime. It was also encouraging to see that there was there was improved—
Australia has always been proud of our regional communities as important contributors to national life. Working together, we look forward to helping support the future of regional communities and continuing to represent the best of Australian values and culture. The baseline report into the Goldfields trial found the program produced very positive results. In addition to the declining drug and alcohol related issues, there was also a decrease in overall crime. It was also encouraging to see that there was improved financial management on the part of participants. This program is not only about breaking detrimental habits that are devastating communities but about creating a pathway of hope to a better future for people who can be fully engaged and contributing to local life and economy. A critical component of this bill is embracing the—
Order! The Manager of Opposition Business has moved that the debate be adjourned, but that can only happen between speakers. The member for Mackellar was still speaking, as I understand it, so I'm going to call the division off. I know it's a small point. I don't know what's going to happen, but it might be easier if people hang around. I call the member for Mackellar.
I will not be silenced on this debate! The people of Australia, the welfare recipients who want to live better lives, know what the Labor Party is up to. They know that it's afraid of us making their lives better. This is what this is about. We on this side of the House will not be silenced by the member for Watson, by the Labor Party. People just simply want to see their lives get better. That's what this government's about, making better the lives of all Australians, not just donors to the Labor Party. We have truth on our side. We have truth, and it's the truth that matters. Oh, yes, and they know it. The louder they scream, the more noise they make, the more we know that we're right and we're on the right path.
Anyway, the next step of the cashless debit card's rollout is to triple the number of beneficiaries to approximately 34,000. This will enable the government to monitor the improvements and continue to engage with communities. By gradually implementing the program, we will be able to more effectively deploy the pledged $18 million in support of individuals and communities going through the change. We anticipate that the continued implementation of the program will build up a body of evidence that clearly indicates the merits of the cashless debit card, with the bill's core objectives met in communities throughout Australia.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I'd ask you to call the House to order. There are a large number of people interjecting who are out of their places. A large number of people are just conducting conversations in the room. The member for Mackellar is very passionate about this speech. The House has resolved that he should give it. I'm sitting here listening but his own colleagues are just wandering around, and I don't think that's right!
On this rare occasion, the Manager of Opposition Business and I are fully in agreement. What he says is not right. It is not right, and you should all pay attention because there are more facts to come. We believe— (Time expired)
The cashless debit card is the next step in a long Liberal-National tradition of demonising Australians accessing the social security system. We see another proposal of which the main purpose is simply to demonise and stigmatise people. There is no problem that it is trying to address and there is no evidence that it will address any problems.
Our social security system should support people to live decent lives, but under this government it is keeping people poor. It is locking in inequality, and the cashless debit card typifies this government's approach to social policy. It doesn't trust people to make decisions for themselves. The Liberals say they are for the individual, for freedom. Clearly that doesn't apply to everyone. It certainly doesn't apply to the poorest and most disadvantaged Australians. Labor cannot support the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transaction) Bill 2019 in its current form.
There is no evidence to support a broad-based mandatory income management system for social security recipients. Eighty per cent of people subjected to income management in the Northern Territory, where it is being trialled, are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people. This bill and the plans laid out within it are discriminatory. Our First Nations peoples deserve better than this. Our First Nations peoples should not be used as a trial case for a national rollout of the cashless debit card.
Labor supports income management being available when an individual or community feels it would be helpful to them. Income management should be available in communities only if and when those communities have determined it will be helpful for them, but forcing people onto the cashless debit card is not the answer. It is punitive, and there is no evidence to demonstrate that it achieves the benefits the government is seeking.
Our social security system has been fundamental to our egalitarian society, and I dare say I agree with member for Mackellar when he says it's one of the things that has made our country such a great country. But this government is destroying that. Our social security system has worked hand in hand with decent wages and conditions to ensure that people do not live in poverty and that we support people when they are unable to work, but, under this government, Newstart is currently so low that everyone except the Prime Minister agrees it is actually preventing people from finding work. We know people experiencing dire poverty are going to find it very difficult to find a job, go to an interview and engage in work.
A decent social safety net is an investment in a healthy and thriving workforce. Instead, the realities for our workers are tough. In October we lost 19,000 jobs from the economy. As the shadow minister said, the number of Australians over the age of 55 on Newstart represents a quarter of all Newstart recipients and the number of over-55s on Newstart has surged to 45 per cent under this Liberal-National government. It seems that, instead of developing a legitimate plan for the Australian economy and a legitimate plan to increase the number of jobs for Australians as well as the number of hours for the one million-plus workers currently underemployed, the government is resorting to bashing social security recipients like it always does, with plans like expanding the cashless debit card. They should be building an economy that employs people, but instead they resort to making the social security system more punitive with measures like the cashless debit card.
The negative reviews of this policy from peak bodies, academics and other advocates provided to the Senate inquiry into the cashless debit card are overwhelming. I was struck by this comment from Professor Matthew Gray and Dr Rob Bray from the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods here in Canberra. They said of their paper, in their submission to the inquiry into this bill:
It presents a review of data relating to child health and wellbeing, school participation and outcomes, alcohol consumption and impact, and crime and justice. The paper clearly shows that there has been a total absence of any improvement in the outcomes for Indigenous people in the Northern Territory which can be attributed to income management, despite the fact that the most vulnerable third of this population has been subject to the measure for over a decade.
… … …
Our view is that the evidence strongly shows that the simplistic conceptualisation of income management and the Cashless Debit Card, and the purported benefits of these policies, are false.
… … …
… the evidence is clear that when they are applied to broad populations based on some generic criteria they are an ineffective and costly policy with negative consequences.
Researchers from Griffith University and the University of Queensland provided a submission to the inquiry that included evidence they had been able to get from people who were on the cashless debit card in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, including the following anecdotes which outline problems with the card's functionality. I will quote some of the people interviewed as part of this study. Interviewee 22 from Bundaberg said:
I took my son to soccer and I went to use the canteen to get him a bottle of water and it declined at the canteen. … even declining at kids' soccer games, just to get water, it's pretty stressful and embarrassing.
Interviewee 1 from Hervey Bay said:
… I had to buy glasses, reading glasses, because I'm working … I have difficulty with my eyesight, so I had to buy glasses … and I couldn't use my Indue card.
Interviewee 4 from Hervey Bay said:
I went to pay my RACQ roadside assist on BPAY through Indue and it just wouldn't work.
Interviewee 7 from Hervey Bay said:
I can't even go to the markets because they don't have frigging EFTPOS machines at the markets. … I used to go to the markets on a Sunday, or Saturday markets. I don't go anywhere now.
Interviewee 4 from Hervey Bay said:
It was last week or maybe the week before I had to go to the chemist and get medicine. I went to use my cashless card and it didn't work. It wouldn't register. It wouldn't work. It wouldn't accept it at the EFTPOS machine.
Interviewee 5 from Hervey Bay said:
I needed to get the script done and the chemist wasn't accepting any cards.
These are frustrations and humiliations that people should not be facing in this country because of the government imposing the cashless debit card on them. Parents have also indicated that they were unable to pay for necessary items for children that required cash, such as tuckshop money, school uniforms, school photos, school holiday activities and tutoring. Interviewee 17 in Bundaberg explained:
Being able to pay for excursions, you know all those different things like sporting things. I'd love to get my son into little athletics, but I don't think I can pay for it, using the cashless debit card. Because a lot of these places want cash. I had $100 one week and $150 the next, so tell me how that's not making my children suffer, by not being able to give them a sporting thing. He loves to run, he loves to jump, he likes doing all that, he loves being outside. But to me, I don't know how I'm going to afford to put him in to football or whatever he wants to do, because they all want cash up front.
We should want all Australian children to be included, not excluded because their families are relying on social security. This completely undermines the objectives of the system.
Hervey Bay and Bundaberg are in the electorate of Hinkler, and shame on the Member for Hinkler, the Hon. Keith Pitt, for failing to protect his constituents from this punitive cashless debit card. In fact, earlier he was speaking about Senator Anthony Chisholm's consultations, saying that no-one was there and inviting us to talk to his office. Well, I'm sure he'd provide an honest assessment, because his constituents are affected. One such is Jodie McNally, who the Fraser Coast Chronicle has chosen as worthy to report about. First of all, she found that her card was sent to the wrong address, and then later found that if she accidentally used funds listed for rent, the next week she would find herself unable to pay rent because Indue had recorded her as already using the money allotted to that spending. She tried to opt out of the trial in July and has not yet heard back. These stories are not shocking for anyone who has dealt with Centrelink under this government.
What the government doesn't understand is how resourceful people need to be to get by on Newstart. Living on less than $40 a day will require you to be—
No. Labor will seek to amend this bill in the Senate. First, we want to make the cashless debit card voluntary unless a community wants the card or a person is placed on income management for a specific reason, including for child protection or by the Family Responsibilities Commission in Cape York.
Labor wants to require the minister to demonstrate the support of each individual community before rolling out the cashless debit card, including consultation with women's groups and community members. Has the government learnt nothing about the importance of engaging with First Nations communities? The lack of consultation here is astounding. Labor, led in this area by our First Nations caucus committee, is committed to ensuring that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are involved in decision-making that impacts their lives. If only the government had this approach too.
Labor will seek to require further independent evaluation of the cashless debit card. We need to know the real impact of this policy, and it has not been shown yet. We need to know if it achieves the government's objectives; otherwise it is simply an ideological move yet again from the Liberal Party at the expense of First Nations peoples and anyone receiving social security.
Labor will seek to remove the minister's powers to quarantine up to 100 per cent of a person's payment. Technology has taken us a long way from the cash-reliant economy we had a decade or so ago. Card payments are prevalent, but we aren't a 100 per cent cash-free society. This is especially so in regional areas, where the cashless debit card trials have been held and where the government is proposing to roll out the card. For people living on payments below the poverty line, using cash is sometimes vital. Second-hand goods are often bought in cash. Things are sometimes cheaper when you use cash. Food shopping is often cheapest when conducted in cash. Instead the government focuses on its obsession with social security recipients being drug users, as we saw with their ridiculous attempts to drug tests all social security recipients.
Labor will seek to amend this bill to require ongoing wraparound services in cashless debit cards, as we have done previously. Our shadow minister, Linda Burney, has spoken about issues such as birth weights falling. She's talked about visiting communities where people don't have access to clean water and don't have food security. And there is a housing crisis in remote communities. Why not focus on these problems and actually address these issues? If the government wants to improve lives, why don't they focus on that rather than this policy with no evidence to prevent people from exercising their own choice and independence?
Why doesn't the government spend this money on a program that truly helps people to get work? The fact is that the cashless debit card will not create one job. How does it help people re-enter the workforce? How does it help the increasing number of people over the age of 55 on Newstart who want to work and can't find a job? How will it help people work until they are 70, like the Morrison government wants them to, and how will it help young people trying to get a foot in the door?
Why should someone who has never engaged in binge drinking or taken illicit drugs be forced onto the cashless debit card, which was introduced to address these behaviours? The answer is that they shouldn't. Today 23,000 people are on the BasicsCard and will transition to the cashless debit card and 83 per cent of these people are Indigenous. The cost has been substantial—approximately $2,500 per person per year. Imagine if the government had invested this money, over $50 million, into these communities and into services that are proven to assist people—into homelessness services or clean water? Instead the money has gone to a credit card company and imposed significant administrative burdens on businesses in these communities.
This bill is a precursor to government trying to introduce a national scheme. Senior members of the government have suggested all social security recipients under 35 should be placed on the cashless debit card. Some Nationals have argued that a national rollout should be a condition of any increase in the rate of Newstart. Labor has been calling for existing cashless debit card locations to be wound up by January 2020 unless the minister can demonstrate informed local community support. But there is no indication the minister has obtained this support. We also want a comprehensive, independent evaluation of the cashless debit card. We are rolling this program out blind, with only incompetent, incomplete or dubious analysis of the impact of the program available. And experts are saying it just isn't working. The Auditor-General has been scathing.
Once again, Labor is calling for wraparound services for people who are having their income managed. In Cape York, for example, where the cashless debit card has community support, individuals who are on income management are being supported more comprehensively than merely restricting their income. In Ceduna, $2.1 million has been invested in community safety, drug and alcohol services, mental health services, financial management support, extra funding for family violence support and free wi-fi connectivity. In the East Kimberley region, $2.9 million has been invested for a similar range of services, including youth activities. But, as the rollout has continued, the commitment to these services has waned. This is unsurprising given the comments of the government on this issue.
We should be building a social security system that helps people to build good lives. We should be using the system to reduce inequality. Instead, all the government is able to come up with is more punitive measures that make people's lives more difficult. I call on the government to work with Labor to make this bill better. I call on the government to rethink their approach to social security to support all Australians to achieve their full potential, not lock them into poverty.
I rise today to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019—it doesn't really roll off the tongue! In doing so, I wish to state that I cannot support the bill in the form in which it has been presented by the government—or really any other form. I find this legislation highly discriminatory and insulting. Like much of this government's legislation, it's nasty, it demonises people and it doesn't support people. We've heard for a long time about the robodebt tragedy, and I do call it a tragedy in that it demonised and punished people for being poor. We've heard about the government's refusal to increase Newstart. Indeed, today I went to a presentation demonstrating that there's no area of Sydney that's affordable for those on Newstart benefits to house themselves.
This legislation, if it were to pass this parliament, would apply predominantly to First Nations Australians, with 80 per cent of the people on income management in the Northern Territory being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent. Of course, many other people around Australia are worried about the government's intention to roll out this cashless debit card throughout Australia to the populations dependent on welfare. They're worried about the way it will demonise and damage people. Here we have a discriminatory piece of legislation, and the government have not even tried to mask what they're doing. Instead they're content with looking as though they're controlling the lives of some of the most disadvantaged individuals in our country without providing them with support.
The government has failed altogether to consult with communities, and we should be disgusted by this. We should also be disgusted by the lack of any form of evidence in support of the cashless debit card. Indeed, 12 years after the intervention we still cannot say that there is evidence to support mandatory and broad based income management. Because of the lack of evidence, one has to wonder why this is still being debated in this place. Indeed, there's evidence to the contrary. The Menzies School of Health Research has published data showing that in those populations in the Northern Territory affected by the income management the birth weights have fallen by approximately 100 grams per child, which is a really significant negative effect.
Let's call this legislation out for what it is and what it really seeks to do. It lays the foundations for a national rollout of the cashless debit card to some of the poorest people in our country. We know there are several members opposite who would seek to have such a scheme implemented, and some of them come from some of the wealthiest electorates in the country. I wonder what the people in Point Piper, North Sydney, Chatswood or Toorak would feel about management of their incomes. I, for one, will not support a scheme being forced onto communities without their approval and without consultation.
Labor, of course, will be moving amendments to this bill in the other place, which will emphasise the government's failures in the House of Representatives. When the legislation comes before the Senate we will be seeking to make the cashless debit card voluntary, as it rightfully should be. To be quite clear: a national rollout of the cashless debit card should not be considered. There is simply no evidence to suggest that broad based income management and cashless debit cards actually work to improve the situation of the very disadvantaged.
We always see the government being morally righteous—acting as though the state knows what is best for the individual and how they should live their lives—with the poorest but not with the richest, particularly when they're talking about some of the most vulnerable in our society. I put it to the government members opposite that their pay cheques come from the same place that Newstart recipients receive their payments from: the Australian taxpayer. Perhaps those opposite should reconsider their approach. If we were to apply cashless debit cards universally, to all government payments, would those opposite be keen to see a cashless debit card implemented to manage their electorate allowances, or even their salaries? Goodness knows, some of those opposite do not know how to handle a budget. Look at the blowout in the national deficit over the past six years. Maybe those opposite would reconsider their moral authority on these matters if they were unable to freely access their travel allowances during sitting fortnights, instead having to account for every single dollar and cent that they spend—much like the government is trying to force entire communities to accept. Again, the arguments of the government fall apart here. Members and senators and those who receive social welfare are paid by the same people, and I know plenty of jobseekers and welfare recipients who work harder, or would worker harder if they were given the chance, than some of the members opposite.
I am pleased that the government has taken on board the amendment, moved by Labor earlier in the year, which would allow people to come off the cashless debit card scheme if they were effectively managing their finances. However, this does little to address the poor attitudes adopted by those opposite. Nor does it address the fundamental problems of the debit card being imposed upon people indiscriminately, without any consideration of their personal circumstances. Nobody should be forced onto such a scheme. Either they should choose to use the card or the community should make an informed and locally based decision that they want to opt in to having the card. To force people onto this scheme is totalitarian in nature and typical of the government's paternalistic and uncaring attitude to the poorest in our community.
Further to our amendment, which will make the scheme applicable on a voluntary basis, Labor will be seeking to ensure that the scheme cannot be rolled out without the express support of the community that it will affect. If our amendments are successful, the minister will rightfully have to demonstrate that the rollout has the support of the community and that there has been extensive consultation with women's groups, community members and health groups. It is evident that there needs to be further independent evaluation of the cashless debit card, and Labor will be seeking to ensure that this evaluation takes place.
Furthermore, the minister should not have the power to quarantine up to 100 per cent of an individual's payment. I don't see how this would benefit anyone. In particular, how is a person in need of help supposed to seek help if the government is starving them of the limited support they have available?
The government's logic here is very flawed. Labor would seek to ensure there are ongoing wraparound services made available in areas where the cashless debit card would apply.
I want to be quite clear here: Labor is fundamentally opposed to a national rollout or extension of the cashless debit card scheme. We have serious doubts as to the scheme's effectiveness. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest this scheme would help people and not further ostracise individuals. It's quite demeaning and it is stigmatising to make people have a cashless debit card for their income. This scheme would prevent people from purchasing the basic essentials at affordable prices, and it is very expensive.
Under the stewardship of the coalition, the number of people over 55 years of age who are on Newstart has surged by a whopping 45 per cent. This scheme would not create a single job. It will attack some of the most vulnerable in our society and provide very little comfort and assurance to those desperately trying to enter the workforce or improve themselves. Instead of attacking people who are in need of support from the government, the coalition should be refocusing its efforts on creating a plan for jobs, a plan for our floundering economy and a plan to support those who are most disadvantaged in our society throughout Australia. That is the kind of effort people who are seeking work deserve from their government. They deserve positive support in retraining, in finding jobs and in managing their own finances themselves, as opposed to the insulting attitudes that are espoused by the government in its persistent efforts to control individuals' finances and individuals' lives.
Even the Auditor-General has been scathing of the government in its assessment of the cashless debit card scheme. The government's support of such a program is completely unfounded. It's antiscience, anti-evidence and demonstrates how truly out of touch they are with the needs of everyday Australians. However, what we can be certain of is the fact that the cashless debit card has actually prevented individuals from accessing some of the most essential items at affordable prices. It's not only welfare recipients who stand to lose out under the scheme and the warped agenda of those opposite. Small businesses are also concerned about the impacts of the cashless debit card. Small businesses, such as discount variety stores, are concerned this scheme would affect their clientele and, further, would have a negative impact upon their businesses in terms of the cost of non-cash transactions.
As a former small business owner, I can attest to the cost of non-cash transactions and can fully understand why local businesses would be concerned about the rollout of such a scheme. We've even heard that people have left town altogether to avoid the scheme. I'm sure this will happen in most of the electorates where it is possible for people to move. They will move away. That is how insulting it is to individuals whose lives the government would seek to control. People would rather uproot their entire lives and leave town than have the government dictate their day-to-day lives and expenses. Furthermore, there are issues and flaws with the technology surrounding this scheme that make it easy to get around. It would seem the government isn't actually interested in follow-through here but is happy to maintain the perception that it acts tough and readily attacks those on social welfare.
If a community genuinely decide they wish to use the card, the government must make a serious effort to consult with them and provide them with the necessary supports. Those supports include access to education, jobs, drug rehabilitation, health care and, in particular, the social supports that many families require but are not being provided. They don't require more robodebt, more negative implications from the government in managing their lives, and more attacks. Anything less is insulting and highly patronising.
While not opposed to income management in all circumstances, Labor is opposed to such a broad based approach and compulsory programs. All that these types of initiatives succeed in doing is to ostracise entire communities, stigmatise communities, and catch and disempower the entirely wrong people. This is a style of government that we've come to expect from those opposite in the past six years. The recent retractions of robodebt are a further example of that. The government won't admit it was wrong, won't admit that it stigmatised people, won't admit that it punished the poorest and won't admit that it damaged people's lives, but it has snuck in and said that it is 'going to amend the debt collection from Centrelink'. This is the government really trying to hide what it is doing. They are not interested in leading from the front, setting higher standards for our society and providing the stability, humility and functionality that Australians could be proud of in a government and in a social support scheme. They instead seek to maintain the grip of government on the poorest, by perpetuating fear, causing division and creating enemies where none exist, to undertake cheap publicity stunts—and that's all they are.
Income management should not be indiscriminate. A recent report found that compulsory income management usually does not bring about any improvements, whereas a voluntary approach with appropriate social supports may. This report arose out of an evaluation into income management in the Northern Territory. The government's entire approach in this field is flawed and indicative of a government that has not learnt from the lessons of the past 200 years. The government should be approaching this notion of cashless welfare with a concept of self-determination at the forefront of their minds. People need support to learn ways of managing their own lives. They do not need punishment from a government desperate to stigmatise them. If a community wishes to try the card then the government should respect their wishes and support their goals by providing wraparound support services. On the contrary, we have a government that believes that they have the right to dictate to others how they should live their lives, particularly those on the lowest incomes and with the most difficult circumstances.
I have severe concerns about the government's attitude towards all welfare recipients. As I've said before, the complete refusal of the government to consider an increase in Newstart is really a tragedy unfolding. Their ideas around the cashless welfare card are in a similar vein. The government appears to me to be determined to initiate this totalitarian scheme without any consideration into the potential consequences and any evidence for or against, and with very little consultation. One would think that the government would have looked closely at the BasicsCard that was implemented at the time of the Northern Territory Intervention had they seriously wanted to improve the lives of welfare recipients and those who need support. The reality is that this scheme has had very little scrutiny and has never really thoroughly been evaluated—don't ask me; ask the Auditor-General. Instead, the government carry on with their sanctimonious nonsense, believing that they know what is best for entire communities. Twelve years after the Intervention, we still cannot say that there is evidence to support mandatory and broad based income management.
Let us call this legislation out for what it really seeks to do: lay the foundations for a national rollout of the cashless debit card. To be quite clear, a national rollout of the cashless debit card should not be considered. There is simply no evidence to suggest that broad based income management and cashless debit cards actually work at all. Thank you very much.
I rise to speak on this bill, and in doing so I'd like to start by reiterating something that I've said in this House before, and that is that this bill is just another example of this government's ideological pursuit of people on welfare. It's an unrelenting ideological pursuit of some of the most vulnerable people in Australia.
This bill changes the card technology used for income management in the Northern Territory and Cape York without changing who is placed on income management or the quarantined portion of payments. It replaces the BasicsCard with the cashless debit card across the Northern Territory and Cape York, with rollouts scheduled to be completed by 2020. It maintains the current 50 per cent quarantine rate for most people subject to income management in the Northern Territory. It extends the existing cashless debit card trial areas—Ceduna, East Kimberley, the Goldfields, Hervey Bay, Bundaberg—by one year to 30 June 2021. It removes the current cap on the number of the trial participants. It sets an end date of 31 December 2021 for the Cape York cashless debit card trial. It allows people in the Northern Territory to come off the cashless debit card if they can demonstrate that they are effectively managing their finances. And, importantly, it allows the minister to make a non-disallowable rule and increase the proportion of a person's payment quarantined on the cashless debit card to 100 per cent. The minister currently has this power in relation to the BasicsCard. But it is significant in the context of the 80 per cent quarantine rates in the existing cashless debit card locations.
Labor has said that it does not support this bill. We simply cannot support this bill in its current form, for a number of reasons. First of all—and in my mind one of the most important reasons why we cannot support this bill—is that it is simply discriminatory. It is a discriminatory bill that applies predominantly, 80 per cent of the time, to First Nations people. Eighty per cent of those on income management in the Northern Territory are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders. That's a really important reason not to support this bill. But an equally important reason is that there is actually no clear evidence. Twelve years after the intervention there is absolutely no clear empirical evidence that broad based mandatory income management has worked.
I'd like to take a few minutes to go through some of the results of evaluations on the income management system that the government has been using that demonstrate that this has not worked. An evaluation of the income management in the Northern Territory, that was completed by the University of New South Wales in 2014, found little evidence that broad based compulsory income management is resulting in widespread behavioural change. That's with respect to either building an ability to effectively manage money or building socially responsible behaviour beyond the direct impact of limiting the amount that an individual can spend on certain items. That evaluation suggested that there was some evidence to support targeted income management, but certainly not the kind of income management that this government is seeking to put in place with this bill, which is, effectively, a deliberate attempt to precursor a national rollout of the cashless debit card.
It's not hard to understand why it is that such broad-based compulsory income management does not result in behavioural change or in building capacity. If this government were indeed serious about behavioural change or building capacity, they would certainly employ some of those proven techniques in social behavioural change that have been developed over many years and that have resulted in things like, for example, a reduction in smoking rates among teens and young people or a reduction in alcoholic consumption for young people and teens. These are proven and effective means of changing behaviour, using theories of behavioural change that have stood the test of time and that have a very strong empirical and research base over many years. But that's not what this government are doing. Instead, they are insisting on using an income management scheme: a compulsory, broad-based income management scheme that we know—from this evidence, from this review that was undertaken, and from these evaluations—does not result in behavioural change. So the argument that I've been hearing from the government that the introduction of the cashless debit card and their income management program has resulted in behavioural change holds very little weight when you hold it up against the actual research and actual evaluation by people who know about behavioural change models.
Last year, in a document presented to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights the Australian government itself wrote that there are more positive results associated with people who volunteer, as they have made a choice to change their behaviour and receive assistance. Positive findings have been found for people who have been referred for income management by a social worker or a child protection officer. Again, by the government's own admission, mandatory, broad-based compulsory income management, such as that being proposed by this bill, does not work, because it does not change behaviours. It does not take an expert in this field to tell you that; social change and behavioural change models exist across many fields, as I've mentioned before.
The government's own most recent review of the cashless debit card indicated some reduction in certain behaviours, such as drinking and drug use. Again, these changes were based on a self-reported survey of participants. As a researcher myself, I would hardly call self-reporting on behaviours a valid and scientifically reliable way of collecting data. It's certainly not replicable, and I think that it would not hold up to a test of reliability and scientific vigour. The Auditor-General has also found that there is no evidence that the cashless debit card is working and recommended better baseline data collection and monitoring. So we have flawed data collection, flawed monitoring from the government itself, an admission by the government that those who volunteer for income management are much more likely to change their behaviours than those who are forced onto it, and we have an evaluation undertaken by experts in the field who say it is very ineffective in building the kind of socially responsible behaviour that this government is trying to argue the cashless debit card builds.
Alongside all of that evidence, we also have the fact that there are significant weaknesses in the cashless debit card technology, including being able to wash money through a credit card because the cashless debit card can be used to pay off a credit card. I recall in the Senate inquiry Senator Jacqui Lambie stating that you could still buy alcohol using the card, if you used your credit card and then used your cashless debit card to pay off your credit card. So there are ways around it. Particularly given the fact that the cashless debit card and this program do not change behaviour, it would seem quite logical to come to the conclusion that people will find ways of continuing their behaviours using these weaknesses in the cashless debit card technology.
It also has inaccurate automatic classification of retailers using merchant codes and it cannot be used to purchase goods in the cash economy, such as second-hand items, or at roadside stalls and markets, like the local growers' markets. That means that people with limited income lose access to some of the cheaper alternatives, not to mention the possible contributions that can be made to a circular economy if people use recycled goods and purchase things second hand.
So we've got no clear evidence that mandatory income and management works, and we've got evaluations that have been taken and we know that it doesn't really change behaviour. We know that there are significant weaknesses in the cashless debit card technology and, importantly, we also know that this bill presents very much as a deliberate precursor to the national rollout of the cashless debit card, which is what several members of the government have indicated they would like to see.
Labor is pleased to see that the government has extended some of the amendments that Labor moved earlier this year. Those amendments allow people to come off the cashless debit card if they are effectively managing their finances. But even those amendments do not fix the fundamental problems with the cashless debit card and, indeed, with the entire approach of mandatory income management. It should not be discriminately imposed on people without a reason relating to their individual circumstances. And unless a person volunteers to use the card, or a community makes an informed local decision that they want the card in their area, the forced, mandatory use of the card will continue to prove ineffective because it simply will not change any behaviours and will not achieve that which the government says it will achieve.
The Senate inquiry into this bill had 108 submissions, and the overwhelming majority of those submissions opposed this bill. We know that evidence of the card's effectiveness in reducing social harm is not only showing that it's been ineffective but, in some cases, that it's actually exacerbated the social harms it was designed to reduce or prevent. As an example, the inquiry heard evidence from MoneyMob Talkabout of people in cashless card communities on the disability support pension and the aged pension, who get higher payments, how those people—those on disability support and aged pensions—are being targeted and pressured by people on the cashless debit card who have already expended their income. Of course, if this program is not changing behaviours, as I mentioned earlier, one would expect that people will then adopt other behaviours to circumvent and take advantage of the vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the system. These are weaknesses to do with the technical capabilities of the cashless debit card itself, but there are also other kinds of vulnerabilities, such as vulnerable people on disability support and aged pensions being put under pressure.
The Menzies School of Health Research found that the birth weight of Indigenous babies actually declined after compulsory income management. We've also seen that there are impacts on the government's own Closing the Gap strategy. The card is also being managed outside the Centrelink process—these are all things that came out in the Senate inquiry into this bill—which means it will be managed by post, or via telephone or online. When you consider that many of the participants in this program live in remote communities and that there's a digital divide between those in the city and those in remote communities, many of them don't have adequate access to telecommunications services, making it particularly difficult for them to manage their participation in this scheme. Professor Matthew Gray and Dr Rob Bray from the ANU said:
Our view is that the evidence strongly shows that the simplistic conceptualisation of income management and the Cashless Debit Card, and the purported benefits of these policies, are false.
… … …
… the evidence is clear that when they are applied to broad populations based on some generic criteria they are an ineffective and costly policy …
Labor will continue to advocate for measures to address inequality and the substantive issues for our First Nations peoples that are based on evidence and that do not perpetuate this government's ideological pursuit of some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
It is important that this bill, the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019, be debated in the House, because it certainly shouldn't be supported. This card, the cashless debit card, takes away the rights of vulnerable people and this bill is discriminatory, disproportionately impacting on First Nations Australians. The people already on income management, on the BasicsCard, are going to be the people affected by this bill. More than 80 per cent of the 23,000 people currently on income management in the Northern Territory are Indigenous. These are the people who, as a result of the actions of this government, will be forced onto the cashless debit card. This government's taking a one-size-fits-all approach to policy that's predominantly targeting our First Nations Australians, regardless of their individual or community circumstances and needs. What we've got here is another trial of a program which doesn't work, with no community consultation and with no plan to support communities, to support jobs or to support the vulnerable people most affected.
There are so many problems with this bill. The bill removes the right of an individual to seek a review of the decision to be issued with the cashless debit card notice. We all know this government's appalling record of managing the paperwork of welfare recipients, most evident recently through the robodebt debacle. Now they're looking to remove procedural fairness for those who may have been placed on the cashless debit card in error, instead leaving them to apply for an exemption or exit from the scheme. It's also known that Indigenous Australians are well documented to often have greater difficulty accessing exemptions than non-Indigenous people, adding to the disproportionate effect this bill will have on Indigenous Australians. For the people living in remote communities whose lives will be affected by this, without adequate access to telecommunication services, it will be especially difficult for them to manage their participation in the cashless debit scheme and apply to get out of this unfair and discriminatory regime.
This government is imposing all of this on communities with little to no consultation. Communities and stakeholders have either not been involved or have simply been told how cashless debit cards will take effect, instead of being asked whether they want them, whether they will be useful to their community and what set-up will make sense for their community—none of that. This government just rolls in and tells people how it will be.
More than 20,000 people will go onto the cashless debit card with no consultation or understanding of how it will affect their lives—for example, the Yolgnu people of the community of Milingimbi, who created a submission regarding their experiences for the recent Senate inquiry. I want to quote from that submission. This is what the Yolgnu had to say:
We want to tell you from our heart about our concerns about this decision, which was made by members of the Australian Government and the Parliament in Canberra, a long way away from Milingimbi. We are telling our stories and are hoping that the government will listen and balance the scales of justice.
We were not told about these plans: the Government did not come to talk to us in Milingimbi. They did not sit down with us and talk about it. The decision was unexpected, and the decision is happening very quickly. When we heard about it we started talking about it, in our community and in the Yolgnu communities in Arnhem Land.
The BasicsCard and the Cashless Debit Card take away freedom from the people who are told that they have to use it. It enslaves people's choices and stops them making decisions about their own lives. This payment quarantining has been going on for a long time. Some people have been quarantined their whole lives. When the Government takes choices away from people, they lose their self-esteem. We respect the Government, but this decision takes too much freedom away.
What is the point of us in this place if we are not going to listen to the voices of these people, if we are going to impose these radical measures on them without listening to what they have to say about what's going on in their lives, if we're going to restrict their rights without hearing what that means? What they want, what they're calling for, is a government that engages with them, listens to them and treats them equally and fairly. That seems to be something that this government is completely unwilling to do, instead imposing cashless debit cards on communities like Milingimbi and communities across the Northern Territory and other remote parts of Australia without evidence or consultation.
Twelve years after the start of the Intervention and the introduction of income management, there is no evidence that compulsory income management works—12 years, and yet they still call it a trial. It's not a trial. We know it doesn't work—admit it! The Auditor-General has found no evidence that cashless debit cards are effective. In fact, one of the only credible pieces of evaluation on income management in the Northern Territory, which was completed back in 2014, found:
Despite the magnitude of the program the evaluation does not find any consistent evidence of income management having a significant systematic positive impact.
In fact, there's growing evidence that income management actually harms communities. The Menzies School of Health Research has found that birthweight, a strong predictor of and outcome of disadvantage declined under compulsory income management. The Danila Dilba Health Service in Darwin provided a submission to the Senate inquiry, sharing their experiences since income management was introduced in 2007. They said that there was an absolutely astonishing lack of credible evidence that income management has made any significant improvement to any of the key indicators of wellbeing: child health, birthweight, failure to thrive and child protection notifications and substantiations. There were no improvements in school attendance, and certainly nothing we can see would suggest that there has been a reduction in family or community violence.
So multiple sources, including the Auditor-General, tell us that there is no evidence it works. A local health service, the people most concerned with the lives of vulnerable people in remote communities, said they are seeing no evidence. The very people who we should want to protect most—vulnerable children at risk of being taken away by child protection or of being born vulnerable through low birthweight—none of these are having any benefit. Instead, these communities are being subjected to a punitive regime because of some ideological bent that this government is convinced is better for them than what they think is better for them in their own lives.
When is this government going to stop experimenting with people's lives in this way? They're pretending that this is still a trial, when we're years down the track and we lack any credible evidence for it. It seems almost as though this government doesn't care about the evidence because, again, we're so many years down the track and yet we've had no rigorous evaluation of cashless debit cards in any of the existing trial sites, about their effectiveness in reducing social harm, and yet they're going to be rolled out more broadly. We all know that is the intention of this government; this is just a furphy to roll out the cashless debit card more widely.
There are also some very strange anomalies in the system the government is proposing. We learned during Senate estimates last month that participants would be able to use their cashless debit cards to pay off credit cards. In fact, there is actually no barrier then on what they can buy on the credit card. So if the point of this card is to limit the types of items that people can buy with it, it makes absolutely no sense that they can then use their credit card to buy alcohol and use the cashless debit card to pay it off. Money can be transferred between cards for any reason. Cards can be used to purchase lottery tickets and scratchies. These are loopholes that are easy for people to use. As the member for Cowan said before, if we're looking for behaviour change this is not the way to go about it. People will be looking for loopholes; they're not looking for the behaviour change if this is a punitive and draconian measure, as is being introduced by this government.
We've also seen examples of this card preventing people from being able to make purchases that really make sense and which they should be able to make. The limits on the card make it difficult for people to purchase goods in the cash economy—second-hand goods that they might need for their home or to support their children and things that might be cheaper to buy in that way. They're forced out of that market and into the more expensive way of buying things because of this card.
I'm not going to say that there may not be some occasions where income management is helpful in supporting people to manage their finances. One of the only credible pieces of evaluation of income management, the evaluation of the system in the NT, did find that, while compulsory income management does not bring about improvements in people's lives, voluntary income management may. So there may be a case for a voluntary system where communities are well informed, understand and are properly consulted. But that's certainly not what has been happening here.
There may be a case for communities who, after consultation, have made decisions about how a system could work for them and with their input. In Cape York, the Family Responsibilities Commission makes decisions about who is going to be placed on income management. That's a very different situation to what's happening with this government's rollout of the cashless debit card. In Cape York, there is a local commission made up of local people who are making decisions about who is being placed on income management and how that's operating in their lives. It's been consented to by the community. That's very, very different to what I was just talking about and how the Yolngu people feel about how this may work in their community.
In Cape York, the rate at which payments are quarantined is variable, with some people having as much as 90 per cent of their payment quarantined and others less. There are currently 150 people there who are subject to income management. It's a very different system from that in the Territory, because the decisions are made locally by community leaders and based on an individual's circumstances. This is a community making a decision for themselves, having their voices heard, and not being singled out and punished from Canberra.
But what else should we expect from this government—a government that seeks to stigmatise and punish the most vulnerable. This is the same government that has refused to raise Newstart despite business, welfare and ordinary Australians telling them it's impossible to live on. They'd rather demonise and punish people who need that support. This is the same government that's proposed drug and alcohol testing for people who receive welfare. Again, there is no evidence that it works. In fact, we've heard from numerous health professionals that that system doesn't work. You see the trend here, don't you? If you're vulnerable, if you need support, this government says: 'You're not worthy of having that support. We need to impose on you conditions that we don't impose on any other Australians. We're not going to talk to you about it. We're not going to make sure you understand it. We're not going to make sure it helps you and your community. We're looking to stigmatise and punish you.' This is the same government that introduced robodebt. We've seen how well that's worked out.
The government hasn't apologised for robodebt; it hasn't apologised for the situation it's put families in. Families have been put under immense stress. In many cases they're getting debt notices for debts they should never have had to pay. This is the same government that is using the NDIS underspend to prop up its budget bottom line. Again, it doesn't get much more targeted at vulnerable people if that's where you are. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that this government has an agenda to target vulnerable Australians in this way; it is planning to roll out the cashless debit card across the country and perhaps this is the first move. But I really would urge this government to consider it before it moves further. Listen to the people who are affected. Look at their communities. They are telling you there is no evidence that this works. Birth weights have not gone up. There is no evidence that child protection notifications are decreasing. This system has been in place in various forms for a number of years now. If you are going to impose it on people, you need to base it on evidence.
But that's not what we're seeing at the moment from this government. We are seeing from this government a system where they are also refusing to allow people to make decisions that the rest of us can make. People who may have lived upstanding lives all their lives are being told they can't buy that second-hand fridge to look after their family this summer. I heard of one woman who, while in difficult circumstances and receiving some welfare, supported her community as much as she could. She bought things not just for herself but for the rest of her community. But the way this card is changing her spending habits means she is no longer able to give back to her community. She is forced to buy more expensive things in the marketplace than she would have been able to before she got this card.
Of course, as I outlined, there are loopholes. If you are not putting the support services around it, if you are not helping people to know how they might be able to make changes in their life and plan for the future so that they can budget better and have enough money when bills come in and look after their family and make sure the kids have clothes when they go to school—if you're not putting any of that in place, you can't expect change; and, let's be honest, none of that has been put in place by this government. You can expect people to be using loopholes that are in the system. You can expect people to feel aggrieved, upset that their voices aren't being heard—stigmatised and punished by a government that has very little idea about the reality of what will bring about change in their lives and that certainly has no care for some of the most vulnerable people in our country. These are people who, let's be honest, we have not done a very good job of supporting for decade after decade after decade. It is shameful that this government is once again stigmatising these people and punishing them in this way.
I rise to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019. As has been firmly established by the member for Barton and other speakers from this side this afternoon and this evening, the opposition are seeking to amend this bill and are unable to support it in its current form. The government's proposal in its current form is nothing but a short-term solution for issues that have arisen over a long period of time. It is a planned short-term solution that we now have evidence will not actually fix anything.
While we should always be scrupulous with the administration of taxpayers' money, the government's selection of locations can be described as questionable at the least, and we must seriously address the origin of the problems the government is claiming it is trying to solve in these communities.
There are many failings with the cashless debit card. We know this is a stalking horse for a national rollout of the cashless debit card. Labor has said and I repeat today that we will have no part in any national rollout or extension of the cashless debit card. One of the issues I have with it is that it's discriminatory and applies predominantly to our First Nations Australians. They have rolled it out into the Northern Territory, where 80 per cent of Northern Territory citizens on income management are Indigenous Australians; 23,000 Territorians are on social security payments. We've learnt from the past, via the Intervention, that there's no clear evidence to suggest that broad based income management works, and the consequence of this is that it will diminish the work of the Closing the Gap strategy. Research, as we've heard from the member for Jagajaga and the Menzies School of Health Research, has even found that birth weight of Indigenous babies—a key indicator of disadvantage and one of the seven Closing the Gap targets—actually declined under compulsory income management. There is no better indicator that this is a failed idea.
The government's arrogance in this space has been on display with the fact there has been next to no consultation with communities about the expansion. Shockingly, what we have seen from other instances is that the card has actually exacerbated the social harms it was designed to reduce or prevent. Those opposite argue they're trying to tackle drug use. They see a complex issue and apply a simplistic solution that does not work. If they're trying to stop the purchasing of alcohol, they need to find a solution to alcohol abuse in these communities. In an evaluation conducted by the University of New South Wales, it was concluded there was no empirical evidence to suggest that income management leads to behavioural change. The missing element in the government's approach is the wraparound support required to change lives.
In short, the things that will work are not there. Instead, there's blind belligerence about imposing something that we have no evidence will work. What will work is community education and the empowerment of individuals through employment. Tackling historical disadvantage in these communities is how we solve this issue, not a piece of plastic that demeans the bearer. Labor cannot support this bill in its current form, because not one job will come of it. It's costly and we know it will not work. We want to see the cashless debit card become voluntary, as it was originally—where a community genuinely wants the card introduced, or for an individual case where we know that willingly joining income management will assist. Where a community genuinely wants to use the card, it is up to the government to properly consult with and provide the necessary support for that community, because willingly signing up for income management may have benefits and may lead to financial literacy.
I think about my own life and approaching a credit union when I was a single parent of three children, working part-time, managing a budget and paying a mortgage. I approached my credit union, I asked for support and advice and I was given that support and advice. Did it work for me? Did income management, when I willingly engaged in it, work? Yes, it did. If it had been imposed on me, I would have rebelled. If it had been imposed on me, I would have resented it. If it had been imposed on me, it would not have worked. Human nature is not that difficult to understand. We need things that are consistent with the principle of self-determination. In the situation where a community genuinely wants to try the card, I do not believe it is the government's role to be a blockade to that process. To reiterate: the opposition is not opposed to income management per se or in all circumstances, but we are opposed to broad-based, compulsory programs that disempower people without appropriate consultation and support.
To impose this in a broad-based way across an entire territory is Dickensian. As the member for Lingiari so eloquently put it today, when you match it with the CDP, with the mutual obligation to work 30 hours a week to get your social security, and then match it with the CDC, what we're looking at is an empathy-free zone, a Dickensian regime, incarceration without walls and incarceration by card. To be clear: Work for the Dole in our communities is 20 hours for mutual obligation, but in remote communities the CDP demands 30 hours of work—30 hours of work for your social security payment, and now we'll impose income management on top of that. It is incarceration by card—incarceration by payment.
We've heard lots of evidence. We've had evidence from the Senate inquiry. We've come to this position because we've actually listened to the experts. We've heard much evidence that the card is not working in the way it was designed to in previous rollouts. That's because there are loopholes. This bill seeks to grossly expand a program, even though, in its current form, there are blatant loopholes that mean it is a failed program, and even when the intent is supported. Australians who the government claims need the cashless debit card the most find ways around it. The technology and the processes of the cashless welfare card simply do not meet the objectives it sets out to meet.
We have heard that people on these cards are still able to gamble. They still manage to buy alcohol and drugs. If the intent of the card, as the government claims, is to fix these entrenched, complex social issues with a simplistic solution, it's failing. People are still accessing and buying cigarettes. They're still buying pornography. They're still gambling. The ease at which they are doing so is jaw dropping. They buy a credit card, purchase what the government wants to be prohibited items and use their cashless welfare card to pay the debt. It's a really simple loophole.
We've also heard, at the recent Senate inquiry into the matter, from a range of submissions about how it puts a burden and stigma on vulnerable Australians who need a helping hand from their government. After hearing the evidence and reading submissions, one conclusion can be made: this card does not solve the problems it is meant to. Professor Matthew Grey and Dr Rob Bray said in their submission that:
… a review of data relating to child health and wellbeing, school participation and outcomes, alcohol consumption and impact, and crime and justice … clearly shows that there has been a total absence of any improvement in the outcomes for Indigenous people in the Northern Territory which can be attributed to income management …
They went on:
… the evidence strongly shows that the simplistic conceptualisation of income management and the Cashless Debit Card, and the purported benefits of these policies, are false.
Other submissions suggested that there is no evidence that the cashless debit card translates into employment, which we know is the real step to dignity. More than 60 per cent of Indigenous Australians on compulsory income management were on income management for over six years. The government should put its efforts into solving the social problems besetting communities rather than demonising whole communities.
The Senate inquiry also told us something we already knew: it is stopping vulnerable Australians from being able to purchase the essentials—perhaps not the intended consequence, but a consequence nevertheless. A submission from researchers from both Griffith University and The University of Queensland used real-life examples of this. One story told was the experience of a parent who had had their card declined at their child's soccer game when trying to purchase them a bottle of water. The damage caused by this one moment is something we need to take into account when thinking about this bill. We need to think about the stress placed on the parent. We need to think about the judgement cast by other parents. Unfortunately, we need to think about the earth-shattering embarrassment the child and the parent would have felt. What good does this do the community? How do government MPs feel about that scenario? How would anyone in this chamber feel if that was them trying to buy their child a bottle of water at their soccer match? What benefit is there to have a vulnerable parent feel like this? The submission included many tales, each heartbreaking in their own way.
I implore government members to ask themselves: how would you feel being the parent unable to pay for their child's excursions and their sporting fees simply because that would require cash? Put yourself in the shoes of the parent trying to cope with the fact they are unable to buy their child a bottle of water after they've competed in their sporting passion and ask: how would you feel? These are real, simple examples of where this card fails. It fails in what we would consider ordinary daily events. It therefore requires families to plan more than other families are asked to plan for their weekly events. How would you feel being the Australian unable to buy fresh produce at the market because they don't have an EFTPOS machine? What feeling would you be left with after being unable to buy reading glasses to help with your work because they're not available at your local supermarket? How would you feel when your way of life is diminished, when you're unable to do the things you used to do, stuck at home?
Imagine if this was you:
I was at the shops and one of the machines, it was bit of an older machine and I was trying to get the chip to read and it wouldn't read. I'm putting it in and out and in and out and it just would not read. Usually after the third attempt, it asks you to swipe. With this card, it doesn't.
So after the third attempt, the self-serve light on the top started flashing and I had to wait for the lady to come over and then I had two tradies just behind me and they were like, 'Oh, that's one of them junkie cards'.
I was already a bit panicky because the card wasn't working and I burst just into tears and I was like, 'Oh my goodness, like I've never touched drugs in my life'. I burst into tears trying to get it to work…
I think that story—that real-life story, that real voice of that real Australian—encapsulates for those opposite the stigma that is attached to this precious piece of plastic that they want to impose on tens of thousands of Australians.
Taking all of this into consideration—the stories we have heard and submissions we have read; the many loopholes to access the goods that the government want to make inaccessible—we can see there is a common theme when it comes to this government, the programs they administer and the policies they implement: they are unable to empathise with those people that their policies will affect the most. It's no wonder this Prime Minister needs an empathy consultant. This legislation speaks volumes about the empathy-free zone opposite.
In conclusion, before we vote on Labor's amendment and on this bill, we must ask ourselves this: we've heard about people's previous experiences, so, when comparing those with the government's objectives, will this actually solve the problem? The answer is simple. The answer is no. Changing behaviours requires complex processes, requires wraparound supports. Managing someone's income will not fix an addiction. We know how complex these social issues are, and they require complex solutions. Most importantly, they require commitment, and that commitment has to come with actual resources.
When all is said and done, the failure of this government is that it wants to implement simple ideas, but it doesn't want to do the hard work, it doesn't want to put in place the real resources, the wraparound community supports that it takes to assist addicts to change their lives. This government doesn't want to help deal with the complex needs of those addicted to gambling. It certainly doesn't want to deal with the deep social issues that it claims it sees, which it then suggests simple solutions for. This leaves us absolutely convinced that this is a stalking horse to put the rest of Australia on a mandated system like this. Why won't we support it? It fails to get to the root of problems. It fails to stop the loopholes people are already using. It fails to lift employment. It fails to—
I invite all honourable members to hang around and have a listen. We're going to talk about leadership—just quickly. It won't be too painful. We've had a massive example today, I suppose, of a lack of leadership, and, as the member for Lalor just said, empathy is seriously lacking in those opposite. You'd do well to hang around and hear a couple of examples from the ground in the Northern Territory before you go ahead and vote on this legislation.
I thank the member for Lalor for sharing. Empathy is a big part of leadership. It is a lot easier to bring in sweeping legislation that takes away the rights of tens of thousands of people. It's a bit harder, as she quite rightly mentioned, to do the harder work—the developmental work and the preventive work—that's required to work with people and in doing the consultation. It takes effort and it takes resources, and it's what's required.
Obviously in its current form, Labor is not able to support this bill, particularly because of the establishment of the entirety of the Northern Territory as a trial site with all income management participants being transitioned onto this card on a compulsory basis. We cannot support that. This bill is discriminatory and obviously applies—taking in the whole of the Northern Territory—predominantly to First Australians. Eighty per cent of the people on income management in the Northern Territory are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Australians.
Twelve years after the intervention, started by former coalition Prime Minister, John Howard, there is still no clear empirical evidence that broad based mandatory income management has worked. It is an absolutely farcical to believe, as the government genuinely believes, that First Australians have been properly consulted. I can't believe that that would be the case, but it's a mistake that the coalition government, over the last six plus years, has made time and time again. It displays a particular type of arrogance to proceed with this policymaking framework that has a proven track record of failure. Let me be clear: there is no independent, verified evidence to support the efficacy of broad based income management in reducing social harm. A recent inquiry into another one of the government's cashless debit card bills has said this, and numerous experts have said it.
Late last year, in a document presented to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Australian government wrote—it is, in fact, as the member for Lalor has just said:
… there are more positive results associated with people who volunteer, as they have made a choice to change their behaviour and receive assistance, positive findings have been found for people who have been referred for Income Management by a social worker or a child protection officer—
That's as opposed to bringing something in on a compulsory basis and blanket across the board.
The Anti Poverty Network South Australia also told that Senate committee about a woman they met in Ceduna who was on the cashless debit card. She volunteered in her local craft shop and donated what she could. She used to be able to purchase things online, but, because of the cashless debit card, she's no longer able to. The network told the committee that this woman is never drunk and never had drugs or anything like that. It's just such an innovative way of life for her now.
A question for those opposite is: why should someone who has never engaged in binge drinking or taken illicit drugs be forced on to a cashless debit card that we hear from those opposite is being introduced to address those behaviours? The answer is quite simply that they shouldn't. Experts say it and even the government's own analysis says it. Groups on the ground providing support in the Northern Territory are also opposed to this bill. John Paterson—'Patto'—Chief Executive Officer of Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory, has been on the record and made it clear to the government that he is sceptical of the government's income management strategy:
If anything it has put an enormous unnecessary stress on [and] trauma on families and individuals.
John is another expert who has told the government:
There is no evidence, no evidence, whatsoever, that this top-down, punitive, model of income management, is doing any good to Aboriginal communities, or families and individuals.
John Paterson is a leader. He's a proper leader, because he is on the ground in the Northern Territory, doing the hard work. He has empathy with those that he seeks to help, to lift up, that he represents—empathy that we don't see from those opposite, leadership that we don't see from the Prime Minister. We saw that here today. He was unable to make a hard call, unable to point out that integrity is a higher value than simply trying to brush things off so that somehow we get through the media cycle of the next 24 hours until the next issue of integrity is brought up. But Patto is someone of integrity. When you are pretending to consult and people of calibre—leaders—say things like that, you should listen to them.
Evidence in my electorate has also been presented to a government led committee by the Danila Dilba Health Service, which stated:
… there is an astonishing lack of credible evidence that IM has made any improvement in any of the key indicators – child health, birthweight, failure to thrive, child protection notifications and substantiations. There are no improvements in school attendance and there is certainly nothing we can see that would suggest that there has been a reduction in family or community violence.
These are health professionals in the Danila Dilba Health Service in Darwin in my electorate in the Northern Territory, who are saying that there is no evidence whatsoever that this card is going to lead to any improvement at all in what those opposite purport to say is the reason for this card. There is a significant body of evidence which shows that this bill won't work and will act as a punishment for the recipients.
We know that it is the wish of several in the government that this bill be rolled out nationally. It's clear to see—and I would say to those opposite that they should do a bit of consultation in their own electorates—that this bill is a stalking horse for that purpose. A national rollout should absolutely not be contemplated. As I've said a number of times, there simply is no evidence that broad based income management and the cashless debit card will work. No evidence!