Tuesday, 26 November 2019
Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019. I move:
That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
(1) declines to give the bill a second reading;
(2) notes that, 12 years after the Intervention in the Northern Territory, there is no evidence that compulsory broad-based income management has worked to improve outcomes for First Nations people; and
(3) calls on the Government not to expand the cashless debit card, and to instead invest in evidence-based policies, programs and services, including:
(a) job creation and economic development;
(b) education, training and TAFE;
(c) health and rehabilitation services; and
(d) services for women and young people".
Labor cannot support this bill in its current form. It won't create a single job, it is extraordinarily expensive and there are serious doubts as to whether it actually works. We know that this card is actually stopping people from purchasing the basics and essentials at affordable prices. It is discriminatory and disproportionately impacts First Nations Australians. Eighty per cent of the people on income management in the Northern Territory are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Twelve years after the intervention, there is no clear empirical evidence that broad based mandatory income management has worked. Communities have not been consulted.
This bill also is a stalking horse for a national rollout of the cashless debit card, as several in the government have indicated they would like to see. It is incredibly concerning that the government is considering a national rollout, because there simply isn't evidence that broad based income management and the cashless debit card actually work. Labor is pleased to see that the government has extended the amendment Labor moved earlier this year to allow people to come off the cashless debit card if they are effectively managing their finances. However, that does not fix the fundamental problems with the cashless debit card. It should not be indiscriminately imposed on people without a reason relating to their individual circumstances unless a person volunteers to use the card or a community makes an informal local decision that they want the card in their area. I'm pleased to see the member for Lingiari has joined me in the chamber to speak on this bill, because it is communities in Lingiari that are going to be absolutely affected if this bill proves to go through both houses.
Labor will seek to amend this bill in the Senate to make the cashless debit card voluntary in the Northern Territory unless the community wants the card or a person is placed on income management for specific reasons—for example, for child protection or by the Family Responsibilities Commission in Cape York. Labor's amendments in the Senate will also 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.
In October we marked Anti-Poverty Week, which left us with some very sobering statistics which illustrate the gut-wrenching and unacceptable reality facing millions of Australians, and this affects us all as a nation and as an economy. Three million, or one in eight, Australians live in poverty and one in six, or three-quarters of a million, children live below the poverty line. Just this month we were reminded of the incredibly challenging economic conditions confronting our jobseekers, with the loss of 19,000 jobs from the economy. The Anglicare Jobs Availability Snapshot 2019 showed that there aren't enough jobs for the number of jobseekers, with employers receiving an average of 19 applications per vacancy advertised. Those that do have a job aren't receiving enough hours, with over 1.1 million Australians underemployed. And last month, the International Monetary Fund downgraded Australia's projected economic growth.
So the question all Australians are asking is: what is the government's plan to turn the economy around? It seems this government has no plan, no idea—nothing more than old reheated ideas like this one. The fact is this card will not create a single job. Even the minister admitted that. This card is not a substitute for an actual plan. Meanwhile, Australians continue to wait for action from this government. 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 the Liberals and Nationals. We also know that under this government underemployment remains unacceptably high. In fact almost one in five, or 130,000, Newstart recipients do not earn enough money to receive enough hours to get off the payment.
Even having a job in this economy is no safety net for being in need of income support. Wages are stagnant and jobs are less secure than ever before. Recently the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released a report which showed that new apprenticeships are at their lowest in two decades and youth unemployment is double the national average. This card is going to be of little comfort to those desperately trying to re-enter the workforce. Australians who are trying to re-enter the workforce are right to be perplexed. How will this card get them a job? How will this card create a single job?
There are also serious questions about whether this card actually works. The Auditor-General has been scathing of the government's assessment of the effectiveness of the card. Even the Minister for Families and Social Services herself says she's uncertain about the effectiveness of the card. On Sunday 1 September 2019, the minister appeared on David Speers's program on Sky News and said, 'Until we get all the statistics, we can't say definitively how many people have come off Newstart as a result of the card.' It's extraordinary. On that Sunday, because of lack of evidence, the minister refused to commit to a national rollout, and then, one week later, the Prime Minister drastically changed the government's tune and began championing a national rollout.
There was further equivocation from the government when Senator Anthony Chisholm in the other place asked the minister to provide further details about the number of recipients who had come off the card. The government has refused. Last month the Senate concluded a series of hearings it held in relation to the cashless debit card. The overwhelming majority of the 108 submissions and the overwhelming majority of witnesses who testified to the inquiry opposed this bill. It is clear that the government does not care about the evidence. In fact, one of the serious concerns we have about this bill is the absence of any independent or rigorous evaluation of the cashless debit card in the trial sites with regard to its effectiveness in reducing social harms, particularly alcohol and substance abuse.
Cynically, this government doesn't really care whether this thing is effective or not. It is only interested in politics and nothing more. But here's what we do know and what we have heard from the communities and the people on the ground. We know that the evidence of the card's effectiveness to reduce social harm is not only inconclusive but in some instances shows that it has actually exacerbated the social harms it was designed to reduce or prevent. MoneyMob Talkabout told the Senate inquiry:
What our data suggests is that potentially welfare quarantining can cause the opposite to happen. While older people and people with disabilities won't be directly put on the CDC, it's unlikely to stop them from being targeted because they receive those higher payments, such as an aged pension or a disability pension. We're seeing them currently having their cards and income management allocations taken and used by other people who've already expended their income. So it's actually increasing their vulnerability and diminishing their ability to meet their basic needs.
The issue of increased elder abuse was touched on briefly by the University of Adelaide in their CDC baseline data collection research in the Goldfields region, but we're not aware of any systemic focus on measuring the incidence of elder or disability abuse in relation to income management or the CDC. This raises the possibility that one type of vulnerability could be just supplanting another one.
The inquiry also cited the study of the Menzies School of Health Research on the birth weight of Indigenous babies. This, to me, is the actual measure that I have leant on and taken on board as to the inappropriateness of this card. The Menzies School of Health Research found that the 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, and that is a shocking statistic. It is a shocking outcome. This is what Menzies said:
The study's key finding of relevance to this Senate Committee hearing regarding the draft Bill to extend the implementation of the Cashless Debit Card to NT communities, is that the Aboriginal birth cohort affected by the 13 month roll-out of Income Management resulted in an average reduction in birth weight of 100 grams and a 30% increase in the likelihood of being born with low birth weight (i.e. below 2,500 grams). The magnitude of this effect is comparable to what has been reported from other international studies of births to women exposed to famines or extreme weather events such as cyclones.
That is an absolutely outrageous indication of just how damaging this card can be. Just think about it: lower birth weights comparable with the magnitude of women giving birth who have been exposed to famine and extreme weather events. The government's ideological obsession with compulsory income management is actively working against its own Closing the Gap strategy. We also know that this card has stopped participants from being able to purchase basics and essential items at affordable prices. We've heard from small businesses, especially discount variety stores, who are deeply concerned about the impact this card will have on their business and clientele and the cost of non-cash transactions. We've also heard that people have left town just to avoid this card.
There are serious problems with the technology that makes it easy to get around. Last month at estimates, the Senate community affairs committee heard from departmental staff that the card could be used to pay off credit cards, meaning that participants could wash money and prohibited purchases through a credit card and simply use the cashless card to pay it off. At the very same committee hearing, departmental staff confirmed that the card could still be used to purchase pornography in the Northern Territory, where specific steps have been taken against pornography on the basis that it had been linked to child sex abuse.
We're also concerned about the fact that this bill gives the minister extraordinary power to determine the level of restricted payments. The minister's power to do this will be subject to few or ill-defined checks and balances, and we strongly urge the Department of Social Services to clarify the minister's power in this regard. We're also concerned about the lack of procedural fairness. This bill will remove an individual's right to seek a review of the decision to be issued with a cashless debit card notice, and I'm sure the member for Lingiari will expand on this. It must be noted that this is a card that predominantly targets First Nation Australians.
The card will be managed outside of Centrelink processes by post or by telephone or online. When you consider that many of the participants live in remote communities, many of whom do not have adequate access to telecommunication services, it will be particularly difficult for them to manage their participation in the cashless card scheme and therefore exacerbating poverty and exacerbating the completely unacceptable situation of people who live in remote Australia. The government has failed to properly address the serious concerns raised about the operation of this card. It's reprehensible. Labor believes that it is in the nature of Australians to want to make the most of their lives, work hard and contribute their very best. That is why we've always said that, if a community or an individual genuinely wants to use or be placed on the card, then they should be properly consulted with and provided with the necessary supports to do so. What is so outrageous about this proposal is the rollout across a whole Territory without consent. It is completely against everything that individual and collective rights stand for. That is why we've always said that, if a community or individuals generally want to be placed on the card, they should be properly consulted with and provided with necessary supports to do so. What we're seeing is the Department of Social Services boldly rolling across the Territory telling people what's best for them.
We are not opposed to income management in all circumstances, but we are opposed to this broad based, compulsory program that catches and disempowers the wrong people. Income management can be justified when it is targeted, such as for child protection, but it should not be indiscriminate or broad sweeping, such as this across the Territory. For example, in Cape York, where the local community is applying income management based on individual circumstances, supporting families and monitoring outcomes, that is appropriate. Why it cannot happen in the Northern Territory is absolutely beyond me.
At a recent inquiry into another one of the government's cashless debit card bills, a number of witnesses told the hearing that one of the only credible pieces of evaluation of any form of income management is the evaluation that was completed about income management in the Northern Territory. That report found that compulsory income management usually does not bring about improvements but that voluntary income management might. It is not just the evaluation that says this. Late last year in a document presented to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Australian government wrote:
While 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.
You've got the Australian government telling the United Nations that voluntary income management is much better, but in reality what they're doing here is anything but a voluntary. I reiterate that the Australian government wrote that.
Dr Elisa Klein from the University of Melbourne told a Senate committee earlier this year:
If we … are serious about evidence based policymaking, we must stop the ongoing operations of the cashless debit card … or … make them entirely voluntary.
There is a very real difference between someone who generally wants to be on the card and believes it's appropriate for their circumstances and someone who is compelled to go on the card without any consultation, permission being sought or permission being given and whose circumstances are completely incompatible with the card. Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory, which includes the Central Land Council, the Northern Land Council and the Aboriginal Medical Service Alliance Northern Territory, said in their submission:
The continuation of compulsory income management through the transfer to the CDC is being rushed forward despite the lack of any strong or positive evidence drawn from either the 2014 Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) evaluation of New Income Management in the NT or the 2017 Orima Research evaluation of the Cashless Debit Card Trials in Ceduna, the Goldfields and East Kimberley (Western Australia).
Income management cannot provide a transition to employment in locations where few employment opportunities exist and those that exist are largely done by outsiders. Instead, for many Aboriginal residents of the Northern Territory, particularly those living remotely, compulsory income management is long term and, regardless of a person's lifestyle and financial management capacity, almost impossible to get off. The 2014 independent evaluation of the new income management conducted by the Social Policy Research Centre found that 90.2 per cent of those on income management in the Northern Territory were Indigenous, and 76.8 per cent of those were on compulsory income management. More than 60 per cent of this group were on income management for more than six years. Of those Indigenous people on compulsory income management, a mere 4.9 per cent gained an exemption, compared to 36 per cent of the non-Indigenous people—a sobering thought.
The Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation said in their submission to the bill:
The ALPA Board of Directors are disappointed that the Government is moving forward and expanding this oppressive policy when there is no evidence demonstrating that it creates positive change for the people who will be subjected to it. This erosion of people's choice and control over their own lives destroys any sense of self-agency, it is an attack on their basic rights, the burden of proof should lie with the Government to prove without doubt that this policy works before enforcing it upon our communities.
Alongside the lack of evidence there has been little to no consultation undertaken in the Northern Territory to date.
Anti-Poverty Network SA also told the very same Senate committee about a woman they had met in Ceduna who was on the cashless debit card. She volunteered at her local craft shop and donated what she could. She used to be able to purchase things online, but can no longer do this purchasing because of the cashless debit card. The network told the committee that this woman has never drunk and never done drugs or anything like that. It's such an inhibitive way of life for her now. Why should someone who has never engaged in binge drinking or taken illicit drugs be forced onto the cashless debit card that was introduced to address these behaviours? The answer is that they shouldn't be.
What has become so clear to all Australians is that this government has no plan to get Australians into jobs or to lift vulnerable Australians out of poverty. This is a government that is more obsessed with devising new ways to humiliate and harass Australians doing their absolute best to get back into the workforce, with urine tests and cashless cards. To add insult to injury, the government has more cuts planned for Newstart and the pension currently before the parliament.
There is no doubt that Australians are doing it tough at the moment. Many of them can't remember when they last received a pay rise. Many of them only see more of their pay cheque go to bills and to meeting the increasing costs of living, while there is less left over for them. Australians are having more difficulty finding a secure job with decent pay and adequate hours. Instead of lifting a finger to help turn around a weak economy that is getting weaker, instead of trying to get Australians back into work, the government actually has a plan for more cuts to Australians out of work and more cuts for pensioners. At a time when Australians are really doing it tough, we need more support for vulnerable Australians and for our pensioners, not more cruel cuts.
Currently, the government is short-changing pensioners by propping this budget up on the back of pensioners by refusing to adjust the aged pension deeming rates despite the fact that interest rates are at an all-time low. It currently has before the parliament a bill to increase the liquid assets test waiting period for Newstart. This will disproportionately impact middle-aged workers who have recently been made redundant. Think of men and women in their 50s and 60s who have recently been retrenched from the manufacturing sector and will need time and money to retrain and reskill. This will force them to eat into their savings before they can get help. This will drive them into poverty before they can access income support. This is truly a low blow. The government also has before the parliament a plan to cut the pension through its Social Services Legislation Amendment (Payment Integrity) Bill 2019. The government's cruel payment integrity bill will rip $185 million from the pockets of Australian pensioners.
In conclusion, this card will not create jobs. It is discriminatory. There are serious doubts as to whether it is actually effective. It is stopping vulnerable Australians from accessing basics and essentials at affordable prices. Labor opposes this bill and, as I indicated, we will seek to amend it in the Senate. We have moved a second reading amendment here, which I have tabled in my name. I am absolutely appalled at this piece of legislation. There is no evidence to support the introduction of such a measure. The indiscriminate rollout across communities like the communities that the member for Lingiari represents is nothing short of social engineering, as far as I'm concerned.
I once again find myself on my feet speaking after the member for Barton, the shadow minister, on the cashless debit card. I once again publicly invite the member for Barton, the shadow minister, to my electorate of Hinkler to come up and talk to trial participants, talk to our individuals who are out there on the front line providing services for those in need, talk to our law enforcement agents, talk to real estate agents and talk to individuals who are actually in the community and have ties, not to those social activists who are on Facebook and those individuals who don't live there. Come and see the real people who are actually affected by the card, who are participating, and see what the real results are on the ground.
In terms of consultation, I say again to the member for Barton: what more do you want? I will speak in detail later about what we've already done, but if you want more consultation then please be specific. Tell us what it is that you want us to do. To my mind and to my view, we've done extensive levels of consultation throughout the electorate, and I'll outline those as the speech progresses.
The University of South Australia has been engaged to assess the outcomes and results of the cashless debit card trial in Hinkler. My understanding is they are out there and they've put together their baseline data. That is very near to being released. That will give us something to work on which is consistent, identifiable and verifiable. The University of South Australia is an organisation well-recognised for doing this type of work.
We find that those in the other place have magically discovered the benefits of my electorate. In Bundaberg and Hervey Bay we've had more visits by those opposite in recent weeks than I have seen in the past couple of terms. A senator in the other place, Senator Chisholm, has magically discovered the joys of Hervey Bay and Bundaberg. I hope that he spent plenty of money while he was there. I note that he had a meeting in Hervey Bay with regard to the cashless debit card. From what I've seen of the pictures, I don't know that there was a single participant at the meeting. I'm not sure that there was a single frontline service provider. There were a handful of individuals who looked like they don't even belong in the electorate; they're not affected. If you want to consult with those individuals, call my office and we will put it together. We will put you with people who are actually on the card, who are participants who work there. Don't just roll up and think this is simply a media opportunity for you to move on with.
To the Facebook activists: once again, come up and talk to the participants. It's no good putting on social media things that frighten individuals, particularly if you're based out of Sydney.
The Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019 extends the date for existing CDC trial areas from 30 June 2020 to 30 June 2021. It gives an end date of 31 December 2021 for the CDC trial in Cape York. It removes the cap on the number of trial participants. It removes the exclusion to allow people in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay trial area to be able to voluntarily participate in the CDC trial. I will say that again for those social media activists who are out there frightening individuals: they can volunteer. This is not forced upon those individuals. They can volunteer—for those outside of the trial participants in the Hinkler electorate. It establishes the Northern Territory and Cape York areas as CDC trial areas and transitions income management participants in those sites onto the CDC trial. It enables the secretary to advise a community body when a person has exited the trial and improves the workability of the evaluation process.
I want to focus on a couple of points in the bill, the main one being the ability to volunteer. We have people out there, particularly on Facebook and other social media platforms, who are trying to scare my local people. Whether they are pensioners, whether they are veterans or whether they are on a disability support pension they will not be forced onto the trial. Those individuals who are doing this should stop doing it in the Hinkler trial area. It is wrong and it is inappropriate. You are simply scaring those individuals who are vulnerable. This is a voluntary provision for those in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. We will also see those 23,000 individuals in the Northern Territory and Cape York transition from income management to the card from April 2020.
This has been, without doubt, a long and difficult process in terms of the implementation of the trial and the rollout in the first instance. The electorate was announced as the fourth region for the CDC—the cashless debit card—trial. Here are some of the stats and some of the reasons. What we've discovered is that 90 per cent of individuals under 30 and on welfare had a parent who was also on welfare during the past 15 years. The majority of those were on welfare for at least nine of those 15 years, and, without intervention, the projection was that 57 per cent of those under 30 on welfare would still be on income support in 10 years time. So the real question is: do you want to do something? What happens is those opposite quite simply don't want to do anything. I can understand them being ideologically opposed. There is no doubt that that is usually the position for those on the other side. But my community actually wants action. They want change. They want our community to improve. They want opportunities for our youth. They don't want to see these types of statistics into the future.
The cashless debit card is a tough but necessary policy, and my community wants change. Doing nothing is not an option. It works like any other debit card. People can pay their rent, their bills, their groceries. The anecdotal feedback from local organisations has been very, very positive: improvements in the rent roll; shopkeepers who are seeing people buy groceries and other types of foodstuffs—people they've never seen do that before. All of these services are available through this new technology. I've said this before and I'll say it again: the cashless debit card is by no means a silver bullet. It does not hold all of the answers for all communities. It is a complex situation, but we are actually taking action, as doing nothing will never be an option. We hope the card will provide more stability for families and/or those jobseekers with the restrictions on welfare payments for alcohol, gambling or illicit substances.
We had Minister Ruston in the Hinkler electorate in August, and this is some of the feedback that we received at the time. We had individuals actually ask to go on to the card. This amendment allows that to happen. That legislation is now before the House. People are able to budget better. They have money left over at the end of the fortnight. They have some savings. One of the emergency relief organisations in Hervey Bay reported a reduction in people coming in for their free food service. I will quote from the transcript from the 7.30 program on the CDC. It is anecdotal evidence, but we are doing the reviews and we do have the University of South Australia doing the work for us to identify how it works. Jan Carlson, from We Care 2, said on the program:
We have noticed since about July a significant decrease in the number of people coming in for free food through the emergency relief program and an increase, almost parallel in numbers, to the people coming through our low cost food centre and actually purchasing food.
The journalist, Peter McCutcheon, asked:
Do you think that can be attributed to the cashless debit card?
Ms Carlson replied:
Well, I can't say unequivocally but it's a trend that we have never seen before. We have never had that, we usually would get in three days we would get at least 30, maybe 36 people through emergency relief previously. Now we're probably seeing 12 a week.
The CDC started rolling out on 29 January 2019 across Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. It includes the townships of
Aldershot, Bargara, Elliot Heads, Woodgate, Branyan, Booyal, Burrum Heads, Torbanlea, Toogoom, Howard, Childers, Burnett Heads, River Heads and Point Vernon. On 9 August 2019, we had 5,764 participants aged 35 years and under who are on Newstart, youth allowance jobseeker, parenting payment single or parenting payment partnered who have received the card. I will say that again: 5,764 individuals in the trial site for Hinkler.
This card looks and operates like any other regular EFTPOS card. It quite simply does. Obviously, 80 per cent is quarantined. It can't be used for the purchase of alcohol or gambling products, and, of course, the restriction on cash means a reduction in the purchase of illicit substances. The formal evaluation was undertaken by those researchers from the University of Adelaide's Future of Employment and Skills research centre, as I've said. Consultation gets raised regularly by those opposite, and I say again: what more do you want us to do? Between May 2017 and December 2017, the Department of Social Services conducted over 188 meetings in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. This included five meetings with Commonwealth government agencies, 19 with community members, three meetings with community reference groups, two large community meetings with the public, 25 meetings with local government reps, four meetings with peak bodies, and 55 meetings with service providers. My office contacted 32,000 constituents to get an indication of their views before the trial was even put forward. That is a very large proportion of an electorate of about 107,000 voters. We sent 32,000 individuals direct mail. We phone polled about 500 people. We sent an additional 5½ thousand direct emails. We had calls in and out of the electorate. The feedback we got showed 75 per cent were not against the trial or the rollout. That was the feedback to my office from that type of polling and that type of work. In May of 2018, the local newspaper, the NewsMail and the Fraser Coast Chronicle engaged ReachTEL to do a poll. Everyone in this place understands polling and how it works, particularly through organisations like ReachTEL.
An opposition member interjecting—
I note the interjection from those opposite, who think the polling from the last election might have been inaccurate but we have had a very large poll since—the election. The ReachTEL poll showed that the overwhelming majority of people in the Hinkler electorate are not against the card. Just 27.8 per cent of those polled were opposed. There were 637 residents across the electorate polled. It is a good sized sample, it is a good indication that it is strongly supported in the community. I say again to those opposite: this is about actually doing something. It is not a silver bullet, it will not fix all problems but it is a big improvement on doing nothing.
My community wants change. They want action. We are doing this. We are taking that action and we are looking forward to the results of the trial. Quite simply, this has been a tough but necessary policy. There are people who have been inconvenienced—there is no doubt about that. It is inconvenient in places but, once again, I say to those opposite: you are welcome to come up. We will help you coordinate and meet these individuals. We will put you into the community with those who actually do these services, who are working every single day with individuals in my community who find themselves in very difficult circumstances. So please take that opportunity and come up to the Hinkler trial site. It is the purpose of a trial—that is why we run a trial—to establish the baseline, to establish the results, to establish whether it works, and the anecdotal evidence to date has been very positive from the community.
To all those individuals in my electorate who are listening who are on the CDC trial: if you have an issue, if you have a challenge with the card, if you find a fundamental technical problem, there are shopfronts in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay that can help you. You can go online; you can use the website. There is any number of ways to get help. The way you don't get help is to go to a social media activist, post it on their Facebook page and tell them what you think may or may not have happened; that will not help you. I will say to all of those activists again: you are helping no-one by encouraging individuals to come to you so you can post something on social media. That doesn't help a single person. Those shopfronts are active and their services are available.
In conclusion, and in my support of the original social security bill, there are just under 6,000 participants. If all of the challenges that the social media activists put forward are actually happening, I would have a queue of 1,000 people around the corner from my office. I do not. Individuals in that bracket, under 35, quite simply do not use a lot of cash. They use a debit card just like the cashless debit card. I fully support the amendments and the trial, and we look forward to the results. I commend the bill to the House.
I acknowledge the contribution of the member for Barton and also the member for Hinkler. I have to say to the member for Hinkler: we are not addressing the issues you talked about, because what we are on about here is what's happening in the Northern Territory and the absolute dissatisfaction we have about the proposals to expand the cashless debit card across the Northern Territory.
Let me make it very clear: I come at this differently from others, having had the experience of the Intervention now 12 years ago and the introduction of the BasicsCard by the then Howard government telling people that they were going to have their income managed, compulsorily, right across the Northern Territory. Over 80 per cent of those people who were impacted by that measure, the Intervention 12 years ago, were Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, mostly those living in isolated communities. There was never so much as a 'by your leave', no discussion, no consultation, no visitation, no sitting down with people and saying, 'We would like to talk to you about the possibility of introducing an income management scheme, this card, which will help you manage your income.' At that time, around 50 per cent of benefit recipients on the Barkly were actually using Centrepay themselves as a way of managing their incomes through the social security system. They didn't need a BasicsCard. But, of course, this was the intervention, and the rights of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory were trodden all over by the then Howard government; and, as far as Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory are concerned, this is a continuation of it.
I note the remarks made by the member for Barton. What we have said very clearly, just so people here understand, is that we do not believe that the CDC trial should be extended or expanded unless the card is made voluntary, it is only applied in specific circumstances with intensive case management and is time limited—for child protection or some other reason—or a community genuinely gives informed consent to the trial card consistent with what we would regard as self-determination. It needs free, prior and informed consent. There is no free, prior and informed consent with this proposal to extend the cashless debit card across the Northern Territory. There has been no consultation whatsoever.
Aboriginal people are scarred by the intervention. The whole of the Northern Territory community was scarred by the intervention. They had the living daylights kicked out of them by the Howard government, and despite their protestations not a word from them was taken seriously. Here we have an opportunity for the government to go back and sit down with people, and consult properly. If there are merits to the cashless debit card the government should explain what they are. Ask the people whether they would like to use such a card instead of the BasicsCard or, indeed, make sure you are telling them that this will not be compulsory—because that's what they're after. They are sick and tired of having their lives managed. There is no evidence that the BasicsCard has worked. There is no evidence that the income management system put in place by the Howard government has worked. Sadly, it was perpetuated by us in Labor—to our shame.
Be very, very clear: the 23,000 people who will be compulsorily transferred to this card in the Northern Territory do not want it. It is not because they don't understand it; they haven't been asked about it. There is a so-called consultation process going on across the Northern Territory at the moment. There are ads on TV about this card being rolled out. They have visits to communities. I know that they visited the community of Arlparra—or Utopia, as it might be referred to by others—about 300 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs up the Sandover Highway. I was speaking to people there about the consultation that apparently took place. Well, it so happened that the Commonwealth officials rocked up to the community and set up a stand. No-one spoke to them, so they packed up and left. I had one of my staff sit in on the consultation in Darwin, only last week. They were asked by an Aboriginal person who was having his income managed why he hadn't heard about it. The public servants acknowledged that there's been no consultation about whether the BasicsCard should be transitioned to the CDC. There was no consultation and no discussion. Then they went on to affirm that there would not be: 'Listen, old son: don't expect us to come and ask you if you want it. You're going to get it, regardless of what you think and regardless of your experience with income management under the BasicsCard, because we simply don't care.'
Just as an aside, the member for Barton commended the government for extending the opt-out provisions on the BasicsCard in the Northern Territory. I spoke to an individual here yesterday who drove the 750-kilometre round trip to the Centrelink office in Alice Springs to convince them that he should go off the BasicsCard. They agreed. He went off the BasicsCard. Not long ago, he received a new BasicsCard in the mail. Now, really, that's just an aside, but it shows you the idiocy of what's happening here.
There are any number of people who can attest to the facts, and the evidence which was given to the Senate inquiry mounts up and mounts up, yet it's not listened to by the government. We've got people in this chamber and in the other place who sit on whether or not this should proceed, having never visited the Northern Territory and sat down with any people in these communities to discuss with them the merits or otherwise of this proposal and what their experience of the BasicsCard has been. Yet these people will be crucial as to whether or not this bill passes the parliament. It cannot be that people sit in this place, blind to the fact that they don't represent the community which this is going to be imposed upon but are nevertheless prepared to say, 'We'll do it anyway.' I just say to them: if it were to happen to the community you live in or that you represent, you would expect people to come sit down and talk with you before making a decision. So the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory who will be impacted by this simply want people to go and sit down and talk with them. That can't be too bloody difficult—but it is, because you refuse to do it.
We had Minister Wyatt, the member for Hasluck, in the Northern Territory a fortnight ago, after the very dreadful events at Yuendumu. He attended a meeting at Blatherskite Park in Alice Springs. He was asked by Valerie Martin, a senior woman from Yuendumu, why they should be getting the BasicsCard. You know what he said? He said, 'If you didn't ask for it, you shouldn't be getting it.' Cute. That is very cute, given that his government—the government he is a part of, the cabinet he is a part of—made a decision to impose this upon the Northern Territory Aboriginal community without their consent. I agree with him. If you didn't ask for it and you don't want it, you shouldn't get it. But that's not what's happening. As a continuation of the way in which the intervention started, we've got the same headspace happening here in this place.
I was with an Aboriginal woman here yesterday, walking around the halls of the parliament, looking at the wonderful, beautiful Aboriginal art. She said: 'Look, isn't this fantastic? This art, people appreciating our art. Why don't they appreciate us?' It's great to see the art, but what about the people who painted it? What are you saying to them and about them? The same people who paint this art have no rights. What you're intending to do through this legislation is ensure they will not have the right to say yes or no, because there's been no consultation. It is absolutely shameful.
We heard from the member for Barton about the evidence from the Menzies School of Health Research—that birth weights have actually fallen. If you combine this card with the deplorable CDP arrangement, where people are being breached, people are going hungry—you'd think the government would match the two. You'd think: why is it that less money is being spent in stores? Why is it that families are going hungry? You'd imagine that, if you understood it, you'd work through this system and say, 'Hang on, compulsory income management, CDP, breaching—it doesn't work.' But, no, the light just does not go on because you won't switch it on.
To add to the ludicrous nature of all this, it's intended that these cards will be posted out to people. Well, good luck with that! I don't know of any Aboriginal community where there is a postal service, where people have home delivery. There's none in the Northern Territory. So you'll post these cards to a central depository in the community, and people will say: 'Well, I think my mail's there. It may not be there. I don't collect my mail. I never see if I get mail.' And then you'll get a huge number of 'return to sender'. Then, of course, there's the phone system or the internet network. It's unreliable; it doesn't work. How are people going to manage this card, if they actually get it through the mail system? The government have not thought about it. Why would you not know, if you are going to impose this upon people, that there are no mail delivery services?
The government have no plan, as we understand it, to advise people what the cutover time is. I'm just amazed that, after so long in this place, we continue to treat people so bloody poorly. I am amazed that, as the member for Lingiari, the people I represent are being treated with such bloody disrespect.
As part of this government's commitment to communities, we are working with our local and regional partners to continue the successful rollout of the cashless debit card. To date, the program has delivered on its core objectives of creating stronger communities and improving the outcomes for individual beneficiaries. In places where this program has been implemented, the results have been more responsible financial management whilst reducing violence as well as drug and alcohol related issues. The body of evidence also points to significant improvements to child health and wellbeing in those communities. Australian communities have a history of resilience and tenacity in the face of hardship. The Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019 will only support stronger communities by being part of the solution.
Mr Snowdon interjecting—
You can say that. I'm very happy for you to come to my community as well, Warren. Oh, that's right: you only fly over our electorates, don't you?
Whilst issues relating to cycles of violence, drug and alcohol abuse are complex, it is through sustained attention and carefully thought through improvements to social security that, together, we can take steps to resolve problems that can often span generations.
This bill allows for the extension of the cashless debit card across all four current trial sites until June 2021. We will continue to carefully examine the results of this program by building a larger body of evidence and monitoring outcomes. The ultimate success of this bill can be measured in its proven capacity to put the futures of individual Australians back in their own hands.
The reduction in unemployment in all cashless debit card sites goes to the heart of what this bill is about. An exemplar case is the sharp decline in youth unemployment from 27.6 per cent in June 2018 to 18.4 per cent in June 2019. A drop of nearly 10 per cent over a single year is an outstanding accomplishment for the Wide Bay region and goes to show that this government puts the youth of this country, who are our future, front and centre. We owe it to them and to the continuing prosperity of Australia to see that this bill's demonstrable success continues.
An independent evaluation of the cashless debit card in 2017 found that, of those surveyed, 41 per cent had consumed alcohol less frequently, 48 per cent had reduced their use of illicit drugs and 48 per cent had gambled less. Working towards long-term solutions to systemic issues related to the misuse of drugs and alcohol is critical to the continuing vibrancy of Australian communities everywhere. There is no greater endorsement for this bill than when healthier lives lead to healthier communities. The critical first step in the endeavour is helping to combat drug and alcohol abuse. As long as one Australian lives trapped by addiction, cycles of violence and alcohol abuse, we are all affected. The significance of these results cannot be understated, nor can this government's commitment to partner with those communities most affected.
This bill fundamentally improves our welfare system by empowering individuals. Currently participants in many of this nation's most vulnerable communities are restricted by the BasicsCard, which only works in a select number of stores that have signed the merchant agreements with the Department of Human Services. Whilst this card has been effective to date, the cashless debit card goes the next step by increasing beneficiaries' access to different stores. By putting greater freedom and responsibility into the hands of users, we have seen a clear improvement in outcomes. This is the result of streamlining the process and reducing bureaucratic involvement, which dictates what stores beneficiaries can and cannot use.
This program improves user experience and increases outcomes for communities. The decision to expand this program is a practical measure based on support from communities and the exceptional results so far. The cashless debit card continues to maintain important safeguards related to the purchase of alcohol, gambling products, cash withdrawals and a number of gift cards. This ensures the funds are used in ways which go to the beneficiaries' needs and help make a positive contribution to the local economy.
The transition to a cashless debit card is as much about improving the outcomes of a strong welfare system as it is about empowering individuals to create their own future free of government-imposed red tape. We do not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to helping people get back on their feet after tragedy or misfortune. If we can have a system that puts the power of choice back into the hands of people we are trying to assist, it will lead to better outcomes for all involved.
Doing nothing is not an option when a clearly viable alternative that improves outcomes for both individuals and local communities is readily available. That being said, despite the success of the program to date, the government will continue to build a body of evidence related to the program, with any transitions being both gradual and well supported. This is critical to ensuring that the focus remains on those who need it most and that no-one is left behind. The success of this country is built on mateship. We will continue to work closely with participants to ensure their needs are met. The gradual transition is scheduled to occur over a nine-month period as of 1 April 2020. The rollout will precede community—