House debates

Wednesday, 27 November 2019


Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019; Consideration in Detail

4:50 pm

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Community Housing, Homelessness and Community Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I present a supplementary explanatory memorandum to the bill and ask leave of the House to move government amendments (1) to (10) as circulated together.

Leave granted.

I move government amendments (1) to (10) as circulated together.

(1) Schedule 1, page 4 (after line 23), after item 3, insert:

3A After subsection 123UO(3)


  (3A) If:

  (a) a voluntary income management agreement in relation to a person is in force; and

  (b) the person's usual place of residence is within the Northern Territory;

the Secretary may, by written notice given to the person, terminate the agreement. The termination takes effect on a day specified in the notice (which must not be earlier than the day on which the notice is given).

(2) Schedule 1, item 27, page 10 (after line 8), after paragraph 124PGE(1) (b), insert:

(ba) the person has not reached pension age; and

(3) Schedule 1, item 27, page 10 (after line 25), after paragraph 124PGE(2) (b), insert:

(ba) the person has not reached pension age; and

(4) Schedule 1, item 27, page 11 (after line 17), after paragraph 124PGE(3) (b), insert:

(ba) the person has not reached pension age; and

(5) Schedule 1, item 39, page 14 (line 30), omit "100%", substitute "80%".

(6) Schedule 1, item 39, page 15 (line 2), omit "(including 0%)".

(7) Schedule 1, item 39, page 15 (line 7), omit "100%", substitute "80%".

(8) Schedule 1, item 39, page 15 (line 10), omit "and including 0%".

(9) Schedule 1, item 44, page 19 (after line 2), after paragraph 127(4) (aa), insert:

(aaa) a decision to give a notice under subsection 123UO(3A); or

(10) Schedule 1, item 45, page 19 (after line 10), after paragraph 144(l), insert:

(laa) a decision to give a notice under subsection 123UO(3A);

4:51 pm

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

The amendments in question were announced by the minister acting for the minister in the other place without any discussion with the Labor Party. We were able to negotiate for us to have some time to look at those amendments, which we have subsequently done, and I recognise that we were given that flexibility. I have looked very closely at the amendments and consulted with the appropriate people within my party on the amendments. We are not going to be accepting any of the amendments. The three amendments are not acceptable to the Labor Party.

As I have made clear to the House, Labor does not support this bill in its current form. We do not support compulsory income management being forced on whole groups of Territorians simply because of where they live, who they are or what payment they are on. Twelve years after the intervention in the Northern Territory, it is absolutely clear that compulsory broad based income management in the Northern Territory has not worked. It has, however, marginalised, stigmatised and made everyday life much, much harder. It has not improved the lives and circumstances of First Nations people. This cashless debit card proposal is discriminatory. It goes against the evidence, and it is wrong to force it on so many Territory communities who have clearly said they do not want it. That is why we will be opposing the amendments.

In a media release on 25 March this year, the former social services minister, the member for Bradfield, said about the government's plan for the cashless debit card in the Northern Territory:

For existing participants on the Income Management and BasicsCard program, there will be no change to the operating principles, including the percentage to be quarantined, which will remain at 50 per cent …

That's a very definite statement by the minister. Let's see what's happened. We know this is not what the government really wants, and these amendments today prove it. They are the first step in a plan to quarantine 80 per cent of payments in the Northern Territory making it harder for people to buy food and second-hand goods in remote communities. The cashless debit card restricts 80 per cent of a person's income everywhere else. It is only a matter of time before the government uses these amendments to snatch 80 per cent of people's benefits in the Territory as well. If the government were serious about keeping the quarantine rate at 50 per cent, that is what the amendment would say. Instead, the secret plan they've had all along is now in black and white. We also see amendments in relations to age pensioners. Let me be clear: if the government was really serious about not putting Territory pensioners—or other people who manage their money well, have never taken drugs and deserve to be treated with respect—onto the cashless debit card, they would withdraw the bill altogether. What communities in Northern Territory need is access to more jobs and economic development opportunities, access to clean water and secure food supplies, and access to better health and education services.

I recently met with the emergency relief providers in Darwin, who said that the punitive social security breaching practices of this government were forcing people in remote areas to give up and stop claiming social security. This is trapping whole communities in poverty. There are stories of food being so short that people are forced by the system to lock themselves in their bedrooms to eat. This is wrong. It should not be happening in Australia. There is so much the parliament could do to fix it, but this bill and these amendments are not the solution. This bill will only make matters worse.

4:56 pm

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

The Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019 is a rotten bill. We said that at the outset. These amendments confirm how rotten it is. I have said, when I've had the opportunity to: why would you do this without actually talking to people—sitting down, negotiating and giving them the opportunity to say yes, they agree, or no, they don't?

Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory have been smacked around by successive governments for 12 years, and they are sick and tired of it. When we see these amendments being put at the third reading speech summing up the legislation, all it demonstrates is the lack of any intent by this government to act in any way which might have been seen as bipartisan in trying to get our support—let alone going and talking to people prior to it.

We've had Aboriginal people in this parliament this week lobbying the crossbenchers and talking to people about the lack of consultation that's taken place over this piece of legislation. The BasicsCard was bad enough, and it's still poor. It's still dreadful. It was imposed in the same way in which this is being imposed. Why are we treating Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory as if they're not citizens? Why are we treating Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory as if they just don't matter? Why are we saying to them that the assumption behind all of this is: 'You're all on the grog or on drugs, or are gamblers, and you can't look after your kids'?

Nothing could be further from the truth. We have seen very effective alcohol measures in the Northern Territory. Alcohol consumption has come down, violence against the person as a result of alcohol aggravated assault has gone down—not because of these cards but because of deliberate decisions by the Northern Territory government to introduce a floor price on alcohol and ban certain people from accessing alcohol. That's what's happened. That's made a material difference. They've had police on bottle shops stopping people from drinking alcohol who shouldn't get access to alcohol. They are the things that have made a difference.

This will not make a difference except to scar people further. I can't understand, as I said previously in this debate, how people in this place who believe in democracy could actually sit here and say to us that they believe they should impose this sort of legislation on people in Australia today without them having an option to get out of it. This should be optional. People might want to have their income managed—they're entitled to do so—but to have a blanket approach, a universal approach, which is what is being proposed by this government, is nonsensical, hurtful and harmful, and it means that we show absolute disrespect for the First Nations people of this land. It is about time we wake up to ourselves, and that's why I think it's very important that we oppose these amendments, just as we're opposing the legislation.

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

The question is that the government amendments be agreed to.

5:09 pm

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

The question now is that this bill, as amended, be agreed to.