House debates

Thursday, 12 November 2020


Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020; Second Reading

11:10 am

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

I rise to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020. I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"the House declines to give the bill a second reading and:

(1)notes that:

(a)thirteen years after the Howard Government's so-called Intervention in the Northern Territory, there is no evidence that compulsory, broad-based income management works;

(b)the Minister decided to make the Cashless Debit Card trial permanent before reading the independent review by Adelaide University; and

(c)this proposal is racially discriminatory, as approximately 68 per cent of the people impacted are First Nations Australians; and

(2)calls on the Government to:

(a)not roll out the Cashless Debit Card nationally; and

(b)invest in evidence-based policies, job creation and services, rather than ideological policies like the Cashless Debit Card".

Labor will not be supporting this bill. We will be opposing this bill. And I am very disappointed to see the government has brought this bill forward to debate in NAIDOC Week. It is absolutely insensitive—outrageous—that the government would think they are going to put this bill through this House in this week. It's also, to me, something that screams of the absence of the partnership approach that the government so much lauds itself on when it comes to working with Indigenous people. It says to me very clearly that this government are not interested in evidence and they will move without a clear evidence base in terms of policy development. It's become crystal clear to me that the example of the Prime Minister's much-lauded changes to Closing the Gap, the promised partnership approach, is not being followed.

This bill screams of hypocrisy, it screams of insensitivity, it screams of racial discrimination, and it also screams absolutely that the government is not at all interested in the evidence base. I can wear something if it's evidence-based and if the evidence shows that it is truly working. But there is no evidence. And the government has brought this bill forward before the Adelaide University evaluation has been read by the minister—which I'll get to in a moment—and before it has been made public. I just cannot believe that the government's hypocrisy, the government's lack of care and the government's lack of respect is on full display this week of all weeks.

This bill will make the cashless debit card permanent in the existing trial sites of Ceduna, East Kimberley, the Goldfields and Bundaberg-Hervey Bay. But, more than that, it will also permanently replace the BasicsCard with the cashless debit card in the whole of the Northern Territory. There has been no proper discussion. There has been no proper consultation. The government talks about 'information sessions across the Territory'—well, big deal!

I will mention in my speech evidence from those information sessions of what people in the Northern Territory told the government in relation to the rollout of this card. People in the Northern Territory have long memories. They still remember the John Howard intervention in the Northern Territory—and this cashless debit card, in my view and in the view of many people in the Northern Territory, is an extension of that dreadful policy. And the member for Lingiari will highlight that in his contribution to this debate.

This bill will also replace the BasicsCard with the cashless debit card in Cape York and extend income management in Cape York until 31 December 2021. It will make it easier for people to volunteer to be placed on the cashless debit card, and allow a person to remain on the cashless debit card when they move outside one of the prescribed areas. Labor has long stated very clearly that if people want to be on the card that is their right, and it is not up to Labor to stand in the way, but it has to be with full and informed consent. I can assure you that there has not been full and informed consent of any of these communities, as far as I can see, in terms of what the government is intending to do in relation to this card. The agenda is very clear. It is a continuation, in my view, of the disdain that this government holds in relation to people who need to rely on social security payments. It will enable the secretary to review and revoke cashless debit card exit provisions if the secretary believes a person who has exited the card is no longer reasonably and responsibly managing their affairs. The only reason that provision is there is Labor's amendments some time ago in the other place. There is no other reason that that provision is there. I suspect the government made a mistake in agreeing to those amendments at the time. Perhaps I'm wrong. But what we do know is that there is an absolute go-slow in the minister's office in terms of going through the administrative processes to give people permission to come off the card.

This bill has finally exposed what many, including the Labor Party, have long suspected the government agenda to be. This is very important. The government's true agenda—and this is the first or the second step—is a permanent rollout of the card right across the country. Those National Party members who hold seats where there are a lot of people who rely on income support should be very worried about this legislation and looking at it very carefully. The cashless debit card was first proposed as a trial, but we now know that the government has never been interested in finding out whether the card works. We often hear the government talking about how it's reducing this and reducing that. I have no idea how the government can actually say that because there is no proper publicly available evidence in existence to back in those assertions. As I said, Labor is not in the business of standing between individuals and communities that want to voluntarily adopt this card. We've been very clear about that. But this is not voluntary and it is certainly not with people's consent.

In Senate estimates, the minister admitted that she had not read the long-awaited review from the University of Adelaide before deciding to make the cashless debit card permanent. We still don't know whether the minister has read the evaluation. We still don't know whether or not the evaluation will be made public. But it is really a moot point, because this government has spent $2.5 million on this evaluation, and it may as well have been tabled and left on a dusty shelf when it comes to providing the advice and the evidence for what should happen now and into the future with the cashless debit card. They say: 'Don't worry about the evaluation. We'll just introduce these permanent arrangements anyhow.'

On 6 October the government announced their intention to make the cashless debit card trials permanent in the budget. On 8 October, the government introduced legislation to make the trials permanent. But, on 29 October, Labor senator for the Northern Territory Senator McCarthy asked Senator Ruston, 'Minister, have you read the Adelaide report?' The minister replied, 'No'. This would have been many weeks after the minister and the government decided to make the cashless debit card permanent, so you tell me where the evidence base is. There is none. It is positive proof that the government had no intention at all of taking into account that $2.5 million study done by the University of Adelaide, which the government only did in the first place when under pressure from the crossbench as part of one of their previous extensions of the cashless debit card trial. Were it not for pressure from the crossbench, there'd be no evaluation anyhow. This comes after the Auditor-General found there was no evidence—the Auditor-General, mind you!—that the card works to reduce social harm, as claimed by the government. That's not Labor saying this. This is the Auditor-General saying this—never influenced, of course.

We have an Adelaide university evaluation that the minister admitted she had not read, despite having introduced this permanency in the budget that the Treasurer brought down. We have that situation. We now have the Adelaide university evaluation, which may well not have been done and has only been done because the crossbench said to the minister, 'We want some evidence'. But big deal! It doesn't really matter what Adelaide university says when it comes to what the government's intentions are. The simple reality of this bill is that it is racially discriminatory.

I will say that again: the simple reality of this bill is that it is racially discriminatory. The rollout of the cashless debit card as proposed by the government will disproportionately impact First Nations people—and I know that other speakers in this debate will refer to that—68 per cent of people who will be forced onto the cashless debit card are First Nations people; over 23,000 out of the 34,000 people impacted by this card will be First Nations people. If that is not racially discriminatory, tell me what is! As the member for Lingiari will expand on, 18,000 of those 23,000 people live in one part of this country: the Northern Territory.

Labor is not opposed to income management in all circumstances. We've been clear about that. There are circumstances, such as where there are issues of child protection, domestic violence or dysfunction, where income management is appropriate. There's no argument about that. But the argument is about broad-based compulsory programs that catch and disempower the wrong people. I went to the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area, and I heard from several non-Aboriginal young women, single mums, who had been put on to the card without their consent. They are finding it so disempowering, so embarrassing, and their discussions with me left a powerful impact. Income management can be justified when targeted, as I said, in some circumstances. But indiscriminate, broad-based income management simply does not work.

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 an 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. But it's not just the evaluation that says this. In a document presented to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Australian government wrote:

… there are more positive results associated with people who volunteer—

this is the Australian government!—

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.

On one hand, you have the government saying something to the UN but, on the other hand, they are doing something very different in this chamber that is going to impact thousands upon thousands of people. I reiterate that the Australian government wrote that to the UN.

Dr Elise Klein of the University of Melbourne told a Senate committee about this issue:

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 genuinely wants to be on the card and believes it's appropriate for their own circumstances and someone who is compelled to go on to the card and whose circumstances are completely incompatible with the card. When I visited the East Kimberley, I saw this absolutely. There was a woman, a middle-aged First Nations woman, who had a public service job in Perth. She went back to Broome to care for her mother and went on to a carer payment, and then had to go on to the cashless debit card, despite the fact that she has spent a good part of her career as a public servant. Tell me how that's reasonable. Tell me how that's fair.

Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory, which includes the Central Land Council and the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the NT, said in one of their submissions on the card:

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 evaluation of New Income Management in the NT, 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 NT, 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 New Income Management conducted by the Social Policy Research Centre found that:

90.2% of those on income management in the Northern Territory were Indigenous and 76.8 of those were on compulsory income management. More than 60% of this group were on income management for more than 6 years.

The Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation said in its submission:

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.

There is no evidence that this leads to employment. And the rhetoric of the government, which is about employment or about creating jobs—in the face of that, they introduce this very bill that makes it almost impossible to actually get a job. Tell me how that works. Tell me, because I would like to know.

The Anti-Poverty Network SA also told a story about a woman they had met in Ceduna who was on the card. She volunteered at a local craft shop and donated what she could. She used to be able to purchase things online, but, because of the card, can no longer do so. The network told the committee about this particular person: never drunk, never had drugs or anything like that. It's such an inhibitive way of life for her now. Why should anyone that has never engaged in binge drinking or taken illicit drugs be forced onto the card? And yet that was the rationale for the card. It's just mind-boggling that the government thinks that this is a good idea. It seems to me that the government is not interested in answers.

This bill is just the beginning of the government's plan for the cashless debit card, as I said earlier. We know that there are those on the other side who have publicly called for the national rollout. We also know, from Senate estimates, that the government has established a technology working group with the big banks. That tells us something. That tells us something about the government's plan. The supermarkets and Australia Post look at how this can be rolled out through the payment system. So the four big banks have set up groups to roll this out, Australia Post has, and so have the supermarkets. That is evidence writ large of what the intentions are. We also know that this is what you do if you want a national rollout: you put technology working groups into those institutions. You work out how every card from every bank can have restrictions placed on it. That's not about choice; that's not about individual responsibility. It's just not. It is not the way you do business and stay true to what you are publicly saying.

You work out how every card from every bank can have restrictions placed on it so the government can track and control what people on social security do with their money in pretty much every shop around the country. It's actually scary. It's actually scary that the government thinks it's a good idea to do this. It's not about empowering; it's not about jobs. It's not about giving people responsibility and supporting them to manage and grow that responsibility. It's not about enjoying personal decisions; it's about control. It is absolutely about control, so the government can track and control, as I said. I note that my colleague who has responsibility for this area has just taken over the chair.

We already know that people on a disability support pension are on the cashless debit card. It is only a matter of time before more people are caught up in this new so-called system. In fact, pensioner groups are already worried about what this card could mean for them. We are talking about millions of people having restrictions placed on them and control placed on them and their spending being tracked and controlled. In their submission on this bill, the Combined Pensioners & Superannuants Association said members had contacted them about 'how very fearful they are' of being put compulsorily on this card.

In conclusion, noting that an amendment has been circulated in my name, Labor will not be supporting this bill. It represents a cynical triumph of ideology over evidence, and the government's plans for a much bigger, broader rollout of social security quarantining have been laid bare in black and white. It is an insult that this is being shoved into this chamber during NAIDOC Week, because it's backward, it's racially discriminatory and it continues the scraps of the last vestiges of the dismal failure of what was the Howard's government so-called Northern Territory Intervention. The processes the government has taken in making this policy are a slap in the face to the Coalition of Peaks Aboriginal organisation. It makes a mockery of the government's new Closing the Gap partnership, an absolute mockery. It doesn't create jobs, it doesn't deliver clean water, it doesn't improve dilapidated remote housing and it doesn't help close the gap.

I truly don't know why the government is doing this, except to blame and punish some of the most disenfranchised people in this nation.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Emma McBrideEmma McBride (Dobell, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Mental Health) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

11:38 am

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I stand here today as one of the initiators of and an ongoing supporter of the cashless debit card trial in the Goldfields region of my electorate of O'Connor. I know I'm backed by Goldfields leaders and their communities when I offer my wholehearted support for the passage of the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020.

This government is providing certainty for cashless debit card participants and their communities by continuing the program as an ongoing measure. This will allow additional reforms and support measures to be built on top of those already in place to continue to improve the lives of participants and the utility of the card. And, while the current Community Affairs Legislation Committee report on this bill may reflect the views of more detractors than supporters, it's important for me to qualify that the vast majority of unsupportive submissions came from individuals and organisations that have no presence or experience on the Goldfields.

It's notable also that, when the good senators of this committee last visited the Goldfields for a hearing in 2017, they were extended an open invitation to visit the trial site communities and see for themselves the difference, the positive difference, that this card is making. To my knowledge, not one of them took up the invitation. As I recall, senators never ventured further than the committee hearing room in the centre of the city of Kalgoorlie-Boulder. Had they walked the length of Hannan Street, they would have met shop attendants who had closed their doors during the middle of the day due to alcohol-fuelled violence in the street. And, had they travelled to the smaller communities, such as Laverton, Leonora and Coolgardie, they would have seen firsthand the social problems community leaders have been working for years to address and have finally been making headway since the introduction of the card. Instead, these elected leaders, Mayor Bowler of the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, shire president Patrick Hill of Laverton, shire president Peter Craig of Leonora, Mal Cullen of Coolgardie and Greg Dwyer of Menzies—all shire presidents—had their lived experience and evidence to the hearings discounted as anecdotal and had their advocacy for the communities that they love devalued.

As I listen to the most recent Senate hearings, I was dismayed to hear the same senators casting the same doubt on evidence presented by those in support. People like Robyn Nolan, the president of the National Council of Women Australia, Shelley Cable, the Indigenous CEO of Generation One and Ian Trust of the Wunan Foundation all presented their lived experience in trial site communities before and after the introduction of the card. It was disheartening to hear the evidence they presented discounted once again as anecdotal, the factual material from independent evaluations labelled as flawed and quoted police data questioned. I stand here today to publicly thank those who've had the courage and strength of conviction to stand by their lived experience of the card in their communities.

At this time, I'd like to provide a brief history of the introduction of the cashless debit card in the Goldfields, acknowledging some of the key supporters who made this trial possible. In late 2015, I was approached by respected Aboriginal elder Gay Harris when I visited Leonora for a school graduation. A teenage girl had taken her life just that morning, and the town was reeling after five suicides in short succession. Nanna Gay implored me to do something to address the social harm alcohol was wreaking on their community. Children were not safe in their own homes. The future of teens seemed hopeless. Alcohol-related violence and social disruption had become an accepted part of life. The situation was similar in Laverton. The shire president, Patrick Hill, added that gambling in public places was rife, with anything from $2,000 to $5,000 in the ring, yet kids were running around with no food or clothes. In Coolgardie, respected elder Betty Logan reported young children knocking on doors late at night begging for food while their parents were drunk and unaware of their whereabouts.

Thanks to strong leadership and overwhelming community support, and following over 270 community consultations, the shires of Leonora, Laverton, Menzies and Coolgardie along with the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder rolled out the cashless debit card trial between March and May 2018. I can say unequivocally that this card has had a major impact on those communities. Children who were going hungry are now presenting at school fed—so much so that at least one primary school has recently terminated their school breakfast program due to a lack of demand. Parents have reported taking their kids to McDonald's for a birthday party for the first time ever. They're having money in their accounts go through direct debit to utilities and rent, and they've even been able to save money. Shop owners have seen people who they never knew lived in the town filling up their baskets with groceries and buying clothes and toys for their kids with the card. Support services have reported less demand for emergency relief food, clothing and accommodation vouchers. Public drunkenness and street gambling has diminished markedly—so much so that Jim Epis, the CEO of the Shire of Leonora, reported:

… the Cashless Debit Card is doing wonders for the Leonora Community. It's so peaceful, even the dogs have stopped barking at night.

But don't just take my word for it. The baseline data collection for the Goldfields trial site was conducted by Adelaide university in mid to late 2018, and their executive summary stated:

Even though, at the time of the interviews, the card had only been implemented for a few months, a majority of respondents were of the opinion that early impacts were starting to be observed. These impacts primarily centred on alcohol and drug use and misuse, child welfare and well-being, spending and financial management …

It concluded:

The introduction of the CDC was predominantly found to be having a positive effect on the prevalence and severity of crime, family violence and anti-social behaviour within the Goldfields.

That is the baseline evaluation, which has been released for some time. The baseline evaluation was released some time ago.

I want to address some of the changes that this bill implements, and the first change is around exit applications. There is already a mechanism for a participant to exit the program if they can demonstrate reasonable and responsible management of their affairs. To date there have been 276 exit applications in the Goldfields; 87 have been approved, 137 have not been approved and 40 have been withdrawn. Enabling the minister to determine decision-making principles for the current exit criteria will improve clarity around the exit application process.

A second change will be a review of exit and wellbeing exemptions. Wellbeing exemptions are granted where being activated on the cashless debit card could pose a serious risk to a person's mental, physical or emotional wellbeing. To date there have been 151 wellbeing applications in the Goldfields; 106 have been granted and 45 have been declined. Currently there is no capacity to review exit and wellbeing determinations to enable those whose circumstances have changed to be reactivated back onto the program. The passage of this bill will allow the review and possible revoking of exits and exemptions if it can be proven that a participant has ceased to be able to manage their affairs and/or where there may be a risk to their personal wellbeing or that of their dependants. A third change is the sharing of information with community bodies. This will help with the monitoring and supporting of participants who have exited the program to continue to manage their affairs independently. The fourth change is around voluntary participation in the program.

The previously mentioned benefits of the cashless debit card mean that there should be no impediment to becoming a participant as a matter of choice. I have volunteered to have a card. I use it inside and outside the trial site, including here in Canberra, and it always works. While there are no plans for age pension recipients to be on the card, being able to elect to be a voluntary participant enables vulnerable seniors to be seen as the same as others in their community, which helps to protect them from elder abuse and from humbugging for their cash. Due to the transient nature of many Indigenous participants, I believe it's imperative that voluntary participants are able to remain on the card if they move out of a program area.

Now that I've detailed the widespread benefits that would follow the passage of the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020, I'd like to finish by referring back to the trial in my electorate, which I hope will soon become a permanent measure. The Goldfields has been an ideal trial site. Participants include anyone who is on a working-age welfare payment, whether they receive JobSeeker, youth allowance or parenting payment or are on the disability support pension or a carer's allowance. Over 50 per cent of trial participants are non-Indigenous, while slightly under 50 per cent are Indigenous. Detractors claim that this card is discriminatory, but I ask: how is that so, with such a mixed cohort?

During the rollout phase, each of the five local government authorities committed to supporting their community members' transition onto the card. Local partner shopfronts provided staff who helped participants to activate their card and set up direct payments systems for rent, utilities and other bills. There was access to financial capability and wellbeing services. Those who believed that the trial was harmful to their wellbeing could apply for an exemption, and those who could prove their financial capability could exit the program. Yes, there were teething problems in the early days, and people leaned heavily on their community leaders for help—who delivered in spades. I made myself and my office available to assist wherever possible. Most issues were easily solved locally; others we took all the way to the minister's office. This led to a constant refining of the program to its current level of sophistication and utility, such that I can say with hand on heart that I've had only two card-related concerns come forward to my office in the past 12 months.

People have accepted the card as a way of life, and coronavirus has shown us that society can function without cash. In fact, for many months earlier this year many shops said they wouldn't receive cash, so everybody was operating on a card. I will wrap up, due to time constraints, but I just want to reiterate my thanks to the community leaders across the Goldfields who have supported the trial introduction of the cashless debit card into their communities. I thank them for their patience and their persistence, as this is the third time we've come back to the parliament to have the legislation updated. I commend this bill wholeheartedly to the House.

11:49 am

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

I acknowledge the contribution of the member for O'Connor. It won't surprise him to know that I have a different view. I don't think anyone, including the member for Barton, who so eloquently outlined Labor's position—no-one in this place that I'm aware of—is saying that people who voluntarily want to go onto a cashless debit card shouldn't. That's not the point.

I want to refer to a range of issues but also to clearly reinforce the messages of and to support the amendment that's been proposed by the member for Barton. This bill, the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020, makes an absolute mockery of things—and I am now referring particularly to my own electorate of Lingiari. In 2007, when the obnoxious Howard government intervened in the Northern Territory at the behest of Mal Brough, who was then the minister, and introduced the BasicsCard into the Northern Territory—imposed it on the Northern Territory—I opposed it then and I oppose it now. Nothing has changed from my point of view. It is also opposed by Aboriginal people across my electorate, and this bill makes an absolute mockery of the government's claims that it's working with Aboriginal communities. It is clearly not. And clearly it is not prepared to sit and listen.

We've got all the palaver going on about the great changes to the way in which the coalition of peaks have entered into a partnership with the state premiers and territory first ministers and the Prime Minister around closing the gap. Well, this bill makes an absolute mockery of that. This is one time where we're supposed to think that the government is working hand in glove with Aboriginal people, sharing decision-making, consulting with people and allowing them appropriate input. Here is the evidence that it's not.

We know, as the member for Barton pointed out so well, that 68 per cent of those impacted by this bill are First Nations people. How can a minister who has had a review undertaken at a cost of $2.5 million admit to a Senate inquiry, as the member for Barton has pointed out, that, prior to the introduction of this bill, she hadn't even read the review? She hadn't even read it. We don't know what's in it because we haven't seen it. We'd like to have a look at it. But what we do know is that there is no evidence that has thus far been produced to show the accuracy of the claims being made by the government about the way in which this particular card has had a positive benefit on any community across Australia.

Firstly, in the brief time that I've got, I want to go to what is happening in the Northern Territory. The member for Barton referred to Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory and their calls on 8 October of this year around this card. They said:

There is still no proof that compulsory income management works. In February this year the University of Queensland released a report on their review of four CDC trial sites.

This was a review of the four sites that are being now made permanent.

The overwhelming finding was "that compulsory income management is having a disabling rather than enabling effect on the lives of many social security recipients."

Later in the same statement, APO NT say:

The bill is a new Intervention. It will perpetuate the torment of our powerlessness. It denies our basic freedom to control our lives. It locks the many of us who live below the poverty line out of the cash economy and undermines our small businesses that rely on cash payments.

What clearer evidence could you have of the dissatisfaction of Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory than these statements? They say:

To the government, this is just a law change. But to us, it's about our everyday lives becoming even more of a struggle. We are sick of governments doing things to us rather than with us.

I wonder what the minister who is responsible for Indigenous affairs in this government thinks about the way this bill has been handled and the consultation process that has taken place. Clearly, if we as a parliament are to believe what's being said to us, there's a view that we should have a voice to the parliament. What this bill demonstrates is that there's no intention by the government to actually listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people—none at all. APO NT also say:

This bill disregards our view—

Honourable Member:

An honourable member interjecting

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

You're not listening to me, comrade, are you?

This bill disregards our view and lived experiences and fundamentally undermines the collaborative spirit of the next phase of Closing the Gap. It symbolises why so many policies have failed our people and why things aren't getting better.

I was conscious of the Intervention. I also have here a statement from the community of Milingimbi, who were very strong in expressing their collective disapproval and disdain at the prospect of having the cashless debit card imposed upon them and, in their words, 'taking away their rights'. It should be a matter of choice, not something which is imposed—the way that this bill is wanting impose it on the people of the Northern Territory.

The member for Grey can talk about the people of Ceduna. But don't tell me I don't know what I'm talking about. I've been in this place for over 30 years. Forty-two per cent of my electors are Aboriginal people. I am their voice in this parliament, and I know what they tell me. They are disgusted by the way they are being treated by this government—the lack of consultation, the lack of any right to be properly heard.

As the member for Barton has said, if we had some evidence that this was all working, we might have a different view. The fact is that it's not working. Until we've seen this University of Adelaide mystery report, we don't know what it says. But what we do know is that there's been no good-quality or sufficient measurement of the effectiveness of the cashless debit card, either before it started or at its various trials.

A report in 2011 by the Equality Rights Alliance cast doubt on the government's claim of broad support for income management among Aboriginal women. It collated the views of more than 180 Aboriginal women affected by income management. The findings were as follows. Habits didn't change—85 per cent of the women surveyed said they had not changed what they bought because of the BasicsCard. We were talking about the BasicsCard then, which we still have in the Northern Territory now. There were no savings—75 per cent of the women said it made no difference to their spending, 22 per cent of the women saved money with the card and two per cent said it cost them more to use it. Seventy four per cent said the card wasn't helpful and 85 per cent said income management 'showed no respect'—and that is what they still say. It was not safer—70 per cent of the women said they didn't feel safer as a result of the introduction of the card. In 2012, an independent evaluation of income management in the Northern Territory found no clear evidence of the value of the program, and there have been other reports subsequently.

Last week at the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry we heard from a number of academics providing advice to the committee on their views and the studies they have done. Professor Tony Dreise said that the evidence does not stack up and does not show that the cashless debit card has had a positive effect. A very large amount of evidence shows that 13 years of new income management in the Northern Territory has had almost no positive impact. It's worth contemplating the views of these people who know a damn sight more about it than most people in this chamber. Dr Francis Markham said:

The cashless debit card and related types of programs are the sorts of programs that you try and introduce when you're not willing to change those structural features of remote economies.

There's a lot more that needs to be done in remote Australia. There's a lot more that needs to be done in my electorate of Lingiari to address disadvantage and expend the resources of this government to make people better off. I'd rather see the moneys that have been appropriated for this spent on housing, for example, on health services or roads and other infrastructure. It's very clear that there's no appetite on behalf of the government benches to actually sit and listen to the people I'm referring to, because, if they did sit and listen to the people I'm referring to, they would not be introducing this legislation today and making it apply uniformly across the Northern Territory as they want to do. Nevertheless, they go ahead. They say, 'Oh, yes, we sit and we listen and we talk to Aboriginal people.' It's very, very clear that they have no intention of doing that at all.

When we contemplate this, we need to see it as a part of a pattern where over many years now—certainly since 2007—the coalition has made it their business to make life harder for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, because that's what has happened. They haven't listened. The outcomes which they would have hoped to achieve have not been achieved. School attendance has fallen. Health outcomes have got worse in many cases. Housing has got worse. And, of course, when we start to talk to people about what we really need to address disadvantage, when we start talking about employment services, they've got no appetite for listening. If they started to look at a comprehensive plan to bring people together and alleviate their poverty and disadvantage, they would do so in a holistic way, but they are not doing that. They pin their hopes on compulsorily quarantining people's income.

As the member for Barton said, we're more than happy to support these proposals when people voluntarily submit to them. We are not happy to support and we will not support the compulsory and involuntary imposition of these schemes on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I certainly won't support it in my electorate. I never have and never will. When I go back to the Northern Territory and talk to the communities that I work for and have the responsibility of representing in this chamber—proudly—I am confident that I represent their views here accurately. I'm confident that, when I stand up here and say that people do not want to have this involuntarily imposed upon them, that is what they want. It is very clear that we've got a long way to go to convince this government about how to deal sensibly and properly with Aboriginal people, certainly in my electorate. I know that, in terms of the reviews which have been done, there's no evidence for the extension of this card permanently across the four sites. There are no evaluations that we've seen. Show us the evaluations. The minister says she's got this University of Adelaide report, and she had not even read it prior to introducing this legislation. Why would that be? Surely we should be brought into the confidence of the government who are so confident about what they're saying. They should show us the report. Have it peer reviewed. Let us see what it says. Let's understand what their arguments are based on. The fact is that there is no validity—or very little—to the arguments that they're putting. I absolutely respect the members opposite who talk about their communities and how people voluntarily submit to the card. But, unless they voluntarily submit to it, it shouldn't be imposed upon them. (Time expired)

12:05 pm

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I support the original motion for the second reading of the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020 but not the amendment. That will come as no surprise. I also recognise the member for Lingiari and his passionate commitment to Indigenous people and his electorate. He says he speaks for them. Equally, I am a passionate supporter of the people in my electorate, and I believe I absolutely speak for them. I certainly speak for the community around Ceduna when it comes to the issue of the cashless welfare card.

It helps to have a little bit of history, I think, when we speak about the introduction of the card in Ceduna, the first place in Australia that had the cashless welfare card—not to be confused with the BasicsCard. I think the original impetus came out of a coroner's inquest over there, where we'd had six untimely deaths of Indigenous people sleeping rough, under the influence of alcohol, sleeping in the middle of the road, in poor health and with poor conditions—a whole lot of things. They were largely not residents of Ceduna but were among those who had come in from remote settlements. I remember speaking to the mayor, Allan Suter, at the time. He asked whether there was a possibility of bringing the BasicsCard to Ceduna, and I said, 'Well, we are going to have to find some community support to make ground in this area.'

So began a long period of consultation with the various Indigenous communities in and around Ceduna but also with the non-Indigenous communities in Ceduna. Ceduna isn't an Indigenous town as such. It's got a higher population of Indigenous people than the average, of course, but largely it's a very normal town in many ways. By 'normal', I mean more reflective of the population mix in the rest of Australia. I can remember the previous mayor saying to me, 'We've built up a relationship now with our Indigenous communities that we never had before,' because, of course, they are not within the District Council of Ceduna area. They meet on a regular basis and discuss a whole lot of issues that are of common interest. That continues today, and I meet with these groups regularly. It is they who have asked for the permanent installation of the cashless welfare card in Ceduna. At the moment, we've had a 12-month-by-12-month-by-12-month renewal, and I've said all along that it's simply not sustainable for that to continue—to just keep pushing it out on a 12-month basis.

Of course, when we get to the point of expiry, the community want it to continue. That's because they see the obvious benefits in it. As a young fellow said to me up there one day: 'Well, you can look at the stats and talk to this group and that group, but I tell you what: it just feels like a whole lot better place, a safer place, a place where there's more money spent on food'. In fact, they had to double the food supply at Oak Valley when the cashless welfare card was introduced. So there have been far better outcomes right across the board, and I receive very, very little criticism of the card. Most people say, 'You can't take it away.' In fact, that is what the Indigenous groups say to me.

Let me point out that it is non-discriminatory; it does apply to the white population in Ceduna as it applies to the Indigenous population. I've had more complaints, I would have to say, over the time from the white population, but not many. It is normally serial complaints from a few individuals, and that's not really unusual with anything that government does, I'd have to say. So I and those communities are totally convinced of its value. They want to see it stay.

I don't think that it displaces responsibility. I think the member for Snowdon—not the member for Snowdon; the member for Lingiari. Perhaps one day—or would that be Lord Snowdon? I don't know. He said: 'If they told us they wanted it, I'd back it'. Well, I'm telling you they do want it; they absolutely do want it. That is the story. This bringing in that it is a racially discriminatory card, one of the great values of Bundaberg using the card was that it is not seen as an Indigenous population. That's not in this current legislation because that's controlled under a slightly different piece of legislation. But the fact is it has gone into an area where we see high levels of disadvantage and people mismanaging their welfare income. It's a working-age welfare. I hear the shadow minister say, 'It's coming for your pension!' It's not coming for your pension; it's never been for age pensions.

I reflect that when intellect and good reason fail, it is all too often we see people go for the scare tactic, and that's exactly what that is. Telling Australian age pensioners that they will go on the cashless debit card is nothing but scaremongering and it should be slapped down. It is certainly not on the government's agenda. Perhaps it's on the agenda of those on the other side of the chamber—I think not. Why would they even bring that up? This card has never been aimed at that part of Australia. It's aimed at those on working-age welfare. It's made a significant difference in behaviour, a significant difference to health outcomes and a significant difference to those very things that the coroner looked into in Ceduna going back—I am going to have a guess—to 2006, quite some time ago in this long journey.

Like so many things we seem to see in Australia at the moment, we have all these experts giving their valuable advice from afar. There was a song once called Walk a Mile in My Shoes. For those who don't live in places like Ceduna, the Goldfields or the East Kimberley, I suggest they should spend more time on the ground there actually communicating with the locals and finding out what it is they want, because that's where I go. I go on the ground in Ceduna. I find out exactly what it is we want.

I must say there are those who suggest somehow this card is some big imposition. At the moment the JobSeeker payments are slightly in excess of $800 a fortnight. I would suggest that if you are spending more than $160 in that fortnight on drugs, alcohol, and gambling, you're not managing your money well. It's not much good if you are spending more than 20 per cent of your income on drugs, alcohol and gambling to complain about the fact that you don't have enough money to spend on vegetables, that you don't have enough to spend on accommodation. That's what this card is about—ensuring that the money allocated to people goes for the reason it was allocated. If you are living a well-planned lifestyle where you're not spending more than 20 per cent of your income on drugs, alcohol and gambling, well, it won't even impact on you; it won't have one slight impact at all.

I point out that the 80-20 split that we arrived at when we first brought in the cashless debit card was in agreement with the partners within the Ceduna community. They were the ones who set the ratio. It was suggested at one stage by government that it be 75-25. They insisted it be 80-20. That's how far back the consultations go. They were instrumental in setting up the parameters for the way the card works across Australia. I said to them at the time, 'Australia may well look back on this time when things changed, when the delivery of welfare in Australia actually reached a turning point.' It's hard to say if that is the case for the bulk of the population. The government at this stage has no plans to roll it out across the rest of the nation. I must say, as someone who had it operating in their electorate, I think it would be a good idea. I also say that I get approached by a number of communities who say, 'Can we get on the card?' These are not just communities within my electorate, either. They say, 'What have we got to do to get on the card? In fact, I know there are a number that have been trying to speak to the minister and see whether that's possible in the future, and I hope it is the case. I think if we have got communities who want to get on the card, we should allow this to happen. I do say to them, though, 'Don't even think about trying to get across the minister's threshold unless you've got broad community support back on your patch already.' If you come to the government and say, 'We've got the council on board, we've got the school board on board and we've got the Indigenous groups on board,' perhaps you've got a chance of convincing the minister. But, if you do not—we've never introduced a card at a place where it wasn't wanted.

I think the amendments that are being proposed by this piece of legislation—and not just the amendment to make the three sites permanent; there are a number of adjustments around people being able to stay on it voluntarily and pensioners and all those kinds of things—are all very moderate changes and in response to the communities on the ground, so I find no fault at all with any of those particular amendments.

The one thing I will get to: it has shown that things can go wrong. We've had a couple of incidents through the years where unrestricted money has come into the community. At one time, a payment out of the tax department came back to people, and in recent times we've of course seen the doubling of the JobSeeker payment. That happened in Ceduna just as it happened everywhere else. In Ceduna, unlike other places, it was still on the 80-20 split, but it did actually double the amount of money that was available for drugs, alcohol and gambling. Coming on top of that was access to superannuation, so people who had accumulated even a small amount of superannuation were able to access that as well. Coupled to that was the occurrence of remote community lockdown. People spent two, sometimes three, months back in community and didn't come into town. In that time, they didn't spend all of the extra money that was coming to them. They came into town, and things have got fairly untidy, I'd have to say. It's a little better now than it was, but I'm still receiving complaints from Ceduna saying that a lot of antisocial and self-harming behaviour has returned. Remember that this has come on the back of the more than doubling of the availability of the loose cash that is coming to people that are on working-age welfare. You don't need a university degree or an examination to work out what's going on there. It's as plain as the noses on our faces. More money, more antisocial behaviour, more drinking, more public drunkenness, more violence—that's what comes with the extra unrestrained cash.

That is why the community of Ceduna is asking for the permanent instalment of this card, and I have nothing but admiration for those leaders of the communities—the individual communities right across the board—that have backed this program the whole way through. Let it be remembered that every one of them, including those on the Ceduna district council, has come up for re-election during the time that the card has been in place and they have supported the card. Largely, the people on those individual community councils and the Ceduna community council remain the same. They are re-endorsed and put back into their positions, just as I have been in the two elections that have run since we introduced the cashless welfare card. It is widely supported, it's doing a great amount of good and it should be continued.

12:19 pm

Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is an important debate in this House today, and I'm pleased to be standing here supporting the amendment moved by the member for Barton. Labor does not support this bill, the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020. Once again, it's necessary for me to speak out in this chamber against this government basing policies on ideology and not evidence.

Once again this government is failing to heed the voices of First Nations people. Once again this government is making life harder for people in our community who already do it tougher than most. Once again this government is wasting money on an ideological crusade instead of investing in job creation and making our communities safer for all. Twelve years after the beginning of 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. Yet, as the member for Barton has already pointed out, during NAIDOC Week of all times, this government is pushing forward with an ideological crusade that discriminates against First Nations people.

This bill will make the cashless debit card permanent in the existing trial sites of Ceduna, the East Kimberley, the Goldfields, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. It will permanently replace the BasicsCard with the cashless debit card in the Northern Territory. It replaces the BasicsCard with the cashless debit card in Cape York and extends income management in Cape York until 31 December 2021. It makes it easier for a person to volunteer to be placed on a cashless debit card and allows a person to remain on a cashless debit card when they move outside one of the prescribed areas. And it enables the secretary to review and revoke cashless debit card exit provisions if the secretary no longer believes that the person who exited the card is reasonably and responsibly managing their affairs.

I was amazed to hear in Senate estimates just the other week the relevant minister admit that she had not read the long-awaited review by Adelaide University before she and this government decided to make the cashless debit card permanent. That says so much about this government's callous disregard for people's lives—that they could press ahead with this without paying attention to the facts, without paying attention to the evidence and without paying attention to what's actually going on. So, in a bid to help the minister and this government, let me outline what some of the relevant research has found.

Researchers from four universities said in a report released in February this year that they'd uncovered an overwhelming number of negative experiences stemming from the card, ranging from feelings of stigma, shame and frustration, to practical issues such as cardholders simply not having enough cash for essential items. They said:

Our research illustrates the empirical case for continuing with the current policy settings—

on compulsory income management—

is weak.


Our research is certainly not the first to suggest these set of policy measures require a fundamental rethink.

What other evidence is out there? Well, as I said before, income management was introduced as part of the NT Intervention, and the evidence we have on the record from the final evaluation of the Intervention is that it did not meet its objectives.

When looking at the cashless debit card trials, the Australian National Audit Office found, 'It is difficult to conclude whether there had been a reduction in social harm.' Further, the evaluations funded by the government have not shown that the card is achieving its objectives. The government-funded Orima evaluations and an evaluation by the University of Adelaide have been called into question by numerous academics because no baseline data was collected for a comparison. So that's all the evidence we've seen. That's the work this government has apparently put in to tell us that this will work. It doesn't show that. In fact, it shows the opposite. As I said, what this government is embarking on is an ideological, discriminatory crusade based on no evidence. It is having a discriminatory and really harmful effect on a lot of people's lives.

To go into that further, I'd like to talk about some of the reported experiences of people who are living on this card. The university study I just mentioned found that people reported having not enough cash for essential items. People said that they had difficulty providing for their children and for other family members because the way this system works means they don't have enough cash to do that. That includes comments like, 'They impact what I can and can't do with my children, like take them out in the community,' and things like: 'School excursions are cash only. The fair and Christmas parade activities are predominantly cash only. I have four children, and 20 per cent doesn't get us that far.' So these families are feeling discriminated against in their own communities. Children are missing out in these communities. It's a program that's meant to be supporting families and children, but the evidence, the comments and the stories we have from people involved are that it's doing the exact opposite.

People on the card reported not being able to do things like buy second-hand goods—buying things that may be cheaper second-hand, such as university textbooks, or maybe a new fridge. They can't access that because of the way the card works. Again, how ridiculous: in a situation where we're meant to be helping and supporting families who are struggling, we're making it harder for them to access this part of the economy. People reported difficulties paying rent and other bills.

Again, in this research, survey respondents identified challenges in paying their rent, including rent to private landlords, and other bills because of glitches with payments by the cashless debit card. These circumstances were usually beyond the user's control, but of course they have implications for the management of their finances, their financial track records and the security of their housing. In separate reports community businesses and operators have spoken about people struggling to use the card in their businesses, so they're being locked out as well. When money could be being spent in the economy, supporting small businesses, people are being locked into big retail chains, where they can use the card.

The simple reality of this bill is that it's racially discriminatory. The rollout of the cashless debit card as proposed by the government will disproportionately impact First Nations people. It's ridiculous to pretend otherwise: 68 per cent of the people who will be forced onto the cashless debit card are First Nations Australians. Over 23,000 of the 34,000 people impacted by this card will be Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people, and that includes more than 18,000 people in the Northern Territory. This is a failure of this government to work with First Nations people.

We've heard from the recent Senate inquiry, from numerous other forums and from First Nations people and organisations speaking out against this bill and against the card. Just to make sure that some of those voices are heard in this place, I will quote from Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory. Theresa Roe, from that organisation, told the recent Senate inquiry that this program risks disempowering First Nations people. She said:

We have experienced income management for the last 13 years and it has created more harm than good.

Over this period poverty and unemployment has worsened … it has been a vehicle for disempowerment and continuing trauma and stigmatisation.

Ms Roe said she was alarmed that the federal government planned to roll out the scheme across the NT and triple the number of people on the program. She said:

The cashless welfare card has not even been adequately evaluated and yet the government wants to rush to legislate this.

And all of this from a government that tells us it's actually taking a new approach to closing the gap, that it's listening and working with First Nations people. What an insult. What a case of saying one thing and doing another thing. Is it any wonder that First Nations people feel frustrated by what happens in this place? Is it any wonder that they don't feel that their voices are heard when there are policies like this which have such a fundamental impact on their lives, on their families' lives, on how they can conduct their business and on what they can buy and where they can buy it? And all of this happens with no regard to evidence, no regard to what First Nations people are telling this government. It is all based on ideology.

As we've heard, Labor is not opposed to income management in all circumstances, but we are opposed to broad based compulsory programs that catch and disempower the wrong people. We know that income management can be justified when it's targeted, such as in child protection situations, but it should not be indiscriminate or broad-sweeping, which is what this government is proposing. Again, we know that in some communities there has been genuine consultation and people genuinely do want this card. But that's the exception, not the rule, and it's not what this bill does. In Cape York, the local community is applying income management based on individual circumstances, supporting families and monitoring outcomes. That's appropriate where the community supports that happening.

I've talked a lot about evidence. We know that the very slim area where there is some evidence that this works—or may work—is when people are doing this program voluntarily rather than compulsorily. The evaluation of income management in the Northern Territory found that compulsory income management usually does not bring about improvements but voluntary income management might. Again, though, that's not what this bill does. This bill compulsory puts people who haven't been consulted adequately, who have said they don't want to be part of this, onto a card that is discriminatory, that affects how they care for their families and that there is actually no evidence to support.

I have heard from the other side that we're just scaremongering when we talk about the fact that they may roll this out even further. That's nonsense. Some of their own members have been quoted in the media talking about how it should be rolled out further. So if this government isn't going to pay attention to the evidence of what's happened so far, there is a genuine worry that they could propose an even greater rollout with no evidence. Everything we have seen to date suggests that they're not doing this based on evidence; they're doing it based on ideology. We know from Senate estimates that the government has established a technology working group with the big banks, the supermarkets and Australia Post to look at how this could be rolled out through a payment system. That is what you do if you're thinking about a national rollout. People across the country should be concerned about what this might mean for their ability to control their money, to provide for their family, to do the things I was talking about—have excursions in their local community, buy goods in the second-hand markets, support local shops—and not be discriminated against based on no evidence. Based on current form, people should be very worried about what the government's next plans are.

This bill represents a triumph of ideology over evidence. It's an insult to the people and communities it affects. It is an insult to our First Nations people—in NAIDOC Week, of all times. If the government are genuine about working with First Nations people, if some of the rhetoric they give this place is actually something that they're going to see through, they should look at the evidence. They should look at the evidence and read it before they propose bills in this place that relate to it. It's just sloppy. It's rude. It's discriminatory. This government pays so little attention to the reality of vulnerable people's lives. They pay so little attention to the reality of what it means to have a system that means you struggle to work out how you pay your rent and how you support your family. This is a backwards move; it's not a positive move. It doesn't create jobs. It doesn't provide any additional investments that might help people who receive welfare payments to understand finance better. It doesn't provide any additional support for them and their families in terms of how they work their lives. All it does is discriminate against them—and with no evidence.

Being in this place, I have heard from the government about how it's taking a new approach to closing the gap. Apparently that's an approach based on working with Aboriginal people—hearing their voices and working with Aboriginal led and controlled services. That is not what this bill is and it is not what this bill does. This bill is an insult to all the people that the government says it's working with. The Coalition of Peaks have done so much work to put in place this new Closing the Gap framework, and the government is saying to them: 'None of that matters. The evidence doesn't matter. What you have told us doesn't matter. In fact, what matters is our ideological crusade here and what our backbench tells us.' This bill doesn't create jobs, it doesn't help communities, it doesn't build new houses, it doesn't close the gap. It's discriminatory. There's no evidence. It should not go ahead.

12:33 pm

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020. I was lucky enough to grow up in a household with incredibly loving parents who would go without even the basic things just so that I could have access to things which, in hindsight, I didn't even need. With the benefit of hindsight, at the ripe old age of 43, I can say I had a sheltered upbringing that caused me to be somewhat naive in terms of my perspectives on life. Fast forward past a university qualification in the law and some time in a commercial law firm in Adelaide, all the way to a young lawyer returning—principally because of homesickness—to Mount Gambier and working in the criminal law. I've got to tell you that my naivety was immediately smashed.

As a young practitioner in the criminal law, in the very same community that I'd grown up in—in that very loving and protected environment—I had occasion to be exposed to families with young children that were completely different to mine. There were young children who were incredibly vulnerable. Because of the parents' use and abuse of alcohol or other drugs or because of the parents' other predilections, including gambling, the very simple needs of those children were not being met. I am still scarred by those occasions when I had to sit with a very young child as I went through their parents' phone—while their parents, who I couldn't get out on bail, were in custody—ringing relatives in the hope that they would come and look after that young child. I was the young lawyer who would have to sit in a cell with a child who had committed a dishonesty offence at a supermarket and have them honestly break down to me and say that they committed that offence because they were hungry. That's why I say that my naivety was smashed at that point, and I became aware of a broader context of life where, unlike my parents, there were those in the community who weren't appropriately caring for their children and, indeed, weren't able to.

I came into this place seven years ago alongside the members for Hinkler and Durack, and, of course, I have known the member for Grey for a very long time. I know them to be people who know their communities and are deeply connected to their communities in the way that I'd like to think I am, too. When I speak to them about the cashless debit card initiative, all of them tell me—and I see that in terms of their passionate advocacy—that nothing has done more to support a change in cultural attitudes and, indeed, outcomes for young people in their electorate than this. I know, in the case of the member for Grey—whom I'm particularly close to, given the geography of our respective seats—that this is something that he will campaign passionately for on every occasion.

I think we need to accept that our nation has one of the most generous social safety nets in the world, but no level of social safety net can support a child in need if those with the financial resources courtesy of that safety net seek to use that money for things other than food and the necessities of life. I don't begrudge—and nor do those of my constituents that I speak to—the provision of support to Australians in need via that generous social safety net, but it is for the essentials of life. It's not to support a drug habit, it's not to support a gambling predilection and it's certainly not to support the kind of harm that the abuse of alcohol can deliver. So it stands to reason, doesn't it, that, if we create a mechanism whereby the overwhelming majority—80 per cent in this case—of that social safety net needs to be used on the necessities of life, then it's incongruous to argue that that doesn't lead to better outcomes for the children I was speaking of earlier. That's not to say that every child in a vulnerable situation everywhere in this country is vulnerable because their parents abuse alcohol or drugs or other things, but there is a significant cohort.

Can I address the allegation from those opposite that this is in some way racially discriminatory. I'll just call it out: it's complete rubbish. This program applies equally to anyone in receipt of welfare in these geographical areas. So, if you want to call it discriminatory, call it discriminatory on the basis of geography. Don't call it out as discriminatory on the basis of race. That really is playing the race card, and it's wrong. I know that the member for Hinkler, the now Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, would say that, and that's why the rollout of the program in his community was so, so important.

As I said, my view on this policy is informed by my discussions with the Minister for Defence Industry, representing the communities in Durack. It's informed by the member for Grey, representing the community in Ceduna. It's informed by the minister for resources. It's also informed by the member for O'Connor, who is equally passionate about this issue.

As to the member for Lingiari, who kept suggesting that there was no evidence, saying, 'Show me the evidence': I heard him say, 'I've never supported this proposal and I never will.' That doesn't sound like someone who's willing to accept the evidence and come to an evidence based decision. That sounds like someone who has a preconceived opinion of this particular approach and isn't going to move, and the same criticism may well be made of some on this side. But, as I say, my strong views in relation to this are informed by my background. I expect I've dealt with more drug addicts, gambling addicts and alcoholics than anyone else in this place, just because my profession, before I came to this place, brought me into close contact with these individuals, many of whom, I've got to say, by the time I had an engagement with them professionally, were just so keen to be rid of those vices and would have taken any assistance to get to a better and safer outcome for them.

In addition to listening to the members I've mentioned who have that direct, close connection to communities who are subject to these trials and now will be subject to the will of this House—subject to this program, going forward—I just want to read some personal reflections from people impacted, because they say much more than I ever could. One says: 'Alcohol by far is the biggest issue in our community. Across all communities, it creates much more harm and social problems and financial and legal problems. Absolutely, alcohol has remained our primary drug of concern in our treatment services for the last four years. It has affected sales through the bottle shop because they can't use it at the pub, but they can use it at the deli so they are in there more and over at the supermarket, buying food instead of alcohol. It helps make the town a little better. They're not spending so much money on alcohol and they're actually looking after their kids.'

Another says: 'The town seems quieter on Friday and Saturday nights in my neighbourhood, which is a hotbed for alcohol related issues. Less yahooing, less cop sirens, less bottle smashing, less arguments—these are things I'm observing in my neighbourhood, and my neighbourhood was considered the hotbed for that type of behaviour over the last 20 years and had a very notorious reputation for very unruly behaviour. I'd say that the general care, like the basic care of a child, I think, is better—food, shelter and clothing.'

The shadow minister interjected before, saying, 'But what about job creation?' I've got to tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, not everything we do in this place is about jobs. This is a welfare measure. This is about making sure the welfare dollars that are provided in support of Australians in need create an environment in which the necessities of life are attended to. I can't see anyone on the other side suggesting a different course. If someone wants to drink alcohol and wants to gamble—both things which are legal in this country, particularly, of course, for adults—then, under this system, there's no reason that they can't. But what we're doing is limiting their access to alcohol and gambling by limiting the amount of welfare payments that can be available in cash. I don't think that's a bad thing. And I don't think that that 80-20 split is unreasonable.

We hear those opposite all the time telling people in this place—and outside it—that the welfare payments that are received by those in receipt of Newstart, now JobSeeker, are historically, and indeed even now, inadequate. I just find that position incongruous with their position on this issue. If it's inadequate, at 100 per cent, for the necessities of life, then surely you accept the concept that hypothecating 80 per cent of it for those necessities is reasonable.

This is by no marker an easy measure; I appreciate that. But nor is sitting with a young child and going through their parents' phone trying to find someone to look after them tonight because workers at family and youth services don't work after five o'clock. Nor is it easy to sit down with a young person who's just been to Woolworths and stolen food and have a conversation with them about the law and explain to them why they're in the predicament they're in and their peers are at school and off to play sport this afternoon. None of this is easy, but it's right. It's right that young people are supported in families that are subject to the support of the Commonwealth via welfare payments. It's right that that support makes it to the breakfast table, not the bookie's bag; the breakfast table, not the bottle-o; the breakfast table, not the drug deal.

I commend the bill in its original form to the House. I oppose the amendment and I ask those opposite to think about those children when they make statements in this place about the community not wanting this measure.

12:49 pm

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I have spoken about the cashless welfare card in this place on a number of occasions. I have taken the time to visit the trial site of Ceduna, and, with my Centre Alliance colleague Stirling Griff, I have also met many participants, as well as organisations and the police, in the trial site at Hervey Bay. I think it's fair to say that there are mixed views across all four trial sites, particularly the two where I had meetings.

This bill before us, the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020, seeks to make permanent the card in its current sites. It also seeks to transition people in the Northern Territory and in Queensland from the BasicsCard that they're on to the cashless debit card, and it intends to expand the card, as well as making it permanent, at any location across Australia at the minister's discretion.

One thing that I will say is that this card has been targeted at working-age payments. I have received a lot of emails from really concerned pensioners, and there's a lot of myth out there, as there often is with pieces of legislation, that this potential piece of legislation, or indeed any piece of legislation around the cashless welfare card, would transition pensioners onto the cashless welfare card. That is fundamentally incorrect, from what has been presented to us.

First of all, I think we need to look at the purpose of the cashless welfare card. In principle, it's designed to assist people to make positive choices with the spending of working-age Centrelink payments and to limit the amount of discretionary spending on alcohol and gambling. The card's divided so that 80 per cent of a Centrelink payment is put on the card, as well as any lump-sum payments, and 20 per cent of it is placed in a person's bank account. I think it's important that we acknowledge in this place that not everyone who is on a working-age Centrelink payment is spending money on alcohol or gambling. These isolated sites were chosen so that thorough research could be undertaken to determine whether the implementation of a cashless debit card had an overall positive or negative effect on the individual and, indeed, the community.

The challenge before us today is that, despite the trials being established for some years now—albeit for a much shorter time in Hervey Bay—the University of Adelaide report that was to look at the efficacy of the card in Ceduna, the Goldfields and the Kimberley region hasn't been released. From memory, I think this report was expected to be released at least a year ago. So to make this card permanent in those four locations, as well as potentially anywhere else in Australia, is quite a significant step in the social services policy area, and we're doing this without seeing any evidence—certainly without the evidence that the government has paid for from the University of Adelaide.

In the previous parliament, I was part of the Select Committee on Intergenerational Welfare Dependence. The committee's chair, the member for Monash, noted in his foreword that 'causes of entrenched disadvantage are complex', and that is true. I would say that entrenched disadvantage cannot be remedied through a card alone. If we really want to address disadvantage, we need to work in the long term with the whole of the family and ensure that there are training and job opportunities there, as well as pathways for people who have various addictions to address them. That committee report was tabled in February 2019, and I ask the government: please, look at the recommendations, and let's implement some of the recommendations. The work of the committee was very good, and it should not just be filed away to gather dust. It was a good report.

Without the release of the University of Adelaide report, in Centre Alliance's decision-making with respect to this bill we can only look at our own anecdotal evidence that we gathered at Ceduna and Hervey Bay. Ceduna was the first community that I visited. I visited it in December 2019 and met with a number of organisations and participants on the card, including the Ceduna day centre, the District Council of Ceduna and the Red Cross. I visited the town camp and the Sobering Up Unit, and of course I spoke with a number of residents who were on the card.

The results in Ceduna that I could gather, I would say, were mixed. If you talk to the District Council of Ceduna, they say the card has been transformational in their community. They say that it's reduced public drunkenness and antisocial behaviour and has increased tourism in the area. These are really good points. The Ceduna day centre said there hasn't been a lot of difference and that people get around the card by buying goods at the local store and then trying to sell them off for cash to tourists or people who live in the town so that they can then buy alcohol. With respect to participants, I spoke to some who were in favour of the card, some who felt that their personal rights were impacted upon, and some who were ambivalent and said that the card had not really affected their day-to-day life choices.

When the card was first introduced in Ceduna, there was a commitment to provide a range of social services for people, to address barriers to employment. To this day, Ceduna is still waiting for residential alcohol rehabilitation centres—any kind of service. All they have is a sobering-up unit. People go in there when they are very, very drunk. When they are able to leave, they just check themselves out. There are no rehabilitation services in Ceduna or indeed for several hours outside of Ceduna. Yesterday I checked on the TAFE website. For Ceduna, there is not one single course available. There is not a certificate I. There is not a white card. There is not a forklift licence. There is nothing. The community of Ceduna has been calling for residential rehab facilities for a long time. They are still waiting. If we are saying to people, 'The best chance of you gaining employment is to gain qualifications and to become job-ready', I think it's incumbent upon government—and in this case for the state government to work with the federal government—to ensure that there are courses available where the cards are located.

For Ceduna it would be really quite simple. Look at what's there: tourism, hospitality. There's no availability for a person living in Ceduna to undertake a certificate I, II or III in care. Yet when I went into the local employment agency in Ceduna there were vacancies on the board for care attendants. How do you get to be a care attendant if you can't do the course?

I visited the community of Hervey Bay with my colleague Senator Griff in November last year. I met with a number of organisations there, including the police. We held a roundtable with participants. I'm very grateful to everybody who gave their time. It must be quite exhausting in these trial sites to have members of parliament, as well as people who are undertaking research, constantly coming to ask questions about how the program is going. In Hervey Bay, police told us they were initially worried that there was going to be a rise in theft, particularly at outlets that sold alcohol. That wasn't seen. When I went to the Hinkler electorate the card was relatively new; I was there in November last year. COVID, unfortunately, has prevented me from returning there, but I would like to see how the card has developed in the area. I think it's fair to say that Queensland Police were keen for the card to continue. I met with members of St Vincent de Paul. I met with a number of other organisations. They, at the time, felt that the card should continue because more time was needed to bed it in and see whether it actually worked.

I met with We Care 2. They provide emergency food relief. They have a supermarket with very low-cost food and they said there had been a significant increase in people purchasing food at the supermarket. You would think that is a very good outcome, but we just don't have the evidence that has been commissioned by government. So again I would urge the government to release that report.

We did hear from participants who were concerned that the card had failed them in supermarkets. I understand that many of those teething issues have now been addressed. People were concerned initially that the card had the word 'Indue' on it. People felt that was discriminatory and they were anxious about having a card with 'Indue' on it. Again, I understand that 'Indue' has been removed and it's now a grey credit card just like many grey credit cards. But the great challenge we have is that the government has not presented the evidence. When you are looking at making something permanent, the parliament has a right to see the evidence for it. But we haven't seen that yet.

Everyone wants to live in a society where people have every opportunity to transition from Centrelink welfare into employment, but we need to make sure that we are working with people to make that transition. That means ensuring there are education opportunities. That means ensuring there is access to rehabilitation. We don't have that for those places yet.

I'll touch briefly on remote Aboriginal communities that are facing the transition from the BasicsCard to the CDC. The government hasn't done its homework here yet, and COVID has made it a challenge. But at this stage, without proper consultation—and also given the fact that remote communities do not have the internet connectivity you require to check the balance on your card—the government should not be moving people in the Northern Territory and in North Queensland over to the card. It should be a voluntary decision.

Where does Centre Alliance sit? At this point in time, we will not be supporting this legislation. We would support a continued extension of the trial in the four trial sites. However, that really would be the government's last chance. The government needs to put in the rehabilitation facilities that it promised in Ceduna. It needs to have those in all four trial sites. It needs to provide comprehensive education opportunities. No person living in Ceduna who jumps on the local TAFE website should see not a single course available. There is no chance for them, without skills, to get into employment. That would be disheartening. If a person has an addiction, knowing they can't access services is just not fair. We need to ensure that those services are put in place in all four trial sites, if we want to ensure that we give every opportunity to a person who's living in any of those four sites.

The government needs to invest in some longitudinal data. I would suggest the Hervey Bay region, seeing none of the research has been undertaken at that site. We need to look at whether this card is really working. We just don't know. It's a vibe at the moment; we just don't have the details. We need to know whether the card is reducing family violence and alcohol and substance misuse and doing what its goal is—supporting people to transition from welfare into employment. At this time, we don't have the evidence so we can't support this legislation.

1:03 pm

Photo of Julian SimmondsJulian Simmonds (Ryan, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020. Good governments identify issues and take action to make our community stronger and safer and to support all Australians. That's what the bill before the House does. It is yet another example of the Morrison government taking action to find the best way to support our communities and, importantly, allow people to take control of their own decisions and make good choices for their families and for their communities. The government is committed to delivering positive outcomes to vulnerable people, families and communities and to providing certainty to participants through support services. We know that, where there are high levels of welfare dependence, there are also high levels of social harm. We know that, if no action is taken, we cannot expect things to change or for these communities and these families to find an improved and better way.

That is why I support the government's ongoing commitment to the cashless debit card. The cashless debit card supports the government's commitment to an effective and fair welfare system and aims to reduce harm in communities where high levels of alcohol and drug misuse and gambling coexist with high levels of welfare dependence. Importantly, the program is working. Minister Ruston has spoken often about the feedback on the ground that the government is getting—the positive stories—not just from participants but also, importantly, from first responders who are located in these communities and dealing with the inevitable outcomes that come from alcohol and drug misuse and gambling.

Those who are on the front line are seeing the difference in the number of offences that are occurring, the severity of offences and, as the member for Barker spoke about so well, the opportunities and outlook for these families, particularly kids whose families are struggling with these issues. The card is even proving to be a way in which disadvantaged communities are facilitating proper budgeting to support themselves and their families. The cashless debit card encourages better choices and provides the tools with which to encourage greater financial control, positive decisions and, if at all possible, an end to that cycle of addiction.

But don't take it from me. Members of the House can take it from people who are out there using the cashless debit card. One participant in the cashless debit card evaluation said: 'Because I was a bad drinker, sometimes I couldn't control how I spent my money and stuff, so I would waste it and then sober up and think, where's all my money gone? Now I find it good for me, because I still have that money there if I spend all my cash. I probably drink once a week.' Another participant said: 'Some people have been saving the money in their cashless debit card and purchasing bigger items. It's working. It's like a kitty, that savings. If they look at it like that, some of them, if they're not drinkers or they're not spending all their money in one go, it can be that kind of savings.'

This is the kind of positive change that the program is helping people create. It is helping people to take control of their lives in a more practical and meaningful way. It is making a real and tangible difference to those Australians, to those Australian families and to those communities—who, quite frankly, are grappling with these kinds of issues and struggling financially as they do so. And that feedback from participants who are using the card isn't our only measure of success. Where this program has been taken up, the numbers speak for themselves. The trials in my home state of Queensland, in the regional communities of Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, show that youth unemployment dropped from 28 per cent in May 2018 to 18.1 per cent in May 2019. That is a drop of almost 10 per cent in a 12-month period.

In fact, an ANU evaluation, in reference to the trial sites across the country, noted 'consistent and clear evidence that alcohol consumption has reduced since the introduction of the cashless debit card'. The evaluation also found: 'The cashless debit card is helping to reduce gambling, with positive impacts, especially in the context of family and broader social life.' We will of course continue as a government to listen to the feedback and monitor the rollout of the card and the value it presents to some of our most vulnerable individuals and communities. But we should all continue to be seeking to work towards the positive outcomes that we have already experienced as part of this trial.

Look, you cannot guarantee that everybody will make positive choices. We know that, and we know that the hold of addiction can be incredibly strong. I say to Labor members opposite: Why not allow us to use every opportunity we can to help people take that control, take that path out of addiction and make positive changes and positive choices in their lives? Why don't we use every opportunity that we have to make that difference in these vulnerable communities, especially a difference like this one where there is such tangible evidence that it is achieving a difference for the better? Why would we suddenly put that back in our holster, not to be used again? Of course we wouldn't. If we're seeing results like that in terms of how the trial has been conducted, of course we want to see it continue.

As we know, any welfare measure is ideally a temporary one and is also tied to other measures that help people achieve a job. The best form of welfare is a job, and this bill works in tandem with the other things that the Morrison government is doing to ensure that there are opportunities in these communities to get into full-time and gainful employment. We on this side the House know that a job isn't just a pay cheque for people. We know that it is an opportunity for their family; it is security and self-worth for the individual; and it is independence for these communities. The member for Mayo spoke on this just before, and, while I don't agree with everything she said in her speech, I will take her up on this point that she made. It is not the card alone that achieves change in these communities, and we know that; it is a suite of measures, including training and employment opportunities, that work as a whole to ensure that people can make positive choices for their families. We know that this government has a record of achieving just that. Prior to COVID, more than 1.5 million jobs had been created right across the country by this government. That is an extraordinary achievement. We promised that we would create jobs and we did it. We know how to do it and we will continue to do it. We will do it again as we climb out of the COVID-19 recession. No-one could have predicted the crisis that hit us with COVID-19, but the Morrison government's reaction has been strong, swift and effective in the form of implementing JobSeeker and JobKeeper. That has sent a strong message to all Australians that this government has their back through what are some of the toughest times that we've had during the year 2020, and we certainly do still have their back.

The most important part of Australia's economic recovery is yet to come, and that is getting Australians back into jobs, getting them back into work and maintaining the work that they currently have. We saw, in the recent budget that the Treasurer presented, that that forms a key part of our economic recovery plan for Australia. I want to commend the work that the Prime Minister and the minister for small business, Michaelia Cash, are doing through the JobMaker program, preparing our labour market for the future by strengthening the education and training sector and the education and training opportunities for all Australians. Significant work has been done in this area. Perhaps that work is not as well recognised as we would have hoped—based on what we heard from the previous speaker, the member for Mayo—but significant work and effort have gone into making sure that, if people aren't in full-time employment at the moment because of COVID-19, they have the opportunity to spend that time strengthening their education and training.

Just this week, Labor spent what time they have outside of their own internal problems—because that's taking up most of the Labor members' time, effort and energy—talking down the JobMaker hiring credit. That is a great shame. This program is providing a real incentive for businesses to hire young Australians to help them get back into the workforce. Yesterday in question time, we heard the Treasurer reiterate again that young Australians are incredibly hard hit by the COVID-19 recession. They have an unemployment rate double that of other age demographics. They need extra help. We know that youth unemployment, in particular, takes a long time to bounce back from a recession, and it needs particular focus and support. The JobMaker hiring credit will do that. In the same way that JobKeeper has been supporting 3.5 million workers to stay in a job, the JobMaker hiring credit will now support 450,000 younger workers to get back into employment and no longer be on that income support.

We know we must take these steps to help young people in particular to access job opportunities and to reconnect them with the labour force as the economy recovers from the effects of the coronavirus. We do not want to condemn our young Australians—an entire generation of Australians—to long-term unemployment because they failed to get to that first rung on the employment ladder. We want to make sure that there is a particular focus on helping them achieve their goals and aspirations, because, after all, that is what our Australian community is all about.

The fact that those Labor members opposite don't understand the importance of this measure only further demonstrates to Australians how out of touch the Labor members are and how it's only this government that has their backs and only this government that they can trust to focus on ensuring that there are job opportunities out there in the Australian market, for them to get back to work, so that, at the end of the day, they can provide the opportunities that they want for their families and see them prosper.

To go back to the substantive legislation: we support this particular bill. It is a very important bill. We want to support these communities as they seek to make positive choices and to tackle, as a community, the scourge of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction which can hold some people so very strongly. We want to enable positive choices for these families. At the end of the day, it's these people in these communities who will work with the tools that are provided in this bill—in this case, the debit card—to provide positive change and positive choices for their families, and allow them to achieve their aspirations in the Australian community.

1:17 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to place on record a few brief remarks about the Greens' position on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020. When the bill goes to the Senate, Senator Rachel Siewert will put our position in more detail and at greater length. Very briefly, the Greens oppose this bill, and I stand here representing the party as the only party to consistently oppose the cashless debit card.

Our opposition to it starts from a very basic proposition, which is that you don't lift people out of disadvantage or poverty by taking away their rights. It's astounding that this government, which depicts itself as the government of the freedom of the individual and of freedom of choice, is quite happy to say to millionaires that it wants to give them tax cuts because the money is theirs and never has been the government's and they should have total freedom as to how to spend it, and yet, when it comes to those on the lowest incomes, those in this government are prepared to chuck overboard their so-called principles about individual liberty and individual choice and instead impose, on whole ranges of people, a massive restriction on how individuals live their lives that they would never accept for themselves.

After numerous attempts to extend the trials, year-on-year, the government's true intentions in this bill have finally been revealed. They are to make the cashless debit card trial sites—in the East Kimberley, the Goldfields, Ceduna and Bundaberg—permanent, and also to extend it to over 25,000 people in the Northern Territory, despite First Nations communities coming out against it. There's widespread opposition to this bill. In fact, only 10 per cent of the submissions to the Senate inquiry supported the bill. Making the cashless debit card permanent paves the way for the Commonwealth and the companies that profit from the card to advocate for broader implementation of the card across Australia.

As I mentioned at the start, that's why, from the outset, we were the only party to say, 'No, this is a bad idea,' because it was never going to be about a trial for one particular community; it was always going to be something that the government wanted to do to extend control over how individuals behave and to remove freedoms and liberties from broad swathes of the population in ways that they would not be prepared to do to themselves.

Briefly, I repeat that Senator Siewert and our other senators will go into more detail when the bill comes before the Senate. We consider that this government is, again, imposing policy on First Nations people who are going to be disproportionately impacted by the cashless debit card and that this bill is in direct opposition to the National Agreement on Closing the Gap. As Professor Altman has powerfully noted, even before the ink is properly dry on this unprecedented agreement—that is, between all governments and the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations—the Australian government, as the key signatory, is looking to unilaterally introduce laws that disempower rather than empower about 28,000 Indigenous Australians.

This bill has not been developed in full and genuine partnership with First Nations peoples and does not have regard for self-determination. There's no evidence to support the card, and it is expensive and lacking in transparency. There are significant human rights concerns, and we consider—together with many others across this country—that this is a paternalistic, racist and punitive measure. It's driven by ideology, it ignores all the evidence and it flies in the face of the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap. The evidence demonstrates that compulsory income management does not work. It's not meeting its stated objectives and it's been extended here on the basis of flawed data and ideology. Compulsory income management in all its various forms should be abandoned and the resources invested in approaches that are therapeutic, individualised and genuinely supported by the community.

Debate adjourned.