Thursday, 10 December 2020
Cashless Debit Card
I welcome the fact that the cashless debit card trials have been extended for two years in Australia. But, at the same time, I must say I'm really disappointed that they haven't become permanent in the sites that are designated, including Ceduna in my electorate of Grey—which was, of course, the first site to nominate itself for the process. I might point out that the people of Ceduna, the committees of Ceduna, the representatives of the people of Ceduna, had a hand in drafting the original rules around the cashless debit card, and, indeed, the 80-20 income split came from Ceduna. I was asked on ABC Radio this morning how I felt the debate had gone in Canberra this week. I said I was pretty disappointed with it, especially the allegations, coming mainly from the Labor Party, I must say, that the card is racist. And I think, by inference, accusing those who support the card of being racist. I find that offensive. I find it absolutely offensive, I must say. As I did on radio this morning, I make the point that I have always thought that one of the most important steps in this debate was the designation of Gladstone as a trial site. Gladstone has an Indigenous population of 4.1 per cent. Australia has an Indigenous population of 3.3 per cent. I always made the point that it's important that we have a trial of this card in a community that is not designated as Indigenous—and we do. We do have a trial there, but not with the help of the Labor Party. The Labor Party opposed that trial. So, in fact, the proof is on the line—it is not racist. It targets people of working age who are on a welfare benefit. If they are managing their welfare benefit well, they can get off the card. But many choose to stay on it anyhow.
I don't know if you remember Joe South, Mr Deputy Speaker, but Joe South wrote and sang a song in 1969 called Walk a mile in my shoes, which had the following lyrics:
Just walk a mile in my shoes
Before you abuse, criticize and accuse
How is it that the people of Ceduna, the Goldfields, of Kununurra and of Gladstone have to fight for their right every 12 months to get an extension on this card—and now in two years time—when this is what they want? This is my community. I go there and I speak to the people in the streets, I speak to the community leaders, I speak to the council and I speak to the service providers there. One woman I spoke to, who was about 55 or maybe 60, said: 'I was against this card. I was against this card,' and then she grabbed me on the arm and she said, 'Don't you let them take it away.' But she still has to fight for the right to have this card, because all these people from the east of Australia—from the universities, from social services and high-paid lawyers—are telling them what they should have, as if they don't have a right to actually articulate for themselves.
It is not just the people that are on the welfare card that say, Keep the card'. The rest of the community say it too, because they too have rights and the card benefits them as well. The community is calmer, there are fewer ructions on the street and there are fewer people reporting domestic violence. It is a better place. One young said to me, 'Oh, they got all the numbers, they got all this and they got all that, but I just know that it's a better place.' I don't feel like I'm backing a racist policy. I don't feel like I'm a racist, and I don't feel like the people of Ceduna who tell me to keep this card going permanently are racists either.
I take umbrage at the way this debate has been run this week. I know opposition is a frustrating time. I spent six years there myself. But picking away at good community policy in this way is really a very low path. I condemn those who oppose this. I certainly condemn those who have played the racist card. I hope in two years time, when it comes back up, we have a different parliament and we don't have to fight for the right for the card continue.