Thursday, 10 December 2020
Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020; Consideration of Senate Message
I rise not to speak against the amendments but to make it very clear where Labor sits in relation to this piece of legislation. It has been five years since the government started the so-called trial of the cashless debit card. It hasn't worked. The government has provided no evidence that it has worked, and not enough community support is obvious. The government has spent $2.5 million on a University of Adelaide report they refused to release. This raises enormous suspicion about the content of that particular report. The member for Bass, in this place, a member of government, said:
Applying a broad brush to all recipients in the current sites, no matter their circumstances, is harmful and unhelpful.
There's a high level of anxiety that exists elsewhere in the country beyond the three trial sites. In the northern Tasmanian community that I proudly represent, I've had distressed people, including pensioners, ask me if they will end up having their income managed. And with the amount of time and money spent in addressing the current challenges of this program, it is difficult to believe that this program will end with these current sites.
Last night in the Senate, the minister was repeatedly asked and repeatedly refused to give a guarantee that this card would not be expanded, both geographically and to other Centrelink recipients on other payments. Matt Canavan, earlier in the week, called for a national rollout—I'll talk about that in a little while. It is clear there is a plan for a national rollout. Technology working groups with the banks, supermarkets and Australia Post have been established. The government has spent $3 million improving technology. The only reason to do this is if you are planning a national rollout to more places and more people. The member for Bass in this place also said:
I also have a fundamental problem with how this program and this legislation aligns with my own principles. As a Liberal, I believe in personal and individual responsibility. It's the very foundation of our core principles. We work towards a lean government that minimises interference in our daily lives. Forcing the cashless debit card program on to people unless, or until, they can prove to the government that they can manage their own finances is antithetical to these principles. Do these principles only apply if you're not poor? I believe we're better than that.
Senator Lambie, in the Senate said last night, said:
But I've always said to the government: if you want to make this thing happen, you can't let the card be the only thing you do. It's not a magic wand. You can't wave it at people and expect things to somehow get better, because the problems that you see in the trial sites need a lot more than the cashless debit card to fix, and that's what I heard every time I went to the trial sites. I heard it in the Northern Territory too. Those people up there can't live better lives with just the cashless debit card. They need jobs, they need medical facilities, they need counsellors and they need skills training.
Last night Senator Patrick, in the other place, said:
In the end, weighing up all the evidence, the difficulty for me is that the government has not made out its case. When I balance up everything I've seen, unfortunately, the data to support the concept that the card will achieve what it is intended to achieve is not there.
The government has made a mistake, let me assure you, pressing ahead with this watered down bill. The government's amendments are a backdown and an acknowledgement that there is community anxiety about this card. It is a kick and an affront to those thousands of Australians who have done nothing wrong. This government has consistently failed to— (Time expired)
Thank you. The government has consistently failed to prove this works. It has refused to release the much anticipated $2.5 million University of Adelaide evaluation. This has caused significant hardship for the people placed on this card. Many have been prevented from purchasing basics and essentials at affordable prices. It is structurally racist, with two-thirds of participants being First Nations people—83 per cent in the Northern Territory, 82 per cent in East Kimberley. You only need to read Bridget Archer's speech to the parliament to be reminded of the anxiety about this card in the community.
The question now is: what happens next? It is clear that the government is determined to expand this card in a national rollout. The Prime Minister has foreshadowed it. The Minister for Families and Social Services foreshadowed it. Matt Canavan and Andrew Wallace are outright calling for a national rollout. Where next? Tasmania? Who next? Pensioners? The government needs to listen and learn. Continuing with this policy is a massive mistake and it's been brought upon the government by itself.
The original legislation passed the House of Representatives by one. The watered down legislation passed the Senate last night by one—hardly a ringing endorsement. The government was so exercised to get something passed that the legislation last night was what they got through. The original legislation that was sitting there in the minister's bottom drawer was more draconian and that sat there. The government was caught out not understanding community sentiment and resistance to this particular measure. I will finish up by saying extremely clearly to the House: Labor will continue to oppose this card. Labor will continue to oppose this legislation. Mandatory income management does not work.
Just to put on the record the Greens' position here: the cashless welfare card must be stopped. It is punitive, it is racist and it's got to go. The Greens have said that since day one. We've been the only party in this place to oppose it from the beginning, and oppose it consistently all the way through, because you don't lift people out of disadvantage by taking away their rights. You don't improve people's situations by taking away their rights. That's why there has been no evidence that the government can bring forward to suggest that this card works.
It is purely ideologically driven. The ideology that drives it from the government is a hypocritical one, because they come in here and say, 'We need to give tax cuts to everyone because it's people's money and they're better placed to decide how to spend it rather than the government.' Yet when it comes to poor people, when it comes to First Nations people, the government has the opposite approach. The government comes in and says, 'You don't even deserve the dignity, the right and the autonomy of deciding how to spend your own money. We're going to come in and control you.' That is going to entrench poverty and entrench disadvantage. We need a different approach, which is what the Greens have argued for from the beginning, which is an approach of self-determination and self-empowerment where government's role is to empower people, rather than take away their rights and take away the control that they have to run and manage their own lives.
Whenever the government says, 'We want tax cuts because people deserve the right to manage their own money,' don't believe them for a second. If they really believed that they wouldn't be pushing ahead with this punitive, racist, draconian legislation that they are. But that's what the government is doing. The government's motivation for tax cuts is just to help out its billionaire mates and help out the rich. And the government's motivation for this bill is to punish the poor, the disadvantaged and First Nations communities. It started with First Nations communities, but, as the previous speaker said, many members of the government have belled the cat. They want to roll it out right across the board. They want anyone who's doing it tough in this country to be under the thumb of the government and be controlled by the government. That is this government's approach to people who are doing it tough. That's why from the beginning we have stood firm against this, and we are going to continue to stand firm.
Last night in the Senate this legislation came within a whisker of being defeated. It came out of the Senate in a different form, where it is not being made permanent and is only going to continue as a trial. That is a step forward from where we were before, and it should be the signal to this government that this card is on its last legs and it's time to end it. We're going to keep fighting until it is in the bin. The reason that the bill was not defeated in the Senate, when it could have been, is that, instead of holding the government to account, Centre Alliance held hands with the government. After telling their constituents in South Australia that they were going to oppose this bill, they didn't. Because Centre Alliance senators from South Australia didn't oppose the bill, it got through. Because they didn't do what they said to people they were going to do, it got through. What's crystal clear from this is that Centre Alliance senators will say one thing in South Australia and then vote differently in Canberra. The Greens will be consistent. The Greens oppose this card.