House debates

Tuesday, 2 August 2022


Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading

4:40 pm

Photo of Michael SukkarMichael Sukkar (Deakin, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I will continue my remarks from earlier and reiterate that we will be opposing this very destructive bill that, as I said in my earlier remarks, are unlike few bills we see in this place, where we know what the consequences will be. We know that abolishing the cashless debit card is going to unleash a tsunami of alcohol and drugs into vulnerable communities. We know that the people who will suffer the most from that tsunami of additional alcohol and drugs will be defenceless children who will be neglected and—predominantly—women who will suffer domestic violence.

It was very telling in question time when I asked the Prime Minister if he would guarantee that repealing the cashless debit card would not lead to more women and children suffering from violence. He wouldn't answer it and nor would his minister, who he referred the question to. The question was beneath him as Prime Minister to answer.

As I said earlier in my remarks, I'm not a person in this House who has imputed motives against people who I think predominantly come to this chamber to do the right thing. But members opposite must know in the fibre of their beings that unleashing alcohol and drugs into these communities will be destructive, so I appeal to all members of the government—I suspect they're too far down this path now—to reflect on their own conscience.

If the members of the government that want to repeal the cashless debit card don't believe me, let me refer to some more comments from those who are in these communities or who are indeed people on the cashless debit card themselves. Here is from a CDC participant in Kalgoorlie: 'I'm on the CDC and it works fine. I have more money for food and I get my Woolworths groceries online.' Another participant and services worker said, 'Kids are no longer hungry. They are at school with lunches and school uniforms.' A community elder in East Kimberley said, 'My son had a long-term problem with grog for five years. After the CDC came in, it helped him get sober and now he's working with a well-known Indigenous TV personality as a cultural adviser. It's changed his life. His wife is also working now.' From a women's refuge worker in the East Kimberley: 'Since the CDC, the seriousness of assaults seen by the refuge has declined.' From a CDC participant in East Kimberley: 'Grog not going to get your mob nowhere. Mothers and kids should stay on the cards, as kids are no longer looking for food like they used to'. Now what ideology drives members opposite to say to that woman, who has said, 'the kids are no longer looking for food like they used to', that it is okay if that child has to search for food again and is neglected again? What ideology drives members opposite to say to the worker in a women's refuge: 'It's okay. You will return back to see even more women suffering violence'? There's no way to really politely have this discussion and to brush over what's happening. Predominantly women will suffer violence because of this. Children will suffer violence. Children will suffer from neglect or, as one CDC participant said, 'will go hungry'. I know these communities in Ceduna, East Kimberley and other places around the country are a long way from Canberra, but I would say to the members of the government: this is now on you; this is on you.

Now, I know why the Prime Minister refused to give an assurance that more women and children wouldn't suffer from violence when the CDC is removed, because he must know. His minister must know. How heartless and cruel and how driven by ideology must you otherwise-decent people be to do that? I'm appealing to the Labor Party. I'm appealing to their conscience. This bill will lead to devastating consequences in these communities. It gives me no joy to be here speaking about this. It gives me no joy being here criticising the government. People, I'm sure, in the gallery and watching on TV think that the opposition gets off on just bashing the government. I wish that I did not have to criticise the government about this. I wish that there was unity in this parliament today that said 'More drugs, more alcohol in these communities is a bad thing,' and what those opposite are saying is that they don't care.

The minister in question time has now, on successive occasions, used the ANAO report as some sort of shield for her decision. She's selectively quoted from it. Let me take the House to what I think is the most striking part of this report. It's on page 48 of the Auditor-General's report into the implementation and performance of the cashless debit card trial, table 3.4, 'Assessment of 2020-21 performance measures for the Cashless Debit Card'. The minister has quoted from this report a couple of times in question time now, so she should have the courage to come in and rebut what this table says. The performance measure in table 3.4 is the 'extent to which the CDC supports a reduction in social harm in our communities.' The conclusion from the ANAO is that it 'fully and/or mostly meets' these requirements. The data's reliable. There's been a measurable, verifiable method, and it's free from bias. The consequences are that it supports a reduction of social harm in communities.

What I've tried to do in my remarks today is get away from the ANAO report or the University of Adelaide report, which shows a succession of improvements in communities where the CDC trials have been—reduced alcohol, reduced drugs, higher classroom attendance from children, lower neglect of children. I might say the voiceless in this debate are the children. The children don't get interviewed. No-one interviews the children and asks them: 'Are you suffering less neglect? Do you have breakfast, lunch and dinner? Do you have to lock yourself in a shipping container overnight?' Children are locking themselves in shipping containers, barricading themselves in shipping containers overnight, to save themselves from being sexually abused.

Photo of Linda BurneyLinda Burney (Barton, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Indigenous Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

Where does that happen?

Photo of Michael SukkarMichael Sukkar (Deakin, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll explain that to the member.

Photo of Linda BurneyLinda Burney (Barton, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Indigenous Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. I've heard that a bit.

Photo of Michael SukkarMichael Sukkar (Deakin, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, you should've heard it and you should know it. The fact that you're going to vote for this is an absolute disgrace. Children are locking themselves in shipping containers to save themselves from being sexually abused, and what's the government going to do? Pour more alcohol and pour more drugs into these communities. The participant I spoke about earlier said, 'The children no longer go hungry.'

Ministers and members over there might be wilfully blind, but you don't need a University of Adelaide report and you don't need an ANAO report that says that the CDC supports a reduction in social harm. If you asked your average Australian on the street, 'Is taking alcohol and drugs out of these vulnerable communities going to help women and children predominantly?' 99 out of 100 would say: 'Of course. I don't need a university report to tell me that. I don't need the Australian National Audit Office to tell me that.' Australians have a lot of common sense and have much more sense than this government thinks.

It was very telling that the Prime Minister and the minister would not make the commitment that removing the CDC would not lead to more women and children being harmed. Clearly that means that every additional woman who suffers domestic violence and every additional child who is neglected, doesn't get to school, doesn't have food and suffers sexual or other violence—every additional person who suffers—will be as a result of a decision taken by those opposite. Quite frankly, that's on their conscience. They are otherwise decent people, but that will be on their conscience. On this side of the House we will sleep easy knowing that we stood with those communities. I'll sleep very easy knowing we protected those children, but I won't sleep easy tonight thinking about the children who are going to suffer, because, regardless of the political games that go on in this place, it breaks my heart—and I really mean it—to think that children will probably be the people who suffer the most. Guess what? The children don't get interviewed for the ANAO report and the children don't get interviewed by the University of Adelaide.

The Assistant Minister for Social Services and Assistant Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, who is guffawing opposite me, hasn't even visited the Goldfields, where they are shuddering at the prospect of this. It's on those opposite. It will give me no joy to see the carnage that will follow from this decision. It will give me no joy. It will be my obligation to highlight it and it will be my obligation to ensure that Australians see the consequences of this craven decision, but it will give me absolutely no joy, because, as a father, I think about this policy that is going to leave children hungry. This is not me; these are not my words—these are from a community elder. 'The kids are not going hungry,' that community elder said. The inverse of that is that more children will now go hungry. There will be more violence perpetrated against women and more violence perpetrated against children. That is not something that the coalition could ever support or would ever support and, therefore, we will be opposing this terrible bill.

4:54 pm

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022. It is both an absolute honour and a privilege to be speaking on this bill, because it delivers on the Albanese Labor government's election commitment to abolish the cashless debit card.

We were very proud to make that commitment, and we are proud now to be abolishing the cashless debit card for all of the devastation it has brought across the country. On day one of this new parliament, the Minister for Social Services introduced this bill into the House. This bill, which is the product of extensive community consultation, will end the cashless debit card and allow approximately 17,300 participants to transition off the card.

We also announced last week that, as part of abolishing the scheme, the government will close the cashless debit card program to all new entrants from 1 August. So, as of today, no new people will be forced onto the card. The fact is the cashless debit card is privatised welfare. There is something deeply, deeply wrong when private, for-profit companies control people's income support payments or determine where people can actually spend their money.

We know the former government spent $170 million on the cashless debit card program—money which could have been better invested in the support services that local communities need. The cashless debit card has been operating across Australia for six years in those trial sites. The former government introduced the card in Ceduna in 2016, but over time it was expanded to the East Kimberley, Goldfields, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay areas, and, most recently, to the Northern Territory and Cape York as well.

The concerns that many people raised were that the previous government actually intended to roll it out even further—much further.

An opposition member: Yes!

It's good to now hear the opposition confirm their plans and confirm that they were going to roll out the cashless debit card across the country. Labor shared all of those concerns. The cashless debit card was wrong and destructive. We know the former government wanted to roll it out further—even to age pensioners, who were very concerned about that.

The cashless debit card has been a complete failure and it has destroyed lives. There has never been evidence to show that the cashless debit card is actually working. There have been so many evaluations, inquiries and audits that have repeatedly shown, in clear data, that the card does not work. It just does not work. Just recently, the Australian National Audit Office released its latest audit on the performance of the cashless debit card, highlighting once more the lack of evidence available to demonstrate any success of the card at all.

I was recently in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, and I met with many people who were forced onto the card—people like Kerryn Griffis, who, in fact, was then rejoicing that she was finally able to get off the card after being forced onto it for an incredibly traumatic three years. Kerryn's a mother of five and is one of the thousands of Australians whose spending was restricted, as she lived in one of those trial sites. As Kerryn said: 'It has massively negatively impacted mine and my kids' lives. It has been a nightmare being on the card. It's been traumatic. There just isn't a better word.' Kerryn said that life without the card meant her family would have their freedom back. 'I cannot wait', she said. 'I'm going to be able to have flexibility with my finances. I'm not going to be restricted by which bill I will and won't pay, and my kids are looking forward to having pocket money again.'

Being forced onto the card meant that those people had 80 per cent of their government payments placed onto the Indue controlled cashless debit card, which could only be used in approved locations for approved purchases and could not be used to withdraw cash. In opposition, we established the Protecting Pensioners Taskforce. As the chair, I was inundated with heartbreaking stories from those people who had already been forced onto the card, people who were cruelly directed by the previous government about where and when they could actually spend their own money.

Today I'd like to especially acknowledge the secretary of that task force, my good friend the member for Bruce, who also worked tirelessly to get rid of this cruel card. For many months we campaigned on this issue. We committed to abolish the card, because of how destructive it has been. And now we are delivering on this. We listened and we're acting.

We know that the former government wanted to roll the cashless card out nationally. We heard them say it many, many times, and they wanted to extend the card's operation to many more pensioners, including age pensioners. Our seniors built this nation. They worked hard, paid their taxes and raised their families, and they deserve to be treated with respect, and that's exactly what they get under an Albanese Labor government. They are being treated with respect.

Many individuals and community groups have worked incredibly hard for years to get rid of this card. I would like to especially thank groups like No Cashless Debit Card Australia and Say No Seven for your tireless work. I want to acknowledge Kathryn Wilkes and Amanda Smith. Your commitment and hard work is inspirational. Groups like Say No Seven and No Cashless Debit Card Australia have worked so hard for so long for this to happen. They have been advocating everywhere for years to get rid of this card. They have been collecting stories and evidence from across the nation. Thanks to both of you. You are wonderful. And thanks so much to the more than 50,000 people across the country who signed our petition to get rid of this card.

I have spoken with so many people who have described the impact of being on the card and how it stigmatises them and makes their lives so incredibly difficult. Examples such as: 'Usage of the card is actually extremely restricted at the locations that it can be used at. The card is often declined.' Many people are not able to buy basic food or groceries. Families often have to leave their groceries at the store. They're not able to buy them. Their card is so often declined. Many families are unable to pay their rent. Many people have been forced into bankruptcy. Many have been unable to make car repayments. In so many cases, they're not able to buy second-hand clothes or school uniforms because they can't access cash to buy them. A lot of people buy them through Facebook groups by using cash to buy second-hand uniforms. They can't afford to buy them. So this has had a devastating effect on individuals. It is degrading. And this card has stripped away many people's rights and in many cases their dignity.

I'd like to highlight again a case I've told the House before, the case of Bianca. Bianca has to wear plus-size bras—size 16H. She can only afford to this buy this specific bra on eBay, which is a blocked merchant under this scheme. So what did Indue make Bianca do? They insisted she send photos of the bra. Then she had to get permission to do it. Then show proof of purchase. She was completely humiliated buying a bra that she could've bought on eBay. Instead she had to go through this really degrading process.

There is also the case of Joslyn, who is 65 years old and on a disability pension, who was forced on to the cashless welfare card just because of where she lives. She has always managed her own finances. As Joslyn says, 'I don't need anyone else to do it for me or to know what I am spending my money on. It's hard enough being on a pension without 80 per cent of it being put on a card you can't use everywhere.' This card is insulting and demeaning. It is downright wrong.

Pending the passage of this legislation, this bill will enable more than 17,300 existing cashless debit card participants to be transitioned off the card, which we aim to be from September this year. It will also ensure that the Family Responsibilities Commission can continue to support community members by placing them on income management where the need exists or they do want to be on it.

I want to make it clear that for participants transitioning off there is no requirement, after this bill passes, for a participant to prove anything in order to move off the card.

Secondly, every participant will be transitioned off the card once this bill passes the parliament. The CDC will be abolished; it will no longer exist. Of course, where participants require continued assistance with budgeting, transferring direct debits from the cashless debit card or referrals to other support services, there will be help available. We want to ensure we provide that support to people as they transition off the card. We are consulting with them to make sure there are support services for them, unlike when they were placed onto the card. It just happened.

Part of that support includes the option for voluntary income management if people choose. That's what voluntary income management is. They have to choose that. And when it comes to income management, the primary principles around it should be that it's voluntary, that it is not privatised, that it's supported by evidence and that it's subject to ongoing evaluation. We respect the rights of some individuals or communities who may want to voluntarily be on income management. But it is being approached in a very different way by this government, as opposed to the former government, who forced so many people onto the card.

Our government is committed to ensuring communities and individuals are properly supported to transition off the card. We will continue to keep consulting with those people on the cashless debit card in those communities about the future of the support services that had been funded through this program. We do want to provide that individual support to people who may need assistance with processing issues, particularly around moving payments and where they may be taken from.

We have listened to many people. We have listened to First Nations community leaders, we have listened to service providers and, very importantly, we have listened to cashless debit card participants in these communities. We have heard them loud and clear. Thousands and thousands of people that have been on this card have made their views incredibly clear to us over a very long period of time.

The fact is, as I said early on in my contribution, privatised welfare does not work. I think nothing highlights that more than the disaster of the cashless debit card. So many people have told me, have told us, about the shame and anguish the card brings, and it makes them feel like they are constantly being punished and demonised. Well, the Albanese government has said enough is enough. We are calling time on the cashless debit card. We have listened. We know what people have been through. The fact is that there is a better way.

That's why the Prime Minister said that removing the card would be absolutely central to our agenda if we were elected to government. We have moved very decisively to abolish the cashless debit card in the first week of the new parliament. As I said, the minister introduced this on day one of the 47th parliament. We did that because we have listened to what people have said across the country. We know how harmful this card has been. It would not have been without the loud voices of people across the country, particularly, as I said, No Cashless Debit Card Australia and Say No Seven, who made their voices so clear and made this happen, and the Australian people who voted for change for a number of reasons. One of those reasons was to get rid of the cashless debit card.

Now we're doing that. We're doing all of that because our government, the Albanese Labor government, believes no-one should be left behind at all, and these people had been left behind by the previous government. We are looking out for the most disadvantaged and the most vulnerable in our country. It's for that reason that I am very privileged to be speaking today on abolishing the cashless debit card. I commend the bill to the House.

5:09 pm

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to oppose the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022. I want to put on the record, firstly, my acknowledgement of the courageous and compassionate members of my Goldfields community who have fought so hard since 2015 to secure and retain the cashless debit card trial in the city of Kalgoorlie-Boulder and the shires of Coolgardie, Menzies, Leonora and Laverton. I stand proud of the achievements of community leaders like John Bowler, shire presidents Mal Cullen, Peter Craig, Pat Hill, Greg and Jill Dwyer and their CEOs and elected councillors and the longstanding residents, strong advocates for the communities they love. I herald the bravery of Indigenous elders and leaders who spoke out about the realities of how grog, drugs and gambling were ruining their daily lives, eroding their culture and robbing their children and youth not only of their youth but also of hope.

I've spoken many times in this House about how the cashless debit card came to the goldfields, and one of the things that I find most offensive about the minister's second reading speech and also her answer to the dorothy dixer in question time last week is that the cashless debit card was imposed because of some ideological bent of the coalition. In November 2015 I travelled to the town of Leonora, 236 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, to attend the end-of-year school presentations. I arrived in town to find the people absolutely devastated because that week two 16-year-old girls had taken their own life. No-one will ever know those girls' stories, but what I was told by the people there was that repeated sexual abuse was the most likely reason that those beautiful young people decided that their life wasn't worth living.

That evening I was having dinner in the Central Hotel, and one of the local elders, Nana Gay Harris, came up to my table and sat down. She poured out her frustration, her despair, at the situation that their community found themselves in. I said to her: 'I'm sorry, but I don't have an answer that's going to solve your problems. But I have heard about a cashless debit card trial that we're running in Ceduna which quarantines some income to a card and some income to your normal bank account.' I actually didn't know much about the detail of it at the time, but I said to Nana Gay, 'Would you be interested in learning more about this?' She said, 'Absolutely we would be.' So I rang Minister Alan Tudge, who was then Assistant Minister for Social Services, and I explained the situation. Within two weeks Minister Tudge was sitting in the shire chambers in Leonora with Nana Gay Harris, other Indigenous leaders and the local shire council to discuss and explain what the cashless debit card meant and how it might work to help their community. This was in December 2015.

What followed then was a process of consultation across the goldfields. The other goldfields communities said, 'We'd be interested in learning more about this.' The Department of Social Services carried out consultations, and 270 consultations later—I attended some of them, not all, but everybody had an opportunity to come along and listen, hear what was on offer, hear what the implications of having a card were—at the end of the day they were pretty keen to give it a go because their communities were suffering. I gave a commitment, as the member for O'Connor, that no community would have the cashless debit card enforced on them. In the community of Tjuntjuntjara, which is 600 kilometres east of Kalgoorlie and is part of the Menzies shire, they didn't want to have the card. I flew out there with the DSS, and we sat under a tree in 42 degree heat. We discussed the card, and at the end of that discussion one of the local elders, Deb, stood up and said: 'We don't want this fella here. We don't want the card.' I said, 'That's fine, you're not going to have the card.' Tjuntjuntjara is in the shire of Menzies, 600 kilometres away, and in the town of Menzies the late Mr Tucker, the Indigenous leader there, insisted that they wanted the card in the town of Menzies. So as part of the legislation, as we drew it up, Tjuntjuntjara was exempted and the town of Menzies was in. We went to every length possible to make sure that those communities who didn't want to be on the card weren't forced to be on the card and those communities who asked to be on the card, after consultation over 270 times, were given the opportunity.

After listening to the speech by the Assistant Minister for Social Services, I wasn't sure whether I was in the right chamber or whether we were talking about the same thing. This is a cashless debit card. It's a Visa debit card. I had one. I used it for two years everywhere around Western Australia. I used it in Canberra. You use it to go and buy any product at any store, except at a till that sells alcohol, where it won't work. You can't go online and buy gambling products either, just quietly.

A trial participant has 80 per cent of their payment put into this account and 20 per cent of their payment put into their normal bank account. For a single parent with three children, their fortnightly payment—when I checked about three years ago—was about $1,500. It's probably considerably more now. That means that $300 a fortnight cash goes into their normal bank account and $1,200 goes into this account, and, through Centrepay and other mechanisms, they can set up direct debits so the rent is paid and the utilities are paid. If they've got a car payment, some people have been using a wonderful service that we've got in WA, a no-interest loan service. There is no interest on the product as long as a direct debit is set up to make the repayments. That is how the card works in practice for many, many people.

It's a great account, I've got to tell you. If you make a transaction, you get a text message immediately: 'You've just spent $23 at the IGA.' I have used my card all over Australia. It works everywhere, unless you're trying to buy alcohol with it. I've not tried to buy any online gambling products. So that's a cashless debit card. That's how it works. This one actually belongs to one of my staff members. It's still active and it will work anywhere.

Today the Minister for Social Services had an op-ed in the West Australian newspaper. It starts by asking people to imagine being a parent and not being able to buy your kids shoes because you're on the cashless debit card. I don't know who wrote that for her—actually I do know who wrote it for her—but they obviously didn't understand how the card works. You can walk into any shoe shop anywhere in the world, probably, and buy a pair of shoes with it. So we have a minister here who doesn't understand how the card even works, who is working overtime at the moment to remove the card.

One of the claims by the Assistant Minister for Social Services and others who have spoken on this is that there is no evidence that it works. Well, firstly, there is the evidence that I've seen and the people that I speak to have seen—like the owners of the Coolgardie IGA, the only grocery store in town, which also happens to have a section that sells liquor. There are two aisles, one for the liquor shop and one for the grocery store. Anecdotally they tell me that the amount of trade that has shifted from the liquor aisle to the grocery aisle since the introduction of the debit card is unbelievable. That's what they tell me.

We've had the ORIMA report and the University of Adelaide report. They ask a series of questions. Are you better off? If you're an alcoholic and you're on the card, maybe you're not better off. Maybe you've got to work a bit harder to find the cash to buy your booze. So the answer to that question might be no. Does that mean the card is not working? I wouldn't be 100 per cent sure that that would be an accurate representation. But the ORIMA report did say that 41 per cent of participants were drinking less alcohol after the card was introduced than previously. It said that 48 per cent of participants surveyed who used drugs reported using drugs less frequently, and 48 per cent of those who gambled before the trial reported gambling less. The University of Adelaide have a more contemporary report. Their findings said that 45 per cent of cashless debit card participants believed the cashless debit card had improved things for themselves and their families. For 45 per cent life had improved. So I have to say to those opposite: are you really prepared to take that away from that 45 per cent? Do you really believe that you can sleep easy at night knowing that almost half the people across the Goldfields trial of 3,200 were better off but you're going to take that away from them? The consequences will be severe.

The ANAO report has been widely quoted by the minister. But, as the shadow minister reported, on page 48, in table 3.4, it states that performance measures for the cashless debit card had reliably met requirements to support a reduction in social harm in the communities and participants were reliably using their cashless debit card to redirect income support payments to essential goods and services, including the support and wellbeing of participants. What's the opposite of that? If you take the card away and you get the opposite of that, it means an increase in social harm. That's the opposite of a reduction. If you take this away then logically you'll get an increase. If income support payments for essential goods and services, including the support and wellbeing of participants, is a consequence of having the card, the opposite of that is that their wellbeing will be diminished. But here we have the Labor Party proudly inflicting this on the people of the Goldfields.

I can go on and talk about evidence in 2019. The Kalgoorlie-Boulder Chamber of Commerce and Industry did a survey and found, 12 months after the introduction of the card, 72 per cent of the respondents to the survey had seen a decrease in antisocial behaviour in the CBD of Kalgoorlie, 86 per cent of respondents felt the cashless debit card had made positive changes throughout the Goldfields and 86 per cent would have liked the cashless debit card to continue.

I was speaking earlier about the minister's completely ill-founded comments about no consultation. I can tell you one area that hasn't been consulted about the removal of this card, and that's the Goldfields. There has been no visit and no contact. I believe that the assistant minister is scheduled to travel to the Goldfields some time in the next few weeks, but the legislation has been introduced. It's an urgency motion. It's going to be dealt with in the next 24 hours. So why bother going to consult with those people? You have made up your minds. You are not going to listen to anything that they say. I'm just appalled at the way my people have been treated and the consequences that are going to flow from this decision.

In the remaining time that I've got my question to those on the other side is: what happens next? What happens to the people of the Goldfields and my communities when this card, which has led to dramatically reduced social harm and antisocial behaviour and has had all these positives flowing from it, is taken away? What's plan B? As I said, the assistant minister is travelling to the Goldfields next week or the following week. I think my people deserve to hear what the Labor Party are going to do for the people and the community of the Goldfields to rectify the damage and the tsunami of antisocial behaviour, alcohol abuse and harm that is going to be inflicted on my communities as a result of this legislation.

5:24 pm

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would recommend to the parliament of Australia the reading of The Colonial Fantasy: why white Australia can't solve black problems. I couldn't put it down. I read it in two nights. It sure would be nice if you went out and listened to the people and what they want, not telling them what you want. All the politicians of Australia, everyone who has spoken tonight—I heard it all—ever do is suppress the symptoms. We deal with the symptoms, right?

I was, by mischance, appointed the minister in Queensland—the state that has the biggest First Australian population of any state in Australia, by a fair way, actually—and I would say that the relationships between the Bjelke-Petersen government and First Australians, my brother cousins, could not have been worse. If you went near any communities, there'd be rioting. It couldn't have been worse. But every morning of my life I said: 'Put on the blinkers, just see the light and go to it. Don't see what the reality is. Just see the light and go to it.' So do you know what I did? It's really radical stuff. I went out and said: 'Look, we run the show. Every single person here that's got power at Yarrabah is a white fella. He's from the government, right? Now, we don't want to do this anymore, so you tell us what you want.' So they wanted 'self-management', as they called it, but it was a lot more power than the local government had—for example, there were no regulations at all. They had a responsibility to deliver three services: sewage, garbage, water and transportation, roads and that sort of thing. That was all. Let them do what they like, you know? You make the decisions.

Now, the state government in Queensland, when my government fell, introduced Mr Fitzgerald, a white fella, who was going to go out and tell them what they'd got to do. So a white fella lawyer from an elitist school in Brisbane was going to solve the problems, and this is what this brilliant fellow came up with. He said, 'The problem is drink,' and, 'You've got to ban alcohol.' Oh, geez, he got $3½ million for telling us that! I mean, how profound, how erudite! By the way, he's the same bloke who had the Fitzgerald inquiry, and that Tony Murphy, who was responsible for the murder of 43 people in Queensland—he wasn't going to go near Murphy. There were three books to delineate his cowardice. We suffered as a government, and of course the rest is history. The bloke that was responsible got clean away with it because of the cowardice of this person.

Anyway, let's move on. I've just got a quick story about a bloke and a vacant piece of land on a river in western Queensland. This bloke took up three hectares of this vacant land. He was a young bloke. The council took the position of, 'Yeah, give him a go,' so they recommended to government that he got the three hectares freehold. So when he got the three hectares freehold, he put a fence up and he put a shed up. He was a pretty incompetent bastard. It was a hopeless shed, but, anyway, he put it up. Some racehorse trainer wanted to lease the land off him for his racehorses, and he put a bit of water on it and he made a quid out of it. Then he borrowed money on it and bought some moo cows and he borrowed some money and opened up a copper mine with his partner. Now, it's rather interesting, the copper mine, because his partner was 50 per cent Kalkadoon and 50 per cent white fella. Now, three surrounding mines were owned by—and I'll name them—Mr Fowler, Mr Cummins and another Mr Cummins. They were all First Australians. Three of the five mines that surrounded him and half of his mine were owned by Kalkadoons. The station property, upon which these mines were, was owned by a Kalkadoon. Now there are no mines owned by anyone of Aboriginal descent in that area. There are no cattle stations owned by anyone of Aboriginal descent in that area.

To go back to the young bloke that got the three hectares of freehold title on the river, he got a few head together and he got a few more head together and he produced some copper from his copper mine and, within 13 years, he owned 250,000 acres, had no debt and had about $6 million worth of copper reserves. Now, I know these things to be true because, as probably a lot of you would have worked out, that fellow was me. All I needed was three hectares of freehold title. There are, in North Queensland, three million hectares supposedly owned by my people, the First Australians. They are not allowed to run a moo cow. They are not allowed to put a pot plant in the ground. They are not allowed to do anything with the land. The whitefellas are keeping it to preserve it for our cultural heritage. Well, we'd like to make a quid out of it. We'd like to be able to make food to keep our families alive.

What is not a happy thing to say here is that the life expectancy in the communities in Queensland is around 56 years of age. In the Torres Strait, you live 20 years less if you are a Torres Strait Islander than if you are an Australian in the Australian population. Greg Wallace, who ran for us in the Senate, was the person who got Work for the Dole going. He's very famous in Australian history. He was there the first time 60 Minutes ever did a repeat program, and he said: 'When I was CEO at Napranum, we blackfellas had 30,000 head of cattle in the peninsula. Now we've got none. When I was CEO at Napranum, every CEO was a blackfella. Now they're all whitefellas. All house builders were local blackfellas. Now all the house builders are fly-in whitefellas. I could take up a freehold title and become an owner of land. Now I can't. Every single community had market gardens, which gave us the nutritional value we needed to stay alive, because we can't afford to get fruit and vegetables that go from Cairns to Brisbane and back to Cairns—heaven only knows why—and then by the time they get out to Kowanyama or Pormpuraaw, they've got no shelf life left and they cost a bloody fortune.' This is what he said.

Why don't you just allow them to own a piece of land and do with it what they want? I've got news for you. Please, God, in the next three months, before Christmas, we will be issuing freehold title deeds, because it is our land. We've been there for 40,000 years, and we will issue the title deeds. And, if you don't recognise it, then we will see you in the High Court. We'll have Mabo 2. And we will win. I'm serving notice now that that is what is going to happen.

I'm hoping I'm dealing with an enlightened government that will give us the same rights as everyone else on earth. That's what I hope. In this place I would say we have spent thousands of hours, since I've been a member of the federal parliament, talking about the symptoms. I doubt whether we have ever discussed the causes, but I know this: when I went Yarrabah I said, 'You know, there are no engine drivers, there are no miners, there are no farms, there's no anything, and it's all whitefellas running everything here. What's going on here?' If I were to limit that to a single issue, I would say it is the right to own land. I think one of the most important books in recent world history was written by Hernando de Soto. His cousin is head of Rio Tinto, the second-biggest mining company in the world. De Soto was an economist with the World Bank. In that book, he said, 'Why are Peru'—his home country—'the Philippines and Egypt the poorest countries on earth? It's pretty simple. To get a piece of land in any of those three countries will take you an average of 6½ years and 237 legal processes.' In other words, you can't own land in those countries. What is the difference between Mexico and the United States? Check on the land ownership. De Soto very controversially did not get the Nobel Prize for that year, and he most certainly should have got it. There was international controversy about that.

When I wrote my own history of Australia, I agonised for 3½ years over how I would start it. Then it suddenly occurred to me: where does the story of the modern settlement of Australia start? It starts with the whitefellas coming in. That's how it starts. Of all the places in Australia where it should start, it's in my homeland, my little town of Cloncurry. They talk about the Kalkatungu as being a tribe, but I think it was a generic name for all the tribes, as far as I can make out. Dick Roughsey and Lindsay Roughsey were the greatest keepers of the lore. They went through boring and they had scars across their chest. They were very famous for their kids books and First Australian illustrations. They said that Mornington Island was Kalkatungu, and no-one would argue their knowledge of the lore. Cloncurry is Kalkatungu, and that's 500 kilometres. The Kalkatungu held the British occupation at bay for 60 years. The fighting went on and continued for 60 straight years. I didn't choose to depict them as a conquered, persecuted race; I chose to depict them as great guerrilla fighters who were able to hold the most powerful nation on Earth, the British Empire, at bay for 60 years.

I will conclude on this note, which is very relevant to the current discussions. When we had a smooth-talking ex-official from the teachers union and ALP failed member of parliament come up to Doomadgee, I was there that day. I sat in the audience. He told us that he had talked to the representatives of the people and they had unanimously decided to ban grog in Doomadgee. There were about 150 people there, and they started screaming out a lot of words I wouldn't use in front of ladies. There were five old missionary ladies. I'm a great supporter of the missions. My brother-cousins would have been wiped out if it hadn't been for the protection the missions gave when they put the market gardens in which enabled us to survive to the nineties. They yelled out.

I want to conclude on this note, because this is where I started my book. Clarence Waldron is an outstanding spokesman for the people of Australia—not only the First Australians but the people of Australia. He just quietly said, 'You don't come here and say what's what, and that's that. This is my land. This is my land.' That's how the book starts: 'This is my land.' Would that the people in this place recognised and gave those people a right to put some moo cows there so they could make a quid. Would that they had the right to take up a little bit of land so they could have a farm there to feed themselves and their family. Would that you gave them a future instead of discriminatory laws such as banning alcohol and all your other discriminatory laws.

We're looking after your cultural heritage for you. Yes, we're sick of being looked after. We're sick and tired of being looked after. Just get out of our way and let us look after ourselves. This is my land. This is my land.

5:38 pm

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

A few things before I move a procedural motion. First of all, I've been asked by a number of members to clarify the standing order that allows a minister after 6.30 pm to move a motion that would still bring on a division. That's a standard principle that has been in debate management motions for a very long time, and accordingly it was into the standing orders. I do want to assure the House that the reason we have the 6.30 pm rule is, in response to the Jenkins report, we want people to be able to leave the building if they have cause to do so. With previous Leaders of the House, whether it was the now Leader of the Opposition or Christian Porter before him or Christopher Pyne before that, there was always an understanding that contact would be made if there were any intention of using that. I give the same undertaking. I give it privately. And I thought, on the floor of the parliament, it would be helpful for members if I'd given it publicly, so that every night on the opposition benches people don't have to worry after 6.30 pm, 'Can I go or not?'

Obviously, I'm not trying to get in the way of their whip. It's their whip's call to provide that advice. But I want there to be absolutely no doubt that the government will not be playing games with that 6.30 pm rule. It's there as a standard thing. It has been in motions for the House for a very long time. If it ever were to be used there would be plenty of notice. It would be in a cooperative fashion. It's not there for any other reason. I just want to provide that assurance to the House first.

Secondly, I gave an undertaking, with respect to whether or not bills would be declared urgent, that I would explain to the House why before I made such a declaration. I previously explained to the House one of the challenges with the bill that is now before us is that if it is to be carried by both houses, for the deadline on the card, which is within the bill, there needs to be a phase down period. The phase down period is required because—and I'm not sure how this has happened, and I don't want to engage too much with the debate—it has been possible with this particular card for people to connect it to Afterpay accounts. As a result of that, you can't just suddenly end it on a set date without there being a staged down period. For that reason, for the bill to be able to work, the government requires when we return in the next sitting fortnight for the Senate to pass it at that point.

Those familiar with the Senate, which I suspect is none of us—but I know enough to know that overwhelmingly their government business occurs on a Monday, which means even though we're only on Tuesday at the moment, given what will happen with the climate bills tomorrow, the only way we can make sure that the legislation before us has a chance of being implemented in an orderly fashion is for this bill to go through tonight.

Originally, as of this morning when I looked at the speaking list, we were going to finish before 7.30 pm. If I were to negate the adjournment and just let the speeches go, at the moment we're going to finish at 11.30 pm. In terms of the Jenkins report I think I have responsibility to not allow that.

The other alternative would be to simply gag the debate and for me to now move—and I'm not moving this; I'm saying the words that I'm not moving—that the question be put, which would simply mean everybody on that speaking list would knocked off straightaway. So, with that in mind, I think the most practical way to deal with the urgency of the bill but to still provide a reasonable opportunity for members to speak is to declare the bill urgent. And with that in mind, I declare that the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022 is urgent.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The matter before the House is that the bill be considered urgent.

5:59 pm

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

As the House has declared the bill urgent, I remind members standing order 85 provides principles for proceedings, which include standing order 31 will not apply and a second reading debate may continue from 7.30 until 10 pm or earlier if no member rises to speak. Each member will have a maximum of 10 minutes of speaking time. At 10 pm or earlier the Speaker shall interrupt the debate and immediately adjourn the House until 9 am tomorrow. After prayers tomorrow, the question on the bill will be put without further amendment or debate.

6:00 pm

Photo of Keith PittKeith Pitt (Hinkler, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What an appalling attack on democracy—an appalling attack on democracy—an automatic gag at 10 o'clock. There are 151 members in this House who have just been gagged by the Labor government. This is outrageous. This is Australia's democratic right. We are elected to come here to speak. I will go on to speak about the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill, but this is an outrage, an absolute outrage.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The Minister for Resources is interjecting not from her seat.

Photo of Keith PittKeith Pitt (Hinkler, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We have four cashless debit card sites around the country, and in my electorate of Hinkler is the biggest site in the country. There were some 6,552 individuals on the card at this site as of 1 July 2022, and it's making a difference—it is making a big difference. My site is significantly different to the other three. We do not have a majority of Indigenous or Aboriginal descent in my patch. It is only on four payments: Newstart, youth allowance other, parenting payment single and parenting payment partnered. That is all. It has worked, and that has been demonstrated by the evidence. But what we've seen tonight is a move to urgency because they want to meet their own deadline. It has been in place for years. The cashless debit card has been in the trial sites for years, operating successfully. Another two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, six weeks, will make no substantial difference, apart from the fact that it affects the agenda of those opposite.

Firstly, can I thank those individuals who are willing to go out and support the cashless debit card locally: the former member for Bundaberg David Batt; the member for Burnett, Stephen Bennett; the now retired member for Hervey Bay Ted Sorensen; our two mayors—one mayor was opposed, and I understand that, the mayor of Fraser Coast, George Seymour, was ideologically opposed. He's also opposed to pokies. I thought this was a pretty good solution, but I've always respected George for being consistent. The Bundaberg mayor, Jack Dempsey, gave an absolutely fantastic letter of support, and I seek leave to table this letter, Mr Acting Deputy Speaker Georganas.

Leave not granted.

It's not granted? Very well, Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, thank you so much. This is correspondence between the Bundaberg mayor and me providing support for the cashless debit card, and we can't even allow a tabling of this document in the parliament. If it were any more ridiculous, it would be funny. But let's come back to the cashless debit card once again. It's an 80 per cent, 20 per cent split. It is a debit card that can be used on any EFTPOS machine, except to buy alcohol, except to buy gambling products. It works. The concept being put forward by those opposite is that these 6,552 participants in my electorate can't pay their rent, can't buy things, can't get their kids to school. I would have a queue outside my office that I couldn't see the end of if that were the case. It is just complete nonsense.

On a more serious note, these are all very serious discussions. I want to read out a statistic and I think everyone in the House should hear this and be ashamed, absolutely ashamed. When the electorate was announced as the fourth region for the cashless debit card, of those individuals who were under 30 and on welfare, 90 per cent had a parent who was also on welfare during the past 15 years, the majority of whom were on welfare for at least nine of the last 15 years, and without any intervention it has projected that 57 per cent of those under 30 on welfare would still be on income support in 10 years time. That is appalling; it is absolutely appalling. This is the youth of our nation who are finding themselves in difficult circumstances and unable to get out of them. Surely our job as politicians, as MPs, as representatives, is to do things that make a difference. These are tough decisions—I've always acknowledged that—and what do we see from those opposite? They continue to remain silent on what they'll do afterwards, because the answer is nothing. They will take away what works, and they will do nothing. And not only that, but we cannot get a commitment from the minister on the $30 million of support that is going into the four trial sites to make sure we can provide more assistance. This is on top of what was already provided.

So I say once again to the minister, and I'm sure the minister's staff are watching: just give us a commitment to maintain this money, because it makes a difference. It helps kids get into work, it helps them get a job and it helps them pay their own way. Thirty million dollars is not that much. It's in the budget. Please do not cut it, because we need it.

I'll repeat what I said in a speech to parliament in May 2017:

Change is difficult. Change will be hard. Change will be controversial. But change is absolutely necessary. It is absolutely worth the attempt. We have an opportunity with the cashless debit card to make change for our community.

That is why our community elected us. For two elections in a row, this has been front and centre of the Labor campaign, and we have continued to receive support from the people of Hinkler, because they know we are trying to make a difference and make change.

There is no silver bullet in this area. There simply is not. But this is a tool in a toolbox that actually works, and that is backed up by the ANAO report. I'll go to table 3.4, which shows the performance measures for the cashless debit card. The first one is 'Extent to which the CDC supports a reduction in social harm in communities'. It fully and/or mostly meets requirements for data, verifiable data, being free from bias, how it was measured and everything else that's related—all of it. On the second measure, two out of the four are met.

The ANAO report was scathing about the department, because the department did not do what the minister asked or expected in terms of gathering the data that was necessary. I'll acknowledge that it's been incredibly difficult, particularly in Queensland, to get data. The Queensland Labor government simply won't participate. They will not provide direct data around crime, health services or education. But what I can tell you is that every single schoolteacher I've spoken to has been supportive. In fact, a school principal, who I will not name, went to the community reference group for the cashless debit card and said that after its introduction their breakfast club halved and the number of kids doing extracurricular activities almost doubled. If that is not a good outcome, I don't know what we're doing here. I really don't.

These are kids who find themselves in really tough positions. They have parents who are welfare dependent and, in a lot of cases, multigenerationally welfare dependent. These are tough issues to deal with, and they require tough policies to get an outcome. This was a tough policy, but it was the right policy. Right across the trial sites, it has been absolutely successful.

You don't have to listen to me. I'll read just a couple of quotes from constituents, given the shortage of time that we now have: 'I would like to express my continued support for the cashless card. Being a taxpaying professional, I like to see our tax dollars supporting health, roads, security, pensioners and the disabled, but, being 30 years old myself, I believe able-bodied young people should be earning their own way. I don't know if one email can make any difference to the card's future, but, if it can, I hope this contributes in some way. Please continue to do the work.' Another says: 'We are constituents of Hinkler and very much support the work you're doing to help people in our area to use their support from the government in the manner it is meant for. We have such high numbers of unemployed whilst having hundreds of backpackers, but our farmers are saying they are unable to find local people to fill these jobs. Keep up the good work.' Everywhere I go, people raise this issue with me.

But here is what we have seen from those opposite. They said they would consult. We did over 100 meetings for consultation in my electorate, but they went and talked to some activists who don't live in the area—in fact, they're not in the electorate of Hinkler—who are opposed because, well, they're activists, and that's no real surprise.

I'll go to an editorial from one of the local papers. It is from Jessica Grewal and it's entitled 'Hunting for villains in all the wrong places'. It says: 'From the moment the cashless card debate began, some of the opinions expressed in this space have seen a villain cast in one of the most polarising chapters in the region's history. But much of the contempt expressed on social media and at forums appears to be fuelled by completely false assumptions.' This is an editor and journalist: 'Comment is routinely sought from politicians, members of the public and anti-card lobbyists who are also encouraged to direct their members to the media but are yet to produce any proof that more than a handful of locals have had any issues accessing necessities or paying rent.' This was brought to the journalists over and over and over. This is the answer from an independent editor. There was no evidence whatsoever that that was happening. They put it in the local paper.

In the last few seconds that I have to talk about this issue, I want to come back to one of our local police officers, who has now moved on, unfortunately. When the proposition that this would have an impact on crime was brought forward, he said, 'Top cop backs cashless card and has a message for criminals: we will come for you.' This has not been the case whatsoever. This is wrong. The decision that Labor is making is wrong. It has been supported in the communities where the rollout has occurred because they know that it works, and the Labor Party will replace it with absolutely nothing.

6:10 pm

Photo of Alan TudgeAlan Tudge (Aston, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Make no mistake: the removal of the cashless debit card from remote communities will lead to hundreds more women being assaulted and children being neglected. Now, I'm not exaggerating in saying this. It is the inevitable outcome of putting hundreds of thousands of dollars of welfare cash into these grog-soaked communities. Labor knows this. They've been to these damaged places; nevertheless they have made the repeal of the cashless debit card one of their first acts of government. To say that I am disgusted with the Labor Party on this bill is an understatement. It is classic ideology trumping the safety of women and children.

I was the architect of the cashless debit card, designing it and implementing it in concert with Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders in both Ceduna and the East Kimberley. But this is not the reason that I am so passionately against the card's repeal. Rather, my passion comes from having worked in and around Indigenous issues for over 20 years now, including having worked as Noel Pearson's deputy director before coming to this place, and having seen the devastating impact on the ground that welfare-fuelled alcohol abuse has in these places. It comes about because I've seen so many other programs deliver just so little. My passion comes about because this initiative, unlike almost all other initiatives in remote Indigenous communities, was having an impact. That's why I'm so devastated that the Labor Party prioritises repealing this, knowing the damage it's going to cause when it is repealed.

Alcohol paid for by the taxpayer through welfare payments is the absolute poison that runs through remote communities, and anybody who has been to these places knows exactly that. But take a look at the data if you don't believe me. Now, consider this: in the Northern Territory one in 27 Indigenous women is assaulted each year. Overall in Australia, one in 35 Indigenous women is hospitalised from assault every two years. Think about that. One in 35 Indigenous women every two years is hospitalised from assault, and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare says that 75 per cent of that violence is connected to alcohol and other substance abuse. I've been told that in some communities almost every single girl has been sexually abused. I know that there are some communities where one in four babies is born effectively brain damaged from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. All of this is paid for by the taxpayer dollar.

We often use the word 'crisis' in this place, but the greatest crisis that I know of in this country is what is occurring in remote communities at the moment, particularly in relation to the safety, or lack of safety, for women and children. We've all been complicit in this carnage that I've been describing—those hospitalisation rates, those assault rates, the neglect of children, the fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. We have all been complicit because we've been aware of what has been occurring, yet we have continued to hand over the welfare cash, knowing that it will go to alcohol abuse, to drug abuse, to other abuse and therefore to kids going hungry, to violence occurring and to communities being unsafe.

The cashless debit card changed that equation. It was deliberately designed to stop the flow of welfare cash being spent on alcohol, drugs and gambling. And it did this through quite clever technology—through a Visa debit card, like everybody else's Visa debit card that you may have in your pocket right now. It worked at every single shop across the country but it didn't work at two places. It didn't work at your bottle shops or your gambling houses and you couldn't take cash out from it and, consequently, couldn't purchase illicit substances. But otherwise, it is like any other Visa debit card, and 80 per cent of a person's welfare payment was placed on that card.

We complemented that card with a suite of additional support services including drug and alcohol services. This card and the services were designed hand-in-glove with the leaders particularly from Ceduna and the East Kimberley. Nothing went ahead without those elders signing off on it. Every element of the card, from the percentage placed on the card down to the colour of the card, was agreed by the local leaders in those communities. When you reflect back on this card and how well it has been going, it has been getting results, unlike almost any other initiative that has ever been tried in these remote Indigenous communities. So many countless services and initiatives that we tried failed to make a difference but this one did. It's been evaluated so many times and every single evaluation shows it was making an impact.

The most recent evaluation was the University of Adelaide one. I'm going to quote just a couple of its findings in the executive summary. The evaluation '… found consistent and clear evidence that alcohol consumption has reduced since the introduction of the CDC in the trial sites.' It '… found that the CDC has been helping to reduce gambling, with positive impacts especially in the context of family and broader social life.' And it '… found that safety had been improving since the introduction of the cashless debit card.' That was the University of Adelaide at the beginning of last year.

The people that I've spoken to in these communities say when they go to the supermarkets now in, say, Kununurra, they see families who trolley loads of grocery rather than just a couple of bag loads of groceries because of the additional cash they have to spend on the food. The mayor of Ceduna says the town has never been so good since the introduction of it. Places like Leanora and Laverton, which are very troubled communities, are now completely different because of the reduction alcohol abuse which has occurred there.

All this is going if this bill goes ahead and, what's more, it's not just that those benefits are going but you can guarantee that carnage will be unleashed when the welfare cash comes at these communities like a road train. We have seen it before. We know that this happens when there's big royalty payments which occur. Exactly the same is going to happen here and this will be on the Labor Party's head. They know this. But what they lack is the courage to go and properly consult and speak to the people who actually stood up and said we want this card in our community.

I will never forget Betty Logan, an Indigenous leader from the Goldfields, who is an inspiration, saying to us, 'If you don't believe we need the cashless debit card, just have a look in the eyes of a 10-year-old girl that's been abused and then tell me we don't need a cashless debit card.' Or go and speak to Ian truss, one of the most inspirational leaders in Western Australia or Corey McLennan in Ceduna, strong leaders who stood up and who wanted to bring control to their communities.

We are supposed to be a parliament which backs Indigenous leaders. So what happens, Labor Party? Why aren't you listening to those leaders who want to take responsibility? I think this is disgraceful. I am angry about this. I am angry because we found something which was working and I'm angry because I know the impact which is going to be unleashed when this cash flows into these communities. The Labor Party, they're oh so righteous at the moment about the abolition of this card. And it's very easy for them to be righteous, knowing that their own children are sleeping soundly tonight in their nice suburban homes. Meanwhile, they'll be unleashing carnage on hundreds of children hundreds of kilometres away. I think that's a shame on the Labor Party. This is ideology trumping the safety of women and children. This is what's at stake. I hope the Senate rejects this, because this has been an initiative which has been making a difference, and it needs to continue.

6:20 pm

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to join the member for Aston in saying that this is a sad day for this parliament, and he's right to be angry. All of us are angry and sad on this side because good public policymaking is being thrown out the window today and ideology is winning. That is really, really sad for the communities that will be impacted.

I had the great honour of being social services minister for eight months. I would have loved to have continued on in that role, but I was given the great honour of being education minister. The thing that struck me, and the thing that still sticks with me, from my time as social services minister is how important this cashless debit card was. And for those members here, in particular, whose electorates house the communities that the cashless debit card has benefited from, they have a right to be bitterly, bitterly disappointed.

I'd like to thank those members, their communities and the leaders in their communities for standing up for what is right and for being able to say no to those who tried to pile on to make sure that this policy wasn't put in place. This policy has saved lives. This policy has protected the vulnerable. The sad reality now is that, with the cashless debit card going, we will see lives ruined. We will see lives damaged and, in particular, we will see young children impacted. That's why this is so sad.

The public policy that set the cashless debit card up has been good public policymaking. All the way through it, there has been analysis done, and the Australian National Audit Office has been called in to examine what has been occurring. I know that, from my time as minister, that occurred. This is what the ANAO report found that the Department of Social Services had done in setting up the cashless debit card:

Social Services established appropriate arrangements for consultation, communicating with communities and for governance of the implementation of CDCT. Social Services was responsive to operational issues as they arose during the trial.

The report also identified room for improvement, and that is what we did. We took on board all the recommendations to make sure that it was continuing to be built on and continuing to be improved. The sad reality now is that all that work, over many, many years, is now being thrown out the window. It's being thrown out the window without the government sending ministers in to listen to communities. Not only is all the public policy development and analysis that's gone into this being thrown out; it's being done so without any proper consultation.

In the time I was minister, I went to Kalgoorlie, I went to Boulder, I went to Coolgardie, I went to Port Augusta, I went to Ceduna and I went to Bundaberg because I wanted to know what was happening on the ground. I wanted to be able to listen to those communities and hear whether the card was being effective, whether it needed improving and whether it could be built on.

I must say, from my point of view, I think the card was such an overwhelming success that we should have continued to roll it out further into additional communities. I am happy and proud to stand by the record of the cashless debit card, because everything that I heard and saw said that it was changing lives. I remember going to Coolgardie. I remember visiting the IGA supermarket there and the owner of the supermarket saying that, as a result of the card, mothers were coming into the supermarket with their young children and were able to provide healthy lunches for them to take to school because they were not being pressured to come into that supermarket and buy alcohol for people who wanted to abuse it and who, sadly, had no care or no responsibility for their loved ones—in particular, their young children—and that it was changing lives. I can still remember that conversation as clear as day.

I remember talking to Betty Logan, an absolute inspiration. I remember Betty Logan saying that if you really wanted to understand the impact that the cashless debit card was having then you needed to look into the eyes of the young whose lives it was improving, was making better. It was allowing them to go to school not having been awake all night. Not only that; they were able to go to school knowing that they would have food in their stomachs so that they could study and get the type of education that we want all Australians to have.

One of the things the government was absolutely determined to do was make sure that this card, no matter where you lived or what your background was, was going to be there to help and support you. That's why we looked to move it and expand the trial to Bundaberg. There had been erroneous criticism that we were using this card and targeting it. We've already heard from the member for Hinkler of the outcomes and results of the trial in Bundaberg. The sad reality is that no-one from the government has spoken to any of the members of parliament on our side who host these trial sites to ask them how they have viewed the card. No-one has properly consulted with any of the communities where this card has been rolled out to discuss what the impacts have been and what the response has been. If they did that, they would have seen that there has been remarkable success—in particular, in making sure that money wasn't being spent on gambling, on alcohol and on drugs but was being spent on improving the lives of the people who lived in those communities and were beneficiaries of the public policy decision-making that has built the cashless debit card up to be a card that is getting meaningful and impactful results on the ground.

I say to those opposite: you should reconsider this legislation. You should halt what you are doing, you should go out and you should properly consult. You've said that this is going to be a new parliament—you're going to let the sunshine come in, and it's somehow going to be different to what has taken place before. If you are true to your word, then you would not be putting this legislation through this House in the manner that you are at the moment: gagging debate and rushing it through this parliament so that proper consultation will not take place. And the sad reality is that, as a result, people's lives will be changed for the worse—people's lives will be changed for the worse.

This is a really, really sad day for this parliament and this country, because a problem that we've all grappled with for over 100 years was starting to be fixed, and now it will go backwards. It's a shameful day, it's a sad day, and I feel sorry for all those communities that are going to be impacted by it.

6:30 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, this, indeed, is a tragic situation that we find ourselves in, in this House, this evening. We all, I hope, have ambitions to come and serve in this place to do good things for the people of Australia, for our constituents, to make positive change to people's lives, to come here and be a part of taking our country forward, of growing our economy, of improving the lives and welfare of people and giving them a better future. Instead, tonight, we are debating a measure that, whilst opposed by this side of the House, will undoubtedly take some of the most vulnerable people in this nation backwards. We are here fighting in vain against a circumstance where this House, tomorrow, when we vote on this, may well be supporting a measure that is going to be demonstrably bad for some of the most vulnerable people in some of the most disadvantaged communities in our nation.

It is truly depressing and distressing to be helpless in standing here in a gagged debate, being given a precious 10 minutes to speak about something so significant, knowing that tomorrow morning this bill will progress, no doubt, through this House, and, despite our best endeavours, we will be confronted with a situation where the government progresses something that will undoubtedly lead to harm of vulnerable people, particularly women and children. When there are other matters before this House that I am looking forward to supporting that will bring about a positive change for women and children in particular, it is so depressing that in that same environment we are confronted with this circumstance where we're going to see a measure that will be demonstrably bad for them.

One of the great things about this chamber is that people from all 150 electorates across our nation come together, and the point of that, apart from the important democratic processes and the principle of one vote and one value, is that all different communities from across our nation can bring their perspectives into this chamber via their locally elected member. What is extremely significant in this debate is listening to the local members of parliament who have communities that are participating in this program in their electorates. That's the whole point of local members speaking in this chamber. It's so they can say: 'Hey, we're having this debate. Let me bring you a perspective from my own electorate that will inform the decision-making process.' We have heard from the member for O'Connor, the member for Hinkler and the member for Grey—I've spoken, too, about this many times—all members that have this cashless debit card operating in their electorates and doing so much good in their electorate, and they have brought a perspective to this debate that I can't, because this is not a program that is operating in my constituency. Their stories are the most important and significant to me and should be the most important and significant to anyone that is genuinely thinking through the consequences of the proposition currently before the House.

Some of their stories, their firsthand stories, are confronting and powerful. Some of them are very sad circumstances that relate to sexual abuse, suicide and a whole range of other awful things happening in communities. The common thread in all of their reports to this House and in these debates is the positive change that this measure has brought about in those communities since it was introduced. The fear that they have, as local members of parliament, is that if this bill passes, and if this important tool is taken away from those communities who are desperately trying to address significant challenges around alcohol abuse and other issues, unfortunately—what they report to us—they will see a repeat of the circumstances that occurred in those communities before this measure was available to them, and that positive change will completely reverse around.

There are some of my colleagues who have talked about the motivations of the government in doing this. Many talk about putting ideology ahead of practicality and listening to people on the ground. I do think that that is an element of the government's approach here. They are deciding ideologically that they don't support this. Therefore, despite the evidence, despite the position of leaders in communities—a wide variety of leaders, not just one category of leaders, but all different leaders from these communities that have been a part of these programs, that have been a part of the problems beforehand, that have seen the good work that has been done, that have seen the solutions that this measure brought about. Despite those stories being brought forward briefly in this debate—because it is a truncated debate. We don't have the opportunity to give as much compelling information to the House as we should have on such a significant issue, because we're having to finish this debate tonight and vote on it in the morning.

I think ideology is one motivation. I will be blunt, I think another motivation by the Labor Party throughout this has been politics, and particularly the appalling, disgraceful, disgusting scare campaigns that they have sought to run for an extended period of time around this program and the proposition that there was some kind of motivation to extend it more broadly.

On a regular occurrence I had my own constituents contact me in fearful circumstances. Pensioners in my electorate were saying they had been led to believe by certain members of the Labor Party that all pensioners were going to be put on to a scheme like this. Obviously the Labor Party saw this as an opportunity to lie, mislead and trick people into supporting them. To have that avenue of a political attack, of course, they had to hold the policy position that they were going to abolish the whole thing. And because they were abolishing the whole thing that meant that they were the only ones who weren't going to put every single pensioner in this country on to this scheme, which was obviously complete rubbish.

The Labor Party will always prioritise winning votes over what is in the best interests, from a good policy outcome point of view, of the people of this country. The consequence, unfortunately, on the other side of an election is that they have to follow through. They got the value of the politics around those lies that were told to pensioners in particular. But in order to tell the lie they had to have this position that they're now enacting, and that is to the great detriment of some of the most vulnerable communities in our nation.

I find it absolutely disgusting and appalling—to hold a position that you will put at risk the most vulnerable in our society, particularly women and children—that you will proactively return the capacity of people, within their communities, to bring alcoholism, drug abuse and other addictive issues that this scheme was able to curtail. You will put those problems back into these communities and the collateral associated outcomes, which include sexual abuse and domestic violence. I find that absolutely appalling.

Yes, congratulations, you were able, I suspect, to trick some people into voting for you, because of the way you misled them about this scheme. Congratulations on the politics there. You probably did trick people, incorrectly, into voting for you. You scared them. You frightened them. People like myself did my best to correct the lies. But it is probably the case that politically you got a dividend from this disgraceful policy and now you're implementing it. You got the political benefit. You frightened and tricked certain people into supporting you and now you are implementing a policy which will lead to devastating outcomes in some of the most vulnerable communities in our nation. It is absolutely shameful and I am appalled at the whole thing, particularly this requirement that we ram this thing through tonight in this curtailed debate and that we won't get the opportunity to do our very best to reason with people, some of whom on the other side of this chamber might possibly have a conscience on this matter and might accept the evidence on the ground about this. We can't do that; this debate is being curtailed. It is one of the most shameful examples of the disgraceful tactics the Labor Party will use to frighten people into voting for them at the expense of some of the most vulnerable in our society. It is a disgrace.

6:40 pm

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll start by reinforcing the member for Sturt's last comments. Scaring people with false information is about one of the lowest forms of politics there is. I can confirm what he said because I was dealing with the emails and phone calls myself. The issue tonight is the cashless debit card, and I've had a bit to do with this. I was very keen in the early stages for a town in my electorate to be one of the trial sites. So, with the member for Grey, I visited Ceduna and met with the community leadership there, including the council and leaders of the Aboriginal community. I was very impressed with their resolve to do something practical about the serious issues in Ceduna to do with excessive alcohol use and lawlessness in that town. I feel particularly sad tonight because those community leaders showed incredible courage to back this. This was a courageous act by the local community, and they've had the rug pulled out from under them at the moment. I feel very sad about that. You've heard the member for Grey's contributions in here about the changes that card has made in the town of Ceduna.

I and the minister responsible for this at the time, the member for Aston, looked at the town of Moree in my electorate. I got verbal approval from the local mayor at the time that it might be an issue that they would be supportive of. Members of the department spent some time in that town consulting with various members of the community. Word got out amongst some that this was a racist card and that it was going to be bad for them, and they started a protest. It got to a stage where, at one of the heated meetings with the councillors, basically there were threats of harm—of vehicles being burnt, of houses being burnt and the like—if there was support. Sadly, under that pressure, the council backed down.

The other form of pressure and the major charges against this, which were particularly telling and the bit that upset me most—and the publicans that were in town then aren't there now, so I can say this—were from the publicans in town. When you think about it, taking money that was meant to buy food, clothing and school supplies for kids and putting it through poker machines was part of the business model of those pubs. One of the publicans came into my office and wanted to know how much compensation there would be for his business if this card came in. Another one who employed at the time, I think, 22 people said that he'd be laying people off and the renovations that he was planning for his pub wouldn't go ahead if this card came in. That in itself really explains why this card was needed.

Why did I want to do this in Moree? It's pretty well my hometown, the closest large centre, and I've got an office there. I wanted to do it because the people on welfare in Moree are about 50-50 Indigenous and non-Indigenous. I think this should be seen as a welfare card, not an Aboriginal welfare card. As far as those things go, we should be colour blind in this House. Moree was a good example because it wouldn't have just been the Aboriginal community that was part of this trial; it would have been everyone. I think it's a similar situation in the Hinkler area, where there's not a high proportion of Aboriginal people. As a result, part of the mindset of the minister and government at the time was that this wouldn't be forced on any community, so as a result we backed off and it didn't go into Moree, much to my disappointment.

What's interesting is that probably some time later some of these same hotheads who were calling it the race card and screaming about this terrible card said to me: 'Maybe we should have a crack at this. We've still got a lot of our younger people not being fed because of the cash that comes into the family being taken. We're still seeing some of our elders are getting pressure for their money because there's cash in the house.' That's part of the misinformation that came out before the election, because elders weren't part of this card. They could choose to be if they wanted. Many of them, I think in other places in Ceduna, the goldfields and up in Hinkler, probably did, because they liked the idea of not having the cash. Just in round figures, off the top of my head from memory, a couple with three school aged children, with all the payments for the children and family assistance, got roughly $1,700 a fortnight. There was 20 per cent in cash and they could do what they liked with it. You could take it out the backyard, set it on fire, buy grog, gamble, whatever. That's like $340 of cash that you could do what you want with. The rest was on the card, and the card would be used at the tuckshop at school, would pay for school excursions, could be used down at the supermarket, the coffee shop, to get a taxi. All of that, this card would have been used for.

I'm terribly sad about the lost opportunity in my electorate, because I think it was worthwhile. We're in politics, and being a member of parliament should not be a popularity contest. I know at times it is; you've got to get re-elected. But, quite frankly, sometimes you have to make courageous decisions because quite often the easiest path is not the best path. I had other towns in my electorate where the Aboriginal leadership was saying, 'Why don't you bring them here?' The time had elapsed, and we missed the opportunity. I think this is an incredibly bad decision by this government. I think people will be harmed by this decision. What is interesting is it's symbolic, because, back to the popularity thing, none of these trials were in Labor held seats. It's not like they need to do this to win the next election. What we see more and more is the virtue signalling. I was speaking about the virtue signalling last night with the change of distribution priority areas for medicines, and now we have doctors moving from more remote and isolated towns to more highly populated areas because of a decision that was made without thinking through the ramifications.

Obviously, this change is going to happen. The numbers in the House are aligned that way. But I really wish the members of the government would have a bit of a think about what they're doing here. You know, there's a lot of hubris at the moment. I understand that; I spent time in opposition and came into government. There's a lot of hubris, but, please, when you want to change the world in two weeks, just think about the real lives of people that you're impacting, and this is going to impact on a lot.

6:50 pm

Photo of Bridget ArcherBridget Archer (Bass, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

A few years ago I stood here in this House and made very clear my thoughts on the cashless debit card. Simply, I see the debit card program as a punitive measure enacted on the presumption that all welfare recipients in the trial sites are incapable of managing their finances and require government assistance. I acknowledged at the time that, while some communities are more likely to experience generational disadvantage and have generally poorer outcomes in several areas, forced government control on finances is not the solution to addressing some of the many systemic issues that exist in communities across Australia. At the time, I made it clear that, although I would like to see the end of the cashless debit card, I chose to abstain from my own party's legislation to make the trial sites permanent rather than vote against it, due to my serious reservations about the lack of transition plans in place—a decision that resulted in a deluge of vile, hateful messages directed towards me and horrific threats against my family, including my young children.

At times, I did wonder if it would have been easier to not have spoken up at all, but I reminded myself then, as I have done since, that I never want to make a decision based on what will be popular over what is in the best interests of the community. It must be the right decision, however difficult that may be. I stand by that decision to abstain, and today I'm choosing to withhold my vote on Labor's legislation to abolish the card. I want to be very clear, in case my decision is misrepresented, as it was in 2020, that I'm choosing to abstain, as, although I want to see the end of this system, I still have significant reservations that the transitions proposed by Labor do not sufficiently support those that they're seeking to assist as they move away from the card.

While they may be, once again, seeking to take the moral high ground, the cynical politics that Labor have played with this issue must be pointed out, including making it a cornerstone of their recent election strategy. This was evident in my own seat of Bass, where, despite their best efforts, the blatant scare campaign to terrify vulnerable pensioners into thinking that they would be forced onto the card, including a forum directly targeting lower socioeconomic areas, fell flat. Even after COTA called out Labor last year for the misinformation campaign, they persisted with their strategy.

I do believe it is only right that we look to give back financial autonomy to those who have endured the card. As I said in 2020, as a Liberal I have a fundamental issue with how the program aligns with my belief in personal and individual responsibility, which is the very foundation of our party's principles. One of our guiding principles is to minimise the interference of the government in the daily lives of our constituents, which is why a program that controls the financial lives of a particular segment of society unless or until they can prove to the government that they can manage their own finances is antithetical to these principles.

I want to acknowledge my colleagues who represent the communities where the current sites exist. They are good, caring and decent people who have a deep understanding of their communities and what is needed. I'm not disputing nor am I seeking to be in any way dismissive of the significant challenges that persist in these communities, and I understand the intentions of what the card is seeking to do. We fundamentally agree on the problems; however well intentioned, though, the scheme has not definitively demonstrated that it achieved what it set out to do.

As set out in the University of Adelaide report into the scheme, which was commissioned by our own party when in government, the evidence was mixed and, while there were some reported improvements—a reduction in alcohol consumption, for example—it wasn't possible to attribute the changes to the cashless debit card alone. Furthermore, there was no definitive conclusion about whether the CDC influenced the personal or social harm caused by illicit drugs and little consensus about whether and how children's welfare had changed since the introduction of the CDC in the trial areas. When you restrict somebody's income, of course it will lead to a decrease in the purchase of alcohol or illicit drugs, but there's no evidence that the measure has done anything to improve addictive or destructive behaviours, or created systemic change, as there is no long-term behavioural change support there.

After I gave my speech, I received a few calls from community leaders upset with the stance that I had taken, commenting that I didn't understand the challenges faced in their regions. While I certainly would not claim to fully understand their regions, I do know that some of the same challenges persist in my own electorate and I don't believe that they are able to be solved in the long term simply by taking away a citizen's right to have control over their own finances, no matter how much we may disagree with the decisions they make. Many individuals living in these areas are forced onto this card, no matter their circumstances, simply because of where they live.

I recently read the story of Kerryn Griffis, who spoke of the negative impact the card has had on her life and the lives of her five children. 'It has been a nightmare,' she said. According to Ms Griffis, the stigma of the card has led to difficulty finding a rental, forcing her and her five children under the age of 12 to move into her mother's three-bedroom home. For Ms Griffis the end of the card signals freedom. She said: 'I can't wait. I'm going to be able to have flexibility with my finances, I'm not going to be restricted by which bill I will and won't pay, and my kids are looking forward to having pocket money again.'

At the end of the day, no matter how well intentioned, this scheme doesn't fix the number of complex challenges that drive disadvantage. I have spoken a number of times on the need for trauma-informed responses as a starting point to address the many layered challenges, but what is needed in the short term—circling back to my points made previously in this speech—is the need for significant wraparound transitional and long-term services to support anyone who the current program is intended to help.

This is where I fall short of giving my support to this legislation. Despite the failure of the cashless debit card to meet its intended outcomes, removing the card without appropriate support will not fix the very problem that it's trying to address. It seems both the government and the opposition agree on the problem; they don't agree on the solutions.

The government's plan for a closure and repeal date expected to be around February-March next year leaves me with a number of concerns around how quickly the program is closing and that there's a lack of detail on programs or funding to assist the communities with the issues that the cashless debit card was designed to address, because they don't just magically go away with the elimination of the card. The minister has said the transition will include information and education sessions with culturally appropriate information and support, and individually targeted transitional support interviews for those who need them. Where participants require continued assistance with budgeting, transferring direct debits from the cashless debit card or referrals to further support services, there will be help available, including the option of voluntary income management.

I hold significant concerns about the ambiguity of these plans outlined by the minister. While the government has committed to consulting more widely with the communities where the cashless debit card exists, it does concern me that the implemented outcomes of the consultation will likely not happen until well after the cessation of the program, missing a chance to ensure that those coming off the card avoid falling through the gaps.

Of course, I do recognise that the current legislation sunsets at the end of this year, but I think in the rush to play politics with the issue in the lead-up to the election the government has backed itself into rushing this legislation through rather than looking for a way to allow for a proper and just transition that would ensure the community gains financial freedom while being supported where needed and necessary. The systemic dismantling of the income management system is the right thing to do, but this needs to be done carefully and by building long-term supports going forward. Where is the solid plan to invest in long-term solutions that will provide individuals with the tools and skills to improve their life, address long-term trauma and empower them to make the right financial decisions?

Finally, while making a lot of noise about the amount of money cancelling this program will save, I believe it will take an investment by the government to ensure that the right programs and services are in place over many years. Anything less would be virtue signalling. I'm disappointed that, after all the public statements on the need to abolish the program, the details on how these communities will be properly supported is lacking. What I see in front of me is nothing short of walking away from the very communities Labor is professing to help. I call on the government to address these issues as a matter of urgency.

6:59 pm

Photo of Colin BoyceColin Boyce (Flynn, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would just like to begin by taking the opportunity to tell you, Deputy Speaker Freelander, that this is my first opportunity to speak after my first speech earlier last week. What we have seen tonight is an appalling display of arrogance by the Labor government in guillotining this debate on a very, very important issue. It is an attack on the democracy of Australia. The people of Australia put people like me here to speak on these things and for the Labor government to guillotine this debate by calling it an emergency bill is just absolutely appalling. Having said that, I rise to oppose the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022.

As of 1 July 2022, there were 17,795 participants using the cashless debit card. The cashless debit card looks and operates like a regular bank card. It cannot be used to buy alcohol, gambling products, some gift cards or to withdraw cash. Eighty per cent of the recipient's welfare payment is quarantined into the card. The remaining 20 per cent of the recipient's social security payments are transferred into the recipient's bank account and can be withdrawn and used without restriction. The cashless debit card was an important recommendation in the Forrest review report Creating Parity as a means of reducing social harm caused by welfare-fuelled alcohol, gambling and drug abuse.

Evaluations of the cashless debit card show the program is working. The first independent valuation released in late 2017 showed that the card has shown considerable positive impact in the initial trial sites, including 41 per cent of participants surveyed who drank alcohol reported less drinking, 80 per cent of participants surveyed who used drugs reported using drugs less frequently and 48 per cent of those who gambled before the trial reported gambling less often. There have been more than a dozen evaluations of the cashless debit card that have provided consistent evidence about welfare quarantining policies that show decreases in drug and alcohol issues; decreases in crime, violence and antisocial behaviour; improvements in child health and wellbeing; improved financial management, and ongoing and even strengthened community support.

In January 2021 the evaluation of the cashless debit card, the CDC, was released after research was conducted by the Future of Employment and Skills research centre at the University of Adelaide. The evaluation was extensive, with quantitative survey contacting 4,424 CDC participants and receiving 2,041 responses. I wanted to use some of the time of today's speech to specifically mention some of the key findings in this evaluation. The evaluation found that alcohol consumption was reported to have been reduced since the introduction of the cashless debit card. Between one-third and a half of the cashless debit card participants who drink reported frequency of drinking was down by 11 per cent, the amount of drinking was down by 14 per cent, and both frequency and the amount were down by 11 per cent. Around 20 per cent of all cashless debit card recipients reported the cashless debit card had helped decrease illicit drug use for themselves, family, friends, community in all trial sites. One in five cashless debit card participants reported that the cashless debit card has helped reduce gambling problems in at least one of the following dimensions: for themselves, for their family, for their friends and where they live. Cash previously used for gambling was directed towards spending on essentials such as food. This evaluation proves that the cashless debit card has helped address longstanding issues in their communities.

What I want to know is how the Labor government will help people in their communities if the cashless debit program is removed. Quite simply, what is their alternative? How do they plan to address the complex social issues that each of the cashless debit card trial sites face? What I also want answered is what the Labor government intends to do with the job programs that help individuals into work, including cashless debit card participants.

Just this year the former coalition government opened proposals for new projects that will provide employment and training opportunities for cashless debit card participants within their communities. The $10 million Jobs and Infrastructure open competitive grant opportunity was part of the former coalition government's $30 million Job Ready package. The grant opportunity was to fund infrastructure projects and other support services to provide cashless debit card participants with training and job opportunities. The funding round was responding to the feedback from communities who were seeking to be empowered to create jobs that will help break the cycle of welfare dependence and support their communities to thrive.

Once again, what does the Labor government intend to do with these programs? Nobody knows. If the government put aside its ideological opposition to the cashless debit card, it would again hear firsthand how the cashless debit card is making a real positive difference in these communities. For any major reforms, community consultation is critical. Community consultation enables communities to articulate their own concerns and identify the appropriate responses and solutions to problems that affect them. Do I believe that the Labor government has completed extensive community consultation? The answer is no. Do I believe that the new Minister for Social Services has gone to the communities that have participated in the program and spoken to them about how the cashless debit card has helped address social issues in their communities, including alcohol abuse, illicit drug abuse and gambling? The answer to that is no. Is the Labor government willing to see social issues worsen in these communities if the cashless debit card is scrapped? This is something that I believe will happen if this bill passes.

In conclusion, I want to quote a section of Senator Price's maiden speech. Senator Price is a proud Territorian and Australian, a former business owner and former director of Indigenous research at the Centre for Independent Studies. Senator Price said:

… we see the removal of the cashless debit card, which allowed countless families on welfare to feed their children rather than seeing the money claimed by kinship demand from alcoholics, substance abusers and gamblers in their own family group.

If that's not a reason to continue the cashless debit card trial, I don't know what is. I urge the House to oppose this bill.

7:07 pm

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in opposition to the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022. This is a shameless, needless destruction of a really life-changing set of policies that have been rolled out in regions with some of the most vulnerable people, people with huge problems. I don't know how many on the other side who have been advocating for this have actually visited any of these sites or spoken to local practitioners, local mayors or people who are involved in the trial who were willingly and quite happily involved in it. It has been a major benefit to all the communities.

I've had the opportunity to visit two of those sites, first of all with the good member at the dispatch box, who is now the assistant shadow minister, the member for O'Connor, who himself has a cashless debit card and uses it, just to demonstrate it. I think he's probably got other cashless debit cards. He and other users of it in Kalgoorlie showed me how it works. It specifically limits payment for alcohol, gambling and drugs. And there are a lot of people on the card who have those problems and who used to get their funds ripped off by other family members with alcohol, drug and other problems. It looks like a Visa debit card and it acts like one. It's so specific and so sophisticated. If you walk into a hotel, you can buy a meal and pay for it, but you can't buy alcohol in the same hotel. People don't know. There's no stigma with it. You're just using it like normal.

I met with Indigenous groups. I met with people who are willingly and happily going onto it in Kalgoorlie. I got so much positive feedback from the local peer leaders in this situation. In Hervey Bay and Bundaberg, the good member for Hinkler, who I've been with, has many people who have benefited from it. Youth unemployment has gone down in the short time it's been there. In that area, it isn't predominantly in the Indigenous community; it's among general community members. Anyone under the age of 35 on JobSeeker, youth allowance or parenting payment single or partners goes onto it and, if they demonstrate their success in managing their affairs over a period of time, they can apply to come off. If people really have mental health issues, they can apply to come off it. But it has been very well received by quite prominent members of social services in that region. There are 6,552 people, all young people of working age, who are getting a better outcome because they are on it.

People in the Northern Territory, up until this bill, have had the right to transfer over from the BasicsCard, which is also run by Indue. In Far North Queensland, those on income management have had the right to go onto it. There are roughly 17,000 people using it to manage their affairs. They still get a cash component, but the amount they get is exactly the same as for anyone who's not on the card. It is very usable and very handy.

Why is it that there is this ridiculous ideological obsession that it is restricting the rights of people? People who are being supported by the community, by taxpayers, have a duty to try and get off welfare. All the stories that I was hearing about this income management were the same: there's less drug and alcohol violence and there are fewer presentations to accident and emergency. The police like it because they have less violence, and even the mayors in some of these towns have vouchsafed their views on the genuine improvement from it. As I said, the actual people on it were happy because they were facing less pressure from their families to hand over money that would be wasted on alcohol and/or drugs—or gambling, for that matter, too.

I have some other specific examples. I spoke to the member for Grey, whose electorate includes the town of Ceduna, which is another site. He's been to two elections with a 62 per cent favourability in Ceduna. He was very disappointed that the now Minister for Indigenous Affairs visited Ceduna but didn't meet with any of the people who are proponents of and supporting the system. She just refused to be taken by him to meet these people.

The cashless debit card also had other measures attached to it. There was a $30 million jobs fund to get people job ready, and there was support for local support services. There was $50 million for drug and alcohol residential rehabilitation facilities. The Western Australian police commissioner, Col Blanch, said the card has been beneficial in remote communities, and you've seen all the dysfunction that has happened in those areas. In fact, when I served in the parliament two parliaments before this one, the 45th, I was Assistant Minister for Children and Families, and we saw a lot of this violence in the East Kimberley, up in the Northern Territory and in North Queensland. This was a great initiative.

One of the ministers speaking on this said it is privatising social welfare. What a load of hogwash! The BasicsCard, the Indue card, is also run by private enterprise. Is there a push from members in the Department of Social Services? Are they thinking that some business would like to take over social security? Are they dreaming? It's not a business; it is a government service. It's just that we wanted a card, just like what was developed, to be seamless and not appear to be different from any other credit card and it was working so well. So it's very disappointing that the first thing this incoming government does is destroy something that has delivered huge social benefits, has empowered a lot of people who have had a disorganised life to get some sense of regularity in feeding their kids, getting off alcohol and drugs. School attendance of their children improves. Some of them have transitioned to work.

As I said, in the seat of Hinkler youth unemployment, which has been double the national average, has gone down. It has helped these young people because the money is not so available. They can't just go and spend it on Sportsbet or other forms of gambling or load up on alcohol, drink to excess or use cash, which is the way you get drugs. If everyone that I visited was tallied up here in this room, they would all be shouting from the bleachers, 'Keep it, keep it, keep it.' It's working, and you will see there will be an outbreak of all those things that have been reduced.

So what's the plan? In the second reading speech, the minister mentioned he is going to transition people back to income management and back to the other cards. Well, what's the point? I mean, seriously. But to get rid of it altogether is just a tragedy, so I'm not in favour of it. It wasn't a sinister plan to privatise social welfare in Australia, as the minister outlined in his speech. It was a great initiative that had the runs on the board in the East Kimberley. The member for Durack has spoken in favour of it as has the member for O'Connor, the member for Grey, the member for Hinkler, mayors, individuals, social services; it's universal. It just doesn't make sense for this government to come in and destroy something that has been improving people's lives and that's why I'm against the bill.

7:17 pm

Photo of Julian LeeserJulian Leeser (Berowra, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

One of the things I wanted to do when I was appointed the shadow minister for Indigenous Australians was to get out of Sydney where I live and out of Canberra and go and see some people in Indigenous communities, to come and see the joys, the culture and the challenges that Indigenous people face around the country. I know I am sitting here at the table, as is the member for O'Connor, who represents large Indigenous communities in his electorate, my friend from Wide Bay with his community in Cherbourg. One of the things I was very keen to do was to visit communities in particular where the cashless debit card had been so I can have a first-hand experience of talking to people about how life was like and about how the cashless debit card has affected and changed things for them.

I'm sorry that the government has brought this legislation in so quickly because it hasn't enabled me in the time available to get around to more communities but I will be visiting more communities. The community I did have the privilege of visiting was the community of Ceduna, which is very, very well represented by the very popular member for Grey, Rowan Ramsey. Unfortunately, although the member for Grey had organised a terrific experience for us in Ceduna meeting a wide range of different stakeholders and people, he had COVID in the time visiting but I was very delighted that our new Senate colleague Senator Kerrynne Liddle joined me on that visit. Indeed, she knew a number of people from the Indigenous community that we met on that particular visit.

Ceduna sits on the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula. It is about halfway between Sydney and Perth. It is a very small community. About 2,000 people live there and about 20 per cent or more are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. When I went to Ceduna as the shadow minister, I listened to different people in the community. I met with the council. I met with a range of people of social service stakeholders. I met with Indigenous people. I wanted to find out from the people of Ceduna what affect the cashless debit card had had on that community.

I think it's important to remember, in the context of Ceduna, the reasons for the introduction of the cashless debit card. This occurred in the aftermath of a 2011 South Australian coroner's inquest into the untimely deaths of six Indigenous Australians in and around the township over a five-year period. Each of these individuals died well before their time, aged between 36 and 42. The inquest into the six deaths found that alcohol abuse had played a significant part both in their lives and in their deaths. These six Australians represented the profound hardships that the community in which they lived had to contend with and for the most part that was due to alcohol abuse. The impact of alcohol abuse can be devastating not just for the person who is addicted, but for the community in which they live and for the service providers who have to respond.

One of the images seared in my mind is from the visit to Ceduna. I was talking to one of the local officials who said that before the cashless debit card, when alcohol was more freely available, the activities of people in broad daylight were quite shocking. He told a story of a man who had taken a triangular fence post from a farm and was beating a woman in broad daylight in front of the council chambers. Just think of the horrendous injuries that would have been caused to that woman as a result of what was happening there—

I will take the interjection there from the member for O'Connor who said, 'It will happen again.' The feeling, very strongly, from people there, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, that we spoke to was that the cashless debit card—in limiting the amount of cash that was around, in limiting the discretion of people to spend money on alcohol and on gambling—had had a significant effect in making Ceduna a much more liveable place. It had actually given people who were on the card freedom, because they had their own money that wasn't being taken off them. It gave people a chance to dry out and a chance to get their lives in order. It made the community a much happier and more liveable place.

In Ceduna in particular they have a wide range of people from communities outside Ceduna coming to visit at different times. And because of the people coming to visit from time to time you can tell when some of the issues of violence and alcohol abuse go up, because there are outsiders who have come in. The cashless debit card has been a very important mechanism in terms of improving the lives of everyone in Ceduna.

When the cashless debit card was trialled in Ceduna in 2016 it markedly reduced the purchase of alcohol and gambling products, because only 20 per cent of the welfare payments could be withdrawn as cash.

The card wasn't introduced without deep thought and extensive consultation. It had extensive consultation. It was a trial. The cashless debit card was an important recommendation of the Forrest review report Creating Parity. It was regarded as a realistic means of reducing the social harm caused by welfare fuelled alcohol, gambling and drug abuse.

I make the point that the cashless debit card was never about punishing people who were on it. Any participant could apply to exit the program at any time by demonstrating a reasonable and responsible management of their financial affairs. The cashless debit card was part of a suite of measures to help improve people's lives and their circumstances.

The Morrison government invested more than $110 million in support services for those communities that were using cashless debit cards. This included a $30 million jobs fund; a job ready initiative to strengthen local services and to help participants in cashless debit card communities to upskill, to become job ready and to join pathways to employment; and a $50 million investment in drug and alcohol residence facilities.

The coalition's focus has always been to help those out of work prepare themselves to get into the workforce. Under the Morrison government the unemployment rate fell to 3.9 per cent—the lowest in 48 years. The cashless debit card was just one of the important policy tools which allowed the coalition government to achieve this figure. Everybody who moves from welfare to work achieves a personal victory in terms of self-esteem, a sense of contribution and, of course, improving their financial position.

If Labor seeks to remove the cashless debit card it should at least be managed with the same care and consultation that underpinned its initial implementation. The feedback I had from locals in Ceduna was that in opposition the Labor Party was not visiting a full range of stakeholders to get a real sense of the nature of the benefit of the cashless debit card and how it had contributed to a safer Ceduna. Again, in government, they felt that they weren't being listened to, because people in the community realise that, as there's more money for the purchase of alcohol, the situation in Ceduna will become worse.

Yet this bill before the House removes access for new entrants to join the cashless debit card program. In time, it will force more than 17,000 existing participants off the card, terminating a very effective support mechanism for income management. The fears expressed by the Ceduna community, that more available cash means more access to alcohol, which in turn leads to more alcohol fuelled violence and antisocial behaviour on and off the streets, are shared by communities across Australia. As declared in the coronial inquest report I referred to earlier, the culture of excessive alcohol consumption deeply damages those who abuse it, but it also scars the families and children faced with the destructive behaviours that so often arise from it.

The card doesn't solely apply to Indigenous Australians, and there are many non-Indigenous Australians who use the cashless debit cards to access welfare payments. As at 2021, Indigenous Australians accounted for 76 per cent of participants in Ceduna, 82 per cent in the East Kimberley, 48 per cent in the Goldfields and 18 per cent in the Bundaberg-Hervey Bay region.

A crucial outcome of the cashless debit card was raised with me by so many women in the Ceduna community. They benefited from the quarantining of welfare payments, as, instead of having to share their welfare payments or watch family payments squandered on alcohol and gambling, those payments were available for the essentials for which they were intended. The cashless debit card protected vulnerable women and children in communities. For many women, it meant a reduction in alcohol fuelled violence. For children, it reduced their exposure to alcoholism and helped to ensure they got to school with full stomachs. Other members of the community who didn't drink alcohol told us they welcomed the card because it protected their income from the desperate pressure for loans from relatives affected by alcoholism.

Allan Suter was the mayor of Ceduna from 2006 to 2018. Like many in his community, Allan is incredibly distressed by Labor's attempt to remove the cashless debit card. Allan shared a story with me that should be heard by all my colleagues in the House.

Prior to the implementation of the cashless debit card, on any given night anywhere between 50 and 100 children could be found walking the dark streets of Ceduna. When Allan asked a few of the children what they were doing out so late, their answer was heartbreaking. It was safer for these children to be out on the street than in their homes, confronted with alcohol fuelled violence, abuse and neglect. Once the effects of the card were felt by the community, the streets were quiet. There were no longer children wandering the streets, because, with limited access to alcohol or drugs, these children had a safe place to call home. The biggest beneficiaries, Allan confirmed, were the vulnerable members of the community—the children, the mothers and the women—who had previously been exposed to neglectful parenting, domestic violence or alcoholism. They now have a safe place to call home. All of that is under threat by the government's bill, which I oppose.

7:27 pm

Photo of Karen AndrewsKaren Andrews (McPherson, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Home Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very mindful of the time constraints this evening, but I want to add my voice to the members of the coalition who have already spoken this evening, and those who will follow me in speaking this evening to oppose the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022.

I also have to say that I find it quite astonishing that Labor could only find one willing speaker for this bill's debate. They could only find one person who was prepared to argue in defence of this really bad legislation that Labor has introduced into the House. Perhaps that's because deep down they know that, while they have to support this for ideological reasons, it will cause great harm for the most vulnerable members of Australia's community. The bottom line is that not enough consultation has taken place with the communities currently using the cashless debit cards. Not enough consideration has been given to the potentially devastating impact from a rise in violence, antisocial behaviour and crime in these communities.

I would particularly like to add my comments to those that have just been made by the member for Berowra, who went through, in quite a lot of detail, the positive impact that this card has had in a number of communities, particularly Ceduna, and the impacts that are likely when that card is removed. Effectively, what will happen is that Labor's bill will allow for more alcohol and drug abuse in at-risk communities, and that means an increase in violence and in antisocial behaviour. My deep concern is for Australians in those communities who may need to flee domestic and family violence. Very often they have children with them, and I fear that they will be inadvertently caught in a cycle of abuse through the Labor government's haphazard repeal of the cashless debit card.

I wish to draw attention to the cohort of people who are on income management, which the Labor government has said they are not removing—in particular, those who are currently using the cashless debit card to manage their finances across the Northern Territory, in Ceduna, the East Kimberley, the Goldfields, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay and Cape York.

We know that the cashless debit card provided more flexibility because it effectively works like a visa debit card, allowing users to make purchases in more shops across Australia that accept visa or EFTPOS, as well as online, with the exception of alcohol and gambling products. The previous BasicsCard allowed users to spend their welfare payments only in select stores, which is limited to around 15,000 shops and businesses across the nation. The cashless debit card provided upgraded technology to expand shopping options for those using the card. It's important that Labor considers the potential impact that removing the cashless debit card as a knee-jerk reaction will have on a lot of people. Women and children making the decision to flee instances of domestic violence could be impacted by being forced to spend time in a limited geographic area where there are approved stores that accept BasicsCard payments. This is the last thing that they should have to worry about in a situation where they are fleeing violence and abuse. This could have tragic consequences.

We know that Labor can't be trusted to provide honest accounts of the cashless debit card. During the election campaign, those opposite engaged in a shameful scare campaign aimed at age pensioners. Labor falsely claimed a re-elected coalition government would introduce a cashless pension card, which was never true, not at all. They engaged in baseless scaremongering for their own political gain. What they should have been doing is getting out into these at-risk communities and consulting directly about how to best manage issues in their communities. They should have been listening to those who use the cashless debit card about the difference it has made for them. They should have been talking about how to reduce the social harm caused by welfare fuelled alcohol, gambling and drug abuse.

It's important to note that some of the findings in relation to the cashless debit card have provided information about the improved impact on family stability. The second independent impact evaluation, by the University of Adelaide, reported that 45 percent of cashless debit card participants reported the cashless debit card had improved things for themselves and their family. This is clearly unnecessary legislation. It's being rushed into this place not to fix a problem but to create one. The Labor government still don't get that decisions have consequences. They will be responsible for every additional violent crime and neglected child that will inevitably occur as a result of the removal of this important income management tool. I oppose the bill.

7:33 pm

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

The opposition opposes the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022. We believe Labor has recklessly walked away from the communities of Ceduna in South Australia; East Kimberley and the Goldfields in Western Australia; and Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland.

There are so many questions hanging in the ether about the consultation done by Labor prior to the election about this harm minimisation program. Questions like: Who did Labor consult? Who did the government consult? Where did they go? What communities did they meet with? When did you meet people ? We know that they didn't do much consultation at all; that's the reality. That's on the record. The Kalgoorlie-Boulder mayor, John Bowler, expressed his frustration when he said:

It almost seems they—


are putting the cart before the horse.

I would have liked for them to come here, consult with us, consult with the community, and then make a decision.

Communities like Kalgoorlie-Boulder have every right to feel abandoned by the Albanese government.

The cashless debit card was an important recommendation in the Forrest review report, Creating parity, as a means of reducing the social harm caused by welfare fuelled alcohol, gambling and drug abuse and to deal with deep-seated social and economic problems in many communities across Australia.

As of 1 July 2022, 17,795 participants were using the cashless debit card—nearly 18,000 participants. As reported in the media:

WA Police Commissioner Col Blanch said the card had been beneficial in remote communities.

"It gives opportunity for the more senior people in families and the Elders and some of the Aboriginal communities to use the money on food for the kids and other things," he said.

"It just seems to settle the community down and gives them better opportunity to spend their money on priority needs."

If the government put aside its ideological opposition to the cashless debit card it would again hear firsthand how the cashless debit card is making a real positive difference in the community. After all, that's what we, as elected federal members of parliament, are here to do.

The Wunan Foundation, a leading community organisation in the East Kimberley region, in its submission to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee stated:

… more than four years on from the beginning of the CDC trial, circumstances in the East Kimberley today represent an improvement on the lived experience of people before the trial began in April 2016.

Generation One reiterated its support for the cashless debit card in its submission to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, stating:

Our support is grounded by our ongoing community consultations with trial sites since the establishment of the CDC. We continue to see the incredible positive impacts the CDC is making for individuals, families, and communities, and wish to see this continue.

Evaluations of the cashless debit card show that the program is working. The first independent evaluation, released in late 2017, showed that the card has shown 'considerable positive impact' in the initial trial sites. Is the government going to keep the BasicsCard in place? Are the government aware that the technology that sits behind the BasicsCard is outdated? The cashless debit card is a visa debit card issued by payments by the company Indue, with cardholders using the card at most shops that accept visa or EFTPOS for maximum convenience. The technology behind the cashless debit card is the most advanced in the marketplace and the card looks exactly the same as yours and my debit card. Actually, it looks better than my debit card because I just have a plain red one, a Westpac one. The cashless debit card is dark grey or even black. It looks like an upmarket card. It doesn't have 'cashless debit card' on it; it's completely inconspicuous. No-one standing next to you would know it was a certain card. It looks exactly the same as any high-end card. You just can't buy alcohol or drugs with it and you can't gamble with it. Under the coalition government, you still received 20 per cent in cash. We're hearing stories about people not being able to send $20 to their grandchild. It's ridiculous. Even if you are on a basic $300 a week, you still are going to have $60 in cash every week. If you are on $400 a week, you are going to have $80 in cash. The reality is that the only thing this can't be spent on is alcohol, drugs and gambling.

Why is it that Labor is so determined to keep these people in the situation they're in? That's the question that I have. We know the questions that I've already put forward. They haven't done any consultation at all. We know that when the Minister for Indigenous Australians was the shadow minister and went into the seat of Grey she met only with the people who agreed with her. She didn't want to meet with anyone who did not agree with her.

Why would the government want to unwind this when it's actually helping people? Numerous reports have come forward. We've heard from members in whose electorates this card has been rolled out about the positive impact it is having. I don't tend to tell the member for Cowan what's best for her electorate, because, frankly, I don't know. I'm not from Western Australia. I know what's best for the people of Petrie. It amazes me that some people in this place want to tell the member for Hinkler, the member for Grey and others what's best for their electorate. That's the reality.

In my opinion, the Albanese government is making a mistake in doing this. I think there will be consequences. A number of members on our side have outlined what they will be. I seek leave to table a document from the Bundaberg council, if that is alright with the government.

Leave not granted.

Come on! It is just a document from the mayor basically saying the mayor supports the card and the mayor is aware of widespread community support for the card. That's all I wanted to table. I don't know what's—

Photo of Anne AlyAnne Aly (Cowan, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Early Childhood Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Read it then.

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

It's quite long, Member for Cowan. I don't know why you didn't allow that. I was very nice and asked if you would give me leave to do so, but obviously the Government Whip came in and overruled you—whatever; okay.

The card does look exactly the same as ours, except you can't buy alcohol or drugs or gamble with it. Reducing the amount of cash that can be withdrawn also reduces the card user's ability to spend welfare payments on illegal drugs. Eighty per cent of the recipient's welfare payment is on the card and 20 per cent is in cash. The Morrison government combined the CDC with other measures to help people improve their circumstances, including a $30 million jobs fund to help people become job ready and get on pathways to employment, because we do have a labour shortage in this country and we saw the lowest levels of unemployment in 50 years under the Morrison government. As this comes off, the test will be where the unemployment rate will go with Labor. As a former Assistant Minister for Youth and Employment Services I'll be looking at this closely.

There have been more than a dozen evaluations of the cashless debit card that have provided consistent evidence about the welfare quarantining policies. They show that there are (1) decreases in drug and alcohol issues; (2) decreases in crime violence and antisocial behaviour; (3) improvements in child health and wellbeing; (4) improved financial management; and (5) ongoing community support. I ask again—and I ask the minister to supply answers: Who did you consult? Where did you go? Did you meet with the people who were opposed to your view? What communities did you meet with? When did you meet with the people? Who, where, what and when? All I'm hearing are crickets.

7:43 pm

Photo of Melissa PriceMelissa Price (Durack, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker Goodenough, congratulations on the deputy speakership role. I stand here today in absolute disbelief. Labor's relentless pursuit of damaging remote and regional Australia is consistently present in their words and their actions. Federal Labor have consistently demonstrated that they don't understand or, worse, don't care about regional Australia, particularly the very remote parts of our country. In the first sitting after the election, Labor has decided to scrap the cashless debit card. In doing so we'll see thousands of Australian families revert to a life of financial uncertainty. This will put many families in an incredibly dangerous situation.

Labor has recklessly walked away from the communities of Ceduna in South Australia, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland and the Goldfields. The card is also being scrapped in O'Connor, my dear friend Rick Wilson's electorate, and in my seat of Durack in the East Kimberley. Labor has told the nearly 18,000 participants that are currently using the cashless debit card, including the 1,335 people in the East Kimberley, that it is no longer here to support them. We should not be very surprised that Labor is happy to walk away from these communities. This is the sadness of it, because, after all, they're just regional communities, aren't they? Labor doesn't care about regional communities.

The shire president of Wyndham-East Kimberley, David Menzel, recently commented that he expects to see an increase in social issues after the card trial ends. Local Kununurra community leader Des Hill has expressed concerns over the scrapping of the cashless debit card. Mr Hill understands that certain individuals were abusing their money on alcohol, gambling and drugs. Mr Hill also understands that solutions such as the cashless debit card can provide assistance to local families in dealing with these endemic issues. Executive Chair of the Wunan Foundation in East Kimberley, Ian Trust, said that, although the cashless debit card was not a silver bullet, it was 'something that could have been improved and made better. Going back just to cash welfare is going back to a status quo—and we have had that for 40 or 50 years and that hasn't worked'. He is a very, very respectful and respected man in the Kimberley and he speaks the truth.

This is just commentary from leaders on the ground who have to deal with the issues of remote and regional communities every single day. They are a long way from Canberra. Support for the cashless debit card does not stop there. WA Police Commissioner Col Blanch said the trial had been beneficial for communities. He said:

It gives opportunity for the more senior people in families and the elders and some of the Aboriginal communities to use the money on food for the kids and other things.

It just seems to settle the community down and gives them better opportunity to spend their money on priority needs.

This is Western Australia's most senior law enforcer, who, I have no doubt, knows the issues being faced on the ground in the East Kimberley.

If Labor actually took the time to truly consult with law enforcement and Indigenous and community leaders, then they'd be aware of the benefits of the cashless debit card, especially in my electorate of Durack and across the sites that I mentioned earlier. They would be aware that 41 per cent of participants surveyed who drank alcohol reported drinking less frequently. They would be aware that 48 per cent of participants surveyed who used drugs reported using drugs less frequently. They would be aware that 48 per cent of those who gambled before the trial reported gambling less often.

Instead, Labor have chosen to ignore the facts in order to appease their virtue-signalling base. They are not interested in making the difficult decisions to make Australian lives better. They are only interested in playing politics and pandering to the city elite.

The federal Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth, insultingly referred to the cashless debit card as a Liberal Party ideological obsession. Well, let me say this very clearly: if doing your best to help the most vulnerable people in your community is nothing more than a Liberal Party ideological obsession, then I will take that moniker any day you like. We are coming to expect this sort of rhetoric from the new Labor government.

Those opposite have made reference to a recent report from the Australian National Audit Office which details the implementation and performance of the cashless debit card trial. Labor claim that this report highlighted a lack of evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of the cashless debit card. Maybe you could call that gilding the lily or being disingenuous, as this could not be further from the truth. The ANAO report clearly outlines how the cashless debit card's first performance indicator—how well the card supports a reduction in social harm in communities—was related and measurable. The second performance indicator—the extent to which participants are using their cashless debit card to direct income support payments to essential goods and services—was also found to be related but not measurable at this time. The ANAO report made two specific recommendations, and neither of them was to abolish the cashless debit card, because even the ANAO—and I don't always agree with what they say—know that removing this measure hastily and without proper consultation with communities and leaders on the ground is irresponsible, and it's purely dangerous.

The abolishment of this card will flood the affected communities with welfare cash, in turn exacerbating the issues we have spent so many years working to curb: alcohol abuse, drug abuse, gamble addiction, children going without food, family violence. Now, I agree that the cashless debit card is by no means a silver bullet; we have never claimed that it is that. But we do know that the cashless debit card is having a positive impact on the lives of Australians who need it most. And let me tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker Goodenough: these Australians are some of our most vulnerable. If this bill, the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022, is passed, the Albanese government will be directly responsible for whatever horrible circumstances our most vulnerable are left to live with. Shame on Labor!

7:51 pm

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I commend to the House the words and the contributions of the members in the electorates in which this card has been working. I've listened to each one of them speak. They have been profound in their comments on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022, but none of them have been consulted in this process about what Labor is planning to do here.

The member for Durack spoke very eloquently just now from a point of actual experience, not ideology, in her community, which she knows very, very well. We've seen the same thing from the member for O'Connor and his experience in the Goldfields of Western Australia. Both of these are Western Australian electorates and both of you have spoken directly of the impacts that this particular measure has had in your communities. Of all people who would know, it's these members, as well as the member for Grey from South Australia, who has also had a community using the cashless debit card and has seen profound impacts from that. Also, we heard earlier from the member for Hinkler.

I commend everyone who's watching this now to go back and have a look at the Hansard or have a look at the contributions by each one of these members who can speak from experience of what access to the cashless debit card has done in their communities. They actually know because they live it. They're there with their communities and they care most about their communities. I'd also like to recommend the contribution by the member for Aston, the shadow minister for education. He made just a profound and important contribution on this. Like, I hope, all members in this House, certainly the members that I've spoken about, we are profoundly concerned for the most vulnerable: the ones who expect the members who've just spoken to speak on their behalf—and they have—those vulnerable children, families and women.

In one of the communities that I visited some time ago in my previous role, I met some Aboriginal elder women. They were doing amazing work in their community, but they were forthright with me about the challenges their community faced, and I can only say to the member for Durack how important this card is as part of that and the response to that. Equally, there was a group—some wonderful Indigenous people—who would drive around at night. They would spend their evening driving around, collecting young children from wherever they were in their community and taking them home. Also, it was interesting how often they would wait so that the young people could look in the windows or doors of those premises and decide whether they would go in or get back on the bus because of what was going on.

That's the real world for these young people and for women in these communities. I would say that this government bill gives an absolute green light to more alcohol, more drug abuse and more violence in at-risk communities, which the members have spoken about so eloquently tonight.

This now sits with Labor. This is a very profound decision that they have made, and I would say to them that they need to be very directly aware of the impact of this decision and what harm this will bring to those communities. We've seen the benefits that these have brought, and previous members spoke on this. Forty-one per cent of participants surveyed who drank alcohol reported drinking less frequently. That's a very good result. Forty-eight per cent of participants surveyed who used drugs reported using drugs less frequently.

There were lots, dozens, of evaluations of the cashless debit card, and they provided consistent evidence about quarantining policies that show a decrease in drug and alcohol issues, decreases in crime violence and antisocial behaviour, and improvements in child health and wellbeing. What a fantastic outcome: an improvement in child health and wellbeing. I'm sure the member for Durack and the members present are part of that, being a reason why this cashless debit card is so important and is making a difference. There has been improvement in financial management and—here's a wonderful result—ongoing and even strengthened community support. What a great set of outcomes.

Here we have a Labor government ripping that away, saying: 'That does not matter. That is not important.' Yes, to us, it is. The members I have spoken about, who have been so supportive of this and worked so hard to get the card into their communities, understand very well how important this is and what a difference it's made. It's made a real difference to real lives, particularly to children and women. They're the people who are going to suffer most. I am absolutely appalled by that decision—absolutely appalled. We haven't seen the consultation. There's been no consultation, to my knowledge, in the Goldfields—no consultation at all. We're going to see what happens from here. I don't know what the government are going to do in relation to alcohol, gambling and illegal drugs—it sits with them now—and how they're actually going to manage from here.

I know the member for Grey has spoken out very strongly on this issue and the difference it's made to his community in Ceduna. He has spoken very strongly about this. He is very, very concerned about the impact, and rightly so. He did say that his community, as we've heard repeatedly in this place, were consulted and were very much part of it. I think the member for Aston spoke very strongly about this and the difference that had made in the design and delivery.

The member for O'Connor also said that the mayors in the Goldfields are bracing themselves for an increase in antisocial behaviour. I quote the member for O'Connor in a previous speech. He represents the constituents of the Goldfields, and he said that it's accepted by far more retailers and that nothing could be further from the truth in saying that it was stigmatising, because it was able to be used and used very effectively. I understand that not one Labor MP or senator has engaged with the Goldfields. The member for O'Connor said that neither he nor the member for Durack nor the member for Grey nor the member for Hinkler were asked about the actual impacts of this card that operates in their particular electorates. I find that astounding when they are making such a profound decision that affects the lives of our most vulnerable, women and children. This is something this parliament should never forget: the most vulnerable are at greater risk now because of the removal of this cashless debit card.

I think all of us would agree that reducing alcohol, reducing drugs, increased school attendance, more food for children are great ideas. I know the member for Durack thinks that is a great idea for the young people in her electorate. A reduction in domestic and sexual violence, what a fantastic outcome. That's why we're here in this place. They are exactly the issues that we are here to deal with on behalf of our communities. The government is now responsible for any increase in harm to children and families in the communities that currently have access to the cashless debit card. This now sits with the government.

I speak in this House to represent those who aren't being heard, those who will be most impacted by any change to the CDC in the electorates we have spoken about tonight. Those of you who have not read or listened to the contributions by the members here who have the CDC in their electorates, can I encourage you to do so? The member for Durack, the member for O'Connor, the member for Grey, the member for Hinkler and of course the shadow minister for education, I commend their contributions to you all and encourage you to read and listen to those.

8:01 pm

Photo of Scott BuchholzScott Buchholz (Wright, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As I stand on my feet, I offer you affirmation on your elevation to high office as the Second Deputy Speaker, a well-deserved position for a member from Western Australia deservedly received by you. As we come to the hour of eight o'clock, the parliament in its neutrality would normally be rising at this time of the night but we are not. There is a bill before the House which is of particular attention to this side of the House. As a result, I want to acknowledge the government for allowing debate to pursue until 10 o'clock tonight. As you well know, there's a list of speakers who want to make a contribution to this debate because we believe that it's worth debating. We believe that this bill will have ramifications in communities and we need to make sure this government are accountable for the actions that they are about to undertake as a result of their actions.

The opposition opposes the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022 and will oppose it vigorously. Evidence of that is the number of speakers who are prepared to stay after the parliament has finished to put their case. We will put our case because we were the architects of this bill and there are reasons we put it in place. It's worth remembering that the introduction of this card didn't come from any political grandstanding in regional communities. It didn't come from woke communities trying to put forward a better way of life. It didn't come from state governments. The genesis of this card, the genesis of trying to make Indigenous communities and regional communities better came from where? These aren't in the speaking points that would have been handed out to both sides of the House tonight. It came from a coroner's report. It comes from the death after death after death of those who lost their lives in communities through drugs, alcohol, illicit substances or whatever it might be, those who lost their lives due to family abuse, domestic violence.

It's worth remembering the introduction of this card came about as a part of the response to the South Australian coroner's report delivered by Anthony Schappell in 2011 and, as a result, this government acted. It came about because there were six Indigenous people, as it turned out, who had died prior to that. As I look around at the chamber I see members from South Australia. I see the member for Barker in the chamber, who would be only too well aware of coroner's reports, coming from his legal background.

The decision for us to introduce the cashless debit card was not made on a political whim. It was made as a result of the coroner's report by Anthony Chappelle in 2011. In the five years leading up to 2011, there'd been six deaths in Ceduna. While he was deliberating, there was another. How would history have treated us as a government if we didn't act? So we acted.

During the course of this debate, you have heard overwhelming contributions from members on this side of the House citing personal experience where they have sat with families. In contrast, on the other side, you have heard similar debating points. One of the debating points that I can bring to memory was that we needed to get rid of the cashless debit card because there was a person in a regional community who couldn't buy the right brassiere size on the cashless debit card. Please tell me that that's not why the Australian Labor Party is doing this. I don't want to embarrass the member by reciting it, but, if you want to travel back through Hansard, you will find the member, who resides in the southern part of our country, on an island.

Anyway, the reason I stand today is not that I have an Indigenous community in my area. Whilst mine is a regional seat, I don't have members of my community who access the cashless debit card. But I stand tonight to support my fellow members in this chamber who, as a government, collectively worked towards bringing a cashless debit card to change lives and save lives on the back of a coroner's report that, for all intents and purposes, I have not heard a single word about from the other side. None of them have refuted the coroner's report in explaining why this has come about.

There will be unintended consequences from the removal of this cashless debit card, and those consequences will be owned by those who sit on the other side of the chamber. During the election campaign, we heard ad nauseam that those on the other side had a plan. Tell me: what's the plan for when we replace the cashless debit card? What is the financial management tool that the Australian Labor Party is going to replace this with? There is no plan. There never was a plan. What's unfolding in front of us—unfolding for the Australian public—is that the Australian Labor Party's plan only seems to be to join the conga line of ministers who walk out and say; 'Everything that happened before the election is your fault; everything good that happens in front of us is a result of our good management.' I could go over the speaking points, but I don't think the Australian public would appreciate the repetitive nature of that. They have heard my point. The coroner made the recommendations.

During the debate, there were a number of points made on the other side about the University of Adelaide's report. In closing, I want to cite the Auditor-General's report, which made two recommendations on the cashless debit card. Recommendation 1, in paragraph 3.20, says:

Department of Social Services develops internal performance measures and targets to better monitor CDC program implementation and impact.

In short, what that means is there is no recommendation before the House from any university or from the Auditor-General's office which indicates that this should be abolished, other than simply that there should be greater measures to better monitor its performance. Guess what. When people are safe at home because, as a result of the cashless debit card, they're not being abused, they're not being subjected to alcohol abuse, no-one rings up an authority and says: 'I'm safe. Don't worry about me tonight. All things are good here on the home front. I can sleep knowing that I'm going to wake up without being abused.' Those incidents are not reported. The Auditor's report says that, as a No. 1 priority, there needs to be greater monitoring of the CDC program's implementation and its impact. Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank you for allowing me to offer a few short comments in this debate.

8:10 pm

Photo of Aaron VioliAaron Violi (Casey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Deputy Speaker Goodenough, I congratulate you on your new role.

It is really important, when we have the discussion and look at this challenge, that we look back at first principles and understand why this cashless debit card was introduced. As the member for Wright correctly articulated, the coroner's report from 2011 was a key pillar of the decision to save lives—and we need to remember that this is about saving lives. The cashless debit card was also an important recommendation from the Forrest review report, Creating parity. It was developed as a means of reducing social harm caused by welfare-fuelled alcohol, gambling and drug abuse. This is not about politics. It comes from independent reports, coroner's reports. It is to reduce alcohol consumption, gambling and drug abuse.

For me, the worst part of the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022 is that the minister introduced the bill, spoke on the bill and sat here today and offered no alternative to the card. The challenges and problems in these communities still exist, and the minister does not have a solution. But she is prepared to take away a mechanism that is working. I'll quote the minister's own words:

Extensive community consultation will continue on the broader question of income management, to explore the future of this and other supports that are needed in communities in line with our core principles.

…   …   …

These diverse perspective on local needs will strongly inform our next steps. Consultation is central to everything we will do as a government. We want to ensure changes or measures we implement are actually helping.

We have heard from many members today that this consultation has not occurred, but the most damning thing about these statements is an admission that the minister and the government do not have a plan to solve these challenges of alcohol abuse, drug abuse and gambling. So why are the government rushing through this bill, using their new urgent powers within 48 hours to rush it through, when they don't even have a plan to solve this? This is the challenge that we face. In government, you're supposed to have a plan to make people's lives better, not rush through legislation because it suits your ideology.

It's interesting to note, as a new member in this House, that no government members are prepared to speak on this bill. For me, it speaks volumes that they're gagging the bill and no-one is prepared to defend the bill. It's important we understand the numbers: 1 July 2022; 17,795 participants. These aren't statistics; these are people. We've heard how this policy has saved families and prevented abuse. This policy has saved lives. Given this government has articulated no plan other than more consultation, why are we rushing this through if we know lives are being saved? Surely our role in this House is to improve every life and take the time to get these policies right.

The minister has spoken about consultation and acknowledged she needs to do more. And I know that our role in this House is to listen. Many new members have talked about how important it is to listen and represent their communities. Many members on this side of the House have shared their stories. So I want to share some of the stories of voices that the government have not listened to, like the Kalgoorlie-Boulder mayor, John Bowler, who expressed his frustration:

I would have liked for them to come here, consult with us, consult with the community, and then make a decision.

This government is making decisions without consultation. Their words do not match their actions. As I have said, people's lives are going to be negatively impacted, and I will continue to repeat that, because it is so important that we understand the magnitude of the decisions we make in this House. The WA police commissioner, Col Blanch, in speaking about the card, has said:

It gives opportunity for the more senior people in families and the Elders and some of the Aboriginal communities to use the money on food for the kids and other things.

Further, he said:

It just seems to settle the community down and gives them better opportunity to spend their money on priority needs.

This is the consultation the minister has not taken. The Wunan Foundation, a leading community organisation in the East Kimberley region, in their submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs, stated:

… more than four years on from the beginning of the CDC trial, circumstances in the East Kimberley today represent an improvement on the lived experience of people before the trial began in April 2016.

That is more evidence of people's lives being positively impacted by this card.

Generation One reiterated its support for the cashless debit card in its submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs, stating:

Our support is grounded by our ongoing community consultations with trial sites since the establishment of the CDC. We continue to see the incredible positive impacts the CDC is making for individuals, families, and communities, and wish to see this continue.

It staggers me that the minister would sit here with no plan other than more consultation and that the government would rush this bill through, gag debate, use their new urgent powers, when they've got no other alternatives but more consultation. I say again: why the rush on a policy that impacts people's lives and that we know makes people's lives better?

Forty-one per cent of participants surveyed who drank alcohol reported drinking less frequently. Forty-eight per cent of participants surveyed who used drugs reported using drugs less frequently. And 48 per cent of those who gambled before the trial reported gambling less. That is more evidence that this card is working and saving and improving lives.

The other thing I found interesting today was that, when the minister was asked, she said that this doesn't work, that there's no evidence, and she referenced a report that said that 60 per cent of people did not see an improvement. For me, in one sentence, she has summed up everything that is wrong with this, because that means that 40 per cent of people have found a benefit to this card and this program. Forty per cent of people have had their lives improved, have had their families improved. How many lives have been saved that are not reported in the statistics? That's 8,000 people and 8,000 families that have had their lives improved by this card. Yet the minister is prepared to rip it away from those people and their families and communities. For what? More consultation. We're rushing through an urgent bill for more consultation. It's staggering that the government can sit here and say they're all about not leaving people behind. They're very happy to leave behind these communities and these people, with no plan but more consultation.

So I'm proud to speak out against this bill and stand with my fellow members who have been impacted. I hope the minister will take the time to reconsider and understand that there are people who are impacted: 40 per cent—8,000 people, 8,000 families and many communities impacted by this decision.

8:20 pm

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

I have been one of perhaps a handful of people in this place—perhaps fewer—who have not only spoken on this bill and researched it in depth and talked about the card many, many times in this place but also visited Ceduna and spent time in Hervey Bay with NGOs and participants to really get a very good understanding of this card. Now we have before us a bill, the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022, that will impact more than 17,000 people, who will have the opportunity to leave the cashless debit card.

I think we need to go back to the point of the card. The point of the card was to trial it at a number of isolated areas to see the impact of quarantining 80 per cent of a person's Centrelink payment—working-age Centrelink payment, not pensioners; there was a real scare campaign in the last election that pensioners were going to be put on this card, and I saw no evidence of that at all—and, with that, to encourage people who are on the card to spend their money on needs that they have and not on alcohol and drugs or on gambling. Twenty per cent they could spend on alcohol and drugs and gambling, but it was really to encourage people to make positive choices with the Centrelink funds that they had. It's important to note that not everybody has a drug and alcohol issue or a gambling issue. But the point of the card was really to address antisocial behaviours in many communities.

I think it's also really important to note that, while we have this bill before us, those in the Northern Territory and Cape York will still remain on mandatory income management, whereas the income management will move to a voluntary basis for those on the cashless debit card. I don't quite understand that, because both of the cards are managed by Indue, but there we go. That is what we have before us.

I thought what I would do is perhaps talk a little bit about when I went to Ceduna and spent time in that community to get a good understanding of the experience there and also about when I was in Hervey Bay. In Ceduna, when I went there, the results were mixed. What is important to note, though, was that there was a 12 per cent reduction in poker machine revenue in Ceduna and the surrounding local government areas. That, to me, is a real positive effect. I tried to get some updated information on that, and unfortunately it was really difficult to get that data, but I did hear anecdotally from many members of the community that in the past, in the Ceduna pub, people would be overflowing out of the pokies room. When I popped my head in to have a look, there were many, many empty chairs.

When I met with the District Council of Ceduna, they said that the card had been transformational and had fundamentally changed the community, in a positive sense. The foreshore was no longer littered with bottles and four-litre casks and antisocial behaviour. People weren't carrying around casks of wine and drinking during the day.

One of the challenges that I saw in Ceduna was that, while there was a plethora of services available—I also visited the town camp and the sobering up unit, and I met with the Red Cross—they didn't have, at the time, some long-stay drug and alcohol services. People had to go to Port Augusta for that. There was also a lack of training facilities. I think what we wanted to see with this card was that people had actually moved off Centrelink, that they were able to address their barriers and to gain employment.

Overall in Ceduna it was mixed. It was difficult. We couldn't meet with SAPOL. I think part of that was perhaps that the state government at the time was discouraging those of us who were interested to see how effective the card really was. But, anecdotally, when I talked with community members, it was supportive. It had a positive effect. Tourism had gone back into Ceduna. For those in this place—it's not in my electorate; it's in the member for Grey's electorate—Ceduna is a beautiful part of South Australia. I hope that if you are travelling through South Australia you have a chance to get there, particularly if you're heading over to Western Australia.

I'll talk briefly about my time in Hervey Bay. I met with councils. I met with the police. I met with a round table of participants. I met with organisations right across the region. I also went to headspace. Participants felt that their rights had been infringed. However, police said that it had been overwhelmingly positive, despite initially having concerns in the Hinkler electorate before the trial commenced.

When I sat with St Vincent de Paul they wanted the trial to continue, because they saw positive signs. They saw fewer people getting emergency food relief. They saw more people coming in and buying clothes.

We Care 2 provide emergency food relief and have a bit of a supermarket—a bit like Foodbank. They saw an increase in people purchasing food at their low-cost supermarket and a decrease in people seeking emergency relief. That's what we wanted to see.

Participants felt stigma with the Indue word written on the card and so the government removed that. New cards that were issued didn't have the word on it. Essentially it looked just like any other credit card.

I have not been ideological on this in any way. I've been looking at how we can positively affect the lives of people. I would like to see these trials extended.

The Australian National Audit Office report doesn't say to end the trial in any way. The two recommendations were with respect to internal performance measures and for the Department of Social Services to conduct an external review of the second impact evaluation of the card.

What we should be looking for here though is concrete evidence that this works. Unfortunately, many of the reports that were done were flawed from the beginning. They didn't have baseline data. They were largely subjective. They were asking people if they wanted to be on the card, rather than asking the police whether there had been a drop in alcohol fuelled violence, whether there had been a drop in assaults, whether there had been a drop in drug possession offences, whether rates of domestic violence and family violence had reduced. Positively—had there been an increase in school attendance and community engagement and an increase in people moving from the card into employment?

I think it's important that we allow this to continue. I'm disappointed that this bill has been rushed through the House. We seem to have these urgent emergency powers now for nearly every bill that's before this place. I would urge the minister to sit down and spend time with the regional councils, who will bear the brunt of antisocial behaviour. The purpose for the card, while it was originally rolled out, was to address that antisocial behaviour.

I want to end with what I see as a broader concern. We now have, in our nation, third generation welfare dependent Australians where no-one in three successive generations has had a job. To me this is a terrible loss of opportunity for the individual, for the family and for our broader community. I still believe that this card had tremendous potential to turn that around, for people to move from poverty to prosperity. The card alone would not do that; you would need to have a range of support services around it. But I do very much fear for the communities of Ceduna and Hervey Bay that I went to if the card is ended with absolutely no supports and no plan for the future.

8:30 pm

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I know about the Auditor-General's report, but I don't know the particulars of the people who did it, so I'm going to give a report, the Barnaby Joyce report. I'm going to give the report on the premise of someone who lives in Danglemar. I've lived in Werris Creek, Moree, Charleville, where we used to play against Kununurra and Quilpie, Augathella when I lived in St George. I'm going to give a report on my work for years with St Vincent de Paul Society. I'm going to give a report and go right back to my time—I hate to say it because I'm not proud of it—as a bouncer and saying to a lady lying on the ground, 'Pretend you're unconscious because if you get up, you're dead.' I'm going to give a report on exactly what happens when the executive function of a person's brain is taken over by alcohol and they lose all inhibitions, they lose the capacity to put on the brakes, and what they do to other people. I can tell you right now what will happen if you bring grog back into these communities—and I know these communities; you might read reports about them; I know them because I've lived and still live in these communities where these people will be affected.

What will happen? Children are going to get raped. There are no problems about that, when the issue becomes so sordid, so clouded in the fog of alcoholism; this will happen. Blokes will get beaten up, but women will be smashed to pieces. Do you know what it looks like when someone is really beaten up badly? Do you know what they look like when they have their teeth knocked out? Have you ever seen someone who's been kicked? Do you know what the bruises look like? They're like a football sized thing in their stomach, on their legs, on their head. This is what happens to people when you bring the grog back in. Do you realise that ladies will get raped? You might say, 'But that's not in the Auditor-General report.' I can tell you that's in the reality report and that's what actually happens, so anything that can reduce that is a good thing.

The people who wanted the grog taken out of these communities by taking away the money were overwhelmingly the women. They wanted it taken away. Their lives were an absolute misery. Tonight you are taking the hell back to them, and it is a hell. It's not a hell you're going to experience in this place. You're pretty forthright and you've got control of your faculties, but I can tell you that in communities around Alice Springs hell is about to come back when the grog comes back. We're sitting back tonight pontificating, talking about the Auditor-General's report and page 344, paragraph 4. Come out of that and start thinking about what you're going to do. You're really going to hurt people in the most profound way, in a way that you would find abhorrent and in a way that you would scream from the rafters if you could see it in front of your face. But you can't because it's out there. Our job is to try to bring back what's in here. How are you going to look after the women? What's your plan?

I've been to St Vincent de Paul and I've worked there for years. I worked in a thing called the night conference. If you come into the St Vincent de Paul shop three times, you get a visit from St Vincent de Paul. Do you know what it is like when the grog turns up, when the executive function and the capacity to deal with money isn't there—they don't have it? Do you know what the house looks like? Do you know what it's like to walk into a house and see human faeces on the ground? Do you know what it's like for the kids who live in that house? Do you know what it's like to walk into the house and just see everyone inebriated and lying around the walls? Do you know how dangerous it is for those kids? Do you know how dangerous their life is? If there's anything you can do to help them, you should be doing it.

You should take away the scourge, and it’s the grog. It's the VB cans in the front lawn, it's the goon they bring into the house. Now it's worse; it's meth and it's the ice. Have you ever been to people's funerals who have died of ice? I have. Good people. I remember going to her funeral—good girl, buried her. Do you know why? Because the access to cash brings the access to problems.

We had something here. It might not have been politically correct. It was probably terribly politically incorrect, probably massively politically incorrect but it worked. It worked beyond the Auditor-General's report. And if it worked for one, it worked. But it worked for far more than that. There are about 18,000 people on this. It's working for a lot of those people. It has brought sanity back into their house—sanity.

With grog, with ice, with meth comes poverty. Poverty is a horrible thing. When they come into Vinnie's because they have no food, that means the kids have no food. Do you know what it's like when kids go to school without food? I tell you what we do. We set up pie vans and pretend that every kid can go there and they can all get a feed. But we know full well there is a group of kids for whom there is insanity in their houses and we know that it is really there for them to get breakfast because we are trying to help them. That's the reality of how this works.

Did you know that people's brains develop until about their mid-20s? Anything we can do to try to wind this down we should be doing. I don't know why this is such an imperative of the new government. I wish the new government all the very best. They hold our nation in their hands, and I wish them all the very best. But for goodness' sake, do you realise what you're doing when you do this? They say, 'Oh, it's racist.' I don't care whether you are black, white, brindle, what colour or what faith you are. It's a relevant. I want you to be safe. I want you to be secure. I tell you what is incredibly redemptive. When people who have been on the grog or been on the drugs get off them, guess what? Many of the times, not all of the times, they are quite a nice person. They are quite a decent person. They just have to deal with the scourge.

In many of these remote communities, which, in a way, Danglemah is remote enough and certainly Charleville is. I know these areas. There's a thing called boredom and boredom is filled with whatever you can put into the day to get you through to the end. If you've got boredom, you've got spare time and spare time is filled by whatever gets you through to dinner time. In many instances spare cash allows you to buy the kicker, buy the VB, buy the ice, buy the meth to give you that kicker, to give you that thrill, to give some reason to the day to get it to the end. But then the day doesn't stop. See the day and the night blur into one. It just blurs into chaos. A house is no longer a house and the family is no longer a family; it's a location. The safest place for the kids in that house, for the young girls in the house, is to get the hell out of that house—anywhere. Go anywhere you like, just get out of that house.

What we in this parliament have to do is get away from this esoteric argument about the Auditor-General's report and actually have a reality check and, rather than look at the Auditor-General's report, look at the logic that resides between our own two ears and reach deep down into our hearts and put aside the parochialism of party politics and ask: What is going to keep that woman save tonight? What is going to keep that child safe tonight? What are my actual responsibilities? How strong am I? Where is my bravery? What am I prepared to do? I hope the answer is not nothing.

8:40 pm

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

I congratulate the member for New England on what was a powerful speech to this place. Like the member for New England, I wish the new government every success because, like the member for New England, I know that the fate of our nation over the course of the next three years or so rests with those opposite. But I've got to say that this is an incredibly sad and disappointing way to commence the business of the 47th Parliament of Australia. The first and most important responsibility of government is to keep citizens safe. The repeal of the cashless debit card, proposed tonight as an emergency matter, which I will deal with in a moment, will make Australians less safe. But, worse than that, it will make those amongst the most vulnerable in our nation less safe. So, if you were looking to make things worse, congratulations. I struggle to see why you would want to make a bad situation worse.

I think there's some symbolism tonight in the fact that this, the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022, has been brought on as a new emergency matter, as per the minister's declaration, because the reality is that many of those opposite are probably at home tucked up in bed right now, safe as houses, while we debate this motion. I'll tell you who's not safe in many communities tonight. That's why I support, in the fullness of time, if we had the opportunity, the extension of this program more broadly. Many people in Australia, women and children in vulnerable communities, are not safe tonight, and yet we in this place are debating whether or not we should take away this program which works. You heard it from the member for New England, in the member for New England's report, as he framed it. You were hearing there the real-life experience of someone who's been in these communities.

You have to ask yourself, as I have: Why are we here tonight? Why are we debating this repeal? I'll tell you why. If during an election campaign and in the lead-up to it you demonise a program like this one and you make false claims about it, including that it is going to be extended to pensioners, which was complete bunk and just another scare campaign of the type like 'Mediscare' that sadly the people of Australia are getting used to from those opposite, you've got to come into this place and repeal it. That's exactly what you have to do, because otherwise you've demonised it during the campaign and then done nothing about it. So that's why we're here. It's politics before people.

What does the cashless debit card do? Plenty of others have spoken about this. But for those who might be taking an interest late tonight, perhaps listening to the radio or other broadcasts, the cashless debit card effectively hypothecates 20 per cent of someone's welfare entitlement to their own bank account and the balance, 80 per cent, to a cashless debit card. I'm grateful to the member for O'Connor, who has shown me a card today. Effectively, to all intents and purposes, it looks exactly like the debit card that I, in fact, have got in my own pocket. That debit card can be used to purchase anything and everything, with the exception of two classes of products—namely, alcohol and gambling products. And, of course, it can't be used to access cash.

Why would that be important? Well, before coming to this place I worked in criminal law and I had a lot of opportunity to deal with people who were involved in the illicit drug trade. I would look at a lot of evidence collected in drug houses, and I would often see paraphernalia and drugs. I'd never see an EFTPOS tap-and-go card because—you know what?—drug dealers deal in cash. That's what they deal in, and if you give people who have a penchant for illicit substances access to cash then the money goes off the grocery bill and towards those drugs.

Those opposite might chime in, but I've acted for these criminals. I've sat next to them. I know exactly how they work. It's one of the reasons I was motivated to come to this place. I get it.

No, I said I acted for these criminals. The reality here is that what we're doing right now in this place is making Australians less safe. Let's be clear to those opposite: women will die as a result of the action you take tonight; children will die because of the action you take tonight; women and children will be sexually abused. The risks of this go off the charts; that's the reality.

It's sad that those opposite were so full-throated in their support of this repeal that, even before this matter was declared urgent, there were two speakers from those opposite. If you believe this, stand up and argue it. Own the outcomes. I can tell you that I've had a private conversation with the minister, whom I regard highly. You may find that unusual, but I do. She's a South Australian. She's a good person. Today, on leaving the parliament after question time, I took the opportunity to say, 'Amanda, Member for Kingston,'—the relevant minister—'don't do this. It's wrong, and you will own the outcomes.'

Now, as a South Australian, I'm sad to say that it was the death of five young people in the community of Ceduna and the death of a sixth before the coroner, Tony Schapel, could deliver his recommendations that effectively brought the CDC into reality. Today, in South Australia, a special investigation has been authorised to investigate an alleged death as a result of neglect. That didn't happen in the Ceduna community, but I'm here to tell you that we still see instances where young people and children are being put at risk.

The minister today said, effectively, that one of the reasons for this repeal is that 60 per cent of people surveyed didn't think this was making a positive impact on their lives. Well, by my calculations, that means that 40 per cent of people indicated that it did. Now, I haven't been here as long as some but I reckon that if every piece of social policy that came out of this place positively impacted 40 per cent of people we would reckon that's a pretty good outcome.

The consequences of the action tonight will not be borne by those opposite, by me or by those close to me. They will be bruises on the faces and the arms of people who would have otherwise avoided being impacted by the rivers of grog that will flow back into these communities. And the saddest part of all of this is that nobody has taken the time to sit down with the member for O'Connor, the member for Grey, the member for Durack and the member for Hinkler, who are the strongest proponents of this program that you will find anywhere, not least in this place.

8:50 pm

Photo of Stephen BatesStephen Bates (Brisbane, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The cashless debit card is punitive and discriminatory. Since this program was introduced in 2016 it has overwhelmingly caused hurt, distress and humiliation to those forced to used it. The current rates of income support are so meagre and are barely enough for people to survive on. The added layer of compulsory income management makes people's lives even harder than they already are. People subjected to this paternalistic policy face stigma and shame for using the cashless debit card. They are constantly living in fear that they won't be able to access essentials, like groceries, or even pay their rent, because of issues using the card. My Greens colleagues and I have met with people in the communities impacted by this card. We have been contacted by people who have become homeless due to the compulsory income management and have struggled to pay for their health care due to their payments being unnecessarily quarantined.

The Liberals constantly talk about a trial and research, but the recent ANAO report was scathing about the lack of policy evidence for this card. We know that this card does not work. Research has shown that this card has had a negative impact on people's financial wellbeing, and an Australian National Audit Office report on the card earlier this year found that the Department of Social Services had not demonstrated that the program had met its objectives.

The cashless debit card should never have been introduced, and it has been allowed to harm people for too long. This card serves no purpose other than to punish people living in poverty. The Greens have been opposed to this card since its introduction in parliament, and my colleagues Senator Janet Rice and former Greens senator Rachel Siewert tirelessly advocated against the program and consistently challenged the previous government to prove its effectiveness.

We believe that a socially just, democratic and sustainable society rests on the provision of social services to everyone who needs them. Everyone has the right to access high-quality resources to enable them to participate fully in society. Our social security system should work for the people who need it most. It should not be punishing people on income support, and private companies like Indue should not be allowed to profit off it.

The Greens welcome the Labor government's commitment to end the compulsory use of the cashless debit card. The end of this discriminatory system has been the work of communities, individuals and groups, such as No Cashless Debit Card Australia, who fought tirelessly against the introduction and subsequent expansion of the card.

Abolishing the card is an important step towards social equity and racial justice, but we must not forget the many people who will continue to be subjected to other forms of compulsory income management once the cashless debit card ends. According to the DSS, there are over 20,000 people on the BasicsCard in the Northern Territory and around 1,500 people in other parts of Australia. These people will continue to have their payments forcibly quarantined, despite the end of the cashless debit card, and to feel the stigma and shame of this cruel system.

Compulsory income management disproportionately impacts First Nations people and undermines human rights and fundamental freedoms. The cashless debit card and the BasicsCard are a continuation of discriminatory and racist intervention policies. Abolishing all compulsory income management will help generate savings for the government that can go to programs that are actually proven to reduce disadvantages and tackle issues of addiction—like early intervention.

We support the broad objectives of the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022 and thank the Labor government and the minister for acting quickly on this urgent issue. But we urge the Labor government to end all forms of compulsory income management with the same urgency. We must not let these racist and discriminatory practices continue.

We understand that the process of ending the cashless debit card and compulsory income management is complicated and involves many different communities and individuals with varying perspectives. But prominent community voices should not override an individual's choice to be taken off the card. In the introduction of the cashless debit card, we saw poor consultation from the previous government result in divided communities, where some voices were elevated above others. For this program to end equitably, we cannot allow this to happen again. We must protect people's right to autonomy. The Greens will work with the government to assure that individuals on the card are listened to and that the involuntary transfer of individuals onto this program is urgently stopped. We will also push the government to ensure that First Nations people are front and centre of all decision-making around the cashless debit card and compulsory income management.

The cashless debit card has caused widespread harm by punishing recipients of income support. We must use the end of the card as an opportunity to ask and investigate how our social security system became a tool for punishing people experiencing poverty. Too many people in Australia are living in poverty. While the rich get richer, millions of Australians are struggling to afford the most basic living costs. People are facing hunger, eviction and illness. Our income support system should provide support to everyone who needs it, but harsh and punitive measures have made it inaccessible to those who genuinely need to access it. The system is deeply broken, and it must be fixed. The government must abolish all punitive elements from our income support system. It must also raise the rate of all income support payments to above the poverty line. The Greens will continue to advocate for a fairer social security system. We will fight for a guaranteed liveable income where punitive measures like compulsory income management and mutual obligations are abolished, and income support payments are enough for people to live on.

8:57 pm

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased to join with my coalition colleagues who have spoken on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022, expressing our strong opposition to the extremely regrettable and retrograde step which it proposes to take. I think what does characterise the contributions made by many of my coalition colleagues is that they speak from experience. They have seen the way that this card has worked in their own communities, and I draw a distinction between that approach and the presentation based upon a set of ideological talking points that we have just heard.

The facts are that this card has made a significant difference in the lives of thousands of people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, in many communities around Australia. It was introduced and implemented through a careful and comprehensive process. The cashless debit card was part of a suite of measures to help people improve their circumstances, and the coalition government made a total investment for support services of more than $110 million across the cashless debit card sites, including a $30 million jobs fund and job-ready initiative to strengthen local support services and to help participants in cashless debit card communities to upskill, to become job ready and to get on the pathways to employment. We invested $50 million for drug and alcohol residential rehabilitation facilities. Just as one example, in Cape York, for the first time since income management began, there are more people volunteering to take part in the scheme than have been required to, showing once again the positive effect the cashless debit card is having on people's lives. In the Northern Territory there are currently 2,085 people who have volunteered for income management, again demonstrating the empirical, on-the-ground, practical evidence that people do see the personal benefits of a cashless welfare system.

The choices made by many people are backed by the formal evidence from the various reviews and assessments that have been conducted. The findings from the second independent impact evaluation by the University of Adelaide include clear and consistent evidence. Twenty-five per cent of people reported they were drinking less since the cashless debit card's introduction. Twenty-one per cent of cashless debit card participants reported gambling less, and evidence found that cash previously used for gambling was being redirected to essentials such as food. Forty-five per cent of cashless debit card participants reported the cashless debit card had improved things for themselves and their families.

A dozen evaluations of the cashless debit card have provided consistent evidence about welfare quarantining policies that show decreases in drug and alcohol issues; decreases in crime, violence and antisocial behaviour; improvements in child health and wellbeing; improved financial management; and ongoing, even strengthened, community support.

Notwithstanding the many claims that we've heard from the government over the last couple of days and before, the report by the Australian National Audit Office, Implementation and performance of the cashless debit card trial Follow-on, did not find that the card was bad policy or bad morally and did not call for its abolition. The report confined itself to examining the program's oversight and evaluation systems by the Department of Social Services. That is the proper responsibility of the Australian National Audit Office. It's highly misleading to claim that that report is in some way evidence of flaws in the effectiveness of the cashless debit card itself.

During my time as Minister for Social Services in 2018 and 2019, I had the opportunity to visit a number of communities where the cashless debit card was in operation and to hear personally and directly from community members and community leaders as to why the cashless debit card had been such an important reform to our welfare system. I was particularly struck by senior Aboriginal women making it clear to me that they supported the cashless debit card because it meant that women could use social services payments for food, clothing and rent for themselves and their children, rather than being pressured by family members, typically male, to hand over cash to spend on nonessentials like alcohol.

In one town, police told me that the number of call-outs for domestic violence had dramatically reduced since the card had been introduced, and staff from the local medical clinic said they were seeing significantly fewer presentations from domestic violence. A chemist said that parents were coming into his shop to buy medicines for their children because they now had the money to do so. I heard senior Aboriginal women and men expressing their support. One told me, 'This is important for our people.' A social worker said that some people supported by the service she works for were now able to save money for the first time. People repeatedly commented that their town felt safer, that there was less public drunkenness and that the streets were quieter at night.

The cashless debit card is a powerful and practical tool to fight the scourge of welfare funded drug and alcohol dependency. It means that welfare money goes to pay the rent, put food on the table and provide uniforms for the children, rather than being handed across to grog sellers and drug dealers. In 2019 I observed, 'If Labor gets into power, the cashless debit card is dead.' It wasn't an observation I made with any pleasure, but it was a prediction based upon the regrettably ideological attitude we have seen from the Labor Party, informed by prioritising the perspectives of inner-city leftist activists over what people in remote communities are saying is their practical experience of the benefits in terms of safety and dignity that the cashless debit card has brought.

It is deeply disappointing that the Labor Party is pursuing this ideological vendetta against a policy mechanism that works. It is deeply disappointing that they would be doing this, even though the cashless debit card has demonstrably made a positive change in our welfare system and demonstrably delivered better lives and better outcomes for thousands of Australians.

I had the opportunity to meet with Ian Trust from the Wunan Foundation, a leading community organisation in the East Kimberley region. He has said:

We accept that there are some people with deeply held ideological or political views who reject the CDC

the cashless debit card—

'on-principle' and these people will point to all the things that are still challenges for our community as a justification for their opposition. The reality is that many challenges persist because they have been so many decades in the making and will take decades to turnaround.

He said:

… more than four years on from the beginning of the CDC trial, circumstances in the East Kimberley today represent an improvement on the lived experience of people before the trial began in April 2016.

I want to acknowledge the leadership and courage of Ian Trust and many other leaders around Australia who have been prepared to say publicly what the actual positive outcomes of the cashless debit card are, in the face of an onslaught of ideologically motivated pressure for them not to speak up about the benefits that the cashless debit card is providing—about the fact that the cashless debit card ensures that income support recipients and their children and families can access essential items such as food and housing, and reduces the amount of money being diverted to alcohol, drugs and gambling products.

Despite the evidence, despite community leaders still requesting that the cashless debit card stay, despite children dying from malnutrition and despite the Northern Territory government's moves to remove alcohol restrictions, this government, this Albanese Labor government, tragically, is acting based on ideological motivations in the face of clear evidence that this is a policy tool which works and which is making life better—which has succeeded in making life better—for many people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who are recipients of social services benefits. Australians, I think, should be deeply disappointed by this ideologically motivated action that the Albanese Labor government is taking, which, sadly, is going to reverse some very significant progress that has been made under the cashless debit card.

9:07 pm

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

I must say, as I stand here today as the member for Grey but also the member for Ceduna, how saddened, deeply apprehensive and angry I am about the gutting of the cashless debit card.

To understand the origin of the cashless debit card, I think the House needs to know about the South Australian deputy coroner's report in 2011 by Anthony Schapel, investigating the six and then seven deaths close to the Ceduna township, all related to alcohol abuse. He wrote at the time of the 'severe intractable culture of excessive alcohol consumption' amongst transient Aborigines. Further, he said:

They bring with them their sicknesses and morbidities, all aggravated by continual self-neglect and the excessive consumption of … cheap alcohol.

He said of 18 Tank, near Ceduna, which was the unofficial campsite chosen by the visitors, that it was a 'flat, desolate and pitiless area' with 'numerous discarded plastic wine cask bladders and containers littering the ground'.

I can inform you, Deputy Speaker Claydon, that that is not the Ceduna of today. It is a vastly changed community. There were a number of measures introduced in the wake of the deputy coroner's investigation. It was not long after that investigation that, firstly, the blue card was introduced as a voluntary and directed measure in Ceduna, and then, not long after that, there was the cashless debit card. It has undoubtedly made a huge difference. I know the government disputes this.

Firstly, let me thank the Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth, for coming to Ceduna at my request and actually speaking to the groups who were proponents of the card, and a number of individuals around the town—not all, but she spoke to most of the ones I suggested she speak to. She allowed me to sit in on the meeting with the council. But, unfortunately, Minister Rishworth did not come to Ceduna—for the first time, on her first trip ever to Ceduna—to discuss whether the card could continue, or whether it was doing a good job; she came to discuss what it was the government would do to wind up the card and what extra services the community thought were needed. In the meeting I sat in on, someone suggested some financial counselling, and she leapt on that, saying, 'Well, yes; that would make a great difference.' I suspect it will not make a great difference; alcoholics and drug addicts aren't particularly interested in financial counselling. But I wish her luck.

More concerningly, the Minister for Indigenous Australians, before she was a minister, came to Ceduna on three occasions, and on all of those occasions she made it clear she did not wish to meet with either Ceduna council or the Far West Aboriginal Communities Leaders Group. This is the group of chairmen—elders, if you like—of each of the isolated communities and their CEOs. They have been a tower of strength through this process of introducing the card. Of course, not 100 per cent of their communities have been in favour of it, but they've seen the benefit. They've seen the benefit of the associated programs, and they've walked with the government hand in hand.

They are, though, completely fatigued from having to continually fight to keep this card. We've been through two extensions of the card, and, the last time, we—that's the former government—tried to make it permanent. It was denied by the Labor Party, the Greens and a number of crossbenchers in the Senate. So we got a two-year extension. So, regardless of how this bill is decided this evening, the card is actually due to wind up on 31 December anyhow, without an extension. And they have been champions of the cause. They believe in it. But they are exhausted by the process.

How do we know what will happen when the card goes? Well, on a couple of occasions—two?—there's been a flush of cash come in. The latest one, of course, was the doubling of the JobSeeker payments during the COVID outbreak, and, while only 20 per cent was coming through to them in cash, it was a doubling in cash. On the other occasions, it was a pensioner bonus that went into the community—$750, if I remember rightly—and that led to an influx of people coming in from the remote communities and doing, as Anthony Schapel said, bringing with them 'their sicknesses and morbidities', and hitting the grog in Ceduna and lying around in a stupor or fighting in the streets—and scaring the tourists away, I must say; that's one of the nasty side-effects. The word goes out pretty quickly, I can tell you: 'Don't go to Ceduna.' Ten years ago in Ceduna, we had bars on most of the windows. We don't have that anymore.

Labor, the government, is fond of saying that the latest auditor's report does not give a complimentary review of the scheme. What it does not do, though, is recommend its closure. What it does not do is find that it is not working. In fact, it says that it is meeting the targets on most of the criteria that it was expected to do. What it does find, though, is that it is not sufficiently well assessed to actually verify in numbers that it is working. I think this is a failure of the department that it has not devised tools that are better at measurement. And not enough base-mark measuring was done at the inception of the card.

But so many of these things are almost impossible to measure. How do you measure whether children are coming to school better fed or not? How do you measure whether or not their mum or grandma has been beaten up in the last 24 hours to get her money? How do you measure whether there are lower levels of violence in a household? These things are largely not reported. I mean, we know what is reported. Only a fraction is reported, and we know that from a whole lot of studies, not just in Indigenous communities, but it's even more so in Indigenous communities; they are reluctant to go to the police. How do we know what those effects are on the growth of that child and the way they then treat their family in 10 or 20 years? These are almost impossible things to measure.

What I do know is when I walk around Ceduna I find trouble finding people who are opposed to the card. I walked into a school recently, and I spoke to three or four people. They were all horrified that the current government was going to stop the card. They thought it would have a serious deleterious effect on the school. I've told the story before of a woman, who was probably middle-aged—I'd say she was elderly; I don't want to offend her! She grabbed my arm one day and she said, 'I didn't want this card, but don't you let them take it away now.' What she was telling me was it was a buffer against the violence in her family and gave her the ability to stand up: 'I don't have money, mate. It's no good beating me.' I have another young gentleman who said to me: 'I've read all the numbers. I've seen the surveys. But I can tell you it just feels like a whole lot better place.' When I went there early on, when we were looking at the introduction of the card and I took a minister to Ceduna, we went to the drying-out centre and the staff were telling me there that a woman was in there last night who was 8½ months pregnant and couldn't stop vomiting for six hours. Imagine how that child is today.

I give great credit to the former mayor, Allan Suter. He says the PM and the two responsible ministers will be held accountable for what this will do in our community, especially to women and children. The community is scared about what's going to happen. The Indigenous people in the community are scared. All of the community are very, very tentative about the future. The minister says she will put in different safeguards. I don't know what they are, and I think it would be a good idea if she trotted them out before the House before this bill went through. I'm very sad I've only got 10 minutes to speak about this. I have so much more I could say.

9:17 pm

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party, Shadow Minister for Trade and Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I acknowledge and thank the member for Grey, who has just preceded me. I know his electorate very well. In fact, I grew up in the member for Grey's electorate and understand many of the communities that he just spoke about. He just mentioned the emotion of sadness. We come into this place, as members of this chamber, as very lucky people to be able to do this. On many bills, you're not happy with the result or you don't agree with what's happened, especially when you're in opposition, but I must say this is the first bill that I've been involved with where, actually, the emotion that I have most, of any emotion, about this bill passing is sadness. I feel very sad for the communities and the families that will be affected by what is going to happen because of the passing of this bill.

So what is it? What is this bill about? It's been well explained, but this is a cashless debit card for people in four communities, three of them quite remote communities. They were the trial sites. These communities were chosen for very good reasons: there were very big and major social dysfunctions in the first two or three communities that were chosen; and they were remote. Why were these communities chosen? They were chosen firstly because of the violence—the sexual violence, the domestic violence, the abuse, and the danger for children and mothers and in some cases fathers as well. They were chosen because they were very dysfunctional communities that had a lot of social issues. The cashless debit card was chosen for the reason that this would be a good way, because of the remoteness and the isolation of these communities, you could trial this to see: what would happen if we did this?

In politics, we see fear campaigns all the time, and both sides of politics have done that, but I was really quite disappointed in the fear campaign on this from the government, saying that we were going to do it everywhere for pensioners, which was never the motivation to do this. The motivation to do this cashless debit card was to stop children, basically, being bashed, beaten or raped; mothers being bashed, beaten or raped; and fathers in some cases, too, being bashed and beaten. It was the trauma that these communities were going through.

These communities, as I say, were chosen because they were remote. The cashless debit card was introduced. What did that mean? It didn't mean an income cut for any of these people. It didn't mean that they were being neglected for anything that was essential. Let's just step back a bit. What are we saying here? We're saying there's a community with a lot of social dysfunction, a community that's dangerous for children. I've been to some of these communities and grew up near one. It can be dangerous for children to stay at home. As previous speakers have said, in some of these towns you have hundreds of kids roaming the streets at night because it's not safe to be at home. This is not okay.

We talk about the fact that we need to make our statistics better and make families and communities safer for everybody. The idea is not that outrageous, and I simply don't understand how this is being sold as a terrible thing to have done to people. This was simply: if we just make it so that people in some isolated communities that have major social dysfunction are not able to spend welfare money—this is money that's given to them by the government—on alcohol, drugs or gambling, let's see what that does. And this has been vilified as a terrible thing that we have done. I say, if we've saved one child from being raped, if we've saved one wife from being bashed, or if we've just done that on a couple of occasions, then this has been a worthwhile trial. But I would say that this hasn't just saved isolated children or isolated women; this has saved communities.

I was speaking to a teacher in one of these communities. She was telling me what used to happen when she first arrived, before the cashless welfare card was introduced. There was a certain day—it was welfare day, but she didn't know it was welfare day—when the kids would run out of school really early. She said to one of the other teachers, 'Why do the kids do that?' She said, 'They run home and they try and get some of the money before it all goes, because it will be all gone within a day or two.' So they'd literally run home because they knew there was going to be cash in the house that day, and they would try and get some of it. And they would try and get some of it so they could buy food or support themselves through that day. I ran into her a few years later, and we were speaking about the cashless debit card. She was then not living in that community, and she said, 'That can never be reversed, as far as I'm concerned. As a teacher, what I saw as a result of the cashless debit card in my community was the best thing that I ever saw happen.'

When I'm in a debate or an argument, I always try and understand what the other side thinks. Why does the person who does not agree with me not agree with my thought process? You always have to put yourself in someone else's position to try and understand them. Okay, there are civil liberties. I get that. Examples have been brought up of people not having enough money to buy a second-hand fridge. Seriously? There are ways around that. There were things that were agreed to to try and get around things like that. People say that, if you go to a local market, you won't have enough cash to buy whatever. These communities, these mums and dads, weren't going to Sunday markets to buy stuff. In these communities, mum or dad, and sometimes both, were getting drunk, spending far too much of the money on alcohol, drugs and/or gambling, and their children were in danger. The stats support that.

I also don't get why the rush with this. Why the rush? The government now have said that they want, as a priority, to bring in this whole new wave of transparency, integrity and everything else they're going to do to make us a better community and a better society. Why is this such a rush? Why is this in the first two weeks of sitting? Why is it so important that you give these people back cash that means that their children are going to be in more danger? Why are you doing this in the first two weeks of sitting? Why are we having an urgency motion to say that this has to go through quickly? I think it is going to be a great shame to this government that the first urgency bill that they are putting through this parliament—'Urgent; we have to rush it'—is to give more money to alcoholics and drug addicts so their children will be in danger.

An opposition member: And drug dealers.

And drug dealers. So that's the first urgency motion—the first claim to fame—of this government. The first thing they have to gag and ram through this parliament, this bill, will let families and communities who have had great trauma and whose children have been in great danger, have that reinforced and put those children and those women back in danger. I think this is going to go down as a great shame of this government, that this is the first thing they thought they had to rush through.

Again, I try to understand the other side of this; I understand the civil liberties side and I understand the fact that you might say that you're taking away people's flexibility to have enough money to go ahead and get a haircut or whatever. I think that all sounds well in theory—I think that might all sound well in a different universe. But I know Ceduna well and I know some of the other communities, and I've certainly met many people from these communities. As I said at the start, I'm quite saddened by what's happening in this parliament today. I'm quite saddened that this government feels that this is something they need to do quickly and rush through. It's the first bill that they'll basically gag.

I literally pray for these communities, because when this cashless debit card is lifted and some of these families and people who are alcoholics and drug addicts and what have you start to get cash back into their hands this is going to be a very sad and traumatic day for the communities that are affected.

9:26 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

It is sad that I rise at this hour to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022—this urgency bill. I agree with everything the member for Page just said. He said it with passion and said it with experience. I know the member for Page, as he just described, has been to many of these communities—as have I. I wonder how many of those opposite, perhaps those new to the parliament, have been to these communities? Have they seen the sorts of things that the member for Page and I have seen in some of these more remote communities, or heard the stories from those people directly affected—and they certainly will be affected—by the repealing of this important provision?

The cashless debit card has made a big difference. It has made a difference to the lives of so many—to so many children. If we, as the Parliament of Australia, are to look after one thing, one sector of society, it should be our children. They are our future. I know that sounds glib and I know that sounds trite—perhaps, even, corny. But we have to look after the kids, and the cashless debit card did just that. It looked after the kids who, in many ways—certainly, in many remote communities—are the voiceless. Before the cashless debit card was put in place they did not have a voice. They didn't have food at the table. They went to school hungry, they came home from school and, if it was a good night, often mum didn't bashed. The cashless debit card made such a difference.

I know that some of those opposite may well, as the member for Page said very eloquently, see this as a slur on their civil rights and liberties. I understand that. I understand that they come to this motion, this debate—this gag bill; call it what you like—in good faith. But the cashless debit card did, as I said at the outset, make a difference. It has been described variously by members opposite as 'cruel', 'insidious' and 'a cancer', and that it would be liberation day when the bill passed. It won't be liberation day for those children who have gone to school with a full stomach of food, who have gone to school knowing that mum was safe and who went back home from school knowing they were going to get a good night's rest.

This cashless debit card worked. It worked in regional Australia. It worked in remote communities. Don't just take my word for it; take Jacinta Price's. Her inaugural speech last week was one of the best I've heard and no doubt all of those in the Senate chamber have heard as well. The member for Parkes said to me, 'They will still be talking about this speech in a hundred years,' and he's right. In her speech the new senator from the Northern Territory talked about how it allowed 'countless families on welfare to feed their children rather than seeing the money claimed by kinship demand from alcoholics, substance abusers and gamblers in their own family group.' I don't suppose and I don't suggest that I know any better than the Country Liberal Party member for the Northern Territory. I know she knows. I know that she has been in those communities. She's seen the dreadful toll that alcoholism, problem gambling and substance abuse have wreaked upon those families and those communities.

The cashless debit card worked. It worked in the Ceduna region. I'm glad the member for Grey, who spoke earlier in this debate, is here in the chamber. It worked in the Goldfields and East Kimberley regions in Western Australia. It worked in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, where I know the member for Hinkler started off this discussion, this debate, the coalition's position on this earlier this evening. It worked in selected Cape York communities, including Doomadgee in Queensland, and the Northern Territory. I've spoken to people in the Doomadgee community. They're good people. They're great folk. I've spoken to women in that community who knew of the benefits of the cashless debit card and who told me how important it was.

The cashless debit card program has been operating in the Cape York region of Queensland and across the Northern Territory since March 2021. I can't reiterate this enough: it has worked. If let be, it will continue to work; if taken away, those communities and those families are at risk. What I would implore government members to realise and understand is that we should be here listening to the voices of the voiceless—the children whose lives are going to be so gravely and perhaps sadly and tragically affected by the decision to repeal the cashless debit card. As I say, our children should be our No. 1 priority, particularly in relation to this bill. The member for Page said, 'Be it on Labor's head,' that this is the first urgency motion, the first 'gag' bill if you like, that the Albanese government is putting through the parliament. Whilst I appreciate that the Indigenous affairs minister and others have come to this place in good faith, they too should realise that this is going to have such a profound effect on those families who have benefited from having the cashless debit card in place.

The government's bill removes the ability for new entrants to be put on the cashless debit card and enables more than 17,000 existing CDC participants to be transitioned off the card. How sad, how dreadfully sad, for those families who, for the first time in a long time, had had money being spent on the things that families should be spending money on: food, clothing, school provisions for the children. One of the great advantages of the cashless debit card was that it wasn't able to be spent on alcohol, on gambling products, on some gift cards or to withdraw cash. I've heard the argument from those opposite that grandparents couldn't go out and give a few bucks to their grandkids for Christmas. I say poppycock to that, I really do. That's just a silly argument. I know that alcohol is such a dreadful disadvantage to these communities and to these families.

Governments are there to make decisions to help all Australians. Not every decision that we reach, take or make is going to be agreed upon by everybody. We know that, and that's why we have members from all sides of politics making up this very diverse chamber. But that is also why we, as a collective, need to make the right decisions to bring about the right outcomes at the right time in the right communities. The cashless debit card did just that with 80 per cent of the recipient's welfare payment quarantined onto the card. The remaining 20 per cent of recipient's social security payments was transferred into the recipient's bank account and could be withdrawn and used without restriction. It has been operated in trial sites, the earliest being March 2016.

I know the member for Gray has spoken volumes about what it did for the communities that he represents. These communities extol the virtues of the cashless debit card. I know others have done the same. Again, I say to those opposite: think long and hard about the decision, about the vote, that will be taken probably tomorrow morning. It is one of the most important decisions you will make in this 47th Parliament. It is going to have such a profound effect on those families who have benefited so much from having that cashless debit card.

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There being no further speakers, debate is adjourned and further proceedings on the bill will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.

House adjourned at 21:37