House debates

Tuesday, 2 August 2022


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

1:16 pm

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

Can I, at the outset, make very clear to the House that the opposition opposes this bill? There are few times in opposing a bill when we so clearly and with so much certainty know what the consequences of the bill will be. It's very clear that the consequences of this bill will be devastating for so many communities around our nation—in fact, for a number of communities that suffer from the most antisocial behaviour that any of us could imagine.

There is a consequence of this bill that I would be shocked that members of the government are not aware of. We know it will lead to some of the gravest situations you could imagine. By abolishing the cashless debit card we know that the flood of alcohol and drugs into the communities of Ceduna, East Kimberley and the Goldfields in WA, and Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland will increase. The flood of alcohol and drugs into those communities will be unleashed. There are very few times when we can say with so much certainty what the consequences of a government decision will be, but here the evidence is clear: more alcohol and more drugs in these communities will lead to misery—and misery for the most vulnerable people, misery for the children who will be neglected by those who will now have more ready access to alcohol and drugs. There will be more children who will be abused in circumstances of drug-affected individuals perpetrating that violence, including sexual violence, on those children.

We know that the incidence of domestic violence as a result of the additional alcohol and drugs in these communities will be borne by the most vulnerable, predominantly women, in those communities. I know that we often come to this chamber and very critically look at the motives and intentions of our political opponents. In my nine years here I've been a person who has found very few members on either side of the chamber who don't generally have good intentions. What shocks me about this bill is that otherwise decent people in the government that I know personally would support something that is going to have such an obvious and devastating consequence for countless individuals: people who won't be organising marches in the street, people who won't be organised and able to voice the misery that they will face. This will be borne by the most vulnerable people. We know of instances of children in these communities locking themselves in shipping containers overnight to ensure that they are safe from sexual violence and other violence and the perpetrators, and so the outcome of this bill, which is to flood these communities with more alcohol and drugs, is a shocking thing that I am just utterly surprised that members opposite could support or, indeed, a credible party could take to an election.

Let's look at some of the examples of people in these communities and what they say about the cashless debit card. These are not people in Canberra, but people in the communities who have used the cashless debit card or have seen the benefits of it. A community paramedic in Ceduna said, 'Since the CDC we've definitely seen a decline in domestic violence, alcohol consumption and numbers of people presenting to ED at the hospital.' That's from a community paramedic. Or we can listen to a community elder in Ceduna who said: 'Our people are coming home in boxes due to alcohol and drugs. We go on the CDC to support our people.'

Indeed, we should listen to them rather than listening to the minister who has not consulted with these communities. I was on a phone call with capital city mayors from the goldfields who have not heard from the minister or the assistant minister. They've been forgotten in this process. We keep hearing about the consultation. Has the assistant minister consulted with capital city mayors in the goldfields? Are they lying? Is that what the assistant minister is saying, that they are lying? Those people who weren't consulted say this: 'I like the CDC because I save more money. It lasts longer and I can buy clothes.' Another CDC participate said the following: 'Women like it. It's good for kids. I am on it. It's better. No hassles.'

Now, you wouldn't have to dig too deep to find these examples. You wouldn't have to go too far to find out what people are saying or hear from a counsellor and a former police prosecutor: 'The numbers of people presenting to court have declined. We used to hold court once a month. This has now declined to once every two months, to a decline in numbers.' Or listen to a collaboration project coordinator, 'The CDC has been terrific for the town in reducing violence, increasing tourism, improving safety for women.' Or listen to the CEO of the shire of Ceduna: 'Don't take it away. Look out the window. Take a walk around. See the difference for yourself.' These are direct quotes from people who are either living in communities where the CDC operates or have been placed on the CDC themselves.

I can tell members opposite that each of the communities that are now staring down the barrel of losing the CDC are waiting with trepidation and fear—trepidation and fear of what is going to be unleashed. You don't need to be a Rhodes scholar to work out that if you pump more alcohol and more drugs into these communities, the outcomes can never be good. You don't need to be a genius to work that out. The Prime Minister, showing his remarkable blind ideology, used as a rationale in question time for removing the CDC that it was utilising the services of a private provider in our welfare system. Who operated the BasicsCard that the Labor Party put in place? It was Indue, a private provider. So those ministers and assistant ministers on their training wheels with L-plates on need to get their staff to dig a bit more, because they clearly don't know what they are talking about.

In any event, how could otherwise decent people support something that you know is going to deliver misery? I'm not a person who would often come into this chamber and made those sorts of accusations, because I do believe most people in this chamber are inherently decent individuals, whom we happen to disagree with from time to time on issues. This is clear-cut. We know what the consequences are going to be.

The coalition is very proud of the cashless debit card. It emanated from the Forrest Review, which we put in place in 2013. A huge amount of work went into putting this in place. To see a government willing to sacrifice the most vulnerable people in those communities is shocking to so many Australians, and shocking and hurtful to the people in these communities who will suffer the most.

As of 1 July, there are just under 18,000 participants using this card. To outline some of its basic features for those who might be listening who don't know enough about it: it's a Visa debit card that's issued by a payments company—

Well, with Indue, whom you put in place to control the BasicsCard, so you might want to get your researchers to look at that. The L-plate assistant minister should get her staff looking at that to help her Prime Minister in question time, who made a fool of himself. It reduces the amount of cash that can be withdrawn to use for illicit purposes, such as alcohol and drugs. Cardholders can use the card at any physical and online store that accepts Visa—it's user-friendly—and 80 per cent of the recipient's welfare payment is quarantined onto the card. Mr Deputy Speaker, you might ask where the 80 per cent came from. The 80 per cent was initially the recommendation of Indigenous groups. That was where the 80 per cent came from. This CDC has had a long history, but that is where it commenced. The 80 per cent quarantine amount came from those Indigenous groups. 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.

It's been operating since 15 March 2016 in the east Kimberley of Western Australia; from 26 April in the Goldfields in WA; from 26 March 2018 in Bundaberg; and in Hervey Bay since 29 January 2019. It was part of a suite of measures to provide support to these communities, not only removing the scourge of drug and alcohol-affected violence in these communities but also adding a $30 million jobs fund, a Job-ready initiative and $50 million for drug and alcohol residential rehabilitation facilities. This led to the WA police commissioner, Col Blanch, saying at the time:

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.

In reflecting on, again, the people who will suffer—

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.