Tuesday, 23 February 2016
Regulations and Determinations
Social Security (Administration) (Trial Area – Ceduna and Surrounding Region) Determination 2015; Disallowance
Labor will not be supporting the disallowance of the Social Security (Administration) (Trial Area—Ceduna and Surrounding Region) Determination 2015. As we said when we had the debate earlier this year about the original plan around the Ceduna trials, we are concentrating on looking at how we could work effectively with community to respond to very serious questions. Having said that, I agree with Senator Siewert on a lot of the content that she put into her contribution. We continue to ask the questions at Senate estimates, and consistently at every opportunity we can get, to try to work out exactly how we can best respond to serious issues in community.
The major reason that Labor are supporting the Ceduna trial and not accepting the disallowance this afternoon is that we believe that there has been significant acceptance and even passionate support in elements of the Ceduna community of having this intervention. I use the term, and I know it has a lot of history around it, but this trial—and it is a trial—in Ceduna is an intervention into a community which has openly cried out for support and for help. In terms of the process, we believe that the trial must be evaluated as strongly and as openly as it possibly can be. But, in terms of the way it operates, one of the really solid aspects is that the trial has support by local, state and federal governments.
No-one can claim anywhere that any process has 100 per cent support. In fact, one of the things that worried me most about the evidence we had in the community affairs committee about the Ceduna program was, I think, an overstatement by some people about the degree of support that they had in their community. I think that is one of the elements that Senator Siewert has pointed out in her contribution: when something is being changed or something new is brought into a community, it is really important to ensure that you listen to all the concerns raised and you actually put out as much information as you possibly can. I do note that the department and also Minister Tudge have worked very hard in this process to provide a large amount of information to the community, but it must be understood that there will always be people who will not be happy. There can be no way that you can have 100 per cent of support in any area, and to claim that you do actually underestimates the role and the range of opinion in a community. Having said that, we are actually heartened by the degree of support that has been raised by a number of the Aboriginal communities in the area surrounding Ceduna and the local government area of Ceduna. The mayor has been a very strong supporter of this program and has, in fact, begged that Ceduna be put in the trial.
Also we have information from the state government that, whilst there was a memorandum of understanding signed at the time we had the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry, there was little indication about exactly what would be the engagement of the state government in the process. We understand there has been significant discussion subsequently and there is now very positive engagement from the state government about what they can put into the area.
Again, Senator Siewert, I totally agree with your comments about it being a multifaceted problem that demands a multifaceted response. That is one of the reasons that we are showing support for this trial in Ceduna. One of the core elements we raised during the original discussion was the fact that there is no single element that can make change in a community. Originally you need to have the full engagement of the community—and Ceduna has made statements that it wants to be part of this process—and, secondly, you need to have effective wraparound services so people using the card have within their community the necessary services to address their needs around drug and alcohol, gambling and building effective communities and families in their area.
Mr Tudge has forwarded a copy of all of the support services that have now been promised to the Ceduna community for the period of this trial. We believe any evaluation must take into account the effectiveness of the whole program: the use of the debit card and the wraparound services that have been injected into the community. Senator Siewert is absolutely right—any evaluation must not fail to look at the full responses in the area and must ensure that any outcomes are listed and evaluated against how the community has worked together using all the services that have been provided.
It always worries me when we talk about a trial that it will be compared to another community. The injection of support in Ceduna for the time of the trial should not be at the expense of other communities that would not be receiving similar services. If you have identified in your community, as Ceduna has done, serious crises around drug addiction and violence, you should be able to expect governments to make responses that will be able to work effectively with you to make sure you can mend your community and ensure your citizens are safe and healthy. While Senator Siewert pointed out the issue with trying to make a comparison, I am personally not as convinced around that element. In fact, I do not want to see another community that has an identified crisis being starved of resources to make some kind of effective comparison.
I think we have the ability and experience in our government departments—state, federal and local—to look effectively and with transparency at exactly what is working in our community and what is not. Any trial that sets off without having that commitment and that structure will not succeed. In terms of our support for the trial, we want to see exactly what the monitoring process is going to be. The details of that have not been released yet. We will continue to ask questions about how the community of Ceduna is being supported. The citizens of Ceduna have had a great deal of suffering. It was identified at our committee inquiry that this community have had suffering. They were able to identify at the committee hearing the loss that has been suffered in their community in terms of violence, suicide and the horrors of drug and alcohol addiction and that has led to their request to be part of the trial.
We believe this is a trial that is for this process. We do not think and have never accepted that there should be a blanket approach to any form of community work or the way welfare payments are done. Just because something works in Ceduna should not mean that you have an identical thing rolled out across every community. One of the attractions of this process is that the whole process is being linked to the community itself so they can shape and make this trial work as best suits them. They are not going to be directed from outside as to what should happen. They will be able to identify what works best for their own community and also what does not work.
Senator Siewert also raised some concerns about the information we do not have. Detail needs to be known about the way the debit card will operate, the terms and conditions of the relationship between the financial institution and the people themselves, and how the account will work. At the recent Senate estimates committee there was not that form of detail available for people to see. With the trial due to commence next month, we hope that that information will be shared as quickly as possible so that the trial will be able to work as quickly as possible.
We understand that these things take time to implement and we understand that there will be things that have to be worked out, as there will be things that will work and things that will not work, but we expect that the core elements of the way the Indue organisation will operate, the rights and conditions around using their services and how this card will operate would be available now if this trial is going to start in the first or second week of March. People will have their welfare payments transferred into that process and that needs to be fully in place so people can have confidence that they will not be without the money they need to have to exist. As we all know, people who are reliant on welfare payments do not have large reserves of cash. So, if they do not have income coming in, they will not be able to support either themselves or their families. That was the kind of information that we were told when we had our inquiry last year would be in place in good time before the trial commenced, so I would really like to get more information from the department or from the minister about how well advanced and how completely effective those financial arrangements are now with the way the actual card will work.
Labor will be watching and ensuring that the monitoring of the process will be done, including people in this place who are deeply interested in how this will operate. We do not want to have issues and concerns raised after the event; we want to know how the monitoring is going to operate. If people are concerned, we do not want their voices silenced. We know that, when people are worried or fearful, sometimes it is very easy to increase that fear and to raise issues now that possibly people had thought had been fully discussed earlier. So in many ways it is going to be the responsibility of the department to ensure that that communication is maintained effectively in the local community. If people are genuinely disgruntled, their voices should be heard so that they will not feel as though they have been forgotten by the people who should most be looking after their welfare.
I know that the concerns are in the community, and that has been made clear through emails that people have received. There have also been concerns raised by people whom I deeply respect—people like Mick Gooda, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. I take his comments about the disempowerment of people very seriously, and that is something that I know the department will be considering.
We know that people who live on very reduced incomes such as welfare payments work very effectively with the money they have, so their worth and their ability to budget and run their own lives should not be in question. What we are seeing, and what we have been told that this trial is focused on, is a community which has been ravaged by the impact of alcohol and drugs, so we think that there has been a need identified. We think that there has been consultation with community. We were reassured only last week of the fact that some of the major Aboriginal and Islander communities in the region are fully committed to ensuring that they give the trial a chance. We think that now it is up to us as a parliament to ensure that, through the process of this trial, there will not be secrecy or isolation and people's views will be heard. So, in this sense, we are not supporting the disallowance, and we look forward to seeing how this trial operates and whether there is an effective intervention to stop the ravages in this community.