Senate debates

Wednesday, 6 September 2017


Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights; Report

5:47 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I would like to draw attention to a number of points on the findings of this report and the comments the committee makes on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless debit Card) Bill 2017. At paragraph 1.136 they make the point:

While the report states that 'overall, the [trial] has been effective to date' in terms of its performance against certain pre-established indicators, the report also contains some other more mixed findings on the operation of the scheme.

It goes on to state a number of findings. The committee carried out its consideration of this bill prior to the so-called Wave 2 report being tabled. I suspect some people will be tempted to say, 'Don't worry, that report only refers to evidence in Wave 1.' But Wave 2 is a comparatively flawed analysis of the trial, such that you could just substitute their concerns about Wave 1 with Wave 2. All that's changed between those two so-called independent evaluations are some statistics.

If you look at some of the points raised, in terms of making people's lives worse off, the Wave 2 report says, 'Across the two sites, participants were more likely to indicate that it had made their lives worse rather than better,' which is very similar to 49 per cent of participants in the Wave 1 report saying their lives were worse. Not only that: you layer on top the very skewed database. Even the report acknowledges that the way the evaluations have been undertaken could lead to a skewing of the data. But more important is the way that the so-called figures they got through their push polling survey process have been skewed. For example, in Wave 2, of the 479 responses to their surveys, 228 reported none of the behaviours—we are talking here about drugs, alcohol and gambling, which are the three behaviours that the government is supposedly trying to knock off. So what they are doing is taking a sample and saying, 'There has been a reduction in alcohol consumption,' but it is against a much smaller proportion than the 479 responses. In other words, the percentage of people they say have reduced their consumption is, in fact, much smaller when you consider it across the whole of the group that they are supposed to have surveyed. It is not an accurate reflection of the number of people who have supposedly reduced alcohol consumption.

If you go to the next point, they talk about the study where the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the ANU reported: 'It is very difficult to articulate and find out what impact the actual measures had against the alcohol restrictions that are in place in both East Kimberly and Ceduna.' Paragraph 1.138 says:

… the concerns raised above in relation to some of the interim report's findings suggest the trials have not been definitively positive. It is therefore not clear from the statement of compatibility as to why extending and expanding the trials will be effective to achieve the objectives of the measure.

Those are very good points that are being made. Paragraph 1.141 says:

There is a concern that the trial is now being extended through the bill, with no specified end date or sunsetting provision and potentially without adequate consultation with the affected communities. In this respect, the bill would permit 'trials' to be rolled out, extended and imposed on communities on a compulsory basis through legislative instruments without existing safeguards.

Since when do you have trials that don't have end dates or sunsetting provisions? That is a point they make very well. They say:

… the cashless debit card would be imposed without an assessment of individual participants' suitability for the scheme.

It is a compulsory trial. It is compulsory, because everybody who is on a working-age payment has to be on this card. They make the point in the committee comment section:

Previous human rights assessments of the trials identified that subjecting a person to compulsory income management engages and limits the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to social security, and the right to privacy and family.

They then go on to list a number of points that they are raising with the minister.

I would like people, when they are viewing this report, to also look and consider the other major problems that you have with the Wave 2 evaluation of these trials. For a start, they push poll. There is a survey that they send out to participants that asks a lot of questions. Something has been pointed out to me a number of times by others talking to me about this, and I also have made the same point myself: if you know I'm from the government and I'm coming to ask you about your approach to drinking, gambling and illegal drug-taking, and you know your social security depends on this, guess what you're going to say? You are most likely to say: 'Of course I'm not drinking. Of course I've reduced my drinking.' That is the same approach they took to the evaluation of the Northern Territory intervention, and that's what they found—people's responses did not reflect what was happening on the ground. That is qualitative information, not quantitative information. The report is highly reliant on anecdotal evidence: what people think and what people report.

Going back to the survey, which, as I said, is qualitative, not quantitative, guess what one of the final questions is? At the conclusion, it says, 'Name three positive things about the trial.' Even if I hate the trial, I have to say three positive things, then they get trumpeted by the government, who say, 'Look at all these positive things people said about the report.' That is push polling in anybody's book. You then look at the fact that the report conveniently does not properly mention the crime statistics. It doesn't deal with these adequately. We know that the crime statistics for Kununurra are available, because we got them through the WA parliament from the WA Police. They show a significant increase in some key crime areas in Kununurra—not all of them, but some significant ones—around robbery, theft and threatening behaviour. Similar statistics in Ceduna, which have been available on a more regular basis, I have to say, also show that some areas of crime have increased significantly.

One of the key areas that people have raised with me in the time since this report was released last Friday—significantly, hours after the government made its announcement that it's introducing the card into Kalgoorlie, not allowing any of us to have a proper analysis before they're out there misrepresenting the data—which they haven't released the data on and looked at, is the domestic violence figures. We understand that they are in fact available but haven't been released. I'm aware that people are trying to access that data. This Wave 2 report does not show, if you look at the data properly, that this has been successful. There are a number of people in both these communities that think it has made their lives worse, that it has not achieved the objectives that the government says it has. Please, read the human rights committee comments on this and substitute Wave 2 for their comments on Wave 1. They obviously haven't had time to look at the final Wave 2 report, but all their comments are still extremely pertinent to the bill. I recommend people have a look at those comments.


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