Senate debates

Wednesday, 9 December 2020


Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020; Second Reading

11:09 am

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) Share this | Hansard source

I join today the chorus of voices in this parliament opposing the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020. We've seen many iterations of this legislation come through this place in various forms. We know that with this legislation today the government is seeking to make the cashless debit card permanent in the trial sites in which it currently operates and to roll it out in the Northern Territory. I share absolutely the anger and frustration of many on this side of the chamber and, around the country, of many participants on the card and many communities.

We know that the CDC has been the subject of any number of inquiries. Those inquiries have consistently found that there is little evidence to show that the program works, but now we find that the government wants to make it permanent in some communities and that it wants to roll it out across the entirety of the Northern Territory also. It's disappointing, when we see the good work that's been done in this parliament to secure the representation of the Northern Territory, to help it maintain two seats in the House of Representatives and thus enfranchise Territorians, that the government ignores the community feedback from the Territory about the cashless debit card. This is no small point. The history of the Northern Territory is that, when it split from South Australia in 1911, it lost its democratic voting rights. I believe that if the Northern Territory had 12 senators of its own or participated in electing the 12 senators to South Australia this legislation wouldn't be here before us today, because the enfranchisement of First Nations people would have had an entirely different visibility and basis to it. Why was the Northern Territory managed by the Commonwealth back in 1911 as a remote territory? Frankly, it was because the thousands and thousands and hundreds of thousands of people—we don't actually know, statistically, how many people lived in the Territory at the time—who lived in the Northern Territory didn't have the right to vote at that time. I reflect on the fact that, had the people of the Northern Territory back in 1911 been white, the Northern Territory would have had representation in the federal parliament at that time. Here again we are paternalistically and patronisingly seeking to say that we in this place know what is best for the people of the Northern Territory.

This punitive micromanagement does absolutely nothing to build the capacity and resilience of people and communities. The focus on making the cashless debit card compulsory in the Northern Territory is implicitly and overtly racist. I draw on the example of the lack of voting rights historically within the Northern Territory as a parallel example of this. If we had proper participation and no paternalism in these policy debates then these policies wouldn't be here before us. Sixty-eight per cent of the people who will go on the card in the Northern Territory are First Nations Australians. The failure of the government to consult with these communities is disappointing in the extreme. But I can see why the government isn't consulting with people in a meaningful way; it's ideologically motivated to implement the cashless debit card, despite the lack of evidence.

When it comes to these debates, we must leave the cultural authority and leadership around finding things that work for community in the hands of those communities. Canberra is too far away and too remote. It's not them who are remote. It's not the Northern Territory that's remote. It's not the communities of the Kimberley that are remote. It is us who are remote from them. Many of those communities have had continuing cultures of many thousands of years. It is us who are remote from them. We've given these communities no real voice on these issues. We have to talk about those issues in those communities in a way in which they can determine their positions and their voices on them.

I note that an evaluation undertaken by the University of Adelaide was not even made available to the Senate committee that inquired into this bill for consideration during its inquiry. The government asked for evidence in terms of evaluations. If it didn't suit your agenda of wanting to support the card, it has been hidden away.


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