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

Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. Labor's opposition is not ideologically driven; it's driven by the evidence that demonstrates that the scheme doesn't work. So I say—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—that, rather than pursuing ideological policy that's not based on evidence, governments should partner with communities to support the health and economic wellbeing of First Nations Australians. They should make a genuine attempt to partner with communities and listen to First Nations Australians. They should partner with communities to build their economic resilience, and listen to and work with them to deliver on community driven health strategies.

There's a very relevant saying within HIV communities—and we've seen it in the context of COVID as well—if you're going to have proper strategies that work within community. The saying is 'Nothing about us without us'. This could not be more true in the case of communities and First Nations communities. When governments say they don't trust their own communities, we've seen that that's not the kind of management that works. We shouldn't be simply saying that people can't be trusted to use their unemployment support wisely. We shouldn't be saying the government simply knows better.

A national independent study that ran over three years was funded by the Australian Research Council. It made a series of absolutely damning findings. Of the survey participants, 67 per cent reported that they had no trouble at all managing their money before being placed on income management, and 87 per cent reported they did not have a problem with alcohol. If you take your average welfare participant and you take your average senator—there are 76 of us, so if you were to take 76 jobseekers—I can tell you which cohort of people would spend more money on alcohol, and it wouldn't be the participants.

Most cardholders felt income management was forced on them with minimal assistance and support to help them use it to their advantage. People had told researchers that income management not only had failed to alleviate the challenges of their lives—challenges that were largely non-existent in terms of issues like drugs and alcohol anyway—but had caused financial problems that did not previously exist: not having enough cash for essential items; difficulty providing for children and other family members because respondents did not have access to sufficient cash; difficulties participating in the cash economy because of lack of access to cash, meaning you're unable to purchase second-hand goods, for example; and difficulties paying rent and other bills because of glitches with processing payments, particularly via the cashless debit card. I want to highlight, in the context of, for example, remote communities in Western Australia, that there is a range of goods at the local store but, if you want to buy furniture, you have to travel a long way to get it from the nearest town and, more often than not, it will be traded second-hand in a cash economy. So how do you buy furniture for your family in the context of not having access to sufficient cash? What's the point of micromanaging the finances of people who simply don't have enough to live on anyway? I can't help but think about the context of the legislation before us, where the government wants to see the cashless debit card rolled out across the Northern Territory at the same time as reducing the welfare payments of people on it.

Frankly, I'm highly concerned about the astronomical amounts of money that have already been spent on the trial. Between 2015 and 2020 some $33.6 million was spent on the hotline, the management of the card, merchant management, administration, processing support et cetera. That's a lot of money that could have gone into expanding support services and giving people a better deal on their income support payments. The evidence from the Western Australian Council of Social Service said:

Attempting to address complex social issues with a blunt instrument like the Cashless Debit Card is simply misguided and fails to meaningfully target the causes of the issues being experienced in the regions the card has been introduced.

They said:

Instead of a policy like the Cashless Debit Card, the investment and focus for these regions should be on job creation and providing appropriate, culturally-accessible services that support people to maintain a basic standard of living and care for their families, address alcohol and other drug misuse and problem gambling when those problems are present, and maintain affordable and secure housing.

This card does none of that.

In closing I'm going to reflect on the fact that people do have drug and alcohol problems in their lives and, for those who do have those significant problems, there's always a way around them. A Yalata figure told ANU researchers:

They're trying to stop people from drinking. When they made this stuff.

The researchers said:

This person reflected with poignancy on the introduction of alcohol as part of the colonisation process. 'They made the alcohol. And it never stops. You can't stop people from drinking.' … 'We've lost our vision. A card cannot give vision to the community.'

We know that we need to empower communities around the country and we need to empower individuals, but this is not what the card does. Another person in this trial said:

I know from my ex-partner: he was went away for rehab. He was missing his family, got out, and went back on heavy drugs. If there was a rehab center here … he could have probably … put his mind to it.

That person is from Ceduna, and the nearest residential drug and alcohol facility is located some 500 kilometres away.


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