Senate debates

Wednesday, 9 December 2020


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

7:20 pm

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Before I was interrupted, I was discussing some of the examples of how there's a complete lack of evidence that this card creates positive change for the people who will be subjected to it. In their submission to the Senate inquiry on another government bill related to the cashless debit card, the Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation wrote:

The ALPA Board of Directors is disappointed that the Government is moving forward and expanding this oppressive policy when there is no evidence demonstrating that it creates positive change for the people who will be subjected to it. This erosion of people's choice and control over their own lives destroys any sense of self-determination, it is an attack on their basic rights …

There are people who have no history of addiction, who get no benefit from the card, yet they end up losing their financial autonomy while suffering the stigma of having to take the card out to pay for things. Jocelyn, a disability pension recipient in Ceduna, wrote in an online article about this stigma and lack of autonomy:

Imagine going out for a coffee with friends and having to use the card. Imagine buying the local paper … and having to use the card. Imagine not having cash for something you really love on the local buy/sell/exchange. Imagine trying to sell some items to get cash to survive. Imagine every time you pull the card out that you are labelled as a loser. Imagine pulling out a card that doesn’t always work! Even if you have a dollar balance on the card, it refuses you at the checkout, with people waiting behind you in the queue at the local supermarket. Imagine going to the chemist and the card will not work for your prescriptions. All of this has happened to me, and others, many times.

I ask those on the other side: how would you like to live like that? I challenge any of you to live like that for a month and then come in and say you think that it's alright to do so. If somebody in your suburb has an addiction to drugs and alcohol, maybe you should have to be on the card! I don't think you'd like it. Another story reported in an article in TheSydney Morning Herald in September last year involved a single mother of four who wasn't able to send one of her children on a school camp because she had restricted access to cash. The same mother couldn't buy second-hand textbooks for university and had to abandon her nursing placement because she was unable to buy a stethoscope online with her card.

Let me be clear: Labor are not opposed entirely to income management, but we know that the approach works best when it's targeted and when it's voluntary. An evaluation of income management in the Northern Territory found that compulsory income management does not work but that voluntary income management might. For example, in Cape York, the local community is applying income management based on individual circumstances. In contrast to the approach in this bill, the government themselves wrote in favour of voluntary income management in a document presented to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The document said:

… there are more positive results associated with people who volunteer, as they have made a choice to change their behaviour and receive assistance, positive findings have been found for people who have been referred for Income Management by a social worker or a child protection officer.

Two-thirds of the people who will be forced onto the cashless debit card—that is, 23,000 out of 34,000—are First Nations people. As Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory pointed out in their submission to the inquiry:

Income management cannot provide a transition to employment in locations where few employment opportunities exist and those that exist are largely undertaken by outsiders. Instead, for many Aboriginal residents of the NT, particularly those living remotely, compulsory income management is long term and, regardless of a person's lifestyle and financial management capacity, it is almost impossible to exit the program.

The submission said an evaluation conducted by the Social Policy Research Centre had found:

90.2 per cent of those on income management in the Northern Territory were Indigenous and 76.8 per cent of those were on compulsory income management. More than 60% of this group were on income management for more than 6 years. Of those Indigenous people on compulsory income management, a mere 4.9% gained an exemption compared to 36.3% of non-indigenous people.

This bill is an absolute insult to First Nations Australians. It's discriminatory and it's judgemental. Yesterday I heard in the chamber from Senator Hanson:

We talk in this chamber about the sexual abuse of children. That comes from people who are inebriated—it may be alcohol; it may be drugs.

I really want to point out to Senator Hanson that the sexual abuse of children is perpetrated by people from all walks of life, and they certainly don't have to be inebriated or on drugs. I feel that this comment was gratuitous and plainly wrong. Sadly, child sexual abuse is conducted by people from all walks of life—judges, doctors, schoolteachers and even politicians—so don't try to paint one group of people as responsible. The view that many people on a welfare payment are on drugs and alcohol or have a gambling addiction is also highly ignorant.

I will leave the final word on the problems with the cashless debit card to a member in the other place who, in her speech in the second reading debate on this bill, outlined many of the same concerns I have. The member said:

The cashless debit card program is a punitive measure enacted on the presumption all welfare recipients within the trial areas are incapable of managing their finances and require the government's assistance.

She went on to say:

It's somewhat ironic to me that you can essentially have an income management assessment trial for half a decade that can't show conclusive results and yet there are a number of evidence based programs that cost far less and that have demonstrably worked …

This contribution was from the Liberal member for Bass, Mrs Archer. Could there be any greater indication that this is a bad bill than that it is opposed by one of the government's own members? Unfortunately, Mrs Archer didn't have the courage of her convictions and failed to vote against the bill, a vote that would have seen it defeated. Shame on her!

Despite the overwhelming evidence against compulsory income management, there are government members and senators who have publicly advocated for a national rollout. We know that this is the government's ultimate plan and this bill is just the beginning. This has caused a number of welfare recipients to worry whether they will be placed on compulsory income management. They are people who have no history of drug, alcohol or gambling addiction and no need for any intervention in how they spend their money. In her second reading contribution, Mrs Archer spoke about the anxiety that pensioners in northern Tasmania express about having their income managed.

This bill is a prime example of this government rejecting evidence based policy in favour of an ideological bent. It will not address Indigenous disadvantage; it will not help close the gap. Instead of empowering communities, it rejects the government's stated partnership approach in favour of punitive and counterproductive measures. All it will do is perpetuate distress, anxiety and stigma for those subject to compulsory income management. I urge the crossbench in particular to reject this bill and I urge the Senate to reject this bill. (Time expired)


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