Senate debates

Wednesday, 9 December 2020


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

7:44 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Road Safety) Share this | Hansard source

I wish to make my contribution to the debate on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020 and I endorse the comments of all my colleagues on this side. But I'd also acknowledge Senator O'Sullivan, who has lived and breathed this stuff and has done a lot of work in this area. Senator O'Sullivan, you know that there's a lot of difference between us. We'll probably be on opposite sides of the chamber when the vote is taken—not probably; we definitely will be. Anyway, I wanted to put that on the record.

It's a well-known fact that this is not the first time I've made a contribution on the cashless debit card. I've made extensive contributions on this. For those from WA who have been on another planet and don't know, I work very closely with people in the East Kimberley, and I've got some very good friends in the East Kimberley, and I want to say this very, very clearly: there is no way known that I support mandatory rollout of the cashless debit card, but I do support voluntary participation.

There are a couple of things I do want to say tonight. I want to talk about the Wunan Foundation and I also want to talk about who heads up the Wunan Foundation—a very dear friend of mine, Ian Trust. So let me just share this with senators. The Wunan Foundation is an Aboriginal development organisation in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia. Wunan operates with a clear purpose and a strategy to drive long-term socioeconomic change for Aboriginal people by providing real opportunities, by investing in people's abilities and by encouraging and rewarding aspiration and self-responsibility. Wunan's efforts are guided by the philosophy that Aboriginal success grows from investing in people's ability, real opportunity and reward for effort. Wunan is committed to serving the East Kimberley region via funded programs and innovative solutions. Its programs span its strategic priorities to improve the lives of Aboriginal people, while its social enterprises are spread across the hospitality, health, business, accounting, research and evaluation, and maintenance industries. Wunan has created long-lasting partnerships with the community, business sector and government to make the East Kimberley a place where Aboriginal people can look forward to building a stronger and more independent future for themselves. Wunan's vision is to shift the current dependence on welfare among Aboriginal people in the East Kimberley from 80 per cent to 20 per cent. Wunan's purpose is to ensure that Aboriginal people in the East Kimberley enjoy the capabilities and opportunities they need to make positive choices that lead to independent and fulfilling lives—essentially, to have dreams and a real chance of achieving them.

The second favourite topic that I want to talk about tonight is my very, very dear friend Mr Ian Trust. Just so senators know where Ian is coming from, I will be using Ian's words in the chamber later, because the least I can do is give Ian the opportunity to have his say in this chamber—and for the people that he represents. Ian has been involved with Wunan since its inception in 1977, he's been the executive director since 2004 and he has served as chairman of the organisation since 2008. A local Gija man from Wuggubun community, Ian speaks English and Kriol, of the English Creole language family. Ian has a strong and coherent vision of a better future for Aboriginal people in the East Kimberley—a future beyond welfare and government dependency. Ian is one of the driving forces behind Wunan's key strategy of establishing a strong economic base which allows it to deliver sustainable programs to assist Aboriginal people of the East Kimberley to create better lives and a positive future for themselves. Ian has worked tirelessly to progress this vision, through initiatives such as the ATSIC Regional Council's 'future building' strategy of 1996, the East Kimberley Aboriginal Achievement Awards and reforms in the Aboriginal housing and infrastructure sector, and as executive director of Wunan Foundation. In addition to Wunan, Ian has engaged with a number of national and regional organisations that contribute to the broader objective of creating Aboriginal independence. These include the Indigenous Land Corporation, the Kimberley Development Commission and Kimberley Land Council, driving Kimberley Futures. Ian is also involved in the support and development of emerging Aboriginal leaders in the East Kimberley because he believes developing strong leaders from within the Aboriginal community is crucial to drive and maintain development strategies and ensure Aboriginal people achieve their full potential.

Ian is also one of the leaders of the East Kimberley Empowered Communities Group, but it's also important, I believe, that senators should also know what other positions Ian has held. Ian has been a director of Indigenous Business Australia, the IBA; a director of the Indigenous Land Corporation, the ILC; a director of Aarnja board in the west Kimberley; a board member of the North Regional TAFE; a former founding chairman of the Wunan Foundation, from 1997 to 2003; a former ATSIC commissioner for the Kimberley; and a former chair of ATSIC Wunan Regional Council.

As I said, I would like to quote Ian's words. Ian said:

The essential quality of leadership is about faith and belief, and the vision of something better. This is the glue which holds all great nations, communities and families together. We believe our people have the potential to achieve a better quality of life than they currently have, but someone needs to believe in them. This is something university studies do not or cannot measure, but without it nothing can be achieved. This is what drives the Aboriginal people of Kununurra and Wyndham who support the CDC. We have never said the CDC is a silver bullet and that it will solve all our problems. No single strategy can do that, but it is the start we need for our people to create a better life.

Our critics keep saying that the CDC is a failure and we should go back to a system which has been an absolute failure for our people over 50 years. The payment of cash welfare benefits has not produced any tangible benefits for our people and the Closing the Gap statistics produced each year by government prove this. The success of the CDC has varied between locations. Towns such as Wyndham and Ceduna have achieved better results than towns which are more of a community hub, such as Kununurra. The influx of people from outlying communities around Kununurra and over the border who are not on the CDC distorts the outcomes in Kununurra. The problem is also compounded by the fact that each cashless debit card region has a limit on the number of participants (by legislation) who can be put on the CDC, and once this number has been reached new participants receiving benefits in the region are not put on the CDC but receive their benefits in cash.

The major positive results from the CDC in places like Kununurra is the reduction of gambling and the harassment of the elderly and vulnerable people for their money on payday. If you are a vulnerable person this outcome alone is huge. It has also helped people budget their money for the whole fortnight rather than running short of funds towards the end of the pay period to purchase food. Another advantage of the CDC is that a record of expenditure is maintained of the expenses incurred on the card. This is particularly important to monitor the spending patterns of the elderly and vulnerable people using services such as taxis. Not all taxis and other services are exploiting vulnerable people, but in the cash payment environment it is impossible to monitor if such people are being exploited, which we believe they were.

Although the achievements are modest, they are better than what we have experienced from cash welfare benefits, and we believe it is easier to build a strategy for change using the CDC as a base than cash welfare. We do not believe the CDC does any harm as participants receive the same amount of money as those on cash welfare benefits, but it has the potential to be improved over time, and that is what we need to do to build a better future for our people.

The vote for the CDC is a simple choice between trying something different which we believe can, over time, achieve change, or staying with a system which has created dependency for many Aboriginal families over generations.

Ian, you know that I will stand with you. My party has made the decision, and I back my party's decision. I will not support the mandatory rollout. But I want to continue to see how many people actually volunteer to come into it. We must always remember that we cannot vilify those who want to do it. Who are we to think that we can make these comments, and how dare we think that we know better than they do?

I have read Ian's words, and I am concluding with mine. I won't be supporting the bill, but I will be doing everything I can to work with Ian and all those in the East Kimberley who voluntarily are on the card and want to make a better path for their life and, more importantly, as they say, look after the old people—but their children come first.


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