Senate debates

Wednesday, 9 December 2020


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

8:35 pm

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Jacqui Lambie Network) Share this | Hansard source

I've always seen a lot of good in the cashless debit card. I've been out there for years talking to people about what it could do and the difference it could make. I've been in the newspapers, I've been on the radio and I've been here on the floor talking about how it could work. I've stood beside four government ministers who have tried to get this thing off the ground. I've worded them up on where the person before them got to and I've told them what the next step should be. I've supported them to get legislation passed when they needed it. Over those years, I've been running around the country meeting people who are on the card and talking to people who could be about to go on it and encouraging them to do that. My staff and I have visited Ceduna and Hervey Bay and the Goldfields and the Kimberleys multiple times just to check in to see how things are going and to follow up on whether the promises are being delivered. We've been all the way to Milingimbi Island in Arnhem Land and all the way down to Papunya, a few hours drive from Alice. I've listened to the tough guys who say they hate the card and I've heard the little old ladies whisper in my ear that it's actually putting food on the table. I've talked to mayors who say their neighbourhood has been safer and calmer and I've listened to Indigenous leaders beg me not to keep the card around. I've gotten to know the people in the communities, and I've met the kids, the mums, the dads, the aunties, the uncles, the elders and even the dogs. I've heard them out. We've had some tough conversations. I've gone down, I've sat with them on mats under those gum trees in the sweltering heat and I've asked them: 'Should I vote to make this thing permanent? Should I send it up to the Northern Territory?' I learned a lot from the answers I got to those questions.

The things I've heard have changed my thinking about the card and how it works. I have to be brutally honest. When I first came out swinging for the cashless debit card, I was thinking about what life was like for me when I was on Centrelink. I was living on that little bit of money that they gave me for eight years, and I know how hard it is. Every single dollar matters. You have to scrimp and you have to save and you have to do everything you possibly can to make it stretch. You have to put off paying electricity bills one week so that you can pay your rego before it expires, and you live off Weet-Bix for days on end so you can pull together enough money to pay for your kids to get some sandshoes or footy boots, just so they can get on the sporting field. You shop at Vinnies for the kids' clothes, and you have a lovely day if you can pick up a pair of surf jeans with the original price tag still on them and they're brand new. I can tell you, you don't have a lot to spend on anything that isn't rent, bills or food.

That's why I've always thought the card wouldn't make a big difference for people who have found a way to budget their money in a way that's good for them and their family. From their perspective, they'll keep doing what they're doing, and not much is likely to change. But if someone who is living on a tiny amount, on that little bit of money that we do get when we're on welfare, is managing to spend more than 100 bucks a fortnight on booze or pokies or drugs, there's a fair chance there'll be others around them who will go without. There's also a fair chance they're probably not doing too well. More than likely, they could probably use a bit of help. More than likely, they're in some serious trouble. Sometimes they're making a bit of trouble for the people around them as well. The thing is, I know what it looks like. I recognise addiction. I've watched people I love turn into shells of themselves. I know how to spot when someone has been using again, even if it's been a while since their last hit. I see it in their eyes by the way they put their sentences together and the tone of their voice. When someone you love gets like that, they do not make good decisions and they start doing things they would never have done if their addiction hadn't taken their will. They lose sight of who they are and they lose sight of what they care about, and each day blurs into the next. Someone like that will easily blow every dollar they have to feed their cravings. They have no boundaries and they are beyond thinking about the consequences, and every bit of money they get hold of will find its way to the dealer, the bottle shop or the poker machine. I know all of this, and I will do anything—absolutely anything—to make it stop for every single Australian family that has been through this or is going through this across the country. I'd do anything to stop the absolute tragedy and heartbreak that comes from losing someone you love to an addiction. That's where I come from on this thing.

That's why, when I heard about this card, I was so hopeful that it could help. That's why I wanted to give this card a shot. It gave me hope that things could change, and that's the reason I've been the face of this thing for years. I've spoken out so loudly about the good I've seen from the card. Sometimes it feels like people out there forget that it's actually coalition policy and not mine. Somewhere along the way it became the Jacqui Lambie cashless debit card, and I didn't mind that for a while. I was prepared to take that. I still don't mind, I suppose. I know the card could do a lot of good. I've seen kids going back to school in some of these places, and I've seen, as Senator O'Sullivan said, food on the table. I've watched those elders and those women stop being abused.

But I've always said to the government: if you want to make this thing happen, you can't let the card be the only thing you do. It's not a magic wand. You can't wave it at people and expect things to somehow get better, because the problems that you see in the trial sites need a lot more than the cashless debit card to fix, and that's what I heard every time I went to the trial sites. I heard it in the Northern Territory too. Those people up there can't live better lives with just the cashless debit card. They need jobs, they need medical facilities, they need counsellors and they need skills training. They need the government to quit pulling the rug from under them by constantly funding short-term projects that never have enough time to get up and running and actually make a difference. The cashless debit card was never going to solve those problems, but it could have been a way to start making change. If it had come with the right funding so that people could get trained up, it could have made a real difference. If it had come with a jobs package to help people get off welfare, we could have made a fresh start for those people in those trial sites. But I've come to realise that the commitment from the government to make that happen has never really been there.

Take Ceduna. To be fair, the community have actually been given a lot of money since they opted into the trial—first in, first served—and good on them for having the courage to do that. I can tell you that's probably where you'll see the biggest change, because that's where we invested to start with, and we really put in the funds. But every trial site after that got less and less, and people got less and less interested. But all that money went into funding in Ceduna to 40-something charities around the town, and, even though the people who set them up are doing their best to make a difference, they're all pulling in different directions. They can't scratch the surface of the problems that Ceduna faces. Meanwhile, the TAFE hardly runs any courses. What about some trade training and some apprenticeships? All this was supposed to come along with the card. That was part of the package. The CDP isn't helping people either. We should have just stuck with the CDEP. We already knew that was working. Once again, you put a card out there, you short-changed them and you backed off in the jobs area. We need to get people trained up and ready to enter the workforce instead of being forced to show up to twiddle their thumbs.

Alcohol and drugs are still a problem in Ceduna too. Five years later, they're still an issue. The sobering-up unit can take people in and look after them for a night if they've had too much to drink, but then they have to send them back on the street when the morning arrives. Anyone who actually wants to do something about a drinking and drug problem has to leave their loved ones behind for weeks on end and travel for five hours to a rehab centre in Port Augusta. It just doesn't work for them, and most people just won't go. A lot of them are Indigenous. They don't have the cars to get up there, they don't have five hours to get up there and it makes no common sense. Part of your recovery must involve family and friends; that gives you a better chance of recovery. To just shove you somewhere and hope you recover without that support is never going to be enough. In the end nothing changes, they're back to square one and no-one goes anywhere; it's just one big, vicious circle.

I can't tell you how many times I've raised these problems with the government, and they know what's going on. This is the sad fact of the matter. They've been kicking this can down the road for years now, and it's becoming more and more obvious that they haven't had the will to make these things happen. They just haven't put in enough, and that's been the really sad fact. The card could have been something great for the country. It's taken us nearly five years to get the damn card right. We haven't even started on the rest, and the rest is the hardest bit. The rest is the jobs, the training and the rehab. If it's taken us five years to work on a card, on something plastic, how long is it going to take to get the real-life stuff right?

I had to take 20 months out of this place. I sat on the sidelines. For 20 months I had to sit back and just let it go. In all that time, I wondered, 'How is the card going?' Unfortunately, I couldn't get out there and check on it like I used to. Do you know what the government did in that time I was gone? It did pretty much nothing. Nothing happened the whole time. There was very little progress. Here's the truth: when I came back, the card was pretty much comatose; it was dead in the water. That's when I first started to wonder if the people in this government actually wanted this thing to work. Now I've finally decided that I don't think they really do at all.

What could have been so great for this country is now becoming heartbreaking. If this were really a trial, they would have done a proper study and they would have got the job done. They would have released the Adelaide university report. They know, as I do, it's going to have failings in it everywhere, because they haven't done the job. I know it. Through the chair, I'm sure Senator O'Sullivan knows it. That's really sad, and not because we want that report to look like that. It's just that somehow you guys stopped putting effort into it. It was like Ceduna was the best thing; it was great. After that it just started to become watered down. It's fallen apart.

They tell us why they think it makes sense to have this card in a few regional areas in the Northern Territory but nowhere else. They should have a reason for quarantining 80 per cent of people's money in Ceduna, Hervey Bay, the Goldfields and the Kimberley. In the Northern Territory, it's fifty-fifty. They could come out and show us that they actually want to invest making regional areas with the card prosper, put money into the jobs that people need in those areas and find a way to get people off welfare and into work, but none of that's happening. Five years is becoming six years next year since we started. This is the thing: no matter how much promise this card has, it won't work without a government prepared to make it work. You can't go at 50 per cent. You can't be half pregnant; it's not 110 per cent or nothing at all. To the government: unfortunately you just don't have that in you. You've lacked to show me that action.

For months, the government have been trying to make it look like the card is paying out everything they promised. But in truth they have set the card up to fail. If their hearts were in it in the first place, that's great. But they're certainly not there anymore. If they really cared about making the CDC work, they would have done more to get people off welfare and into a good job and a good life, because that was the promise of the card; that was the hope. The card was to give people hope to be able to change their lives around, to get out of the conditions that they've been living in for years and to get them off welfare. They would have given them something to strive for, and they would have given them that carrot; that's the answer. The government have had the stick out for so long now, it's like they forgot to pull the carrot out of the ground; it's still sitting there. That in itself has become really, really sad. As hard as this is for me—because I did see some difference. But you just didn't put in the effort over there, and that effort dwindled as each year went past. This card's just not worth it anymore, because every time you promised me you were going to do this or you were going to do that over the five years, you didn't deliver, and that's why this card has failed. It has failed because you would not deliver. You had this man over here, Senator O'Sullivan. I told you for 18 months, 'This is the man that built the jobs, he worked on it for 10 years,' and you sat him on the sidelines. There was your first hope. You had someone who knew this card, who could have made a difference really quickly, and for 18 months you still sat him on the sidelines. So for me to think you are actually going to make any difference after five years of my asking for things to make a difference—I just don't believe you anymore.


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