Senate debates

Wednesday, 9 December 2020


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

9:18 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | Hansard source

I also rise tonight to oppose the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020. It is racist, and it takes away people's basic human rights. I've listened to a lot of the contributions that have been made in this place today and yesterday, and I certainly wish to associate my remarks with those of Senator McCarthy, Senator Dodson and Ms Linda Burney, the member from Barton, in the other place.

I've heard those opposite accuse us of being emotional and of missing the point, saying that, because we live in the city, perhaps we don't understand. That's just bunkum. I've participated in nearly every single cashless debit card inquiry, whether it was a reference inquiry or whether it was a legislation inquiry, and I've heard of no research that supports the rollout of this card. In fact, what we've done across this country is trick those people who are currently stuck on the cashless debit card, because they believe they are on a trial site. We've heard much about the trial in the north-west of Western Australia, the Kimberley, Kununurra and the East Kimberley. We've heard a lot about the trial site in Ceduna. So emboldened were those opposite that they put on a sham trial in Kalgoorlie. And who did we hear from in that inquiry? Mainly local government. Do they deliver services? No, they do not. Do they police the local communities and towns? No, they do not. Do they provide welfare? No, they do not. They just had a feeling about the antisocial behaviour in their town and that, somehow, it would be fixed by this cashless debit card.

When those opposite decided to roll the card out in Hervey Bay and Bundaberg—a trial site—guess where we had the hearing? Did we have it in Queensland? No. So gutless were those opposite, the Morrison government, we had it in Perth. Western Australia is where we held that inquiry, not Hervey Bay. We heard from people on the phone who were having this card imposed upon them. And guess what? The government, in their wisdom, decided they'd start with a brand new trial there and put everyone under 35 on it. So we've got all these different so-called trials happening across this country. And then, all of a sudden, we hear that we're going to take the Cape York trial, the Cape York card, and make that permanent. Now, that operates entirely differently. And where did we hold that inquiry? Did we go up to Cape York? No, once again, we didn't. We held it in a capital city. I think we had something like two or three hours to investigate that card, from memory. In fact, for this latest bill, we had, I think, a two- or three-hour inquiry. That was it. We're rolling this card out. No longer are we ever going to pretend it's a trial, because it was a sham to suggest it was a trial. We're just going to roll it out and we're not going to consult with anyone. Not only that, we're going to scoop up thousands of people in the Northern Territory and we're going to scoop up those in Cape York, where we've got very different processes in place.

Have we consulted with people in the Northern Territory, with First Nations people in the Northern Territory? No, we have not. We had a three-hour telephone hook-up with officials in Canberra, with those of us who participated, like me, coming in from all across the country. I heard those opposite say we'd never been to the country. Well, I've held public meetings, like Senator Chisholm. I held a public meeting in Kalgoorlie, so alarmed was I, so concerned was I, about the emails I was getting from participants who were affected. Do you know what? That was a public meeting. We had One Nation members there. Elected members in the state parliament in Western Australia were at that meeting. The council was at that meeting and so were a lot of card holders. They told me the stories that you've heard in this chamber tonight. They told me how their rent had been messed up by the card. The grandmothers who like to give their kids money for lunch couldn't do that anymore. We heard about the woman who just wanted to pay her kids' sports footy fees in cash, and they didn't have any other way to accept the fees. She couldn't do that anymore. We heard from a woman who had very severe anxiety problems, who had prided herself on the way that she had managed her money all of her life and, suddenly, that was ripped away from her. We know that people on low incomes juggle their incomes: 'A bit of money here for this payment. If I delay that another week, I can pay this payment.' I heard all of those stories in Kalgoorlie, and the Morrison government has taken that away from people by imposing the card.

What does the government rely on in its majority report? Make no mistake—for those people listening in—if it's a legislation inquiry, the Morrison government has the numbers. They talk about 'the majority report'. We had a newsagent in Kalgoorlie come and tell us, anecdotally, how suddenly, because of the card, things were better outside her shop, and the government somehow trades on that. We heard that the government relied on the Orima research, which has been absolutely discredited. Imagine walking up to someone on the street and saying: 'Excuse me, are you on the cashless debit card? We'd like to ask you about your drinking.' That's exactly what they did—no baseline data, nothing! We'll hear tonight the minister quote these wonderful figures out of Kalgoorlie. What we won't hear the minister say is that the Western Australian government put significant additional police resources into that town, and that's why crime went down. It was nothing to do with the cashless debit card. We won't hear tonight from the minister that kids are going hungry in Kununurra and are breaking into houses. What we'll hear is that one Aboriginal leader now—one only—supports the trial. And he'll tell you, every time he comes before a Senate inquiry, that it's just one thing that he thinks is worth trying; he doesn't believe that this is going to fix all our problems.

Where did this idea come from? Was it a well-researched idea backed up with academic evidence? No! It came from a billionaire based in WA. It was an idea of Twiggy Forrest's: 'Oh, I know what we'll do! We'll control people's money.' Because he has money, power and privilege he was able to just walk into Mr Howard, at that time, and put this idea on the table. Then he was given the opportunity to go out and talk to people. How outrageous! We have academic after academic in this country who have done social research for many years, but they were simply overlooked because they don't have the power or the privilege that brings the access that Mr Twiggy Forrest has. I have nothing against him—good on him if he has made a buck. But that does not entitle him to set social policy in this country.

I've been to Broome and I've spoken to women caught up on this card—women who don't drink, who don't gamble and who have worked all their lives but who suddenly find themselves unemployed and caught up on the cashless debit card. We've all talked about those stories tonight. We can't all be wrong on this side of the chamber—some of what we're saying must be true! What those over there on the crossbench are about to do tonight, if the crossbenchers support the Morrison government, is bring into place a racist and discriminatory card in these so-called trial sites in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland, when they haven't even had the decency to say to those people: 'Hey, guess what? There's no end in sight for you now. This is your lot! And in addition to that, we're going to impose it in Cape York and the Northern Territory.' Something like 60 per cent of people caught up on that card there are First Nations people. This is racist legislation, and shame on those opposite—shame on you!

I was given a piece of research tonight by a PhD student who spent 12 months at Ceduna. That person says that harm from alcohol and drugs remains an issue for people. That person says that violence has remained the same or increased, as the cashless debit card limits access to cash. This research—research!—says that it includes extreme examples of prostitution, which we've heard before from Ceduna, and violent arguments over money. She has found, further, that violence and abuse are not reported to police because of the distrust and fear.

We know that the cashless debit card is not helpful in gaining employment—in fact, it is a disincentive because people lack the ability to have cash—and we know that the need for social support has increased. We've got the research—well we don't have it. We understand the minister has got the research that the government commissioned from the University of Adelaide—$2.5 million on a piece of research that's obviously never going to see the light of day. I wonder why that is. Maybe it's because the stark truth that those of us on this side of the chamber have been speaking tonight is laid bare in that research, and that is that the cashless debit card does not work. I hope that each and every one of you over there who votes for this piece of legislation tonight is held to account. I hope you do go to Bundaberg, Ceduna, the Kimberley, the Northern Territory and Cape York and front the people to whose lives you are doing harm. But I don't think you will. If you can't be bold enough to hold an inquiry in Bundaberg to push the cashless debit card onto people there, what hope is there? You had to have the inquiry in Perth, which, of course, meant people couldn't participate other than by phone.

It is time you stopped pretending that this card works. In the Kimberley we do not have the wraparound services that were promised. The community have told you over and over again what they need. I'm sure Senator Dodson will correct me if I'm wrong, but I think we have only one sobering up shelter, and that's in Broome. It's a very long way there from Kununurra. Maybe if you live in the cities on the eastern seaboard you don't appreciate that. It's not something you can just pop down to, and it's certainly almost impossible if you rely on the cashless debit card.

For the crossbenchers: if any of you are wavering tonight, I urge you to listen to the speeches that have been made in here about this racist card, about this card that has not worked, about trial sites that have been trial sites for way too long with no proper evaluation. We are now being incredibly dishonest to those thousands of people caught up on this card, because we're implementing it without any consultation. I don't know what is going to happen in the Northern Territory when people's cards and what's being accessed are suddenly changed. I know Senator McCarthy went into some of that today. You need to have the courage of your convictions. It is not too late to back out of this card. It's racist, it's unfair, it impacts people's human rights and it should be put in the bin where it belongs.


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