Monday, 26 September 2022
Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading
I will start with a quote. You may have heard this quote before in this debate, but that is testament to how important it is to hear the quote and to really take it on board. It is:
You guys will repeal this thing and then you'll walk away. You will repeal the card and then you will walk away and leave us to the violence, leave us to the hunger, leave us to the neglected children. It's very easy to forget about remote communities.
The quote, which really struck a chord with me, came from the founder and director of strategy of the Cape York partnership, Noel Pearson, who is widely regarded and respected as an elder who speaks with firsthand knowledge of these issues and who is very, very focused on closing the gap and on initiatives that support his people and Indigenous people around Australia. We've also had concerns raised by other organisations who work at the coalface of some of these communities who are actively working to close the gap, foundations like the Minderoo Foundation, which has said:
We are concerned the decision to abolish the CDC is being rushed through the Parliament without appropriate or meaningful community consultation. The removal of the CDC has the potential to exacerbate vulnerability, and this must be avoided at all costs.
The cashless debit card was introduced by the former coalition government after multiple examples of alcohol abuse, domestic violence, gambling and addiction that resulted in many, many families going hungry and being victims of abuse and deprivation. The cashless debit card has been described as 'an innovative program designed to tackle social harm particularly associated with drug and alcohol addiction in communities with high rates of long-term social security dependency'. When the Albanese government first announced their intention to remove this program without consultation, on unsubstantiated claims of human rights abuses and after running a massive scare campaign up and down the east coast of New South Wales, those who had firsthand experience of the benefits of this innovation knew what the consequences would be.
The government claims it has consulted. Senator Polley, though, actually highlighted what the truth is because she just explained that the government is starting the consultation. So they didn't consult before they made this announcement. Whatever consultation they think they might have conducted must have been scant and meaningless, and I suspect there was never really any real intention to find evidence of the success of the program; otherwise why would they now be backtracking? Senator Polley said they want to bring the communities along with them. I'm sorry, it's too late when the bulldozer is already rolling.
We can see the panic now in the government with the hurried announcement last Friday that people on the cashless debit card will leave the program from early October, because the bulldozer is taking off, but a new 'enhanced' card will be available to people who choose to remain on income management. This new, improved, voluntary card will also somehow be available at more than the one million merchants the existing card is available at, as well as online shopping and BPAY. If the work has been done to ensure the technology and systems and compatibilities are in place to deliver this, that is the fastest I have ever seen a government and a department and a social welfare system work. In our experience, rolling out the necessary EFTPOS arrangements to these additional merchants will take much longer than the few days since the announcement was made to when new arrangements will supposedly start in October.
We are also told that a further bill is coming. They must be realising the devastation that might ensue from this cancellation of the CDC. A further bill will be coming with the social services minister saying there would be an 18-month consultation process with affected communities to decide what the future of income management will look like. Wouldn't you think this consultation should have happened before the cancellation of the existing program, an existing program that works? This is putting the cart before the horse in every sense.
The government has also announced millions of dollars in additional social support for communities transitioning off the card. They wouldn't need those social supports if you'd left the card in place.