Monday, 26 September 2022
Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading
I would like to start by acknowledging the strongly divided and deeply held views in this chamber on this bill. I have engaged with all sides in consideration of this legislation. I thank senators Ruston and Rice and other senators for their time during committee hearings, hearing tragic stories from people whose lives are being affected. I would also like to thank Minister Risthworth for genuinely listening and taking on board ideas to deliver better outcomes for the communities affected by the legislation, and Senator Reynolds for the encouragement to travel to committee hearings to hear for myself. I thoroughly enjoyed this experience, my first committee hearing as a senator for the ACT. I attended the committee hearing in Darwin and read the submissions to the Senate inquiry. I have since met with a range of other stakeholders.
I've tried to look at the available evidence and have listened to the stories and evidence from affected communities. I've heard the arguments for and against. What is clear to me from all of this is that compulsory income management has to end. What's also apparent is that there are individuals who want a voluntary form of income management that utilises the technology of the CDC card. There are communities who want to be able to decide for themselves who they put on income management, through their own self-determined processes. Throughout the course of the last few months I've worked with the government on this bill and commend them for making amendments based on some of these conversations and I'm sure many others. The main concerns I raised were protecting the Family Responsibilities Commission and the framework in place in Cape York, ensuring that the CDC is still available to them. Clearly this is something they want. They rate it as much more functional than the BasicsCard, and we have to ensure that they can continue with the work that they're doing up there. We need to ensure that people on the CDC in the NT do not have to go back onto the BasicsCard, which is clearly an inferior technology. We need to ensure that people who would like to keep income management on a voluntary basis have the ability to do so.
To be clear, we need to end all compulsory income management, and this bill does not do that. It simply allows the government to take people off the CDC. We need to continue to push the government to ensure that they prioritise ending all forms of compulsory income management. While I would like to have a time line from the government regarding the ending of all income management, these changes and the funding for support services outlined over the weekend are clearly a first step.
The research and the majority of the evidence given during the Senate committee hearings overwhelmingly shows that the CDC is not addressing the problems it was designed to address. I would like to reiterate that, with the changes negotiated with government, anyone who still wants to utilise income management can still access it on a voluntary basis. This is something we heard consistently during the committee hearing process. I welcome the government's commitment to support services and to codesigning them with communities. A more holistic approach is clearly needed—a focus on codesign and ensuring that communities are empowered to make decisions for themselves to solve their own problems, to partner with communities and work alongside them rather than dictate from Canberra what they need.
It seems to me that on this issue a Voice to Parliament would be something that would provide consultation and advice on an issue that overwhelmingly—disproportionately—affects First Nations people. The referendum to enshrine a Voice in our Constitution is something I look forward to working on with my colleagues in this place and with Australians to take this step forward for our great country and to begin to write a new chapter together.
This bill is far from perfect. But it is clearly a first step and is needed, and any significant delay in its passage will subject people to further distress. So I'll be supporting this bill.