Senate debates

Monday, 26 September 2022


Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading

7:19 pm

Photo of Dorinda CoxDorinda Cox (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to make a contribution on this bill, the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022. It is absolutely no secret that the Greens oppose income management. We believe that a socially just, democratic and sustainable society rests on the provision of an unconditional liveable income for everybody complemented by the provision of universal social services. We are pleased that this discriminatory, oppressive scheme is finally being repealed, but we are deeply disappointed that it has absolutely taken too long. This is well overdue and is just one of the many steps this country must take to stop the ongoing colonialism and oppression of First Nations people in this country.

In 2015, my predecessor, former senator Rachel Siewert, wrote in a dissenting report to the community affairs inquiry into this bill that established the trials:

Despite claims by the Government the proposed debit card is an extension of Income Management. Compulsory Income Management is a failed measure, which impacts negatively on the community and imposes significant costs on Government. Evidence provided through submissions and oral evidence to this inquiry show the fundamental problems in this approach.

We, the Greens, were ringing the alarm bells, saying even before it was enacted that this would be a disaster. Compulsory income management has consistently failed to benefit the people and communities upon which it has been imposed, and more often than not they are in fact First Nations people.

There is no clear evidence that compulsory income management works or even leads to the improvement of the lives of those who are subjected to these measures, so you can concoct any type of evaluation you want. One of the reasons for reducing income management is as a result of the alcohol and drug related problems, particularly in the Northern Territory, but there is actually no evidence that these problems have been improved by the imposition of compulsory income management.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has also stated that the application of the cashless debit card has not been shown to have been reasonable, necessary or proportionate. The CDC places unnecessary limits on economic, social and cultural human rights and undermines the right to self-determination. Now, I don't know what people from the other side think but, clearly, what we've been fighting for for 230-plus years is our right to self-govern and our right to self-determination. The CDC does not respect an individual's agency or their rights.

The stakeholders have referred to this program as 'collective punishment' and to the continuation of that. The impacts of this scheme have absolutely been devastating for people in communities. The cashless debit card prevents people from even taking cash out. For many, they survive on cash because they can't afford to buy things from the shop. Now, imagine not being able to buy things from the shop—people not being able to do that for themselves. That's about access. They purchase their clothes and their household items from op shops and garage sales and they purchase their food from farmers markets and roadside stalls. They don't get the privilege, like everybody else in this place, to go to the shop to buy the things they need, because they're on CDC.

One single mother stated: 'In three years, I've been subjected to the ludicrous thing that CDC has (1) attempted to prevent me from accessing a private speech therapist in community'—it has restricted her from doing that—'prevented me from using my tax return to buy my son a bedroom suite. Just think: put a bunch of people with no mental health, disability or domestic violence skills in charge of my financial situation in an arbitrary way,' and I bet that wouldn't happen to anyone in this place. She continued: 'When my ex-husband treated me this way, the Family Court called it financial control.' The fact is that the former government was never allowed to subject people to this level of control. If this same behaviour was by a partner or carer, they would actually call this financial abuse. It's absolutely barbaric.

As I stated earlier, the CDC has a disproportionate impact on First Nations people. It is not about a post code lottery. In fact, it is done and crafted and measured in a way where it actually will disproportionately impact on First Nations people. So make no mistake: the CDC is a continuation of colonialism in this country. It seeks to normalise policies that control First Nations people. It perpetuates the stigmatisation that we've just heard from across the chamber and in former speeches of First Nations people, as opposed to recognising their sovereignty and addressing the impacts of the collective and generational trauma that are the result of the attempted genocide of over 200 years of oppression in this country.

I don't know how many times we have to say it. We said it last week during our other speeches.

Change the Record also set this out in their evidence to the Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry into the repeal of the cashless debit card:

Colonisation and the dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from Country has taken many forms—including theft of land and resources—

commonly known as stolen wealth—

exploitation of labour, and theft and quarantining of wages and welfare payments—

stolen wages in this country—

These injustices have caused First Nations peoples to experience persistent economic inequality to this day, and their legacy continues to shape Australia's welfare and social security system.

Compulsory income management is a stark example of the type of discriminatory, coercive and top-down decision-making that has caused very real harm to First Nations individuals and communities. We welcome the decision to abolish it.

The CDC makes people more dependent on welfare rather than building capacity and independence; I don't have to say this, because I've lived that experience. But it's also a provision of the social safety nets provided globally, acknowledged by the WTO, the IPO and ESCAP in their definitions of how important that is. It's particularly important to our women and our children, as the former speaker mentioned.

The previous government have constantly shared their support for stage 3 tax cuts, saying to the public: 'This is your money. We're just giving it back to you.' Clearly this is a sentiment that only applies to white people in this country. It doesn't apply to blackfellas. If this government acknowledges the racist nature of this program and the harm it's doing, why shift some people to compulsory management through the BasicsCard, which is simply controlling us in the same way but under a different name—same-same, no different. We need to abolish all forms of compulsory income management.

I want to echo the comments of my colleague Senator Rice, who spoke very eloquently about the provisions of this bill that allow the minister to move people from the cashless debit card, once it's abolished, to other forms of compulsory income management. This, again, is simply unacceptable. We need to abolish all forms of compulsory income management, not just the cashless debit card.

We have a lot of unfinished business in this country. We are the only Commonwealth country that doesn't have a treaty with its first people. We are yet to enact legislation to enshrine the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Our children continue to be stolen at unacceptable rates. In my state alone I am 17 times more likely than a white woman to lose my children. Just think about that for a moment—I come from five generations of the stolen generation—and the amount of anxiety that that causes for my family. Think about First Nations people, who are the most incarcerated people in the world—with the fastest-growing prison population in the world being First Nations women in this country. We have a serious problem with colonialism, which is the legacy of colonisation in this country. The repealing of this card is just one of the many steps we need to take to heal this country, to provide justice and peace for First Nations people so that we can move forward.

The Greens are proud to support this bill, after calling for the cashless debit card to never have been established in the first place. We will continue to fight so that all forms of compulsory income management are abolished.


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