Senate debates

Monday, 26 September 2022


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

7:29 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

The Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022 is the first legislative step towards abolishing this paternalistic control of people's lives that was put forward by the former government. It delivers on the Albanese government's election promise to right this wrong through meaningful consultation and engagement with Australian communities affected by the cashless debit card.

The card commenced in 2016, which was followed by more than six years of confused mismanagement—mismanagement synonymous with the cashless debit card, and mismanagement that led to day-to-day interference, chaos and difficulty in people's lives affected by this card. Enough is enough.

The purported purpose of the card was to minimise the social harms caused by excessive alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling. But of course this was a one-size-fits-all solution, targeting every social security recipient who was receiving JobSeeker payments with a cashless debit card. I personally heard stories from the Kimberley about people having their rent payments not go through because of this system, and about numerous other hardships that took a long time to resolve in a very difficult bureaucracy.

The former government totally ignored all of these issues within the community. The former government was prepared to put forward what was obviously a racially targeted policy. It purports that it wasn't racially targeted because it targeted everyone in these communities, but if you look at the Aboriginality demographics of these communities it's very clear what the last government's motivation was. This is but one example of the many examples of the Labor Party having to undo and fix an ill-thought-out system that the previous government slapped onto the Australian public. There was no empirical evidence used in this program and it has instead led to people becoming more dependent rather than less dependent on social services. We can see that very clearly.

This program has burdened people's lives and has produced no evidence that it has delivered on its objective. You only need to go to the Auditor-General's report to see that. It certainly hasn't been a cost saver—not that it should be, but the former government spent $170 million on a privatised cashless debit card program. That's $170 million which could have been invested in locally run support services or putting money in the pockets of the needy—the families experiencing hardship. The former government had promised services to go along with the CDC—services that most often, in the eyes of the community, did not eventuate.

Last month I was privileged, with other members of the Community Affairs Committee of the Senate, to visit towns and communities affected by the CDC. We sought information on how the CDC affected people's lives on a day-to-day basis. But we also asked what was actually wanted and needed in these areas—what was needed to recover from the fact that these communities had been very much knocked around by the CDC, a card that has limited buying power to such an extent that it disadvantaged users within their local economy and stigmatised them.

It's been very keenly felt in my own home state of WA, where in the East Kimberley it's difficult to get people to talk to you about the CDC. It's difficult because they're scared of government and they're also scared of what will be done without their consent if they speak out. But once you peel beneath that surface they feel stigmatised. And they've experienced chaos, confusion and difficulty in managing their day-to-day finances, in paying their rent, in being able to take children on school excursions, and in a range of day-to-day tasks that we would expect households right around the country to be able to take for granted.

Wyndham has been a test site since 2016 and the local evidence shows that people have felt it. They talk about the shame of not being able to make their own financial decisions, about the frustration of not being able to freely use their money in the most effective way possible. It was a broad-brush approach across the whole community, irrespective of whether any of those families had a problem that needed support. It made support services less effective because our social security system proffered no guidance or support to help reach out to those people and families that actually might have needed help for drug, alcohol or gambling problems.

The report we put forward recommends that this bill be passed. It is a message this government has heard widely and universally. It is time to listen to the people impacted by this card, who we are trying to help, and to stop ignoring their rights.


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