Monday, 26 September 2022
Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading
Fine words, Senator Brown. The question is going to be: what actually happens on the ground when the cashless debit card is removed? Notwithstanding all Senator Brown's fine words and those given by an array of speakers opposite, and from the Greens and others, I genuinely fear in practice that the removal of this cashless debit card will be an absolute unmitigated disaster for some of our most vulnerable people in Australia. That is my heartfelt fear.
I rise to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022. Those opposite have said they have a mandate to remove the cashless debit card. Let's drill down to that. I am someone who believes all politics is local. In each of the four federal seats where the cashless debit card has been in place, a coalition member of parliament was returned: in the seat of Hinkler, where Hervey Bay is a place where the cashless debit card is in place, the federal coalition member was returned; in the seat of Grey, where Ceduna is a place where the cashless debit card is in place, the federal coalition member was returned; in the seat of Durack, which contains Kalgoorlie, the federal coalition member was returned; and in the seat of O'Connor, including the Goldfields, the federal coalition member was returned. Four out of four. Where is your mandate from the actual communities where the cashless debit card is in place? No mandate from those communities; it is from others who are far removed from what is happening on the ground in the communities most impacted. No mandate from the communities where the cashless debit card is in place.
And in terms of one of those seats, held by my good friend, Keith Pitt MP, in the federal seat of Hinkler, I just want to quote some of his words from his speech. We might disagree in this place about philosophy, ideology or approaches to issues, but I would hope that no-one in this place could in any way impugn the sincerity of Mr Keith Pitt MP, the member for Hinkler, who cares deeply about his community, which has the cashless debit card at the moment. He was returned. He has a mandate to fight for the retention of the cashless debit card. This is what he said in the other place on Tuesday 2 August 2022:
There were some 6,552 individuals on the card at this site as of 1 July 2022 and it's making a difference—
That's evidence. That's the local member who is closest to his own community. That is evidence. He's talking to people on the ground every day—
it is making a big difference. My site is significantly different to the other three. We do not have a majority of Indigenous or Aboriginal descent in my patch. It is only on four payments: Newstart, youth allowance (other), parenting payment single and parenting payment partnered. That is all. It has worked, and that is being demonstrated by the evidence.
And he goes on and he talks about why he's so passionate about the card in Hervey Bay. When it was introduced, or prior to its introduction:
… it was projected that without any intervention, 57 per cent of those under 30 on welfare would still be on income support in 10 years time.
There's someone who's concerned about young people in his own electorate who are facing that future of continued dependence on welfare. That was his concern.
What did he say in terms of those opposite?
But here is what we have seen from those opposite. They said they would consult. We did over 100 meetings for consultation in my electorate, but they went and talked to some activists who don't live in the area—in fact, they're not in the electorate of Hinkler—who are opposed because, well, they're activists, and that's no real surprise.
So that's Keith Pitt MP, my good friend, the member for Hinkler, genuinely concerned about his community and genuinely concerned about the impact of removal of the cashless debit card upon his community.
I pay tribute to the coalition senators who were involved in writing the dissenting report in relation to the removal of the cashless debit card, and there are a few points I'd like to make from their dissenting report. The first is it should be noted that the CDC program commenced in Ceduna, South Australia, on 15 March 2016, and has been in East Kimberly, Western Australia, since 26 April 2016. It was progressively rolled out in the Goldfields in Western Australia since 26 March 2018, and introduced in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay regions, represented by my good friend Keith Pitt MP since 29 January 2019. And I should say, in terms of the introduction of the card in Hervey Bay, I gave a speech in this place, probably about 24 months ago, where I talked about how the youth unemployment rate in Hervey Bay actually fell by an extraordinary rate after the introduction of the cashless debit card. It fell by an extraordinary rate compared to the rest of Queensland. It was also introduced in the Cape York region in Queensland, and in the Northern Territory in early 2020. As at 5 August 2022, there were 17,754 participants using the cashless debit card around Australia.
Why was it introduced? What was the intention behind the introduction? A lot of things have been said about the intention, all of which have been from those opposite, all of which have misrepresented the intention. The intention has always been to help people. You might disagree with the philosophy of the policy and you might disagree with its practical outcomes, but no-one can legitimately disagree with the intention, which has been to help some of our most vulnerable people make a transition from welfare to leading lives where they can have jobs and provide for their families. I quote from the dissenting report:
The CDC program was sparked by the heartbreaking report of the 'sleeping rough inquest' into the deaths of six people in South Australia's far west coast, handed down by the state's coroner in 2011. It found that efforts to curb alcohol abuse in the region had not been successful and that it was having devastating impacts on individuals and families and their communities.
The Cashless Debit Card program was designed to be a tool that could assist communities in addressing social harm issues such as domestic violence, child neglect and other antisocial behaviours that arose from alcohol and substance addiction and long-term welfare dependency.
Indigenous community leaders approached the government for support and worked with government to establish the CDC program. The further rollout was established on the same basis—that being community support.
That's the reality. That's what led to the introduction of this scheme in the first place. What is going to happen in those areas when this card is removed?
And what do the people closest to the community say? They're the people we should be listening to. It's their voices we should be listening to in terms of this debate. Noel Pearson, founder and director of strategy at the Cape York Partnership—an outstanding Queenslander—said, 'I think this legislation will wipe out 20 years of my work.' Is he wrong? Is Noel Pearson wrong? Is that evidence? It's pretty persuasive evidence to me—testimony from someone who has a close connection with this community, and who is an expert with respect to these matters. Is that evidence? It's pretty persuasive evidence to me. This is what he says:
… in the absence of a solution that had the same functionality as the cashless debit card, our Family Responsibilities Commission and the welfare reform work that we've done via that over the last 20 years will collapse, and that would be a very bad thing. We'd just have to give up. We would come to the point of just giving up on the idea that we can change anything for the future of these communities.
That's from Noel Pearson. No one cares more about those Cape York communities than Noel Pearson, and this is his testimony. That's evidence, and persuasive evidence at that.
What did the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder state in its submission? It said:
The decision to abolish the CDC has been made without any consultation with the regional community and the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder remains unconsulted on how the transition will impact CDC participants, social services providers, government agencies, and the community.
That's what they say in Kalgoorlie—one of the communities most impacted. What does the Mayor of the District Council of Ceduna say? Mayor Perry Will says:
We've had no consultation about it at all. The first we heard of it was in the PM's election promises, that he was going to do it. Prior to that, we had had no representation from any Labor politicians.
The former mayor, Mr Allan Suter OAM, was the same, and stated:
I might also add that Minister Rishworth was encouraged twice by a local member of parliament to contact me, because of my knowledge of the card, when she visited Ceduna, but, despite heavy prompting from our local member, no effort was made to contact me. I made sure I was available if the phone rang, and it didn't.
That's what people on the ground are saying.
We'll see the evidence of what happens when these trials come to an end. We'll see the evidence then, and those who support the abolition of the CDC will be responsible for those outcomes. It will be your responsibility, and every fine paragraph of oratory in this place will not make a damn difference to the people on the ground in those communities. It won't make a damn difference to any of them. It will just be fine words spoken in this place, but it'll mean nothing to their on-the-ground experiences.
Let's talk about evidence. You want to talk about evidence? How's this for evidence? This is from the coalition senators' dissenting report:
Findings from an independent impact evaluation by the University of Adelaide released in 2021 reported that Cashless Debit Card had helped recipients improve their lives and the lives of their families and other community members. Findings included:
How's that for evidence?
That's exactly as intended.
How's that for evidence?
The study also showed that slightly more than half of interview respondents (and especially stakeholders) reported they were in favour of the CDC continuing, albeit with certain improvements in certain aspects.
Sure, let's try and improve it but don't abolish it. What is going to happen in these communities? These communities most impacted by this legislation did not give a mandate to the government to change it.
Four federal electorates were trial sites. Every one of those electorates returned a coalition member of parliament; four out of four—100 per cent. Those opposite may have, in their own view, a mandate on a national basis for this policy. They do not have a mandate from the communities most impacted by the abolition of the cashless debit card. They do not have that mandate. Four out of four of those seats returned coalition members of parliament who fought the last election on retention of the cashless debit card. The communities most impacted by the cashless debit card voted for its retention, and those opposite need to soberly consider that fact, and it is a fact, just as we all will be forced to soberly consider the consequences, and I fear they will be disastrous for some of these local communities. All of us will need to soberly consider the consequences of the abolition of the cashless debit card.