Monday, 26 September 2022
Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022. This legislation will go towards delivering on the federal Labor government's commitment to the Australian people to abolish the cashless debit card. In my contribution today I am going to focus my remarks on my experiences in Queensland, particularly in Hinkler and also from the time I have spent in the cape. The commitment that federal Labor made around this before the election is something that I personally made many times in the electorate of Hinkler. It's something that I know was an important factor for us to be upfront with the Australian people about, and it is something we took to the election. There is no doubt what the federal Labor position was before that election.
Throughout the previous term of parliament I spent a vast amount of time in the Hinkler electorate—in Hervey Bay, Bundaberg and surrounding communities—because I am the duty senator for that area. So it is something I have first experience of, having met with constituents who have been impacted by the card. It is something that has stayed with me as the Queensland senator, as I experienced those constituent issues firsthand. Part of the reason I experienced those issues is that their local member, the member for Hinkler, actually refused to meet with constituents who were impacted by it.
So it fell on me as the duty senator to pick up some of that slack, that you would normally expect of a dutiful federal member of parliament as a basic function of their office and being elected, that they would look after those constituents or at least listen to them and help them out. But we didn't see that in Bundaberg. They were ignored by their local members.
If you did go to those communities and listen, you were impacted by the stories you heard from people who were put on that card, and it was those personal stories that had a real impact on me. It was the mum who couldn't take her kids to the school fete because the card couldn't be used there. She didn't have the cash to do it. It was the young mum buying groceries in the local supermarket. A couple of blokes saw that she was paying with a cashless debit card and commented, 'She's one of those druggies,' because she's using that card. It was the lack of wraparound services that these people were impacted by, that were promised but took too long to deliver. It's clear to me, having spent time in that community, how divisive this card was, the stigma that was associated with it and the impact it had on those people.
My office dealt with numerous constituent issues, over the course of the last few years, whilst this card was being implemented. We did our best to help, but the draconian nature of this card didn't always make it possible. There are also the practical things, the fact that a place like Bundaberg produces so much great, fresh produce—they have burgeoning farmers markets—yet people on the cashless debit card can't go and use it there; they're restricted in where they can use their card. It's practical things like that, that would enable people to live a better life and use fresh produce, that they weren't able to do. There was the issue at our office of people defaulting on their rent because of bureaucratic errors in the way the card was administered. There are so many issues with this card—and this is just in my experience in Hinkler—that had a negative impact on the community.
The one constant theme was that there was no consultation before this card was implemented. In my contribution I want to dispel the myth, once and for all, that there has been no consultation on this legislation. We're not going to get lectured to by those opposite about consultation, given what they did to the electorate of Hinkler, given they came in from on high and implemented this legislation. They didn't consult with anyone in Hinkler before they did it; they just put everyone on it and said, 'This is the way it will be.' Then you add to that a local member, Keith Pitt, the member for Hinkler, who wouldn't meet with constituents who raised issues about this card, who had problems with this card. So there was no consultation before they did it, and then you had a local member who was so arrogant that he wouldn't meet with constituents who had valid concerns about this bill.
I've heard numerous times from those opposite, in their contributions on this bill, that Labor haven't consulted. I know they're new to opposition but that's actually what a good opposition does. They go out and consult. And that's what we did. I went with the then shadow minister, Linda Burney, through Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. We met with local constituents. We did round tables. We did forums. We heard from people. That's how you form a view in opposition about what you want to do in government. That's something they could learn but they show no willingness to do it.
Even since we formed government, the now minister, Amanda Rishworth, has been out and consulted, along with the assistant minister, Justine Elliot, with every community impacted by this card. So to claim that there's been no consultation is absolute nonsense, and we are certainly not going to be lectured to about consultation when they did none of it in Hinkler before the election. Let's dispel that myth once and for all. We are not going to be lectured to by these guys about consultation. We have done the consultation. That's what a good opposition does. We did it when we were in opposition.
Then, when you come to power, when you come to government, you go about implementing your promises, which is what we've done, but we also had the minister and assistant minister visit these communities. We also had the Senate committee process, led by Senator Smith, do a really good job as well of going around and listening.
I said I'd make my contribution focused on Queensland, because that's my experience. But I have seen the contribution from my colleagues in South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. They have done their job as Labor senators and gone about consulting their communities over the last couple of years as well. So this 'lack of consultation' myth can be completely dispelled. It is nonsense, and it is disappointing that the opposition continue to try to raise it.
When the government first announced the card, they promised there would be an investment in wraparound services as well, and I know from my own experience in Hinkler that this took more than two years to be implemented. The card was being rolled out, yet the additional wraparound services that were promised in a much-needed area of the community took two years, and they got delivered only when there was a bit of public pressure and a bit of media pressure and when the local community said, 'Where are these additional services?' We see they wasted $170 million on this, but they didn't provide the services that were there.
We also know that the Senate inquiry heard from many people impacted by the card, and many spoke about that lack of consultation that I experienced firsthand through my work as a senator. I know Kathryn Wilkes very well from the time I spent in both Bundaberg and Hinkler. She is someone who has been a good advocate for her community. Kathryn said:
People for whom it turned up in the letterbox and they didn't have any idea what was going on. No consultation. No, 'Would you like it?' Bang, you're on it.
That was a very common theme as well, from what I heard from people in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay.
Throughout the time of the card we saw multiple attempts to change the goalposts to justify the trial as a success. First it was about how it would increase employment in the area. At the time, there were no significant differences between Bundaberg and Hervey Bay and the neighbouring areas of Gympie and Maryborough, which weren't on the card, so when you actually compared the criteria they were trying to set, there were no differences across the geographic boundaries in the area. They then shifted the goalposts to talk about crime and social impacts.
The previous government again struggled to find any evidence to say that this was a fact, and after a $2 million study into the cards by the University of Adelaide, the Guardian reported in February 2021 that the cashless debit card review had failed to find proof that the coalition welfare scheme reduced social harm. So even their own report into this, which they commissioned, failed to provide the evidence that it was working. Then the ANAO audit into the performance of the cashless debit card again found that there was a lack of evidence to demonstrate the success of the card. There were no key performance indicators and no evidence or evaluation conducted to support the former government's scheme.
Despite the evidence the card wasn't working, the government continued to pursue it, forcing more people onto the card, and it began to look at expanding it further. That is why this government is acting. We're out there. We're listening to constituents, we're listening to local communities, and we've heard stories from those people who want the card scrapped. We've heard from organisations that have long maintained that the card is punitive and doesn't work. We have also seen the evidence that this card doesn't work. We said we would repeal it as a priority, and that is exactly what is happening now we are in government.
The Australian people deserve a government that doesn't take them for granted—one that delivers on investment into regional areas to create jobs and opportunities. As we make the transition away from the cashless debit card, this bill will ensure that it will be as smooth as can be and that the communities will have access to the support they need.
This bill will remove the ability for any new entrants to be put on the card. It will enable more than 70,000 existing cashless debit card participants to be progressively transitioned off the card as soon as the bill receives royal assent, which we aim to have occur in the next sitting period, in September, allowing for participants to regain the financial freedom that they've been asking for and enabling the Family Responsibilities Commission to continue to support community members by placing them into income management where the need exists. That is not something that is new for those Cape communities; income management has been a factor there now for a long time. This will allow for the determination, following consultation, of how the Northern Territory participants on the CDC will transition and the income management arrangements that will exist. Finally, it will allow for the repeal of the cashless debit card on a date to be fixed by proclamation or, at a maximum, six months after royal assent.
We know we need to continue to support communities, and we will continue to support these communities as they transition off the cashless debit card. The government's vision is that no-one will be left behind and no-one will be held back. We will make sure that all those in our society are supported and have the opportunity to succeed. Repealing the cashless debit card helps to do that. I commend the bill to the Senate.