Senate debates

Monday, 26 September 2022


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

9:40 pm

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Communications) Share this | Hansard source

I can't say it's a pleasure to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022, because I'm sickened by the Labor Party for bringing this bill on. I'm sickened by those opposite who refused to listen to the voices of the women and the children in Indigenous communities. And I'm sickened by the paternalism that underpins this policy, which ignores the grotesque family violence—like men maiming, injuring, raping, assaulting black women. And one of the drivers of this is money. I'm going to really say it as it is.

What happens in these communities is that if the women do not hand over cash then they will be assaulted, abused and sometimes even killed by black men in alcohol fuelled family violence. Until Labor members and senators have been to the Alice Springs women's refuge, none of them should be bringing this bill forward. The Alice Springs women's refuge is a place that I spoke about in my first speech in this place. I visited there when I was chairing a House committee looking into family violence law reform. It gave me an incredible insight into what's actually going on in many Indigenous communities. It's the dark, horrific truth that we don't see in Canberra, that we don't see in the big cities. We only see it if we go out there. This woman's refuge is, in reality, a homicide prevention centre. It's built with two walls. There's an inner wall that prevents the men who are trying to get to the women from climbing over the wall and either maiming or killing the women. I could not believe my eyes when I visited this place, because it was the first time I had truly understood the scale of the violence in communities in and around Alice Springs.

My eyes are open in terms of many things that happen in Indigenous communities. I proudly work for National Indigenous Television. Its headquarters were in Alice Springs. I was part of a great group of people, most of whom were young Indigenous men and women—amazing storytellers, amazing film makers—and it was an absolute honour to work for an NITV. I saw the very, very best of Indigenous Australia on display at NITV. But I'd never encountered anything like this until I visited the Alice Springs women's refuge. There's a double door into that refuge to increase the safety of women going into the centre so that they pass through a safety gate. They close one safety gate behind them and they get into a second door. And do you know what's happened in there? Some men, determined to destroy the lives of their womenfolk, have actually got into that centre, and there has been at least one murder. So, as I say, I am absolutely sickened by this government's initiative to stop the cashless debit card, which enables women and children more freedom from family violence. It enables women to feed their families. They are not holding cash. There is no incentive for the menfolk to bash the women for cash, which they then use to go out and buy more alcohol.

I want to reflect, and we have heard some wonderful contributions from my coalition senate colleagues, on the words of Noel Pearson, the founder and director of strategy at the Cape York Partnership. He said, 'I think this legislation will wipe out 20 years of my work. In the absence of a solution that had the same functionality of the cashless debit card, our Family Responsibilities Commission and the welfare reform work that we have done over the last 20 years would collapse and that would be a very bad thing. We would just have to give up. We would come to the point of giving up on the idea that we can change anything for the future of these communities. You guys will repeal this thing and then you will walk away. You will repeal the card and then you will walk away and leave us to the violence, leave us to the hunger, leave us to the neglected children.'

As we heard in this debate, this is not a silver bullet. This does not stop all dysfunction, family violence and abuse in communities but it makes a really big difference. We now know that Labor is crawling back on this because of its amendments to extend the CDC, which represents a very embarrassing backflip by the Albanese Labor government. Labor went out before the election and misrepresented the good work of this card. Now we see these amendments before the Senate which will allow Cape York, the CDC trial sites and those in the Northern Territory who have voluntarily transitioned from the BasicsCard onto the cashless debit card to remain on the cashless debit card. So this is a gross admission that this Albanese Labor government has messed up this ill-conceived commitment.

Even worse than this, even worse than a botched election commitment is the fact that Labor decided the voices of the women in Indigenous and other communities throughout this country didn't matter. I tell you what's going on out there. When the committee members were travelling to take evidence on the card, the women were too scared to give evidence. That's actually the truth. Many women who want that card were too scared because—guess what? If they gave evidence that they want the card to stay, they will return to their home and they will get bashed. So I say to this Albanese Labor government: I am sickened by this decision. This card was doing a lot of really good work. As I say, it was not a silver bullet but it was an innovative program designed to tackle social harm, particularly associated with drug and alcohol addiction in communities with high rates of long-term social security dependency.

There is substantial evidence of its success. Those opposite can ignore the evidence but it is there. Findings from an independent impact evaluation by the University of Adelaide released in 2021 reported that the cashless debit card had helped recipients improve their lives and the lives of their families and other community members. Even if it didn't help every life, why would Labor think it was a good idea to get rid of it? Seriously? This is helping Australians. This is making a difference. The University of Adelaide's study found that 25 per cent of people reported that they are drinking less since the cashless debit card's introduction, 21 per cent of cashless debit card participants reported gambling less, and evidence found that cash previously used for gambling—

Debate interrupted.


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