Senate debates

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Regulations and Determinations

Social Security (Administration) (Trial Area – Ceduna and Surrounding Region) Determination 2015; Disallowance

5:44 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That Social Security (Administration) (Trial Area – Ceduna and Surrounding Region) Determination 2015 be disallowed.

The determination I am seeking to disallow is the Social Security (Administration) (Trial Area—Ceduna and Surrounding Region) Determination. This is the measure that puts in place the cashless debit card or, as it is probably more commonly known, the cashless welfare card in Ceduna. This is a measure that I and the Greens opposed when the legislation was introduced and debated and we opposed it largely for the same reasons that we oppose income management—income management is a poor policy and it has failed in its stated objectives. We opposed the cashless welfare card from the introduction of the bill that established the operation of the welfare card and set up the provisions for the trials. We opposed it through multiple rounds of estimates where I asked questions about it and now it is regulation. I am trying to disallow it because we do not think this is good public policy.

We want good policies that genuinely help people. We do not support harsh and ineffective policies that do not help people and that, in fact, can harm people. The fundamental ideology that underlies this policy is flawed. It is a belief that strict, harsh control measures by government can solve deep rooted social issues, social problems and substance abuse problems. It is harmful, it is paternalistic and it will not address the issues.

As Nicholas Rothwell wrote on Saturday in The Australian, the approach:

… embodies the hope that direct control over spending patterns can change the behaviour and the attitudes of families and entire communities: that the mind can be modified by a rein on the purse.

I believe that the approach of believing that you can influence the mind, that it can be modified by a rein on the purse is fundamentally mistaken. The Northern Territory intervention has shown this. Some problems cannot be solved by supposedly simple approaches that are strict and that put in place harsh controls. For a start, people will find a way around those harsh controls.

When I look at the evaluation of the Northern Territory intervention, it has had detrimental impacts. Some problems require care and support for people who are in fact vulnerable. They require the addressing of the underlying causes of disadvantage and of substance abuse. We need a multifaceted approach that deals with a multifaceted problem. We have consistently seen that this policy of income management does not work and there have been numerous assessments that show this, particularly for compulsory income management. This is not a new innovative approach; it is a continuation, another form of income management, and, as is often said, income management on steroids. It is a failed approach and has been shown not to work.

I would now like to quote from a very useful report entitled Evaluating New Income Management in the Northern Territory: Final Evaluation Report. I suspect that many people today who will be voting on this motion will not have read that report. For those of you who have read the report, what the heck are you doing supporting this approach and not supporting the disallowance of this determination?

The final NT evaluation said:

A substantial group of people subject to income management felt that income management is unfair, embarrassing and discriminatory.

The evaluation could not find any substantive evidence of the program having significant changes relative to its key policy objectives, including changing people’s behaviours.

There was no evidence of changes in spending patterns, including food and alcohol sales, other than a slight possible improvement in the incidence of running out of money for food by those on Voluntary Income Management, but no change for those on compulsory income management. The data show that spending on BasicsCard on fruit and vegetables is very low.

There was no evidence of any overall improvement in financial wellbeing, including reductions in financial harassment or improved financial management skills.

More general measures of wellbeing at the community level show no evidence of improvement, including for children.

… … …

The evaluation found that, rather than building capacity and independence, for many the program has acted to make people more dependent on welfare.

… … …

The evaluation data does not provide evidence of income management having improve the outcomes that it was intended to have an impact upon.

They are the findings of the evaluation of income management in the Northern Territory—failed on virtually every count. Yet he we have a government, and I predict an opposition, that are going to vote down my motion to disallow what is a failed approach. There is still time for the opposition to change their minds. I am not confident the government are going to. This is a very important point: this is failed measure. We have had this evidence for nearly two years yet somehow the government still want to proceed with this flawed approach—let's just amp it up a little more; keep amping it up instead of looking at the evidence. The government already know this approach does not work but they still keep pushing ahead.

I had someone ask: why don't you trial this? We have had a trial since 2007. That is more than a trial, folks. That is why we should not be having this trial, because it is just a continuation of a failed approach. It is a dead end. Nicholas Rothwell, in his article on income management, said:

When income management was first introduced in the Northern Territory in 2007, it was seen by the Howard government as a stopgap measure, a 'short, sharp shock', a way-stage en route to further economic reform rather than the long-term destination it has become.

What we are debating here is the long-term destination of continuing income management. He we are years later and income management is a dead end that hurts Aboriginal people and communities.

The idea that this policy is a trial is a sham for a number of reasons. To have a trial, you have to have comparison sites. There is no comparison site. This lies at the heart of whether it is really a trial, to look at whether it would work compared to other policies, or it is just an attempt by the coalition to push their ideology.

The coalition, thank goodness, is providing an additional $1 million in services to the communities in the area affected by the trial. I, for one, welcome any additional funding that provides good quality services. But, a year from now, when they are measuring some of these outcomes, we will not know whether it is those services or the cashless welfare card that have led to any changes that are found. In her submission and evidence to the Senate inquiry into the bill, academic Eva Cox put it well when she said:

This agreement for including services locally creates serious issues for the trial’s claimed intentions. How can any form of research determine whether any improvements that may occur over 12 months are the result of the card or of the services, or a mix of both?

…   …   …

How do you separate the card’s effects from the benefits from the services?

I have been asking about this and trying to find out where the comparison sites will be. People may recall that when we were debating this bill in the chamber I asked a lot of questions. I did not get a lot of answers, but I asked a lot of questions. I asked the minister about this particular issue, and I would like to go through his response at the time. Minister Fifield, who was the minister dealing with this bill in the chamber, said:

I guess there are two broad elements to an evaluation. One is comparing the circumstances in the given community, looking at what the baseline was and how things have improved or otherwise. The other is comparing a trial site to a similar community, and that will be part of the trial. There are other communities that would be receiving some equivalent forms of community support and that is what the evaluation will look at.

Let's skip forward from the debate that we had on that last year, when the bill went through, and go to Senate estimates from the week before last. When I asked, in Senate estimates, about this issue and where the other comparison site was going to be, the departmental officials told me they wanted an effective baseline both in the trial communities and in comparable communities that do not have the services and will not be having the services in place. What is the point of that? You are not comparing like with like. You are not separating out the effect the cashless welfare card will have.

So the government is welshing, before the trial even starts, on their commitment to have a proper evaluation, a proper comparison, and makes a mockery of calling this process a trial. It is not a fair trial. It is not a trial. It cannot prove that the cashless welfare card works for people struggling with issues of substance abuse, alcohol abuse, drug abuse and gambling. I do not want anybody to mistake the fact that the Greens are absolutely supportive of addressing alcohol abuse, drug abuse and gambling. We absolutely and fundamentally agree that it needs addressing. We fundamentally disagree with the approach that this government consistently takes and has been proven not to work. We still, in the Northern Territory, have significant drug and alcohol problems, and gambling problems.

Regardless of the outcome, members of the government have already been talking about the rollout of the cashless welfare card or the cashless debit card—whatever you choose to call it—across regional Australia. We already know from the report that Andrew Forrest did that he was advocating rolling out the cashless welfare card, 100 per cent, across all of Australia. It appears that it does not matter to the coalition that it works, and it is obvious from their response to the Northern Territory evaluation that they do not actually look at the evidence. They do not care whether it has worked or not. The evidence conflicts with their ideology, so why would they change their ideology? You have to limit these tough approaches that do not work. This is not a trial.

The coalition is targeting communities with very high numbers of Aboriginal people. We are very clear about that. The only two communities that have signed up at the moment are, largely, Aboriginal communities. I understand from media reports that Laverton has now said no to the card, joining Halls Creek saying no to the card, and I understand from estimates that the government is trying to convince Geraldton to have a go. I urge people in Geraldton to look at the evidence about this. It does not work. Do not condemn yourselves and your community to being another so-called trial site for this failed ideological approach. This policy has been criticised by Aboriginal leaders and Aboriginal community members. Not everybody supports this trial. I will get to the issues about consultation later.

Mick Gooda, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, has written about this in both his 2014 and his 2015 report. He also wrote in The Australian that the welfare card is not the solution to alcohol abuse. He said:

Any possible benefit of the card must be weighed against the sense of disempowerment our people already face. It must be weighed against the stigma our people continue to face, and the restrictions placed on our basic rights and freedoms we fought so hard for.

He went on to say:

The hardest part of this proposal to accept is that yet again the treatment of our people will be different to mainstream Australia, and it is this differentiation of treatment that we have fought so hard to bring into the open.

As I said, the Shire of Halls Creek in my home state of Western Australia has decided to reject this card and this approach. They did that because their Aboriginal Advisory Committee voted against the card. The shire president said:

We've got an Aboriginal advisory committee. If we're not going to take any notice of them, then why do we have them?

Importantly, before the trial has rolled out, there have been many problems with the consultation. I know there are ongoing issues in Ceduna, because I am getting lots of emails and communication from community members. I understand that some signatories to the memorandum of understanding in Ceduna have very strong concerns about the manner in which the card is being implemented. In fact, they say it was not their understanding that it was going to be rolled out to everybody. I understand that one of the original signatories to the MOU wants to see elements of the MOU dissolved. I understand that is an ongoing discussion.

As well as this fundamentally flawed approach to the card, I have been asking a series of questions in this chamber and in estimates for months about the operation of this card. In the last round of estimates, we found out that it looks like some sort of loophole is already being built into the card, where people can transfer over $1,000 to somebody else's account, particularly if they are out of town and loose their card. The government did not volunteer this information. It came out when I was asking about what happens with a lost card. I would have thought there were some ongoing issues with that if the government says this is all about stopping people being able to access cash to buy grog.

I have been through in this place many times the impact that this card will have on vulnerable community members, but I want to go through some of the specific points in relation to the card in the time I have remaining. There are ongoing questions around what will happen in terms of merchant charges and what is happening with the status of the community body. I have spent some time trying to find out online about the community panel. This is the panel that you go to to ask to get the 80 per cent restriction on being able to access cash—in other words, you are going to get 20 per cent—down to 50 per cent.

I have not been able to find that online, but I am going to quote from a letter that I have just been sent about this card and that raises some questions about this card. The letter is from Mr Simon Schrapel, who is the Chief Executive of Uniting Communities. He has written this letter, which has gone to the minister, and I have been given a copy. He has cced it to me. He has written it on behalf of the 'keep income management accountable network'. One of the issues that he raises in the letter to the minister is the appointment and funding of the community panel. He says: 'Appointments to the community panel are a matter of ministerial discretion, but for the first trial site in Ceduna it is anticipated to include the local mayor and/or the council chief executive, among other local residents. We have raised concerns with departmental staff about these arrangements, including the disclosure of highly personal information to others living in a small community'—a small community, I might add, that is quite divided over this card. These are my words now; I am not quoting Mr Schrapel. This raises very serious concerns about the release of information. It also goes to the issue of privacy rights, which Mr Schrapel also addresses in the letter to the minister.

But there are other fundamental issues around the terms and conditions of the Indue accounts and the cashless welfare card. Indue is the financial institution—and I am being careful to say 'financial institution' because it is not a bank—but there are questions unanswered. They are implementing this on 15 March, folks. The department could not answer in estimates the week before last about very important issues around some of these financial arrangements, such as whether they are signing up to the ePayments Code and the Code of Banking Practice, and other issues. To date, they have not been able to provide the relevant terms and conditions under which the card will be operating.

The letter says: 'There are now only four weeks until the first trial is due to commence, and the documents are not available. We have been informed that they are commercial-in-confidence. The terms of reference do not, in our view, play a significant role in negotiations between the government and Indue but are critical in defining the relationship between the participant consumers and the financial service provider the government has mandated.' This is particularly important because the people who are subject to this measure do not get a say on which financial institution will be handling their money, but they are not being given some of the most basic understandings about how this is going to work.

We still do not have the resolution of who is going to pay the merchant charges that people will be required to pay when they are using this card. We confirmed in estimates that—contrary to what the government said in the chamber in the debate on this legislation, which is that they were working with the merchants in Ceduna that have merchant charges to see if they can get them waived—they have failed. They told us in estimates that that has failed. They have no answer for the issue for those merchants outside the trial areas. They are not negotiating with them. They cannot, because it is just too big an issue, so people will have to be paying merchant charges.

I repeat again: every dollar counts when you are trying to survive on income support, particularly when the government is making it even harder for you to manage your money under this card. That is unacceptable. This card will not work. It disproportionately impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is discriminatory in that respect. I believe it breaches their human rights. This is a failed experiment that started in 2007, and it should be put to bed. I urge the Senate to support this disallowance.

6:04 pm

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Women) Share this | | Hansard source

Labor will not be supporting the disallowance of the Social Security (Administration) (Trial Area—Ceduna and Surrounding Region) Determination 2015. As we said when we had the debate earlier this year about the original plan around the Ceduna trials, we are concentrating on looking at how we could work effectively with community to respond to very serious questions. Having said that, I agree with Senator Siewert on a lot of the content that she put into her contribution. We continue to ask the questions at Senate estimates, and consistently at every opportunity we can get, to try to work out exactly how we can best respond to serious issues in community.

The major reason that Labor are supporting the Ceduna trial and not accepting the disallowance this afternoon is that we believe that there has been significant acceptance and even passionate support in elements of the Ceduna community of having this intervention. I use the term, and I know it has a lot of history around it, but this trial—and it is a trial—in Ceduna is an intervention into a community which has openly cried out for support and for help. In terms of the process, we believe that the trial must be evaluated as strongly and as openly as it possibly can be. But, in terms of the way it operates, one of the really solid aspects is that the trial has support by local, state and federal governments.

No-one can claim anywhere that any process has 100 per cent support. In fact, one of the things that worried me most about the evidence we had in the community affairs committee about the Ceduna program was, I think, an overstatement by some people about the degree of support that they had in their community. I think that is one of the elements that Senator Siewert has pointed out in her contribution: when something is being changed or something new is brought into a community, it is really important to ensure that you listen to all the concerns raised and you actually put out as much information as you possibly can. I do note that the department and also Minister Tudge have worked very hard in this process to provide a large amount of information to the community, but it must be understood that there will always be people who will not be happy. There can be no way that you can have 100 per cent of support in any area, and to claim that you do actually underestimates the role and the range of opinion in a community. Having said that, we are actually heartened by the degree of support that has been raised by a number of the Aboriginal communities in the area surrounding Ceduna and the local government area of Ceduna. The mayor has been a very strong supporter of this program and has, in fact, begged that Ceduna be put in the trial.

Also we have information from the state government that, whilst there was a memorandum of understanding signed at the time we had the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry, there was little indication about exactly what would be the engagement of the state government in the process. We understand there has been significant discussion subsequently and there is now very positive engagement from the state government about what they can put into the area.

Again, Senator Siewert, I totally agree with your comments about it being a multifaceted problem that demands a multifaceted response. That is one of the reasons that we are showing support for this trial in Ceduna. One of the core elements we raised during the original discussion was the fact that there is no single element that can make change in a community. Originally you need to have the full engagement of the community—and Ceduna has made statements that it wants to be part of this process—and, secondly, you need to have effective wraparound services so people using the card have within their community the necessary services to address their needs around drug and alcohol, gambling and building effective communities and families in their area.

Mr Tudge has forwarded a copy of all of the support services that have now been promised to the Ceduna community for the period of this trial. We believe any evaluation must take into account the effectiveness of the whole program: the use of the debit card and the wraparound services that have been injected into the community. Senator Siewert is absolutely right—any evaluation must not fail to look at the full responses in the area and must ensure that any outcomes are listed and evaluated against how the community has worked together using all the services that have been provided.

It always worries me when we talk about a trial that it will be compared to another community. The injection of support in Ceduna for the time of the trial should not be at the expense of other communities that would not be receiving similar services. If you have identified in your community, as Ceduna has done, serious crises around drug addiction and violence, you should be able to expect governments to make responses that will be able to work effectively with you to make sure you can mend your community and ensure your citizens are safe and healthy. While Senator Siewert pointed out the issue with trying to make a comparison, I am personally not as convinced around that element. In fact, I do not want to see another community that has an identified crisis being starved of resources to make some kind of effective comparison.

I think we have the ability and experience in our government departments—state, federal and local—to look effectively and with transparency at exactly what is working in our community and what is not. Any trial that sets off without having that commitment and that structure will not succeed. In terms of our support for the trial, we want to see exactly what the monitoring process is going to be. The details of that have not been released yet. We will continue to ask questions about how the community of Ceduna is being supported. The citizens of Ceduna have had a great deal of suffering. It was identified at our committee inquiry that this community have had suffering. They were able to identify at the committee hearing the loss that has been suffered in their community in terms of violence, suicide and the horrors of drug and alcohol addiction and that has led to their request to be part of the trial.

We believe this is a trial that is for this process. We do not think and have never accepted that there should be a blanket approach to any form of community work or the way welfare payments are done. Just because something works in Ceduna should not mean that you have an identical thing rolled out across every community. One of the attractions of this process is that the whole process is being linked to the community itself so they can shape and make this trial work as best suits them. They are not going to be directed from outside as to what should happen. They will be able to identify what works best for their own community and also what does not work.

Senator Siewert also raised some concerns about the information we do not have. Detail needs to be known about the way the debit card will operate, the terms and conditions of the relationship between the financial institution and the people themselves, and how the account will work. At the recent Senate estimates committee there was not that form of detail available for people to see. With the trial due to commence next month, we hope that that information will be shared as quickly as possible so that the trial will be able to work as quickly as possible.

We understand that these things take time to implement and we understand that there will be things that have to be worked out, as there will be things that will work and things that will not work, but we expect that the core elements of the way the Indue organisation will operate, the rights and conditions around using their services and how this card will operate would be available now if this trial is going to start in the first or second week of March. People will have their welfare payments transferred into that process and that needs to be fully in place so people can have confidence that they will not be without the money they need to have to exist. As we all know, people who are reliant on welfare payments do not have large reserves of cash. So, if they do not have income coming in, they will not be able to support either themselves or their families. That was the kind of information that we were told when we had our inquiry last year would be in place in good time before the trial commenced, so I would really like to get more information from the department or from the minister about how well advanced and how completely effective those financial arrangements are now with the way the actual card will work.

Labor will be watching and ensuring that the monitoring of the process will be done, including people in this place who are deeply interested in how this will operate. We do not want to have issues and concerns raised after the event; we want to know how the monitoring is going to operate. If people are concerned, we do not want their voices silenced. We know that, when people are worried or fearful, sometimes it is very easy to increase that fear and to raise issues now that possibly people had thought had been fully discussed earlier. So in many ways it is going to be the responsibility of the department to ensure that that communication is maintained effectively in the local community. If people are genuinely disgruntled, their voices should be heard so that they will not feel as though they have been forgotten by the people who should most be looking after their welfare.

I know that the concerns are in the community, and that has been made clear through emails that people have received. There have also been concerns raised by people whom I deeply respect—people like Mick Gooda, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. I take his comments about the disempowerment of people very seriously, and that is something that I know the department will be considering.

We know that people who live on very reduced incomes such as welfare payments work very effectively with the money they have, so their worth and their ability to budget and run their own lives should not be in question. What we are seeing, and what we have been told that this trial is focused on, is a community which has been ravaged by the impact of alcohol and drugs, so we think that there has been a need identified. We think that there has been consultation with community. We were reassured only last week of the fact that some of the major Aboriginal and Islander communities in the region are fully committed to ensuring that they give the trial a chance. We think that now it is up to us as a parliament to ensure that, through the process of this trial, there will not be secrecy or isolation and people's views will be heard. So, in this sense, we are not supporting the disallowance, and we look forward to seeing how this trial operates and whether there is an effective intervention to stop the ravages in this community.

6:17 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

Obviously we do not support the disallowance motion that has been put forward by Senator Siewert. The Senate passed this legislation to trial a cashless debit card for Centrelink recipients in communities that have significant—and I underline the word 'significant'—alcohol, drug and/or gambling problems. The locations have been chosen on the basis of the openness of the community to participate in the program, where the community wishes to actively address the welfare-fuelled alcohol, drug and gambling abuse that exists within the community.

In my home state of South Australia, Ceduna has been selected as the first community, and can I state that there is overwhelming support by the entire community for this trial to take place in that town. Ceduna is only a little town; it has about 4,500 people. I have spent a lot of time in Ceduna, and I have spent a lot of time in the communities, going out to places like 18 Tank. I am sure that many of the people who have made a contribution to this debate have never been out to 18 Tank to see the kind of devastation that is created in a community by, particularly, the alcohol impacts on that community.

The community leaders in Ceduna actually approached the government to explore the idea of this cashless debit card, and they are absolutely supporting the introduction of it. The community sees this in a very positive way, as an opportunity to try to overcome some of the problems that the community currently suffers. There are some horrific statistics just on that one community alone. In a community of, as I said, only about 4,500 people, in 2013-14, for example, they had in excess of 4,600 admissions into the sobering-up centre. When you consider the size of the community, that is pretty horrendous. Hospitalisations due to assault were 68 times the national average. So, as you can see, the community had every right to be concerned, and I think that we as a government have a responsibility to respond to the request by that community for help, because you can see the problem is extraordinarily significant.

The disallowance motion is basically seeking to overturn a decision of the Senate, which passed this legislation overwhelmingly, with the support of seven of the crossbenchers as well as the ALP—and I am delighted that the ALP, the opposition, are prepared to stick with this particular program. Obviously they understand the importance not just to the Ceduna community but to many other communities around Australia where alcohol, drug and gambling abuse is having a significant impact on the members of those communities. Senator Siewert's disallowance motion also ignores the calls from the community to try to get on top of this issue, which is really disappointing. It seems really quite ironic that somebody who purports to be supporting and looking after the interests of the community is actually in this place seeking to disallow an instrument that the communities have asked for themselves.

Obviously the government is vehemently opposed to this particular disallowance motion, because we believe it not only robs the Ceduna community of the opportunity to try out a new idea to try to address an issue that is really significant in that community but also denies the opportunity for other communities to be able to benefit from the trial that is run in this community and the trials that, I understand, are to be rolled out in Wyndham and Kununurra in the East Kimberley, subject to the outcome of this trial in Ceduna. I am really proud to be part of a government that is actively supporting a community in my state—a community that is crying out in need.

6:21 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I do not think there are any other speakers, so I will make a final contribution and wrap up this debate. I am extremely disappointed that the opposition are not taking up the opportunity provided by this debate to re-evaluate their approach to this so-called trial. The reason I am bringing this back is that I am using the parliamentary process that is put in place for delegated legislation to enable us to consider the fine detail of regulation under acts of parliament. The government are, in fact, using more and more delegated instruments. If I were them, I would be a little bit careful about having a go at senators who use the parliamentary process to look at the regulations that the government are relying on to implement large swathes of their acts. This process is there for us to look at the checks and balances of legislation and the implementation of legislation. It is so important because there are so many unanswered questions about this process that the government have still not been able to answer. As I said during my first contribution, as late as the week before last the government still could not answer the questions I was asking in Senate estimates, and yet this so-called trial is due to start on 15 March.

In her contribution, the minister said that we are not prepared to try a new idea. It is not a new idea. That is the fundamental problem. Income management is a failed experiment. I went through the final evaluation from the Northern Territory intervention, which confirmed many of the preliminary findings. There is no substantive evidence that the program has had significant changes relative to the key policy objectives, including changing people's behaviour. There were a whole lot of other objectives. There has not been an overall improvement in financial wellbeing, as you heard from the contribution before. So it is not a new idea; let's put that to bed. It is not a trial because we are not comparing like with like. I point out that, in the Northern Territory intervention, there were a lot of services provided, but they were provided in a top-down, paternalistic approach; they were not working with the community. There were many other problems, including things that we know from debating the Closing the Gap statement in this place last night. We know that many of the measures have not worked because of the flawed nature of those measures. It is not a new idea that providing services, if they are quality services, works as well. Even then, in the NT, where there were some limited services, we have not seen significant improvements.

It is not a trial. There are many ongoing issues. It is not a new idea. Yes, the statistics are appalling. Unfortunately, I can quote appalling statistics for many other communities. I quoted appalling statistics in the Northern Territory. Unfortunately, we have not seen any improvement due to income management in the Northern Territory either. There are still appalling statistics there. They are awful, which is why we need to be doing something about it. Yesterday, in our responses to the latest Closing the Gap report and the Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee progress report, we went through a long list of things that we need to do. People seem to think this is a silver bullet approach to dealing with very complex problems. There is no silver bullet approach. There are many people in the community who do not support this trial. We are now hearing from the people who were included in the consultation. They said that the rollout to everybody is not what they understood the government would be proposing.

Some of the other issues that were brought up by the community in the letter from Mr Schrapel that I referred to before were about seeking fundamental information, which is why these questions are needed before the trial starts on 15 March and why I have sought to disallow it. Indue is not a signatory to either the voluntary ePayments Code overseen by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. The government could not tell us that during Senate estimates last week, but I am now told that, in fact, they are not. I have not been told that by the government. I have been told by the community that they understand they are not signatories to that ePayments Code. They are not signatories to the relevant industry codes that apply to retail banks and credit unions—most notably, the Code of Banking Practice and the Customer Owned Banking Code of Practice. These codes provide for important protections, including setting out the rules for determining who pays for unauthorised transactions—that is pretty important—establishing a regime for recovering mistaken internet payments—again, really important—rights around cancelling direct debit arrangements and obligations on providers for facilitating chargebacks. The government also could not tell me, during Senate estimates in the week before last, what is happening with some of the hire-purchase payments.

Departmental officials have apparently assured people in the community that participants in the trial will have 'substantially the same protections in their relationship with Indue as normal banking customers enjoy'. In their letter, the community members of the 'keep income management accountable network', go on to say that they think this confidence is misplaced. They would be happy to make some more specific comments, but, at first instance, 'an assessment of the ways in which Indue's offerings may fall below industry standards will be best informed by a detailed review of the terms and conditions for both the savings account and the cashless welfare card'. That is why they want to see the terms and conditions that will apply. It is absolutely essential. This card is going to apply to every person in this trial area who is on a working-age payment. If you are on Newstart, youth allowance, the single parent payment or the disability support payment, you are going to be subject to these measures. They are not being given a choice of which bank they can go to. They have to go to an organisation that is not a bank. It is a financial institution, and it is not signed up to those codes. These are just some of the unanswered questions: who is on the community panel, how are you going to find the community panel and how are you going to ensure privacy of the people who are subject to these measures? You cannot just start this trial without knowing these things. In a small, divided community, how are you going to get a person who is independent to make the decisions about someone's personal finances? Again, we do not know. The government may have already decided who is on that panel. It has not been released. As I said, I have tried to find out further information but have not been able to. That is another question the community is asking.

This is not a trial. The government obviously has an ideological approach to this. I am disappointed that the opposition are still going along with supporting the flawed approach that income management is. They have had plenty of opportunity to look at the evidence as well. They cannot call this a new trial. It is a continuation of the same misguided approach that has not worked.

There is some evidence that shows that in some limited circumstances voluntary income management has been successful in some communities. Voluntary income management is a very different proposition. People actually get to make a choice. They are not dictated to. They do not have the same feeling of lack of control. They do not have the feeling of that process necessarily being unfair, embarrassing and discriminatory, because they have made a choice.

People in Ceduna are about to be subjected to this process. They have not got a choice. I am sure the government are not saying that everybody who is on income support abuses alcohol and drugs and gambles. I am sure they are not saying that. But by taking that approach that is the message you send. It is not appropriate. We should be learning from our mistakes. We should be working with Aboriginal communities on support for community delivered programs that work.

This is a flawed mechanism. This is why I urge the Senate—I am giving you another chance!—to say no to this flawed approach that has deeply divided communities. You are dividing communities for a flawed approach. You have heard all the unanswered questions. Support the disallowance and let's have the opportunity for a rethink about how we can actually address this huge problem. No-one is denying there is a problem. There is no use just quoting statistics to try to justify a measure that does not work. I urge the Senate to support this disallowance.

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the disallowance motion moved by Senator Siewert be agreed to.