Senate debates

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Regulations and Determinations

Social Security (Administration) (Trial Area — East Kimberley) Determination; Disallowance

6:20 pm

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

I move:

That the Social Security (Administration) (Trial Area—East Kimberley) Determination 2016, made under subsections 124PD(2) and 124PG(1) of the Social Security Administration Act 1999, be disallowed.

I am standing yet again to draw the attention of this place to the impact of the cashless welfare card and give this place another opportunity to change their minds and realise that the evidence shows that this approach does not work.

It is clear that this is an ideological push from the government, supported by the ALP, to foist onto a community a particular means of control that will have significant impacts on those people who are affected and their communities. The evidence is really clear. I have read the evidence out to this place time and time again yet, still, in the face of the evidence, the government and the ALP refuse to acknowledge that income management—because that is what this is—does not work. That is what this is. I acknowledge it is not quite the same—it is in fact on steroids—but that is what this is.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You are on another planet, Rachel, you really are. The last thing they need is a white fella to tell them.

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

If I could please not be interrupted that would be appreciated, Deputy President.

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes. Thank you.

Senator Sterle interjecting


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

If Senator Sterle would stop interrupting, I will describe what the Aboriginal community in Geraldton is saying about the attempt to foist the cashless welfare card upon them. They are at least being afforded the opportunity to have a significant debate about this particular issue, whereas other communities are not.

Senator Sterle interjecting

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Siewert has asked to be heard in silence. As she has made such a request, I require the Senate to hear her in silence.

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

As I was saying, this is essentially income management. The evidence clearly shows that it does not work. Yes, communities are desperate to find some ways forward on the issues of drug and alcohol abuse and gambling. I share their very deep concerns. I have been in many communities and I have seen the impact on them. The point is that this particular approach does not work. Income management does not work. The Northern Territory evaluation showed that. It shows it in other places. Voluntary income management in some places and on some things can work. Again, I have acknowledged that many times in this place. But foisting this cashless debit card—some people call it a welfare card—on communities is the wrong way to go.

In Ceduna, where this card has been rolling out for about a month, we are already seeing examples of some significant problems, going way beyond the initial teething problems that people have been talking about. I am getting a lot of emails from people in community over there that the problems with the card are more than teething problems. Just yesterday, I received another email from someone who was trying to use the card. Their partner has been unable to use the BPAY option on the card, so they are unable to pay their water bill. I have heard an account of someone being unable to pay their other bills. This person has had to rely on their neighbours' help to buy groceries, because they have not been able to pay their bills. She has not been able to pay for her car registration or her insurance bills. These are just a few of the types of problems that people are facing every day because of the government's unfair and inefficient cashless welfare card.

When I raised the issue that people have to pay an EFTPOS cost at particular merchant places to use EFTPOS, the minister said: 'It's okay. Contrary to the evidence that we gave in estimates, or since the information that we gave in estimates'—where they said, very clearly, that they had not been able to achieve an agreement with the merchants in Ceduna about EFTPOS costs—'we've now reached an agreement. That's not happening.' On the same day the minister said that, I received a message that said: 'I'm one of those merchants. I charge a cost on my EFTPOS, and the government hasn't been anywhere near me.' Clearly, there were merchants in Ceduna, at that point in time, who were still charging for the use of EFTPOS even for small purchases. So I do not accept that these issues are plain sailing.

There has also been much made during the debate on this particular card about the community panel: 'It's okay. You can go to the community panel, and you can get the amount that is quarantined reduced from 80 per cent down to the minimum of 50 per cent.' The most you can take it down to is 50 per cent. People have talked to me about the excessive length of time required to achieve any agreement—that is if you feel like going to the people on the panel, who may be your neighbours or people in the community that you do not get along with or people with whom you have had no say about them being on the so-called community panel.

Things are not going swimmingly with this particular card. People in the Kimberley have talked to me about not being consulted about the card rolling into town in the first place. People from the department are going round talking to people—in the park, for example—about the possible introduction of the card, but they are talking to people whose first language is not English, and to some people for whom English is not their second language. People think they are enabled to opt out: when they were first told about the card, it was done in such a manner that they understood they would be able to opt out. In Geraldton, the member for Durack is telling people they can opt out, so I am not surprised if the message is going through to the East Kimberley that perhaps people could opt out of this particular card. But you are not able to opt out of this card if it applies to you in the trial sites—that is, if you are on a range of working age income support payments. But I have also heard it said for the Geraldton that maybe the government could change it and it would just apply to people on Newstart, whereas in Ceduna and in East Kimberley, if this disallowance does not go ahead, people on DSP—disability support pension—on Newstart, on other working age payments are forced onto this particular card, which quarantines 80 per cent of their income support payments.

I have also talked extensively in this place about the impact that has on people's ability to make their own funding decisions. Clearly, for the examples that I have just articulated from Ceduna, people are having trouble being able to manage their money—exactly what they were warned about is in fact happening. People are not able to manage their money effectively; the card is not working. I do not know if anybody has seen one of these cards. Andrew Forrest, the major proponent of this particular card, said in evidence to the committee of inquiry into this bill: 'This will just be like anybody else's debit card. Nobody will be able to tell the difference. It will be operating just like normal.' Well, clearly, it is not operating just like a normal debit or credit card; it is simply not. It is a particular type of card with Indue on there, so anybody in community or in your town knows that you are on income support because you use that card. You have to use that card. It is the only way that you can make purchases. So it is simply not true to say, 'This will operate like anybody else's debit card.' I will tell you what, with my debit card—

Sitting suspended from 18:30 to 20:30