Senate debates

Monday, 20 August 2018

Regulations and Determinations

Social Security (Administration) (Trial of Cashless Welfare Arrangements) Determination 2018; Disallowance

6:22 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That sections 7 to 9 of the Social Security (Administration) (Trial of Cashless Welfare Arrangements) Determination 2018, made under the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, be disallowed [F2018L00245].

Today I move to disallow the provisions of this instrument which extend the trial of the cashless debit card to the Goldfields region of Western Australia. Labor's position on the cashless debit card has always been clear: we do not support a national rollout of the cashless debit card; we have never supported a national rollout of the cashless debit card.

When this matter was last before the Senate, we moved a number of amendments to confine the trial of the card to the two original trial sites—that is, Ceduna in South Australia and East Kimberley in Western Australia. Our amendments also sought to clarify the social supports that are available in trial communities, as well as how people in the communities could seek to have the amount of income that is quarantined changed.

There is insufficient evidence at this stage to show that the existing trials in Ceduna and the East Kimberley are working. The Senate inquiry into the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018 heard that the ORIMA evaluations of the trial are unreliable and that no empirical judgements can be made on the basis of the information collected. The Auditor-General recently issued a report completely undermining the government's claim that there is evidence that the existing trials are working. The report states:

… monitoring and evaluation was inadequate. As a consequence, it is difficult to conclude whether there had been a reduction in social harm and whether the card was a lower cost welfare quarantining approach.

The government must fix this.

The trials are also of a significant cost. Labor understands there is a current accrued cost of around $24 million for the three sites to 15 March 2018. This is an extraordinary amount of money to continue to expand a trial, with no credible evidence that it is being effective. We also know that the government gave $1.6 million to ORIMA research in return for a substandard evaluation. The minister still won't reveal how much it will cost taxpayers to expand the rollout of the card to the Goldfields, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay areas. This is despite the fact that the trial has already begun in the Goldfields. Yet we are expected to blindly accept that these figures are still commercial-in-confidence. Labor must be sure that the cashless debit card can deliver its stated objectives to warrant significant spending.

There has been insufficient government consultation with these communities and there is no clear framework to establish whether the new locations consent to trials being established in their areas. Labor does not support the expansion of the cashless debit card in any location, unless the government has an agreed and formal process of consultation and a clear framework for establishing whether the communities consent to the trial. We are moving to disallow the provisions in this instrument so that the rollout of the card in the Goldfields stops.

6:27 pm

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

I indicate that the Greens will be supporting this disallowance motion for the same reasons that we just tried to disallow the regulations in the other trial sites. Of course, we will be supporting this motion, given that, if it's supported, we have made a little bit of progress and stopped the harm that this trial is having in the Goldfields. But we don't think the people in the East Kimberley or in Ceduna should be subject to these punitive measures either. Why subject people in the East Kimberley and Ceduna to this punitive top-down approach? I recently articulated the harms that people are experiencing because of this card? The same arguments apply to East Kimberley, Ceduna and the Goldfields.

I've visited and spoken to people who are now on the cashless welfare card in Kalgoorlie, and they talked about its impact on their being able to buy things on the internet. They talked about the fact that they can't afford second-hand goods on the 20 per cent cash that they get. They also talked about the late fees, because their bills, which they've asked to be paid with the 80 per cent that's on the Indue card, haven't been paid on time. So they have been charged late fees for the payment of bills that they thought were being paid on time. They talked about the fact that they can't have joint accounts, which I mentioned earlier. They talked about having to have two cards. A carer I spoke to who is looking after somebody on DSP said that the cards require two different types of handling—two different cards. People are having to get permission to buy things on the internet for medical purposes. They can't use PayPal. They can't pay some bills. For example, in Kalgoorlie I was told that you can't pay RAC Life Insurance on the card. In Kalgoorlie, they got the card before they got the letter saying that they were going to be put on the card. I've already shared with the chamber their concern—

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Siewert, it is time for the dinner break, so you will be in continuation.

Proceedings suspended from 18 : 30 to 19 : 30

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

As I was saying before the dinner break, I'm very disappointed that we didn't get broader support for the disallowance motion that I moved earlier, because the exact same reasons for supporting Senator Cameron's disallowance motion, which I indicated prior to the break the Greens would be supporting, apply to the disallowance motion relating to the trials in the East Kimberley and Ceduna—in fact, even more so, because those in the East Kimberley and Ceduna have been subject to the punitive approach of the cashless welfare card for a much longer period and so have suffered the consequences of that card for a much longer period. The Greens will be supporting this disallowance motion for exactly the reasons that I articulated during both my contributions in the debate on the disallowance motion that I moved.

One of the other things that I was talking about prior to the break was the negative impacts of the card that people are already reporting in the Kalgoorlie region. I'll briefly reiterate them. The negative impacts include the humiliation, stigma and despair people feel due to the impact the card has on their lives in trying to manage their resources and their money. Somebody made a really strong point at the public meeting that I held when I was in Kalgoorlie—that is, money is now like gold. You don't spend your cash, because you're so worried that you're going to need it. What people are saying is that they feel like they're short-changing their kids for their lunches and things like that because they don't know when they're going to need that cash to buy emergency provisions, the second-hand clothes that we talked about, and the second-hand furniture.

During the debate earlier on my disallowance motion, a lot of Senator Brockman's comments were directed at the Hinkler trial and the bill that we may get to tonight or tomorrow that will expand the trials in the Hinkler region. When we were at the hearing on the Hinkler trial, people spoke about buying good-quality fruit and vegetables from roadside stalls, which, of course, operate on a cash basis. You don't flip out your card at a roadside fruit stall and try and swipe your card somewhere. People talked about the card having taken away their independence.

The bill that we will be debating shortly would also limit the amount of money that can be spent on gift cards, and people are very concerned about that. In Kalgoorlie, people were very critical of the move by the government to restrict what they can spend out of the 80 per cent of their welfare payment that's on the debit card. They won't be allowed to buy gift cards and other such products. They were extremely critical of that, because they said that's one of the ways they can give their children some resources for when they go away to school, for example. Turning to the school issue, some families from the regions who send their kids to school in the city also complained very strongly about not being able to adequately support their kids when they go away to school.

We have received a lot of complaints in our office about the impact of the cashless welfare card in the three trial sites and in Kalgoorlie, and about people not being able to pay their bills. I've already articulated our concerns that people are unable to buy things over the internet. I asked this question during the inquiry into the proposed new trial in Hinkler, and while I was told that all people have to do is ring up and talk to Indue, and they'll organise it, people in Kalgoorlie had to go into the shopfront, for a start, and wait quite a long time. I'll say this again: that is not the normal operation of a credit or debit card. I don't have to visit anywhere to get permission to use my debit or credit card, which is not the situation in which people on the Indue card find themselves.

The Greens will be supporting this disallowance, because we think the cashless welfare card is an unfair, punitive, sledgehammer approach that assumes anybody on income support can't manage their resources. We support the Labor Party's motion for this disallowance as it applies to the Goldfields and wish that they had supported our broader motion that made sure this didn't apply in the East Kimberley and Ceduna, where we believe exactly the same issues apply.

7:36 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I assume we're winding up, as there's no-one else here. I welcome the support of the Greens in relation to the disallowance of the expansion of this welfare card. We have on many occasions now in this place indicated that we want a proper analysis done in the existing sites. We have a different view about the trial, Senator Siewert. In our view, while the trial has to be changed and done properly with a proper assessment, the exact same issues don't apply. I don't accept that we should abandon the trial when so many people have told us it's not a bad proposition. Others are opposed, as I've indicated before. We are thankful for your support just now. We take the view that there should be no extension while the problems we identified in our speeches on the last disallowance continue—that is, there has been no proper consultation process and the assessment that has been done is not appropriate. All in all, we need to ensure that what has been happening now doesn't go any further.

No-one disputes the depth of your passion in relation to this issue, Senator Siewert. We have a similar determination to ensure the trials are done properly and are given that extra 12 months. If they're not done properly then it might be a different ball game. The way things are going, there will probably be a different government in 12 months time, and then we can assess this from our own perspective in government and make sure the trials are done properly with a proper analysis of the issues you've continually raised here. As I said, no-one would dispute your passion and your commitment to this issue, but we have a slightly different point of view as to the existing process. We don't believe the existing process is good, but we want to give it that 12-month period to make sure that we, in government, can deal with this in a properly analysed way and make sure that we've got a process in place.

I just don't get the argument that the coalition puts up time and time again that, 'The best form of welfare is a job.' This is a nonsense argument. This argument that you have to get a job is part of the process, in my view, to push people off social security payments. For many of these areas, there are no jobs available: that's the reality. And, when this government, in its 2014 budget, cut funding for Indigenous support and a whole raft of areas, all that did was make this problem worse.

This government is not renowned for its capacity to act strategically, and this is another example where the strategy is not in place to deal with this properly because they are an incompetent government. They're a government on their last legs. They're a government that is so totally consumed by their own internal problems and the ideology and the personal hatred that flow from one group to another that trying to deal with this issue under this government will never be a satisfactory option because they've got their eye off the ball in not just this area but a whole range of areas right across government. That's why I continually say that they are nothing but a rabble of a government. The sooner they actually go to an election and deal with the issues of importance to Australians the better.

I take the view that denying this incompetent government access to impose their ideological views and their flawed processes on another group of citizens is the proper thing to do. We have consulted with the existing areas in relation to their acceptance or denial. As I've said on a number of occasions, there is a mixed view. We want the extra 12-month trial, but we don't want it to go anywhere else because you cannot trust this government. Even their own backbenchers don't trust the cabinet. The ministry don't trust the cabinet. The cabinet don't trust the ministry. The cabinet don't trust the backbench. They are in all sorts of trouble, and the quicker we get to an election where we can deal with this in a proper, analytical way with a proper strategy in place the better.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

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