Wednesday, 22 August 2018
Human Rights Committee; Report
by leave—In relation to Report 8 of 2018: human rights scrutiny report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights presented earlier today by Senator Fawcett, I move:
That the Senate take note of the report.
I particularly want to take note of matters that the report raised in relation to the cashless welfare card and the concluding matters in chapter 2 that relate to the related bills that are now before the Senate. In my previous contribution, I highlighted comments that the Human Rights Committee had made previously, but I do want to point to the comments they've made in their most recently tabled report. In paragraph 2.18 the committee states:
… The committee has previously accepted that the cashless welfare trial measures described above may pursue a legitimate objective. However, concerns have previously been raised as to whether the measures are rationally connected to (that is, effective to achieve) and proportionate to this objective.
So they have repeated their concerns there.
Then, when discussing the initial analysis of the bill, they note:
… the report also contains some more mixed findings on the operation of the scheme.
That's the ORIMA report. The report continues:
For instance, while the statement of compatibility notes that nearly 40 per cent of non-participants in the trial perceived that violence in their community had decreased, and the ORIMA report pointed to evidence of the reduction in alcohol-related harm in the trial sites based on administrative data, the ORIMA report states that 'with the exception of drug driving offense and apprehensions under the Public Intoxication Act (PIA) in Ceduna, crime statistics showed no improvement since the commencement of the trial'. The ORIMA report also notes that 32 per cent of participants on average reported that the trial had made their lives worse; 33 per cent of participants had experienced adverse complications and limitations from the trial …
It goes on to say:
… in the East Kimberley, a greater proportion of participants felt that violence had increased rather than had decreased.
Then, in paragraph 2.23, the report states:
… Of particular concern, as has been discussed in previous reports, is that the cashless debit card trial would be imposed without an assessment of individuals' suitability for the scheme.
People will remember that I raised that point earlier in regard to the bill that is currently before the Senate.
In paragraph 2.24, the report notes in relation to the bill:
… As the cashless debit card trial applies to anyone below the age of 35 residing in the trial location who receives the specified social security payments, there are serious doubts as to whether the measures are the least rights restrictive way of achieving the objective. In relation to the bill, this concern is heightened insofar as the trial applies not only to persons whose usual place of residence 'is or becomes' within the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area, but also applies to a person whose usual place of residence was within the area.
The report also states:
It was not clear how the secretary would be made aware of whether a person's participation in the trial is impacting a person's mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.
This is another of the points I raised during my contribution earlier.
The committee's response—it gives a number of responses, but I'll run out of time if I deal with all of them—can be found in the report. It states:
… Accordingly, and noting concerns raised by previous human rights assessments of the cashless welfare card trial, as well as related concerns regarding income management identified in the committee's 2016 Review of Stronger Future measures, the measures may not be compatible with the right to social security, the rights to privacy and family, and the right to equality and non-discrimination.
I find it deeply distressing that the government thinks that it is still acceptable to proceed to impose this unfair measure on the people in the Bundaberg-Hervey Bay area.
I now want to go to other areas in the report that deal with compatibility of the determinations with human rights. In paragraph 2.45, the report states:
… The committee has previously commented upon the human rights compatibility of earlier versions of the determinations.
This relates to some of the determinations under the cashless welfare card legislation. It says:
… In relation to the declinable transactions determination, the committee raised concerns as to the compulsory quarantining of a person's welfare payments and the restriction of a person's agency and ability to spend their welfare payments at businesses including supermarkets.
It goes on:
It is not explained in the statement of compatibility the rationale for excluding persons of pension age in the Goldfields trial area but not the Ceduna or East Kimberley areas.
Then the report goes on to discuss the minister's response to the concerns that had been raised with the minister. It then goes to the committee response to that and says:
… The committee thanks the minister for his response …
It then says:
… The preceding analysis in relation to the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018 applies in relation to the determinations. That is, broadly, that concerns remain as to whether the cashless debit card trial is effective to achieve its stated objectives and is a proportionate limitation on human rights.
For this committee to say 'concerns remain' is pretty significant, given that, with all due respect to this joint committee, they're not well-known for their way-out reports. So I'd take that very seriously. The report says:
… Accordingly, and noting concerns raised by previous human rights assessments of the cashless welfare card trial, as well as related concerns regarding income management identified in the committee's 2016 Review of Stronger Future measures, the determinations may not be compatible with the right to social security, the rights to privacy and family, and the right to equality and nondiscrimination.
This is the committee's latest report, tabled today. It reiterates and highlights some of the concerns that they have raised before in this place on several occasions around the review of the Stronger Futures legislation and previous attempts and applications of income management under previous cashless welfare card trials. The committee reiterate their concerns that the determinations may not be compatible with requirements Australia has under international conventions—the right to social security, the rights to privacy and family, and the rights to equality and nondiscrimination.
To reach this conclusion, the committee looked at and used the evidence contained in the ORIMA reports. And, if senators recall—going back to some of the comments I've made in this place on many occasions, particularly this week, on the cashless welfare card—the ANAO report also pointed out that the evidence is not there to show that the existing trials have reduced social harm. They also point out that all the relevant information and all the relevant data had not been included in those ORIMA evaluations. Imagine what the human rights committee would have said if they had had access to all the information that ORIMA conveniently left out of their evaluations, information that we had to go to the Western Australian government—and the Western Australian parliament, in fact—to get access to, because it had been conveniently left out. This report also points out the flawed use—