Wednesday, 22 August 2018
Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018. This bill proposes to extend the cashless debit card trial to Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. If this bill is successful, all recipients of Newstart, youth allowance and parenting payment in the electorate of Hinkler who are under 36 will be forced to become trial participants. The cashless debit card quarantines 80 per cent of an income support payment onto a special debit card which cannot be used to purchase alcohol, to gamble or to buy gift cards which could in turn be used to purchase alcohol or gamble. It's expected that about 6,700 people in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay would become trial participants.
Labor do not support this bill. As we have said many times now, Labor support genuinely community-driven initiatives to tackle drug and alcohol abuse. We believe they must be genuinely community driven, not top down. Labor do not believe in a blanket approach to income management. We do not support a national rollout of the cashless debit card. We understand that the vast majority of income support recipients are more than capable of managing their own finances. We understand that, for many people, indeed most people, income management simply isn't necessary. We've said all along that we will talk to individual communities, and that we will make decisions on a location-by-location basis.
The evidence presented to the Senate inquiry and the feedback from the people in Bundaberg is very clear: the community in Bundaberg do not want to trial the cashless debit card in their town, full stop. The mayors in both the local government areas in the trial region, Bundaberg and the Fraser Coast shire, oppose the introduction of the cashless debit card in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. The mayor of Bundaberg, a former LNP stalwart and Queensland state minister, Jack Dempsey, says his community has turned against the cashless debit trial after learning of the cost. Key groups from Bundaberg said they felt ignored by government's consultation process on this issue. Representatives from the Gidarjil Development Corporation explained:
Gidarjil is probably considered the largest Indigenous organisation in Bundaberg, and there hasn't been any approach from the federal minister in regard to this or in fact anything.
Representatives from a community advocacy group in Bundaberg explained to a Senate inquiry:
… there has been little to no public consultation. What has taken place has been behind closed doors …
Labor will consider the introduction of a new trial site only if the Liberals can show that they have an agreed formal consultation process, which includes an agreed definition of community consent, with the community. The Senate inquiry into this bill exposed the serious lack of meaningful consultation with local communities, and the anxiety of the residents who would become trial participants, about the impact that the trial would have on their budget and their ability to meet existing ongoing financial obligations. They also raised concerns about their access to lower-cost options for food, clothing and other essentials which are available only with cash. The third thing canvassed by the Senate inquiry was the lack of sufficient evidence to demonstrate that these trials effectively deliver positive outcomes for communities.
Perhaps the most damning element in all of this—and it has been canvassed in other debates in this place in the last fortnight—is the lack of robust evidence. The government's own evaluation conducted by ORIMA into the effectiveness of the existing trials in Ceduna and the East Kimberley is utterly inconclusive at best. The evaluation has been criticised by leading academics, and there is insufficient credible evidence at this point to support the establishment of further trials. Janet Hunt, the deputy director at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at ANU, said that the evaluation showed that the cashless debit card had not actually improved safety and reduced violence, despite that being one of the trial's key objectives. She's very critical of the methodology used by ORIMA to conduct the evaluation. She argues:
People interviewed for the evaluation reported that they drank less than before the trial began. However, such recall over a year is not likely to be very reliable. And, because respondents had to give their ID to the interviewer, they may have said exactly what they thought the interviewer wanted to hear, and certainly would not have incriminated themselves …
This is particularly true for Aboriginal people, who, for historical reasons, are likely to view authority figures with deep suspicion. Last year the former Minister for Human Services described the cashless debit card trials as a huge success. The Prime Minister himself asserted:
It's seen a massive reduction in alcohol abuse, in drug abuse, in domestic violence, in violence generally …
But Janet Hunt made it absolutely clear that this is not the case, and she said:
Someone needs to tell them that the report does not say that.
This is hugely important. The government's argument for expanding the rollout of this card rests very heavily indeed on this evaluation, and when participants were asked about the impact of the trial on their children's lives only 17 per cent reported feeling that their children's lives were better as a result. The ORIMA evaluation was substandard. We don't believe that any government should be making significant policy decisions off the back of such a poor-quality evaluation. Labor will only consider the further expansion of cashless debit card trial sites when there is much greater evidence, and credible evidence, of the card's effectiveness.
These same concerns were confirmed last month by the Auditor-General. His report indicated very real problems not just with the evaluation but with the rollout of the trial more generally, including the very high cost of the trials, budget overruns and flawed procurement processes. The report exposed not simply a flawed method of evaluation but also findings in that evaluation that were either unsubstantiated or false. For example, the government's evaluation said there was a decrease in ambulance callouts, but the ANAO found there had been an increase. The government's evaluation said there was an increase in school attendance, but the ANAO found Indigenous school attendance had decreased after the introduction of the card. The report also found that the trial ran over cost and that there were less-than-robust procurement processes. The ANAO has completely undermined and discredited the government's claim that there is evidence that this policy is working. I want to quote from the report. It says:
… 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.
What a joke! The entire point of having a trial is to generate an evidence base on the basis of which decisions can be made, yet this evaluation has been botched from the very beginning.
I want to turn to the cost, because the cost of the rollout of the cashless debit card is a further important consideration in the debate. What do we know? We know that the government has already paid $7.9 million of that to the debit card provider, Indue, and almost $1.6 million to ORIMA Research to provide a poor-quality evaluation. We understand that the current accrued cost of the cashless debit card trial is around $24 million for just two sites to 15 March this year. What it means, practically, is that the cost per head of the trial across the two sites is well over $10,000.
It is extraordinary that we debate this legislation today without any indication from the minister about how much it will cost taxpayers to roll out the card at Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. Budget emergency? Not, apparently, when it comes to pursuing ideological preoccupations. In fact, the government still hasn't revealed how much the trial at the Goldfields is costing, despite the fact that the trial has been operating there since early May. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that a local council in Bundaberg did a survey that showed that, when locals were told how much the trial program would cost to administer, support for the trial in the community dropped to just 26 per cent. The government are deliberately avoiding telling us the cost per head for political reasons, and that is simply unacceptable. We are committed to dealing with the evidence, but you must present an evidence base, including the cost-effectiveness of the approach that you are recommending. The government needs to say how much the trial at Bundaberg and Hervey Bay will cost, and it needs to say what the cost of the existing trial is in the Goldfields in WA.
The committee inquiry also heard a lot of evidence about the personal and negative impact that these trials would have on participants. Prospective participants talked about the importance of being able to make certain payments by direct debt and the fact that this card would not allow or accept direct debit. Some of them were concerned it would deprive them of a car, because car financing often requires a minimum direct debit payment. Participants were concerned about the ability to purchase fresh food and groceries, because it is often the case that roadside fruit and vegetable stalls only accept cash, and they are very cost-effective options for people in regional areas. DSS in their evidence explained that people would have to apply to the department for a regular transfer of cash to meet regular direct debit payments for approved items such as car repayments. Cash plays a vital role in the local economy. Restricting the access of people in this area to cash could jeopardise their ability to participate in that community. That's especially the case for low-income community members, who often use cash to access cheaper goods and services, including second-hand goods.
Residents in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, as I have already mentioned, did not believe that adequate consultation had taken place. As far as we're aware, the local federal MP has failed to hold any kind of consultation, and when DSS did so community members said it was less of a consultation and more of a case of attendees being told that the debit card was coming, irrespective of their views. There's a key distinction between briefing people about what is about to happen to them and genuinely consulting and engaging people with their perception of problems and their perception of solutions that may work in response to problems. That is what community engagement means. It's not a series of PowerPoint slides flashed up with a bureaucrat standing out the front.
We supported the initiation of trials in Ceduna and East Kimberley. We support them continuing until to mid-2019 to allow more time to reliably determine whether they have been successful. It is predicated on community involvement. In April last year, the then shadow minister for social services, Jenny Macklin, and the then shadow minister for human services, Linda Burney, went to East Kimberley to meet with community leaders in Kununurra and Wyndham. The feedback they received in East Kimberley, if we're honest, was mixed. Some people were in favour of the card, others were very strongly opposed and many people thought the card was just worth trialling—willing to give it a shot. The common sentiment that Labor heard was that things are so bad in the local community that people are willing to give anything a go. Essentially they support the cashless debit card not out of hope but out of despair.
We take a very clear-eyed view of this issue. We're not being ideological in our approach. We have a guiding set of principles founded on the notion of community consent and evidence, and that determines our position in this debate. We don't support the bill. We don't support the expansion of the card to Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. The evidence presented to the Senate inquiry as well as our own conversations show that people in the community of Bundaberg do not want to trial the cashless debit card in their town. Mayors of both local government areas in the trial region, Bundaberg and Fraser Coast, publicly oppose the introduction of the cashless debit card in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. The ORIMA evaluation into the effectiveness of the existing trials, which the government relies on heavily in their arguments, has been slammed by the Auditor-General as inconclusive.
The government is unable to produce evidence of community consent and engagement. It is unable to produce robust evidence that the existing trials are working. In that context, further trials simply cannot be justified. Clear and credible evidence is needed before any decision can be made about the expansion of the current cashless debit card trial to any other areas. We will consider the introduction of a new trial site only if the government can show that they have an agreed formal consultation process with the community as well as an agreed definition of consent. We oppose the bill, and we encourage other senators to do the same.
I rise today to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018. The Australian Greens oppose this bill. That should come as absolutely no surprise to anybody who has been taking an interest in income management in this country. We've opposed the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Bill 2012, the first two trials of this card, the third trial and now this. We will continue to reject income management as a punitive, top-down, controlling approach to the way we address social security in this country and the way we assume that people on income support can't manage their money and that they abuse the very low payments that they get.
This bill will extend the cashless debit card to the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area, defined as the Division of Hinkler, on 31 May 2018, and it will continue until 30 June 2020. It will raise the participant cap across the trial sites from 10,000 to 15,000—in other words, it will cover the current three trials and this trial. It will also introduce an exemption to the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 for merchants who decline transactions that use the funds in a welfare restricted bank account to purchase restricted products, including alcohol, gambling and cash-like products. Cash-like products are defined in the bill, and their inclusion as a restricted product will affect all trial sites. They are products like gift cards and things like that.
The Greens, as I said, have opposed the cashless debit card since its inception. We submitted a dissenting report on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Debit Card Trial) Bill 2015, expressing deep concerns regarding compulsory income management and recommending that the bill not be passed. We subsequently submitted a dissenting report on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017, highlighting the flaws of the so-called independent evaluation of the first two trial sites undertaken by ORIMA Research that was relied on to justify the expansion of the card to the Goldfields and the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay regions—and didn't the ANAO report put paid to the reliance on that flawed report! The 2017 bill did not pass the Senate in its original form, allowing only the Goldfields trial to commence, which is why we are here again debating whether or not to extend the trial to the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area.
In the intervening period, the Australian National Audit Office released its report, TheImplementation and performance of the cashless debit card trial, which contains the findings of its independent performance audit of the Department of Social Services. On the first page of the summary and recommendations of the report, it said:
the cashless debit card trial—
was selected for audit to identify whether the Department of Social Services … was well placed to inform any further roll-out of the CDC—
the cashless debit card—
with a robust evidence base.
Bear that in mind. That's what they were doing it for, and that's what we're talking about here. The report found:
… 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.
Additionally, the report found:
There was a lack of robustness in data collection and the department's evaluation did not make use of all available administrative data to measure the impact of the trial …
Further, and finally, the report found:
… the trial was not designed to test the scalability of the CDC and there was no plan in place to undertake further evaluation.
I'll come back to that further evaluation issue. But the evidence isn't there to justify the expansion of this trial based on those evaluations. The Greens have said that all along. We've said right from the start that there isn't the evidence there to show that income management works—and that is clearly the case in relation to the Northern Territory intervention and the subsequent Stronger Futures legislation.
Clearly, here, not only do you have the flawed information from the ORIMA report but you have the ANAO saying, 'it is difficult to conclude whether there has been a reduction in social harm and whether the card was a lower cost welfare quarantining approach'. There isn't the evidence to justify the expansion of this card. Of course, none of this information in the ANAO report was a surprise to me. The Australian Greens have been pointing out flaws in the evaluation reports since each was released—that is, the wave 1 and wave 2 ORIMA reports—and we've been questioning their reliability as a basis for continuing the trials in Ceduna and the East Kimberley, and for the rolling out of trials in the additional locations. The Australian Greens want to see the government turn its focus to evidence-based policy, including community wraparound services.
While it's now known that there will be a further evaluation of the current trials, including of the Goldfields area, it beggars belief that there was consideration of not undertaking any further evaluation. I must say, that undermines the next evaluation right from the start, because it starts later—and late. Why would the government continue to call the scheme a trial if it wasn't going to measure the outcomes and inform itself of the results? It just illustrates the government's long-term intention to roll out the card far and wide, and penalise people on income support—who are struggling to find work, due to a lack of available jobs, and living in poverty, which is a barrier to trying to find work.
Compulsory income management, of which this card is one example, is a failed measure. Bear in mind, the Northern Territory intervention evaluation showed that income management met none of its objectives. How many times do I have to say this in this place? None. Yet the government still has an ideological commitment to this flawed, punitive approach. Income management is ineffective. It disempowers people. It stigmatises and humiliates people on the card, and those are the words of participants who are on the card. It causes social harm; it does not repair social harm. It harms those who need help the most. It also imposes significant costs on government—billions, over the years. It's time that it was abandoned as a policy mechanism.
We are particularly concerned that the government is attempting to roll out the card in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area when there is no evidence that the community is supportive of its introduction. I know the government will argue that there is support, but I have been there. I have held a public meeting and spoken to residents in this area. The committee inquiry was as short as a couple of hours and was not even held in the area. As the deputy chair of the legislation committee, I know that we didn't have the capacity to actually hold a proper, full inquiry into the bill in the time frame within which the government wanted to push this bill through. That's why it was restricted to a couple of hours and why it was not on site—which is what the local community would have wanted.
The government's consultation with regard to this trial was tokenistic. They'll stand here and say, 'We did this, this and this.' But that was giving information, not asking people their opinion of the card. That's very different. The same thing happened in Kalgoorlie. They'll say there were hundreds there, but when you go and actually talk to the people who were going to be subjected to the card because they're on income management, those people will tell you that there were very few meetings they were invited to, I'm told by them, or that they knew about—which is very important. If you don't adequately tell people that you're going to be giving information on the program that you're going to be rolling out—if you don't tell people it's on—they can't very well turn up to participate. The government were providing information, which I'm sure is useful, but that doesn't mean they hear back from the people who are going to be on the card whether they think it's a good idea. Talk to the people who are going to be on the card. It hasn't been done in any of those sites, not prior to the rollout of the card.
I might add that, in Kalgoorlie, people were getting the card before they got the letter telling them they were going to be on the card. So much for consultation and working with the community to help this to be effective, and actually listening to them! The consultation was tokenistic and not representative of the people that will be placed on the card. The voices of those that will be affected are not being heard.
The 'Say No Cashless Welfare Debit Card Australia/No Cashless Debit Card Hinkler Region' submission to the inquiry into the bill said, among other things, that there was concern about the lack of public consultation from the local member and about the costs associated with the card—both monetary and social costs—for those who would be subject to the trial. They said:
The stigma attached to the card through the constant demonising of the people on social security , the media 'welfare bashing' has already changed our local community language and the way people on social security are being treated.
Further, they said:
This card will further divide our community, excluding so many people in so many ways, from community events, school events, charity events, cash economy, secondhand economy, but also the banking economy.
They go on to say:
Just like the people on the card in the other regions, our residents do not deserve to be treated as a sub class citizen with their human rights removed, their freedoms removed, their ability to travel, decided for them …
Instead, they want to see the money that would be spent on the trial going to funding services such as homeless and domestic violence shelters, and to funding education pathways and creating jobs for local young people.
Turning now to our concerns about the bill, it will see those under 36 years of age who are receiving Newstart allowance, youth allowance (jobseeker) or parenting payment and whose usual place of residence is or was or becomes a place within the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area becoming subject to the cashless debit card. This is the first time the trial of a card will be limited to a particular age group. The Australian Greens are concerned that targeting a young cohort will further marginalise this group of people, who are already facing high unemployment in the area.
We are also concerned that there is still no way in which individuals can transition off the card, now or into the future. Once they are on the card, they will remain on it, even if they leave the trial area. In relation to the trial applying to those whose usual place of residence was within the area, the Australian Human Rights Commission said in its submission to the bill's inquiry:
The Commission considers that this over-inclusive application of the cashless debit card trial is unnecessary and notes that the statement of compatibility with human rights does not provide a compelling justification for the proposed amendment.
There is also provision for an optional community panel to be established. We are concerned about the inclusion of the community panel model for the proposed new trial area. This concern is exacerbated by the recent ANAO report that researched the community panels in the Ceduna and East Kimberley trial sites. The report indicates that the effectiveness of the community panels was reviewed by the department, which determined:
… that the Community Panels were not as effective as envisaged, resulting in lengthy delays in making decisions and that they would not be introduced into new localities.
Later, the report said:
Social Services did not refer to the evaluation of the trial, which noted other factors that impacted on the effectiveness of Community Panels, including the '…delay in establishing and commencing the Community Panels from the start of the trial' and that '…the panel process was not adequately known and communicated' to the trial participants and communities.
The community panel model raises issues regarding the privacy of participants and the potential for bias, conflicts of interest and discrimination, particularly in small communities, where neighbour may be judging neighbour. The lack of independent review of their decisions also raises concerns. The Australian Greens are concerned that the bill amends how the authorisation of community bodies will occur for the new site. Instead of authorisation being by legislative instrument it will be by way of notifiable instrument, which removes the ability for parliamentary scrutiny, which I have been using very strongly in this process.
We are also concerned about safeguards. While the government may argue that there are safeguards in place to protect vulnerable individuals from the impacts of the card, due to the wellbeing exemption, the bill qualifies this exemption, saying:
The Secretary is not required to inquire into whether a person being a trial participant under this section would pose a serious risk to the person's mental, physical or emotional wellbeing.
This means that, unless the secretary is informed of a participant's wellbeing by either the participant or another source, the participant will be forced onto the card—an ineffective mechanism. While this aligns with other trial sites, it is concerning to us that the burden of proof is placed onto the income support recipient. In addition, the ANAO report, in its assessment of the evaluation of KPIs, identified that the wellbeing exemptions, along with other administrative and operating aspects of the first two trial sites, were not measured with KPIs.
The bill seeks to exempt the declining of a transaction from the provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, if it involves money from a welfare-restricted bank account and the purchase of alcohol, gambling or cash-like products that could be used to purchase alcohol or for gambling. This will affect all trial sites. Cash-like products are included in the definition of the bill as follows:
(a) a gift card, store card, voucher or similar article (whether in a physical or electronic form);
(b) a money order, postal order or similar order (whether in a physical or electronic form);
(c) digital currency. The National Social Security Rights Network said in its submission to the inquiry on the bill: 'This amendment will unnecessarily expand the gambit of the control exercised over the restricted portion of a cashless debit card.' Under this measure a person will be restricted from buying a gift or store card from a merchant that does not even sell any of the target prohibited items. This provision will further act to disempower cardholders and limit their economic and social participation in their communities.
ACOSS pointed out that this exclusion could lead to a situation where a participant would be unable to pay their bond or send money via post, for example, to their child at boarding school.
The Australian Greens also have concerns regarding the contingent amendment in the bill, item 20, which will come into effect if the applicable amendments in the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Housing Affordability) Bill 2017 have commenced, at the time these amendments commence. The contingent notice would uphold the deletion of the current section 124PM(b) of the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, which allows participants to spend the unrestricted portion of their payment as they wish. It also expands the restrictions placed on the restricted portion of the payment to include cash-like products that could be used to obtain alcoholic beverages or gambling. The Australian Human Rights Commission said in relation to this amendment:
... by removing the safeguard for persons to use the 'unrestricted' portion 'at their discretion' and by further restricting the uses to which the 'restricted' portion can be directed, both Bills are therefore detrimental to the economic freedom of trial participants.
In plain speaking, this means that of the 20 per cent cash—which is so important if you are on income support, because you have to transact so much in cash; for example, buying secondhand goods—the government's bill says, 'We are going to use the 20 per cent that we said you could have in cash to pay your rent.' It doesn't come out of the 80 per cent; it comes out of the 20 per cent if you're in social housing. That means it has even more of an impact on people who are struggling to survive on income support.
So there is now in place a mechanism for the government to set aside perhaps nearly all of your income support. Why not put the rent—not that we support that bill—in the 80 per cent? I'll tell you why: because the government is ideologically driven to tell people on income support, who are some of the best money managers in the country, how to spend their money. This is a top-down, punitive approach that takes away people's agency. One of the most important things for people in maintaining their dignity is their ability to make those day-to-day life decisions around how they spend their money and how they look after their children. Now the government want to do this to people under the age of 36, who in some cases are still developing these skills. Now they are going to take all of their agency away. This is discriminatory. It's ideologically driven. It humiliates and stigmatises people. It should stop in this country. We are better than this. I'm glad the opposition are opposing this legislation, but I hope they have finally seen the light and will also help us to stop these appalling trials in the East Kimberley, the Goldfields and Ceduna. You can probably tell that we oppose this bill, the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018. We oppose income management, and we will continue to campaign against it.
I rise to speak very briefly on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018. I made a more extensive contribution just a couple of days ago, when the disallowance motions on regulations related to the cashless debit card trial were defeated. I want to make a few points in my contribution. One is that this is a different trial. It's a different trial site and it has a different set of assessment criteria. The persons living in the area will be under 36 years of age, receiving Newstart allowance, youth allowance, jobseeker payment and/or parenting payment single or parenting payment partnered. This is the cadre of people who would be transitioned onto the cashless debit card. This will involve about 6,700 people and will take a different approach to that taken in the current trial sites of Ceduna, East Kimberley and the Goldfields. What the government is trying to do with this new site is look at how the cashless debit card will work with a different cadre—a younger and more urbanised cadre—of people and also one which does not have as high a proportion of Indigenous participants as the existing trial sites. So it is a very different trial. It involves a very different cadre of people.
Just briefly on the consultation issue, I saw personally the level of consultation that occurred within the Goldfields region. There was extensive consultation. We've heard, through the Community Affairs Committee, of the consultation that has occurred in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. There were 188 meetings between May and September 2017. I'll quote from the minister:
These [meetings] canvassed views from a very broad range of stakeholders, including the community sector, service providers, community members, church groups, the business sector and all levels of government. These meetings demonstrated a clear need for support and intervention in the areas of youth unemployment, young families and intergenerational welfare dependency.
I'll also quote from the Community Affairs Committee report, from Mr Steven Beer of IMPACT Community Services, one of the community service organisations working in the local area. He talked about what the consultation meetings were and the impact they had on people. This is one of the things he said:
Once they've got information about what the card is and is not, what it looks like, how it operates and works et cetera, whilst those younger people came into those sessions with some fairly negative points of view and some great questions, most of them left thinking that it was a fairly good thing to proceed with.
Finally, I will raise the issue of the evaluation. The government has announced a second evaluation of the cashless debit card across all three current trial sites, and that would include the Hervey Bay and Bundaberg trial sites if this legislation is successfully passed. The second evaluation will use research methodologies developed independently by the University of Queensland and will draw on baseline measurements of social conditions in the Goldfields, developed by the University of Adelaide. Their findings of the second evaluation will be published in late 2019.
As I've stated in this place before, nobody believes that the cashless debit card is a silver bullet. Nobody believes that the cashless debit card will work by itself. It needs to be supported by other measures. But the cashless debit card is a way of trying to break some of the negative behaviour, trying to stop a cycle of addiction, dependency and lack of control over peoples' funding. And, yes, whilst it is anecdotal, there have been very significant reports of positive outcomes in the current trial sites. The evaluation is important and necessary, and the evaluation is something that will be legislated if and when, hopefully, we pass this bill.
I'm only going to make a short contribution to join with my Labor colleagues in opposing the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018. I participated in inquiries concerning the terms of this bill. From Labor's perspective, we continue to have concerns with the rollout of the cashless welfare card. We're aware that it is up and running in a couple of sites; I'm thinking in particular of Western Australia. There are ongoing concerns about the rollout of the cashless welfare card in those sites, but we accept that community support has been demonstrated in a couple of sites, and on that basis we have been prepared to support the trials going ahead in those locations. The same cannot be said of the proposed trial that is envisaged by this bill to roll out the cashless welfare card in the Hinkler region, around Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland.
As I said, I participated in the Senate inquiry into this bill. It is fair to say that the views of the community are mixed in relation to this proposal. From a Labor perspective, we don't think that it is wise to proceed with this trial in an area where community opinion is split and, in fact, where there is substantial opposition to it going ahead. I recognise that there are some people within the community in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay and the surrounding region who want this to go ahead—in particular, the federal member, Mr Pitt. But I don't think that he or the department have adequately consulted with the local community to a point that they can demonstrate there is community support for this going ahead. We think the only way in which such a radical measure can possibly work is if it is done with widespread community support. That has been demonstrated in a couple of sites where the trial is up and running, although there do remain problems, in our view, about the rollout. But it cannot be demonstrated to our satisfaction that there is the level of community support in the Hinkler region for this measure to justify it going ahead.
The other concern that Labor has with this trial in general is the very poor evaluations that have been conducted to date. The government have, in the past, pointed to evaluations that have been commissioned by the department which they say demonstrate that the trial is working and, again, that it has community support. I won't go into it in a whole lot of detail, but those who are interested can refer to the Senate inquiry and Labor members' reports on this cashless welfare card. But we have very significant concerns about the quality of those evaluations and their reliability. In short, we don't think that this measure is working anywhere nearly as successfully as what the government claims and, again, we think that for it to proceed it needs a lot more community support than has been demonstrated, particularly in the Hinkler region.
The other thing I might say is that, if you believe the government's arguments, the reason that this is needed is to, as they put it, break the cycle of welfare dependency. There is no doubt that the region of Hinkler, which covers Bundaberg, Hervey Bay and surrounding towns, has extremely high unemployment and extremely high youth unemployment, and that is not a new thing. That is something that the area has suffered through for decades—I might say, decades when it has been represented by members of the National Party. I think that it would be very wise for the government, before it imposes radical measures like this, to actually put a bit more effort into job-creation projects in the Hinkler region to try to overcome the level of unemployment that has been there for many decades now. We do not see the level of investment from this government in the type of infrastructure that creates jobs in the actual construction of that infrastructure and obviously improves economic efficiency in the region. They should be investing more in infrastructure, but they also should be doing more to work with the local community and local industry to identify genuine industry opportunities and employment opportunities that can be built in that region.
Too often from this government we see a very hands-off, laissez-faire attitude towards the running of the economy. They're happy to sit by while particular regions in our country languish with extremely high levels of unemployment. That is certainly the case in the Hinkler region, and I know it's a problem in many other parts of Australia as well. But I think that to only undertake quite punitive measures, similar to those that are proposed in this bill, without putting any genuine effort into creating jobs for people and helping them into work really isn't tackling the problem in the right way. For those reasons, I'll be joining with the opposition to oppose this bill.
I would like to make it clear at the outset that Centre Alliance will not be supporting this bill. As we stated in February when the Senate passed the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2017, we were happy to allow the government to roll out trials in the three sites as it originally planned. We also supported an extension of the trials until June next year to allow more time for evaluation, but we said then that we would not entertain any further extensions until we had seen robust results of the trial. This bill prematurely attempts to add in a fourth trial site before we have all the data to properly assess whether the existing trials have achieved their harm-minimisation aims. That's partly because the trials are still underway and partly because the initial evaluation process was very much flawed. We accept that the government has now changed the evaluation process to utilise all available data sources and collect baseline data from Goldfields participants; however, this does not change the fact that we were quite clear about our limits in February this year.
The government needs to prove that quarantining 80 per cent of participants' income support can make a positive difference for participants and their communities before it is rolled out to more people than the 10,000 already permitted. We're also concerned that the government's reasons for implementing the trial seem to keep shifting. In the initial trials the aim was to reduce harm and violence from alcohol, gambling and illicit drugs and to 'encourage socially responsible behaviour'. Now the argument has morphed into an attack on intergenerational welfare dependency. In his media release, the Minister for Social Services, Dan Tehan, said that this fourth trial in the Hinkler electorate would 'help break the cycle of welfare dependency'. Unlike in the other trial sites, which apply the card to everyone of working age on income support, in this electorate the bill seeks to limit the cashless debit card to people aged under 36 who are on Newstart, youth allowance or parenting payment. It will target young unemployed people and young families. The minister said:
Intergenerational welfare dependence is ruining families, there are some young people who have never seen their parents, and even their grandparents, hold down a job.
I agree that we need to help young unemployed people get into suitable employment. But in areas where jobs are scarce, income management isn't going to suddenly get people trained and right up and into work. I'm sure the member for Hinkler in the other place is sincere about the challenges in his community. But using the cashless debit card to tackle the particular social ills of the regions seems to me to be very much a blunt instrument. It will not make negligent parents into better parents. It will not train the unemployed for work. It will not tackle disadvantage or improve social skills. It imposes a burden on families who may have no substance abuse or gambling problems whatsoever. In short, I can't see how it will address intergenerational welfare dependency as the minister seems to hope it will.
The unemployment rate in the electorate is high. In the Bundaberg council area it was around nine per cent in the March quarter. It is stubbornly stuck around that level and is significantly higher than the unemployment rate for regional Queensland, at six per cent, and compares with a national rate of 5.5 per cent. In the neighbouring council area covering Hervey Bay the unemployment rate was even higher, at more than 10 per cent, for the March quarter. So, it is clear that the Hinkler electorate needs much more than the cashless debit card to get its young people off welfare and into work. It needs more jobs, first and foremost. If the government is going to impose this card on more people, particularly on young families, it should do it with conclusive, consistent data to demonstrate its case.
In his second reading speech the minister referred to the findings of the August 2017 final evaluation report on the initial trial in the Ceduna and East Kimberley region to make his case for the current trial. However, we now know that those findings were very much flawed. I said in my speech in February that Centre Alliance had concerns about the quality of the outcome data for the trials in Ceduna and the East Kimberley. This has been borne out by the Auditor-General's recent report, The implementation and performance of the cashless debit card trial. The National Audit Office found that key monitoring activities:
… were not undertaken or fully effective, and the level of unrestricted cash available in the community was not effectively monitored.
The Audit Office also said:
There was a lack of robustness in data collection and the department's evaluation did not make use of all available administrative data to measure the impact of the trial including any change in social harm.
These flaws will hopefully be addressed going forward, but, as I said at the beginning of my speech, we will wait to see the outcomes of the evaluations due next year before we're prepared to consider any further extensions of this trial.
I hold serious concerns about this proposed legislation. The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018 seeks to extend the cashless debit card to an area in Queensland that includes Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. It would also make changes that affect the cashless debit card scheme as a whole, including provisions to ensure that merchants are able to decline cashless debit card transactions where the cardholder tries to use the card for gambling, alcohol or gift cards and other cash-like products.
Let me remind you of the significant impacts of the existing CDC trial on many Australians. It works by quarantining 80 per cent of a recipient's welfare payments on a special debit card that cannot be used on alcohol or gambling, or to withdraw cash. This leaves only 20 per cent of benefits able to be used as cash. Participation is mandatory for all working-age payment recipients who live in the selected trial sites. Make no mistake: this card has a deeply profound impact on peoples' lives. Because of this, it must be rolled out using evidence meeting the most rigorous standards, and it should only be expanded beyond existing sites if the evidence shows that there have been some real and tangible social benefits to those who are forced to use it.
We've been told by Minister Dan Tehan that the implementation of the trial in the existing trial sites, Ceduna and the East Kimberley, has been a raging success, but he has scant evidence upon which to base this. An independent audit by the Australian National Audit Office, published on 17 July this year, shows it has some serious concerns. We were assured in this parliament, when the cashless debit card trial commenced, that there were plans for the most rigorous analysis, monitoring and evaluation of the cashless debit card trial, but the ANAO says that this simply has not happened. Those plans, including a cost-benefit analysis and post-implementation review, never eventuated. The department also failed to properly measure baseline data, making it difficult to know what impact the trial has had. The conclusion to the ANAO report stated:
approach to 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.
It's extraordinary that the coalition government would now seek to extend this trial to a new site when the ANAO has been unable to conclude whether there has been a reduction in social harm in the existing sites. Have a think about that: this program is costing in the millions to run in these trial sites, and we cannot even evaluate whether it's working.
In addition to the ANAO report, the recently completed Senate inquiry raised more questions about the existing trial sites than it answered. It was made clear during the course of that inquiry that there had been insufficient consultation with the community of Bundaberg about the proposed expansion of the cashless debit card there. Leanne Donaldson, the then member for Bundaberg, told the committee that the consultation process has been selective and secretive. Representatives from the Gidarjil Development Corporation explained that Gidarjil is probably considered the largest Indigenous organisation in Bundaberg and that there hasn't been any approach from the federal minister with regard to this—or, in fact, anything. All of this is really concerning.
Further, the Senate inquiry revealed mixed evidence about the effectiveness of the trials. The inquiry heard evidence that the evaluations undertaken by the company ORIMA Research of the trial in the East Kimberley and in Ceduna were unreliable, and that no empirical judgements about the effectiveness of the trials can be made on the basis of the information collected. Dr Janet Hunt of the Australian National University expressed significant and serious concerns about the reliability of the ORIMA evaluations. She said:
My assessment, based on my extensive experience as a social scientist, is that the evaluation reports do not present adequate evidence of the trial leading to successful outcomes for participants.
This view by this eminent academic is shared by the ANAO.
I also note evidence to the inquiry that the cashless debit card is not effective alone in solving the social issues in the trial communities. What is needed is support and funding for existing and new services in those communities to help those in need. Ms Zell Dodd, the CEO of the Ceduna Koonibba Aboriginal Health Service Aboriginal Corporation, explained during the inquiry:
… regarding alcohol and other drug support services, which were funded as part of a cashless debit card trial in the Far West Coast region. It is not about the cashless debit card itself; it is about the support services and its consequences, such as little or no investment in social and emotional wellbeing services as part of the trial. Rather than reducing the need for alcohol and other drug support services, the view is that the trial is likely to increase the demand for alcohol and other drug services as well as social and emotional wellbeing services and, in fact, mental health services.
What is needed from government is a commitment on the delivery of wraparound services before any trials are extended. It is totally inappropriate to extend the cashless debit card to a new location when there are serious doubts about the benefits of the trial in the existing sites. The trials in East Kimberley and in Ceduna have not been going on long enough to properly ascertain whether they have been effective. There is mixed evidence about the effectiveness of the trials to date, and a far more rigorous evaluation of the trials should be carried out.
I'd also like to note the cost of implementing the cashless debit card. For the first 12 months of the cashless debit card trial in Ceduna and Kununurra, the estimated maximum cost of the trial was $18.9 million, approximately $10,000 per person. Have a think about that. It cost $18.9 million for a trial that hasn't been adequately evaluated and whose reports haven't been done. The department has failed and the minister is failing to adequately find out what is going on in these communities. $18.9 million—seriously? And we want to roll this out to another community? The cost of the scheme for the Goldfields has not been publicly released. There has been no independently verified costing released for the proposed new trial sites in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region in Queensland, so we are being asked to vote on the expansion of the trial in the complete absence of financial costings for that trial.
There are no costings of what this could be and what it could mean, yet we only have to look at what's going on already in WA and at the $18.9 million that is being spent in WA and South Australia. It is expected that around 6,700 people in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay would become trial participants. So if we base it on a similar number, the $10,000 per person in WA and South Australia, and say it's maybe 6,700 times $10,000 per person, that might give us a fair idea. But they're not the official costings from that site. Those opposite haven't given us anything. As of March 2018, in Hinkler there were 8,108 Newstart recipients, 764 parenting payment (partnered) recipients, 2,518 parenting payment (single) recipients and 1,501 youth allowance (other) recipients. I hold serious concerns about the large numbers of single parents who will be subjected to this scheme.
As with my previous speech on the expansion of the card, I do draw reference to Calla Wahlquist's piece in The Guardian in which she detailed the harrowing experience of a domestic violence survivor. The victim, who was from Ceduna, expressed the view that the cashless welfare card would have stopped her from being able to escape a violent and oppressive marriage. It is a story we heard too often in the Senate committee inquiry as we travelled listening to evidence in relation to this card.
I note that the Prime Minister has raised the question of possibly expanding the trials to remote communities in the Northern Territory. Well, hold up there, Prime Minister! Let me say stop to that. We've got some questions to ask. Many Indigenous welfare recipients in the Northern Territory, particularly those in regional and remote communities, are already subjected to income management systems through the BasicsCard, and I fear that the implementation of further welfare management systems will only further restrict their autonomy and individuality. There are issues with income management more broadly in its failure to meet some of its purported objectives. Again, the Australian National University's research paper released in 2016 highlighted the mixed, if not outright detrimental, effects of new income management in the Northern Territory. While the BasicsCard model applies across the board, in reality it is Indigenous Territorians who represent 91 per cent of people under the regime. Really? This counts for everyone? Yeah right!
Intergenerational poverty remains evident. What is the scenario if further compulsory income management is extended to a selected community like Tennant Creek, where the BasicsCard is already in force and where they are subjected to further deeply flawed programs, such as the Community Development Program? This approach to income management and the implementation of the cashless card on the presumption that it will reduce some of the negative aspects of life in regional and remote communities fails to consider more prevalent barriers to meaningful employment, consideration of which would ultimately dismiss the need for such policies in the first place.
During the inquiry by the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee into the government's disastrous Community Development Program, Labor examined the true foundations for why people in regional and remote communities struggle to gain and maintain employment. As part of the report that followed the inquiry, the committee made reference to several papers which highlighted barriers to employment for people in regional and remote communities. In a 2010 paper, McRae-Williams and Gerritsen explained the unique economic and employment challenges within remote communities. They said:
There are limited employment opportunities with a significant gap between the size of the labour force and the number of jobs generated in the local economy as well as inadequate physical infrastructure for many economic development proposals.
Similarly, a 2014 study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that Indigenous Australians generally experience multiple barriers to economic participation, including lower levels of education; poorer health; and more difficulties with English, which in many cases, particularly in the Northern Territory, is not the first language of First Nations people. Other barriers include high rates of incarceration, inadequate housing and accommodation and lack of access to social networks that may help to facilitate employment, as well as practical challenges, such as needing to travel to buy groceries and attend medical appointments. Have a think about travelling to get groceries, buy fruit and vegies and attend medical services. Appointments are either too expensive or simply not available and are often not accommodated as part of CDP, let alone the implementation of the cashless welfare card. These are the challenges that communities in our regions across Australia face.
There are many people who are advocating for the cashless debit card, in particular around Tennant Creek, but what information has the community been given about the implementation of the card, the lack of evaluation of it, and the lack of any evidence to show results in those towns where it already exists? What information? How tied is the card to the much-talked-about but, again, short-on-detail regional deal proposed for Tennant Creek—proposed by, perhaps, the Prime Minister on his recent visit. If people in Tennant Creek want a cashless debit card, then they have a right to advocate for that, but they need to be fully informed of what the card involves, including the restrictions and some flow-on consequences that we have seen in other towns. Similarly, people in Hinkler need to be fully informed about the potential impacts of the cashless debit card, and this government just is not in a position to do that. I have heard from people in the East Kimberley who have said, 'It didn't do what I thought it was going to do, and I don't believe it has had the effect that I thought it would.' They've also gone on to say: 'I feel powerless right now. I'm seeing that there is more drinking. There's a lot of sly grogging. I'm seeing a lot of kids late at night when I go to the shopping centre.'
Throughout the committee process of examining this bill, it became very clear that there had been insufficient consultation with the very communities subjected to the expansion and very little consultation with the very people you want this to be imposed on. Witnesses at the Kalgoorlie hearing, in particular, expressed serious dissatisfaction with the consultation process that was undertaken prior to the announcement of the Goldfields trial site, describing that process as very lacklustre. I have real concerns that the cashless debit card isn't reaching the end goal in addressing poverty and disadvantage. If anything, people are feeling that they are staying exactly in that place of poverty and disadvantage. As the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation stated in its submission to the inquiry around the expansion of the CDC:
We also note that Aboriginal people are disproportionately affected by the trials and that they are in and proposed for locations where the majority participants are Aboriginal. Whilst it is not the stated intent of the trials, its impact is discriminatory.
The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation is saying, in effect, that it's discriminatory. When we see that a large proportion of those on the card are First Nations people, can we really say that we are trying to improve the lives of First Nations people? Can we really say in this parliament that we are about enabling people to rise above poverty and disadvantage and enabling people to take their place in this country with full rights and full access to the services that they require?
This government is intent on pushing and punishing welfare recipients. That's what it looks like. That's what it feels like for people—ignoring your own evidence or lack thereof. Seriously, $18 million on a trial that you have not been able to evaluate in the true sense of the word! There is a huge irresponsibility in all of that.
Labor supports community-driven initiatives to tackle drug and alcohol abuse. Labor does not believe in a blanket approach to income management. We will not support the extension of the cashless debit card in Bundaberg, Hervey Bay or any further trial sites unless the government establishes a formal framework for consultation, including establishing community consent for a trial and a sufficient evidence base demonstrating the success of the trials. The bill should be opposed.
The proposed legislation before us, the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018, is fairly unusual in the sense that it solely affects people just in one electorate or one part of my home state of Queensland—parts of the electorate of Hinkler and, most significantly, the communities in and around the towns of Hervey Bay and Bundaberg. That being the case, I want to put on the record again how deeply disappointed and, frankly, disgusted I am that the government-controlled Senate committee did not take the time to go to the communities directly affected by this legislation. It simply held a derisory phone hearing, packing in a small number of witnesses, all within a brief half-hour period. I'm sure each of us in this place knows those types of so-called hearings. The nature of the consultation was token in the extreme.
Of course, this issue of the cashless debit card trial is not new. There was legislation relating to this at the start of this year and a Senate committee inquiry into the wider idea of the trials at the end of last year. But, again, the committee did not go to Queensland. They did go and hold a hearing in Kalgoorlie, in an area that was going to be affected by the legislation, but they did not come to Queensland. The Senate quite rightly rejected the attempt at that time to expand the trials to parts of Queensland, and I very much urge the Senate to do the same again now.
Nothing has changed since then. The only thing, really, that has changed is that there is even more information about how badly designed the trial is. There is the very damning Auditor-General report into the trial to date, which I spoke to in this chamber last week, as well as the clear condemnation of the farcical assessment that was released by the government to try to justify the so-called effectiveness of the trials that have occurred to date. Other speakers on this legislation have already gone through the very strong and very valid criticisms of that so-called assessment, a classic case of an assessment designed to deliver what the government wanted to hear based on flimsy or flawed underpinnings. It delivers what I think, frankly, is a false picture of the reality of the impact of the trials where they're already happening. So, if anything, the Senate's got far more reason now to reject this attempt to expand the trial of the cashless debit card than it did when it rejected that aspect of the legislation earlier this year. I repeat my plea to fellow crossbenchers to consider this issue very carefully and to vote against it. It is clear that the numbers on this legislation are very tight, so I urge senators, particularly Senator Storer and Senator Leyonhjelm, to please consider voting against this legislation.
I have been to Hervey Bay and spoken with many people there. I went there last year, before I was back in this place, with my colleague Senator Siewert, and again just a few weeks ago. I also went to a public meeting in Bundaberg on a Monday night, attended by over 50 people, and not just people who are going to be directly affected by this trial. In an effort to get the Senate to agree to this trial, the government has wound it back and reduced the number of people it would apply to—only people under 35 who are on Newstart and parenting payments, including sole parents. That shouldn't matter. There's no logic as to why it should do that. The only so-called logic is political logic: an attempt to try to make it more politically saleable, to reinforce the disgraceful, longstanding myth that people on unemployment and social security payments and sole parents somehow or other are bludgers and unable to manage their money. That should not be a reason to now vote to extend the trial; it should be another reason to vote against it. People receiving Newstart payments are amongst the best money managers in the country. They have to be, because their payments are so low.
The government is handing money over to a private financial company, rather than spending it on assisting people in Hervey Bay and Bundaberg, particularly young people, to get jobs or on creating economic activity in those regions. The youth unemployment rate in those areas is significantly above the national and state averages. That's a reason to put more resources into stimulating the economy there with training; it's not a reason to waste money so that a financial corporation can make life even tougher for people receiving those social security payments.
Even just as a matter of principle—that a Senate committee refused to go and listen directly to the community the government wants to impose this on—I'd urge Senator Storer and Senator Leyonhjelm to oppose this legislation. The mayor of Bundaberg, a former LNP state MP, has said on the record that he opposes this measure coming into his community, because the money would be better invested on services and job-generating activity. People can benefit from assistance to address substance abuse or gambling problems and any consequential financial challenges, but that should be personalised for those who need it, not a massive straitjacket imposed upon every single person solely on the criteria that they receive certain social security payments or are of a certain age.
There's no rationale whatsoever for discriminating in that way, other than the supposed political benefits of further demonising the unemployed and those people who receive social security payments. That is something this government specialises in. They don't have terribly many ideas, but the ones they do have usually involve demonising some of the least powerful, poorest parts of the community. They're very good at demonising and dividing. Make no mistake: this is another measure to do that. All you need to do is look at the public debates and some of the online commentary around the card, and you will see what is motivating it. That type of commentary appears whenever this issue is brought up. It's all about reinforcing the myths and stereotypes of people on social security payments as, somehow, bludgers—when, in so many cases, they are people who merit more support and assistance, rather than things that make their life harder.
I mentioned the mayor of Bundaberg before; I also mention the mayor of Hervey Bay, Councillor George Seymour. He was deputy mayor when I went to Hervey Bay last year; he's mayor now. He has spoken out quite eloquently against this card, not only the fact that it won't work for those people it's supposedly meant to assist but also the fact that it would be harmful to his community more broadly. I think, initially, Hervey Bay was seen as a place people went when they retired, but it's changed enormously in recent times. It's grown quite significantly as a community. Its local economy is very much driven now by tourism, by attracting people to the area because of its magnificent natural environment as well as its general attractiveness as a location. The last thing it needs is singling out as a community that has some sort of specific, unique social problem that merits this sort of measure, because it simply doesn't.
As many people who work in this field—with people on social security payments, and with younger people who need assistance because of substance abuse issues—have said: if anything, this is likely to increase related crime. Further restricting people's control over their own income is hardly going to assist them to better manage their situation.
It will impact on some of those small businesses that rely more significantly on the cash-based economy. There is no doubt about that. That is self-evident. The last thing we need is another measure that will somehow or other make it harder for small businesses but easier for the bigger companies and bigger retailers. We need to be encouraging diversity in the local economy, not further restricting the way that it operates.
I mentioned the public meeting I went to in Bundaberg. Many of the people there were not people who are going to be affected by the measure directly. In fact, the majority of them weren't. There were many there who are social security recipients; though they won't be subject to this trial because of their age, or because they're on disability or carer payments—at least at this stage, they aren't subject to this measure. But they know that measures like this reinforce the discrimination that they already face as people on social security payments, so they will still cop the public abuse. They will still cop the increased public cynicism that comes when these myths are reinforced by political leaders. And, of course, they know that the more this is rolled out, the more chance there is that it will become entrenched, and that it will become a measure that is slowly wound out to more and more of them and will eventually, potentially, catch them in its net.
Many of the other people at these meetings that I went to, in both Hervey Bay and Bundaberg, were people who worked in schools—for example, guidance officers. The supposed benefit of this card would be that it would help parents on Newstart or parenting payments to manage their money and, therefore, better able to have money available to feed their kids—those sorts of ideas. As I said, people on social security payments are amongst the best money managers in the country because they have to be. If there are challenges for people to get by, those challenges are magnified because of the inadequacy of the payments.
Many of those people at those meetings were from other local, not-for-profit organisations and support services that work in areas with low-income people. I mentioned that the mayor, George Seymour, had a background in youth work and working with people in the community around social issues. All of those who were there not only said this measure wouldn't work but that it would make things worse for the majority of people. There'll be a group of people who will be fine: they'll adapt, they'll work with it and all of that. It will just be another piece of unnecessary bureaucracy and a waste of government money for no great purpose. But there will be a group of people for whom this will make it harder—it will make it more challenging for them to get by. Part of how people do get by when they're on very low incomes is through the cash-based economy. It is through finding bargains at op shops and markets, or paying friends to do maintenance, and those sorts of things. This will make it more difficult for them to make those dollars stretch out as far as possible.
If the government want to assist people with managing their finances, and want to put money into this, how about they fund not-for-profit financial counselling better?
I had a visit yesterday from people from the financial counselling field, who pointed to the significant problems faced by people who need to manage their debt. I'm sure any of us here who had to get by on just the amount of Newstart would find it extremely hard not to end up in significant debt and having to juggle that. Household debt for people of all incomes is at record levels in Australia, and more and more people are becoming vulnerable to for-profit debt management firms that prey on people who have low incomes. I'm not talking about just payday lenders and the like; I'm talking about professional debt management firms, who advertise. I'm sure we've all seen the advertisements. They actually charge people and further exploit them, and there's no regulation around that industry.
If the government want to help, how about they better regulate the for-profit debt management organisations to ensure they don't exploit people in the way many of them do? How about they use the money that is being used on this card to properly fund financial counselling more generally—not-for-profit financial counselling? The federal government currently spends about $20 million to fund financial counselling services, and the states spend an estimated $26 million. There's certainly a significant and growing need there. More funding would go a long way in assisting people who do have genuine issues with managing their money and in protecting them from being exploited. We could put a levy on the industry to fund financial counselling, as happens in the UK and as already happens here regarding an industry levy to fund ASIC, for example. Those are the sorts of measures this government could use if it actually wanted to assist people who are having challenges with managing their income, rather than just putting a punishing straightjacket around an entire group of people and a using a measure that reinforces the stereotypes, the false prejudices and the myths around people who are unemployed.
We all know—and we've talked about this in different contexts in this place in recent weeks—how much responsibility we have as public leaders in the language we use, in making sure that we do not further divide the community, that we do not demonise and single out parts of the community. This is another group of people who are deliberately demonised and have been for a long, long time. Because of those debates we have acknowledged that it is damaging and harmful to people both as individuals and as a group—to our community and the general social fabric—when false myths and stereotypes are reinforced and peddled, or even if they're allowed to flourish without being countered. But that is what is going on here. That is why the government, even though they got part of their measures through at the start of this year, rolled this one out again straightaway, had a sham Senate committee inquiry and didn't bother going to the communities that they are actually going to target with this and are trying to push this up again.
It's a speciality of this government, whether in this type of area, in regard to social security recipients, or whether in other sections of the community, to demonise, single out and create division. That is the overarching goal of this measure. All the independent evidence and the experts in the field say it won't work, it won't deliver the supposed benefits that the government said is their motivation. So many of the people in the communities that are directly affected say they don't want it and that it will be harmful to their community in general, let alone to the individuals there. It's expenditure of public money that would be far better spent to create benefits on the ground in those communities, whether that be direct economic stimulation and employment or funding for some of the social services that work directly on the issues that the government says it's trying to address.
It is also, of course, a massive Big Brother measure. I would appeal to Senator Leyonhjelm—perhaps on those grounds, given his general dislike of red tape and regulation—that he not support the government in spending money to enforce more regulation and red tape, particularly in a discriminatory way against a particular part of the community in a particular part of the country. I again repeat my appeal to him and to Senator Storer to please vote against this legislation. Their votes will be the critical ones with regard to a piece of legislation where the government has made no effort to consult with the community and has made no effort, frankly, to work constructively on so many issues. There is Senator Leyonhjelm's experience of the government breaking the commitments that it had given him. This is a chance to demonstrate his unhappiness about that as well. There are many, many reasons to vote against this legislation, but perhaps the simplest one is that it won't work. Why waste more money on something that isn't going to work?
I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018. I have spoken before, in earlier debates on the cashless debit card, of my support for quarantining cash payments made to welfare recipients. I have done so after meeting with and listening to members of the communities where trials have been in place. I took part in the Kalgoorlie hearing of the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee and listened to the views of those directly and indirectly impacted by the scheme. I heard and evaluated the arguments both for and against. As a result, I voted in favour of the extension of the scheme to the Goldfields region of Western Australia and remain in favour of the cashless debit card.
The argument against the card is that quarantining welfare payments so that only 20 per cent is paid in cash is a human rights issue. I fail to see how ensuring that 80 per cent of a welfare support payment can't be spent on alcohol or drugs in any way impacts on an individual's human rights. The amount of payment they receive is not reduced; it is simply paid in a different way. Limiting the amount of money which can be spent on alcohol and be available to access illicit drugs means that there is more money for essential everyday items. Foremost, there is more money for adequate, decent food for the family. I have been told that the effect of the change in the Western Australian Goldfields is very noticeable. Parents are seen shopping at supermarkets for food for their children instead of hanging around, waiting for the pub to open.
The proposed expansion of the scheme to introduce a new trial to the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay regions of my state is intended for a different purpose. It will apply only to persons aged 35 or less who receive Newstart allowance or youth allowance, apart from those who are new apprentices or full-time students or are on parenting payment. In doing so, it aims to address the high level of youth unemployment in the area, and especially the high level of intergenerational welfare dependency. It will not affect anyone who receives a disability payment and it will not apply to pensioners. There will be other exemptions, including young people who are on a new apprenticeship or are full-time students.
This area also has a high level of alcohol consumption and drug dependency among young people. In other words, the proposed trial will target the specific dual problems of youth unemployment and substance abuse in the region as a way of breaking intergenerational welfare dependency. Drug dealers depend on the cash economy. If we can reduce the amount of cash flowing in a community, it has to hurt the drug trade and reduce the high level of drugs which are available. Lessening dependence on alcohol and drugs will provide an opportunity for young people with drug or alcohol problems to address these problems and hopefully get on top of them.
This country provides wonderful opportunities for young people who are prepared to work and contribute to their community to prosper. It is of great concern to me that so many of our youth and young people in the Bundaberg-Hervey Bay region are on welfare—either on youth allowance or on Newstart, or in receipt of parenting payments. It is appalling that this area of Queensland has the highest rate of intergenerational welfare dependency in the country. Something has to be done to address this for the benefit of the young welfare recipients themselves and the future of the region. Let's give them a chance by making welfare less appealing and encouraging them to get a job and become contributing members of their communities. The Bundaberg-Hervey Bay trial is intended to continue until 30 June 2020 to allow time to evaluate the scheme and decide whether it should be rolled out to other areas.
Having just listened to Senator Bartlett's comments, I just see it as bleeding heart, and so do a lot of other Australians. At the end of the day, this money is taxpayers' money. It is taxpayers who actually have to go and work, and abide by rules and regulations, either with the company they're working for or by guidelines under government policies, to earn their money. Out of their hard-earned money, they pay their taxes, and, because they do that, we're able to have these Newstart and youth allowance payments made to people who are not working. I think the taxpayer would dearly love to see that their hard-earned dollars are spent wisely and not just wasted. People on these welfare payments do have an obligation to the taxpayer. This is saying to these people: 'Okay, you're going to get 80 per cent of your cash payments put into an account and you can only use that money to pay for rent or food. You can buy things with it—there are shops that will say, "Yes, you can go and buy that." But they're putting restrictions on it. You're not going to be able to have the cash in your pocket to go and pay the drug dealers, you're not going to have the money in your pocket to go and play the poker machines and you're not going to have the money in your pocket to go and buy alcohol or even cigarettes.' What is wrong with that? Everyone wants their rights, but with rights come responsibilities, and the responsibilities here are about taxpayers' dollars.
Senator Bartlett says that this will increase crime. What a load of rubbish! Actually, the facts show that where it has been put out—in Ceduna, in the Northern Territory, in the Kimberley and in the Goldfields now—crime has actually reduced. The statistics show that kids are now getting better fed, that parents are buying decent foods and that this measure is actually helping the communities. I've spoken to Aboriginal groups and organisations that have said it has benefited and is benefiting them. This is all I said—it's about a bleeding heart attitude of taking away people's rights.
The town of Kalgoorlie was just about to go under. Businesses were fed up with the problems they had on their streets and were crying out for help and for something to be done. It's not only about the businesses here; we're talking about peoples' lives. Enough money has been thrown out to organisations over the years and nothing's changed. We have high youth unemployment in this country. There's no hope whatsoever. We see more and more younger kids turning to drugs, and you've got to ask yourselves why. We are one of the highest drug-taking nations in the world and more people are coming from overseas to peddle their drugs in this country. Senator Bartlett also says that it's harder to make dollars stretch further. This enables them to manage their moneys. It does enable them to spend their money in much better ways. To say that they've got to stretch their dollars further—what do we want? We give people a welfare payment, Newstart or youth allowance. We've got to stop the attitude that it's a way of life. It's not a way of life; it is a helping hand that is set up to help these people. We've got to encourage kids to get out there and look for work, to give them back their self-esteem and self-respect. Do you think that you're protecting them, paying out these welfare payments and saying we can't tell them what they can or should spend their money on? That's not helping them.
Talking about jobs in the area—that's why One Nation has been pushing for the apprenticeship scheme, which I know businesses will be very interested in taking up. This is something that both major political parties have let slide in this country, by shutting down the TAFEs and apprenticeship schemes. You haven't helped the youth in this country at all. When you have unemployment rates of even 25 and 30 per cent in some of these rural and regional areas then we have a real problem. I say to the people out there: I will be supporting this bill, as any commonsense person would. If you listen to Australian taxpayers, they are thoroughly behind this, because they have to abide by the rules and regulations. Don't forget: it's their hard-earned dollars. Why shouldn't restrictions be put on people to make sure they spend that money wisely?
Welfare recipients should be fully appreciative of this. They should be saying 'Thank you' to the taxpayers: 'Thank you for the opportunity to give me some money so that I can pay my bills and put food on my table.' Why shouldn't we ask that the money not be wasted? Why shouldn't they have an obligation to the taxpayer? But we have members and senators in this parliament saying, 'No, they shouldn't, because you're taking away their human rights'. I say that's a load of rubbish; it's absolute bunkum. We have a responsibility, not only to the taxpayer but to the youth, to ensure that we do our utmost to try and get them off drugs, to stop them wasting their money, to ensure they spend the money in their pockets wisely, and to ensure they are looked after to the best of their ability.
I will be supporting this bill, and I am pleased to see that the government have proceeded with it. Congratulations to them for bringing this forward, because I know it will help the people in the long run. There might be resistance initially, but I know that, in the long run, as has happened in the other areas, it will help the communities and it will help those young people.
I've listened to the drama and hysteria coming from the other side of the chamber in relation to the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018, and, I've got to say, it's melodrama at its finest. Honestly, some of you in here are worthy of an Oscar. The theatre in here is first-class. Right now, there are three trial areas for the cashless welfare card: one in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, one in Western Australia's Goldfields and the other in Ceduna in South Australia. I wonder how many of you in here have been to these trial sites. I've been to Kalgoorlie-Boulder a few times, once with Senator Hanson for a Senate hearing into the card, and, in all my dealings and all my conversations with community leaders, they've done nothing but hail and praise the cashless welfare card. In fact, Senator McAllister, who spoke earlier, may be interested in this. I have a media release from the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder where the local mayor, John Bowler—who, I might add, is a former state Labor minister—said the card 'is a success'.
The thing to remember here is that the cashless welfare card trial is exactly that: it's a trial. Labor and the Greens want to pour cold water over it, but let's hear from the horse's mouth about some of the successes of this card in some of these areas. Police are reporting that the level of antisocial behaviour on the streets is clearly down. Bottle-shop retailers report that there are considerably fewer disturbances around their premises. Mr Bowler, the mayor of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, went on to say that loopholes, whereby card recipients were finding ways of obtaining cash or liquor on the cashless part of the welfare card, were being shut down and that the number of complaints was falling as the cardholders themselves learnt that in most cases the level of inconvenience was minimal. A media statement also refers to one liquor retailer who reported that the card had seen a decrease in sales of liquor in general through his bottle shop and that this measure, combined with the responsible service of alcohol, had seen a decline in store incidents and street drinking in the vicinity. This is a statement from the Mayor of Kalgoorlie-Boulder only five days ago. He has heaped praise on the welfare card. I'd be more inclined to believe the local leader than some of the antics that go on in here, especially from those senators who are always pandering to their ideological agendas.
I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018. This is an issue that has troubled me deeply. The most recent data indicates that close to three million people, more than 13 per cent of all Australians, are living below the poverty line, despite a quarter of a century of continuous growth. More than 700,000 children are living below the poverty line, and the number has been growing. I find this unacceptable.
With regard to the cashless debit card, I am alert to the claims of restrictions on the autonomy of people to live their own lives. I'm aware of the deficiencies in the evaluations so far conducted. I noted in my first speech my concern about the failures revealed in the latest Closing the Gap statement. Ten years after COAG agreed on the strategy, the results are patchy at best and scandalous at worst. A decade later, four of the seven targets are nowhere near being met. The target to close the gap on school attendance is not on track, the target to halve the gap in reading and numeracy is not on track, the target to halve the gap in employment is not on track, and the target to close the gap in life expectancy is not on track. The government now wishes to extend these trials to an area with a distinctly different demographic to the East Kimberley, the Goldfields and Ceduna, and to a different cohort focus. That is what this bill specifically deals with.
The Department of Social Services noted in its submission to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee:
Bundaberg and Hervey Bay has a high level of long-term and intergenerational welfare dependency … Ninety per cent of the people in this region under 30 and on Newstart or Youth Allowance, had a parent or guardian who received income support at some point in the last 15 years. Further still, of that cohort, around 13 per cent had a parent or guardian who received income support at least once each year for the past 15 years.
I have already declared my support for an immediate and substantial increase to the rate of Newstart and, related to that, parenting payments, and I have supported motions calling for an increase of $75 a week to Newstart.
The objective of this trial is to learn more about whether limiting the proportion of welfare payments available to be spent on alcohol, drugs and gambling will lead to a reduction in community-level harm. There have been improvements in the implementation of the card in the Goldfields trial, compared with the initial two trials. I am seeking assurance that the evaluation of the trials will meet the highest standards of best practice so that, after the trials have been completed, the parliament will seek an independent review of the evaluation of the evidence and the data to see whether this drastic approach can work and win broader community support. I noted that the Audit Office found significant issues with the evaluations of the original trials. This is why I believe that the Senate and the parliament need to have an additional safeguard designed to bring about better evaluation of the trials and to benchmark their quality or deficiency.
I have always said that I will treat each piece of legislation on its merits and on the basis of evidence and data. With that in mind, the amendment that I'm proposing would require the minister and the government to conduct an independent review of the evaluation of the Bundaberg-Hervey Bay trial. The review would have to be undertaken by independent evaluation experts with significant expertise in the social and economic aspects of welfare policy. It must begin immediately; after the minister receives its initial evaluation, it must be completed within six months; and it must be conducted by an independent panel with expertise in the social and economic aspects of welfare policy. The experts would consult participants in the trial and make recommendations as to whether the cashless welfare arrangements in the trial were effective and should be implemented elsewhere. This process means—