Thursday, 23 August 2018
Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018; Second Reading
I rise to speak in support of the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018. People are not entitled to welfare. It is charity. It's the gift of taxpayers, and most taxpayers would like their gift of welfare to be provided in kind rather than in cash. So, while calling the cashless debit card a trial is wearing a little thin, I continue to be comfortable with the continuation of the expansion of the cashless debit card. But let me propose another expansion. Let's provide remuneration to parliamentarians through the cashless debit card, and let's work on their incentives by adjusting their remuneration according to how well they look after the government's finances. All parliamentarians who vote for increasing government spending can compensate us by accepting a hit to their remuneration. A single downward adjustment to their debit card balance would do it. Attempting to shepherd the unemployed into employment through programs such as the cashless debit card is laudable, but the ballooning budget deficit is only part of the government's financial problem. So let's extend the cashless debit card to the parliamentarians who've got us into this financial hole so they can put their money where their mouth is.
I speak this morning on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018, once again dismayed to hear the discriminatory and absolutely factless rhetoric around those who access and utilise their right to access the social safety net that we are once again descending to. We don't seem to be able to have a conversation about the nature of our social safety net, about the realities of being vulnerable in modern-day Australia, about the true nature of poverty in this country, without indulging ourselves in the most disgraceful rhetoric. If I hear once more in this place that the best form of welfare is a job by those who have sat in this place and not worked any semblance, in the last 30 years, of what the vast majority of the Australian public would consider to be an everyday regular job then I will puke.
We are so disconnected in this place. With the average income of those who sit here, the privilege from which we so often descend to take up these places and the absence in our everyday life of interactions with the realities faced by the vast majority of the Australian people, we do not know or experience—and we block our ears when people come before us and tell us about—the realities of life. This bubble in which we exist and this profound sense of unreality by which we are surrounded, combined I am sure with a wilful ignorance, are the only factors which can explain a legislature's desire to enact such a destructive, corrosive and fundamentally baseless policy as the cashless welfare card.
My esteemed colleague Senator Rachel Siewert has on more occasions than I can remember elucidated to this house in great detail each individual element which is so flawed and wrong about this proposed scheme, and yet it has fallen on deaf ears. It has been ignored, because fundamentally those in the government who propose this way forward do not care. They do not believe that poverty, vulnerability and economic struggle are the result of systems failing. They subscribe to the absurd belief that poverty is the result of moral failing and that success and living in wealth and comfort are the result of moral virtue. This is the world view to which this government subscribes, and it has the cheek, the audacity and the bloody-minded ignorance to suggest over and over again that the most vulnerable, those who are most struggling, must pull themselves up by their bootstraps and that if they cannot then that is their own fault. I notice at this moment that the honourable Father of the Senate, Senator Macdonald, is exiting the chamber.
Apologies. I withdraw that. I would note that certain members of the government have on many occasions advocated the continuation of—and set forth why they believe it is right that they should receive—previous parliamentary remuneration schemes that are quite generous in nature and, in the same breath, turn around and support schemes such as this.
My state of WA has been subjected to this experiment, this act of social engineering, that is the cashless welfare card. I observe that it is not, however, communities of great wealth in WA where this scheme is being trialled. It was not to Peppermint Grove that the government turned to trial this scheme. It was not even to metropolitan WA. No, they turned to rural communities. It just shows, once again, the disdain that the government has for communities who are struggling.
Make no mistake—this House can be under no illusion that the trial sites that have been set forward are the end. This is not an aberration; this is the beginning. This is what conservatives in this place would like to see our social safety net become. They look at the entrenched disadvantage and look at the intergenerational poverty, as seen in places such as the United States, and they think it right. They think it preferable. There they see a society where members of their establishment are not held back and don't have their wealth diverted for those as unworthy as people struggling. It is a disgraceful ideology. As somebody who comes proudly from an area of WA that experiences these things in reality, I do not speak against this bill today in the absence of lived experience of what it is like to experience poverty and fear and to not know what the next day will bring.
This chamber, this building, has been consumed for the last week with the most disgraceful forms of self-interested, self-obsessed naval-gazing. The nation is united in disgust with this legislature, with this parliament and with this government. We have seen a decade of an endless process of repetition and of replacement, of polls ruling political discussion and of weak-willed cowardice on behalf of leader after leader and minister after minister. This is all while extolling the urgent need to return to the business of government. What a joke that is. What a joke that is on mornings like today, when the business of government—if we bothered to return to it—would be the implementation of a scheme for which there is no evidential basis, the brainchild of a witless billionaire who manages to get the ear of Liberal policymakers because he makes quite sizeable donations. What a farce. What an absolute joke.
I cannot believe that the business of the Australian legislature is currently occupied, again, with the consideration of a scheme that is the brainchild of one of the wealthiest billionaires in this country, because he believes—unique among all other voices in this space—that he has the solution to entrenched poverty in this country. I cannot believe that a government which so often ridicules members of my party for pursuing policies, which they themselves characterise as idealistic and without an evidence base, pursues a policy approach, embodied in this idea—something which has been tried and tested over and over again and proven to be utterly useless. But not only that: not only didn't it work; it wreaked havoc in the lives of those were subjected to it.
The reality is that it is well-known exactly what things must be done to alleviate poverty in Australia: we must raise Newstart; we must ensure a living wage; and we must strengthen our social safety net and give it the people and skills that are needed to help people in times of crisis. It is the right of every Australian to know that we, as a society, have collectively agreed that poverty is unacceptable, that homelessness is unacceptable and that the hunger of children is not something which we are willing to walk past. It is their right, it is their human right, to access services for the prevention of those societal ills without being made to feel like criminals.
I wonder how long it is since any member of this government was forced to interact with Centrelink services. I do wonder. I wonder if you have experienced the shame, the fear and the self-loathing that is induced by having to admit that you need help. And why do people feel these things? They feel them because this government and previous governments—and the Labor Party is not innocent in this: though they may vote against this bill today, they have participated over the last 20 years quite happily in the demonisation of vulnerable people. They have, when it has suited them electorally, given credence to the idea that the best form of welfare is a job.
I'd like to remind both sides of this chamber that there are hundreds of thousands more people in this country who are out of work than there are jobs for them to go into. This is not a question of moral failing; this is a question of mathematics. Yet, you would condemn these people, both of you, either actively or passively, to a feeling of shame and of failure, the likes of which we, in here, probably cannot comprehend simply because it will win you some votes in Western Sydney, simply because it will swing a crucial seat in Queensland, simply because it will stem the losses in Victoria or maybe it will make you competitive in WA. And, God, don't we get a good headline if we go on about dole bludgers in this country. The Daily Telegraph will love us. The Australianwillgive us a go, and it might just be what's in it to win.
How cold, how cruel this place becomes when it talks about these issues. One side says, 'Let's bash 'em over the head,' and the other side says, 'Maybe not so hard' or 'Maybe we'll keep things exactly the same as they are.' And every single day thousands of people go to sleep on the streets of this nation. Every single day thousands of people go without food—kids go to school hungry. But, God knows, if you're a charity, if you're an NGO, one side will cut your funding and the other side won't guarantee your funding beyond the next bloody election cycle. But if you've got Great Barrier Reef Foundation in your name, well then, hundreds of millions of dollars fall from the bloody sky. What an absolute disgrace. I thank the chamber for its time.
I rise today to add my support to the previous comments already made so eloquently by my colleagues here in this place on the Greens' crossbench, which is, of course, led by Senator Siewert, who has been a tireless advocate against these nasty initiatives that force some of the country's most vulnerable people into further poverty. The Greens have opposed the cashless debit card since its inception. We've submitted dissenting reports on the various pieces of legislation, including the debt card trial in 2015. We expressed deep concerns regarding compulsory income management and recommended that the bill not pass. We have always been opposed to the introduction of this scheme. The idea that it be expanded is just abhorrent.
We subsequently submitted dissenting a report on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017, highlighting that the flaws of the so-called independent evaluation of the first two trial sites, undertaken by ORIMA, that was being relied on as the justification for the expansion of the card to the Goldfields, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay regions. That was just a flawed process—flawed data and flawed justification—and the Greens said so at the time. The 2017 bill did not pass the Senate in its original form allowing only the Goldfields area trial to commence, which is why we are here again today debating whether or not this card should be expanded. We are absolutely opposed to the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018. We are very concerned that some of the most vulnerable Australians are used as whipping bags for a nasty government agenda.
As I stand here today, we've just heard that the Prime Minister has lost the support of key members of his front bench in exchange for the nasty politics and agenda of Mr Peter Dutton. I think it is an incredibly dark day for the nation that we are about to see a sitting Prime Minister rolled to put in place somebody whose politics are ugly, nasty and have a history of pushing down the most vulnerable and being race baiting. This is a man who walked out of the apology to the stolen generation. This is a man who gloats over the imprisonment of young children on Nauru. This is a man who does not believe in the biggest threat to the world right now—that, of course, is global warming and climate change. He is singing and dancing to the tune of Mr Tony Abbott—a prime minister who was roundly opposed by the Australian people only a short number of months after being elected Prime Minister because of these nasty policies, such as those we are debating in this place today.
The Greens will oppose this bill all the way through and all the way down the line. We will oppose it, whether it is under this government or under a Dutton government. This bill is absolutely appalling. I can't say strongly enough how opposed to this piece of legislation and this nasty politics the Greens are.
This attempt to expand the cashless debit card trial is mendacious, cruel and deeply unnecessary. So much of this legislation is objectionable, but the idea that this is a trial is, perhaps, the greatest untruth embedded in this bill. The Liberals, with little to no opposition, want to expand this card to every person on a social support payment. Make no mistake. That is what is at stake here. Of course, a genuine trial would mean that you test something in order that you can examine the evidence. Well, the evidence is in. These cards and this program do not work—unless, of course, the government's aim is to demean and further isolate and to further impoverish some of the most vulnerable members of our community. I have to say, if that's the government's aim—to demean and to further impoverish some of the most vulnerable members of the Australian community—they have been stunningly successful.
I want to pay tribute to the work done in this area, the power of work done in this area, by my colleague Senator Siewert. She has been an absolutely tireless advocate against this program. Time after time, she's pointed out the flaws in these so-called trials, the flaws in the design of the program and the counterproductive nature of these proposals. This card, this program, is born out of a political party that has nothing but loathing and contempt for people who are struggling financially. And it is born out of a party that has an arrogant need to inflict pain and so-called discipline on people who are struggling to make ends meet.
I genuinely believe that members of the Liberal Party in this place—having rarely, if ever, experienced the kind of financial hardship experienced by the people who are recipients of unemployment benefits and other social services in Australia, the people that this program will impact on directly—simply cannot conceive of the financial pain and the resultant psychological stress and suffering that those people are going through. Through the robo-debt saga, through a chronic failure to properly resource call logs inside the Department Of Social Services, we have seen again and again the Liberal Party failing to understand how difficult it is to make ends meet.
As I said in my inaugural speech to this parliament, I spent time in my very young years on unemployment benefits. I've spent time unable to find a job. I've spent time where you actually have to make a decision about whether you're going to put a decent feed on the table or whether you're going to pay the power bills or the rent. These are terrible decisions to have to make. I genuinely think that if the Liberal Party senators in this place had any real lived experience of what that is like they would not be proceeding with this proposal, because they would understand that it further demeans people who are impacted by the cashless debit card. It further demeans people who are amongst those people in this country who are struggling under the most financial hardship.
I want to compare the Liberals' contempt for those on Newstart with their own self-regard. This was laid bare in a recent article in the Fairfax papers under the headline 'It would take a 'miracle' to save Malcolm Turnbull'. There was the following quote:
"A lot of our people are facing the fact that they are in the last six months of their political careers"—
(Quorum formed) As I was saying, Mr Acting Deputy President Whish-Wilson, before your attention was drawn to the state of the chamber, I want to compare the Liberals' contempt for those on Newstart with their own rampant self-regard. This was laid bare in a recent article in Fairfax. Under the headline, 'It would take a 'miracle' to save Malcolm Turnbull,' there was the following quote:
"A lot of our people are facing that fact that they are in the last six months of their political careers," says one worried backbencher. "They've got houses, school bills, cars that they've set up for themselves on the basis that they're earning $200,000 plus. What do they do if they're suddenly out of work?"
Well, pardon me if I don't shed a single tear for someone who is on $200,000-plus who might find themselves out of work because it turns out that their political party is so out of touch with the struggles that so many Australians are facing. Does that backbencher mean that unemployment is difficult? Well, hallelujah! Finally, a ray of light breaks through those serried ranks of entitled Liberal MPs who have no idea whatsoever what it's like to be on Struggle Street in Australia. Are they saying that being thrown out of work can upset their life plans? Well, hallelujah! Is this the dawn of a great new understanding from the Liberal Party that it's actually pretty tough out there in the real world? Is the Liberal Party backbencher saying that sometimes you can have your employment terminated before you've had the capacity to make plans for the future? Well, hallelujah! Are we finally seeing some level of acceptance from the Liberal Party that it can be bloody tough out there when you lose your job, that it can be tough on people's families, on their kids, and that choices about whether to pay the school levies or the rent or the power bills or put a decent feed on the table for your family can be difficult, agonising choices? Imagine if the Liberal Party showed one per cent of the sympathy for people on Newstart that they are showing for their own backbenchers on $200,000-plus a year. Just imagine the difference that we would see. But, instead of sympathy, what we get out of the Liberals is contempt for people on Newstart. They've consistently demonstrated that fact, time after time. Throughout the trial period for the cashless debit card that contempt was shown again and again.
As members would be aware, the Australian Greens put in a dissenting report to the inquiry into this legislation, which, in its conclusion, stated starkly that the Australian Greens recommend that the bill not be passed. That report made it very clear that the Australian Greens do not support the majority report on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017 and that we reject the committee view contained in the majority report that the research indicates fewer incidents of antisocial behaviour. This so-called research is not based on reliable sources of evidence. Not only has the research been widely criticised by numerous social scientists and academics for not adhering to academic standards; it's been criticised for having major flaws in its methodology and in the way it was reported. And it's worth pointing out that the committee also heard, at the inquiry hearings and through written submissions from people on the ground, evidence that contradicted the findings of the so-called research.
We also made it clear in our dissenting report that we reject the view enshrined in the majority report that extensive consultation was undertaken with the Kimberley and Ceduna trial sites as well as the proposed new sites of the Goldfields and Hinkler. The evidence presented to the committee showed that the consultation process was fundamentally flawed, and it's the view of the Greens, as informed by the tireless and outstanding work of Senator Siewert, that the government's lack of consultation with the community members who would be subject to the card shows starkly that the proposal ought not be supported and demonstrates a fundamental lack of respect for people receiving income support. As I said previously in this contribution, it's no surprise that a process run under the auspices of a Liberal government and a Liberal minister demonstrated a fundamental lack of respect for people receiving income support.
I want to be very clear about the Greens position here. We retain concerns about the operation of the cashless debit card and we have very significant and meaningful concerns about the impact of the cashless debit card on people who are being forced to participate in the program. We're not satisfied with the view of the government and the majority of the committee that the department's continued consultation will ensure that the proposed new sites are prepared to implement the card and able to provide the appropriate services, because the previous consultation processes, which were sporadic at best, were so poor, and the implementation of support services was equally sporadic. We also have significant concerns that this bill limits human rights, and we've seen those concerns raised through the committee process and also through the process of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights.
We've made it very clear in our dissenting report that we reject the majority view of the committee that the cashless debit card has had a positive impact on the trial sites. That is simply not true, and the so-called independent evaluations that the majority committee report is relying on as justification for recommending a further implementation of the cashless debit card have been widely rejected by researchers and social policy experts. In fact, it is the view of the Australian Greens that those claims and those justifications simply do not stand up to scrutiny.
As I said, this proposal has been evaluated by the Joint Standing Committee on Human Rights, which I have the honour to be a member of. The report, which is report No. 8 of 2018, makes clear that concerns had been raised as to whether the measures contained in this legislation are rationally connected—that is, effective to achieve—and proportionate to the objective of the legislation. It is right that those concerns be raised. To be clear: the Greens do not believe that the measures contained in this proposal have a rational connection to the objective of the proposal, and we certainly do not believe that the measures contained in this proposal are proportionate to the objective.
I mentioned the ORIMA Research report. That report states:
… with the exception of drug driving offense and apprehensions under the Public Intoxication Act (PIA) in Ceduna, crime statistics showed no improvement since the commencement of the trial.
The ORIMA report also notes:
… 32 per cent of participants on average reported that the trial had made their lives worse …
So a third of the people who were directly impacted by this proposal said it had made their lives worse. I thought governments were about making people's lives better—well, not in this case. The report goes on to say:
... 33 per cent of participants had experienced adverse complications and limitations from the trial, including difficulties transferring money to children that are away at boarding school and being unable to make small transactions at fundamentally cash-based settings (such as canteens) …
Report No. 8 of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights also found at 2.23:
Of particular concern, as has been discussed in previous reports, is that the cashless debit card trial would be imposed without an assessment of individuals' suitability for the scheme.
It also raised at 2.24:
As the cashless debit card trial applies to anyone below the age of 35 residing in the trial location who receives the specified social security payments, there are serious doubts as to whether the measures are the least rights restrictive way of achieving the objective. … this concern is heightened insofar as the trial applies not only to persons whose usual place of residence 'is or becomes' within the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area, but also applies to a person whose usual place of residence was within the area.
There were other critiques in that report from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights that I won't have time to go through during this contribution, but I do want to go to some of the committee's responses to this proposal.
The committee raised its opinion that the measures contained in this legislation ' may not be compatible with the right to social security, the rights to privacy and family, and the right to equality and non-discrimination '. The committee also found:
The preceding analysis in relation to the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018 applies in relation to the determinations. That is, broadly, that concerns remain as to whether the cashless debit card trial is effective to achieve its stated objectives and is a proportionate limitation on human rights.
This is the key here. For members who may not be familiar with the way that the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights operates, it assesses legislation and legislative instruments against a whole range of human rights conventions and protocols that Australia is a signatory to. Part of that assessment is forming a judgement as to whether a particular piece of legislation or a particular instrument is rationally connected to those covenants, protocols and conventions that the Australian government has signed up to in the international human rights framework; whether the legislation or instruments are effective to achieve their stated objectives; and, importantly, whether or not they are a proportionate limitation on human rights—that is, is it the least rights-restrictive way of achieving the objective of the legislation or the instrument?
Finally in relation to that report, it finds:
… the determinations may not be compatible with the right to social security, the rights to privacy and family, and the right to equality and nondiscrimination.
That is a very strong finding from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, and it's one that ought to resonate in the minds of all senators as they consider their position on this legislation. (Quorum formed)
I'm going to a meeting of the Privileges Committee, chaired by your colleague Senator Collins, at 10:30. As a Queensland senator, I do want to express my support for the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018. I know the local member in the area is very keen to see this bill introduced for constituents in his area. I've heard all of the fine words from particularly the Greens political party. They always amuse me!
Senator McKim talks as if only parliamentarians on this side of the chamber get a salary. He forgets, always, to mention that he gets a salary of some $200,000. It's $200,000 for Senator McKim. Not long ago, he was a minister, heaven forbid, in the Tasmanian government. He would have been receiving $350,000 a year. His leader, Senator Di Natale, what's he on as the leader of a tiny political party? He gets an extra $50,000 or so. That's almost $300,000. Whenever Senator McKim talks about these things he gives the impression to anyone who might be foolish enough to listen to Senator McKim that it is only government members who get paid for being here and the Greens come and do it as a matter of charity. That is when he, as a parliamentarian for most of his life, would have been on almost $300,000 a year. Senator McKim, please spare us the hypocrisy and humbug when you speak.
Senator McKim also suggests the Liberals are always from wealthy families and born with a silver spoon in their mouth. I don't know Senator McKim's background, but I challenge him to say that, as a 14-year-old child, he was out picking beans and tobacco to earn a few dollars, as I did. I'm sure he didn't do that. As a schoolkid, I was out there picking tobacco—not an easy task in those days—and picking beans.
Senator McKim always likes to give it out, but he never wants anyone to be heard when they have a view different to his. I was out there as a 14- and 15-year-old picking beans and, as I say, it's not an easy task, down on your knees. As a kid, of course, I guess it was much easier than it would be for me now. Picking tobacco was pretty tough work, because you ended up with tobacco leaf stains all over you.
Unlike Senator McKim, I didn't have parents who could send me to private schools or to universities, and I've got wherever I've got through hard work. Again, as I say, I don't know Senator McKim's background, but I suspect he went to university, thanks to the taxpayer—it didn't cost him a cent, I would suggest. Whereas, in my day, I didn't get a Commonwealth scholarship; I wasn't quite that bright. My parents couldn't afford to send me to university, nor could they send me to a private school, as I suspect Senator McKim went to. I know a lot of his colleagues in the Greens political party went to private schools, as I think did most of the Labor senators as well. Good luck to them; I don't hold that against them, but I just get a bit annoyed when you get people like the Greens accusing Liberals of being born with silver spoons in their mouths when, for many of us who share my background, that's simply not the case. We've achieved whatever we've achieved by hard work, and that's why I sometimes wonder that people who do receive government welfare from other taxpayers are not able to get the work that is available.
At every place I go to around remote Australia, particularly remote Queensland, the only people I run into at service stations, at stores out in the middle of nowhere and at pubs around various towns are Irish, English or German backpackers. I often wonder where the Australians are who claim they can't get work, and it seems very easy for these foreign backpackers to get work—admittedly, it's in places like Normanton or Croydon. On the way to the cape a few years ago—it's very, very remote territory up there—some of the service stations had plenty of work, but it was all being filled by foreign backpackers because Australians, apparently, don't want those jobs.
This proposal for this cashless credit card is not taking away anything. It's not reducing the value of the contribution that the taxpayers are giving to people who need assistance and need welfare. It's just that a certain proportion of it can only be spent on the necessities of life. I cannot understand why anyone objects to that. As for this being a breach of human rights, that's something that I, and I must say most of my constituents in Queensland, cannot understand. How can that be a human right? They are getting a certain value, and they'll continue to get a certain value.
As Senator Leyonhjelm, quite rightly, said, receiving welfare from the government is not a human right; that is something that every other Australian chooses to do to help people who cannot help themselves. That's one of the tenets of the Liberal Party and something we've always been very firm and concentrated on, that our society should help those who cannot help themselves. We do that in many ways, and I'm proud to be in a government that has, not just now but all through history, provided assistance for those who could not help themselves. I repeat, for the benefit of Senator Steele-John and, I think, Senator Hinch, that the best form of welfare is a job. There are jobs available. I don't know the circumstances of individual people. I know there are some people who can't take those jobs, and they are being looked after by every other taxpayer in Australia, as they should be. That's a basic tenet of the Liberal Party.
This cashless debit card gives the recipients the same amount of money. I heard people from the other side saying: 'It makes them second-class citizens. People look down on them for handing across a debit card that has the bulk of their contribution from other taxpayers on it.' People who suggest that are simply being disingenuous. These days, almost everybody pays for everything by tapping a credit card, even a cup of coffee. If you go around the coffee carts even in this building, and certainly around Australia, people buy even something as cheap as a cup of coffee by a tap of their credit card. I'm not sure what the embarrassment of handing across a card is. As I say, everybody does it, and I suspect that those who promote that sort of argument would be the sort of people who buy a cup of coffee, tap their credit card and walk away. I'm sure others around them don't say, 'Aren't they a second-class citizen because they've tapped their credit card?' The arguments being promoted against this bill are simply ludicrous, as was the speech we heard from the previous speaker.
As a Queenslander and as a representative of the area where this further trial is going to be in place, I think it's a good idea. I know the local member of parliament thinks it's a good idea, and, for that reason, I'll certainly be supporting the bill.
My contribution will be brief today. I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018. This bill amends the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 to expand the cashless debit card arrangements to provide for a further trial in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area to run until 30 June 2020. It will specify the class of trial participants for the area and increase the total number of trial participants overall to 15,000. It also provides an exemption from the restrictive trade practices provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 for merchants that implement product-level blocking systems, firstly, to identify that a cashless debit card is being used for payment, and, if any restricted products are being purchased, decline the transaction, and secondly, to limit the use of the restricted portion of the payment to prevent that portion being used to obtain cash-like products which could be used to obtain alcohol—or drugs, for that matter—or be used for gambling.
Let me be clear: I fully support this bill to expand the trial sites for the cashless debit card. The more information we can gain from on-the-ground use of this program the more we can evaluate its effectiveness. It's my understanding that the cashless debit card does not change the amount of money people receive from Centrelink; it only changes the way in which people receive and spend their fortnightly payments. Those on the cashless debit card receive 20 per cent of their welfare payment in their usual bank account and 80 per cent of their welfare payment on the cashless debit card.
There is already evidence from the current trial sites of the cashless welfare card being successful. I know others have quoted the Mayor of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, John Bowler, but I'll repeat what he said. He said that, while the cashless debit card trial in the Goldfields only started this year, all indications were positive, with police reporting to a liquor accord meeting last week that the level of anti-social behaviour on the streets was clearly down over the last couple of months and that bottle shop retailers also reported to the meeting that disturbances around their premises were considerably less.
I recall a number of senators on the opposite side quoting Andrew Forrest last week and thanking him for his input regarding the marine park disallowance debate. I ask those same senators to heed his advice on this bill. Mr Forrest has championed this program as a means of tackling substance abuse and gambling in predominantly Indigenous communities, and savaged those who voted down the expansion of the scheme earlier this year. He said after the vote:
The feel-good merchants who vote against the cashless debit card, who have never visited a vulnerable community of white people who can't get off welfare, or the indigenous people who have never had a crack … those people who think the only way to improve a person's life is to throw more money and have no idea that they're throwing it through them to a drug dealer, those soft, goodhearted persecutors of vulnerable Australians, those people keep vulnerable Australians and indigenous Australians down …
I implore the Senate to support this bill to expand the trial for this cashless debit card.
I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018. This legislation sums up everything that is wrong with our current government. It's basically an attack on poor people. It's trying to make life harder for poor people. It's telling poor people that it is their fault that they are poor. Why should we be surprised? This government has such a track record of absolutely putting the screws on people who have the misfortune to not have much money, while at the same time supporting the very wealthy in our community and the large corporations. We saw only yesterday their attempt to get big tax cuts to the big end of town through. Fortunately, enough members in this place saw that was not what we needed to be doing in Australia today. We saw $144 billion of cuts to income tax, rather than seeing that there is a need to spend that amount of money, those hundreds of billions of dollars, on services to give everybody in Australia the opportunity to live a good quality life.
The other key thing is that it is very clear from the reviews of the trials that have been done so far that this approach doesn't work. Not only is this crackdown going to make life more difficult for poor people but it is also ineffective at achieving the outcomes that the government wants to achieve. The evidence we already have today is that this approach—quarantining people's money to deal with issues such as substance abuse, gambling and other behaviours which we genuinely want to address in our community—doesn't work. There is so much evidence across the board that there are other ways to address issues like substance abuse and gambling, but you have to ask some questions and dig deeper to see why people have drug and gambling problems. It's not because they get to spend their money whichever way they want; it's because they are quite reasonably struggling to survive in life without education, support, housing and money, or due to family violence issues. When you're in those sorts of circumstances, life's pretty tough and stressful. You are often trying to see the way out. There is then the temptation to abuse drugs or to throw what money you have into gambling, hoping it might actually give you something that will enable you to improve your life. They are the measures that people feel they have to resort to in order to deal with those pressures.
There are other ways of going about dealing with these pressures—rather than absolutely attacking poor people, actually giving them the opportunities, giving them high-quality health care and education and, in particular, increasing the rates of benefits so that people have actually got the ability to live. We should increase Newstart payments, youth allowance and other welfare payments so that people don't feel that life is just one eternal struggle of trying to just hold it together. If we did that, people would then be able to get their lives back on track, engage in education and know that they're not going to be thrown out because they can't pay the rent on their house.
These are the sorts of things that, as a society, we can afford. We are a rich country. We know that, rather than giving massive tax cuts to the big end of town, we can afford to support everybody in our community and to give them the opportunities to live a good life. But no. Just because of, basically, the fundamental approach of this government of saying, 'Those who have should get more, and we should just grind those who are struggling into the ground,' we have these very appalling punitive measures being imposed upon people.
So then we say, as I referred to: does this approach work? Does this populist attack on poor people—this populist appeal saying, 'Oh, well, you've just got dole bludgers, so you've just got to stop them spending their money'—work? Is there the evidence to say that it works? It's very clear that there isn't. That goes to my second main point: the community would think that governments should be making their decisions based on evidence and that, where there is evidence to support a course of action, we should be following that evidence. It's very clear that the evidence from the trials so far, where the cashless welfare card has been used, is that it doesn't work. It's not just random Greens or random members of the community who are saying it doesn't work. It's not just people pulling things out of the air to say it doesn't work. It's one of the institutions that we depend upon to conduct good-quality, objective research. That's the Australian National Audit Office, who of course have done a report on the implementation and performance of the cashless debit card trial. You would think that, if the Audit Office have done a report on the trial as it's gone so far, you would listen to what they have to say. You would think that, in the interests of good governance and evidence-based decision-making, you would pay attention to what they're saying before proceeding to roll out this measure.
The summary of the audit report which I have here lays out what the Audit Office aimed to do in their report. They say:
The Cashless Debit Card Trial (CDCT or the trial) aimed to: test whether social harm caused by alcohol, gambling and drug misuse can be reduced by placing a portion (up to 80 per cent) of a participant's income support payment onto a card that cannot be used to buy alcohol or gambling products or to withdraw cash; and inform the development of a lower cost welfare quarantining solution to replace current income management arrangements.
The CDCT was selected for audit to identify whether the Department of Social Services (Social Services) was well placed to inform any further roll-out of the CDC with a robust evidence base. Further, the audit aimed to provide assurance that Social Services had established a solid foundation to implement the trial including: consultation and communication with the communities involved; governance arrangements; the management of risks; and robust procurement arrangements.
So what did they find in their conclusions? They found:
The Department of Social Services … 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.
So you would think, with that overarching conclusion, now is not the time to extend, massively extend, this trial to another major part of Australia. You would think, before you go any further, given that you've got trial sites that are already underway, you would go back and do more monitoring and evaluation until you knew that you had a robust evidence base from the areas where the cashless debit card is already in use. That would be the evidence based thing to do. But, no, instead we've got this government, on the basis of populism, attacking poor people, saying they're going to go on and roll this trial out to thousands and thousands of more people—young people, poor people, people on Newstart, people on youth allowance. Rather than listening to the most credible agency that looked at the effectiveness of the card, they're saying: 'No. We're just going to continue to roll it out somewhere else.'
The ANAO further concluded:
did not actively monitor risks identified in risk plans and there were deficiencies in elements of the procurement processes.
Arrangements to monitor and evaluate the trial were in place although key activities were not undertaken or fully effective, and the level of unrestricted cash available in the community was not effectively monitored … and … they did not cover some operational aspects of the trial such as efficiency, including cost. 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.
It is extremely concerning that the ANAO are saying that Social Services did not make use of all available data. You might be forgiven for thinking that Social Services had some preconceived ideas, in terms of its conclusions as to the effectiveness of the trial, and that it wanted to show that the trial was effective, even though it wasn't. Again, I go back to the issue of good governance. The people of Australia want to see good governance. They want to see decisions being made on the basis of evidence. For Social Services to undermine and not use the evidence that's available is extremely disturbing. It's an appalling way to run major parts of our social policy.
The ANAO continued:
Aspects of the proposed wider roll-out of the CDC—
the cashless debit card—
were informed by learnings from the trial, but the trial was not designed to test the scalability of the CDC and there was no plan in place to undertake further evaluation.
And yet here we are being asked to vote and support a bill that would expand the use of the cashless debit card in a major way to thousands and thousands of more people in another part of the country. This is not the way that we should be doing government here.
This is a very comprehensive report, and there are many areas that were identified for improvement. Some of the findings included: some identified risks were not actively managed; aspects of the procurement process to engage the card provider and evaluator were not robust; the department didn't document the value-for-money assessment; and, in terms of monitoring and analysing the card, Social Services didn't complete all the activities identified in the strategy, including the cost-benefit analysis. So, not only did it not use the data to determine whether the card worked, given it didn't do that cost-benefit analysis either, one could presume that maybe the trial wasn't an effective way of trying to achieve what it was trying to achieve, and that it's not only attacking poor people for being poor, but it's a really expensive way to attack poor people for being poor—and it's being done just to suit the populist agenda, to appeal to people who have this belief that all the problems of Australia could be solved if we had fewer people on welfare. And yet we know that the reason that people are on welfare, the reason that people are on unemployment benefits in areas of regional Australia, is not because they are dole bludgers or because they are sitting back and not wanting to work; it's because the work isn't available.
We also know that there are so many other ways in which we could be providing work. Again, there is so much good work that the government could be funding and putting the billions of dollars into, instead of giving— (Quorum formed) As I was saying, the issue is with people who don't want to be on welfare, who don't want to be guinea pigs in these trials, who want to have the freedom to spend money where they wish to. They don't want to be in this situation. And the reason they are there isn't that they are dole bludgers, that they don't want to work; it's because the work is not available. There are so many opportunities that government could be providing. They could be providing funding for these people to undertake work that is to the benefit of society, to the benefit of our community, as well as to the benefit of individual people. I'm thinking about things like rolling out Indigenous ranger programs across the country. You'd then have Indigenous people looking after country and looking after our natural environment. There's a massive amount of employment that could be provided through resources being put into that. And it's very cost effective, because it means that we're tackling some of the really key natural resource problems that we face, such as pest animals and plants and dealing with erosion and land degradation. All of these things could be tackled by actually providing the resources to employ people to tackle these problems in our natural environment.
There are other employment opportunities that people are crying out for in regional communities—communities where, for example, they haven't got adequate health services. There are opportunities to support community health services, supporting the rollout of health services across regional Australia so that everybody has the opportunity to access high-quality health services. That means employing people to work in those services, to be there as nurses. It means employing more people in aged-care facilities. And then there are the opportunities in educational settings—employing more teachers' aides in schools, employing more people to be working with people with disabilities. There are things from across the whole of society where we know there is so much potential to spend money in employing people to do jobs with really good social and economic benefits. It would pay for itself over and over again and would give employment to the sorts of people who are being attacked, who are being pilloried, by being in this proposed trial that will be rolled out through the legislation we have before us today.
They are some of the findings of the Audit Office. So it's pretty clear that we should not be expanding this trial while these key questions of the Audit Office about the existing trial sites remain unaddressed. The Queensland Council of Social Service, who are deeply concerned about expanding the trial in the areas of Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland, where the rollout is proposed, did a comprehensive review of the cashless debit card trial and evaluation. Their findings are well worth noting. In summary, they said:
Again, this comes down to the fact that the evidence goes against expanding the trial. Certainly, the evidence is not there to expand the trial. Just because Senator Macdonald happens to say, 'I think it should go ahead because I think it's a good idea,' that's not evidence. We need to have the evidence base to justify such a major expansion of the cashless debit card. In particular, they say:
The CDC Trial is currently the only option being considered to address these complex social issues and is not supported by the evidence of what works …
They go on to say:
So, again, not only doesn't it work, but the community actually don't want it. They want to see options that would really address some of the underlying social issues that people are concerned about—putting more money into drug rehabilitation, putting more money into drug counselling, putting more money into supporting young families who are struggling, and supporting families who are really having difficulties. Putting the resources into those support services is a much more effective way of dealing with the issues that we are facing in Australia, rather than these punitive measures designed to attack people.
The final dot point of the Queensland Council of Social Service's review is:
That's pretty clear, and that's what the Greens are actually saying: we are an evidence based party. We say: put the evidence in front of us. And the evidence so far does not support the expansion of this trial. The evidence in front of us says there are other things and other measures that we should be using to address the issues that we're facing as a society. An expansion of the cashless debit card is certainly not that.
I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018. The Australian Greens oppose this bill. The Greens have opposed the cashless debit card since its inception. The bill before us today intends to establish the Hervey Bay and Bundaberg trial site and, if this bill passes, this new trial site will continue on until 30 June 2020. In this trial, the cashless debit card would only be forced on those under 36 and receiving Newstart allowance, youth allowance or parenting payment. The bill also raises the cap on the number of trial participants across the board to 15,000. The bill also introduces provisions that allow merchants to block restricted goods at the point of sale, and expands the list of restricted products to include a cash-like product that could be used to obtain alcoholic beverages or for gambling.
The Greens have been opposed to this type of punitive legislation from the very beginning, because this is entirely about penalising and demonising people on welfare. Let's be clear: this is a particular attack on young people—young people who are already suffering from the policies of this government, because there is a real lack of employment and a real lack of opportunity and there is the increasing cost of living. And, as my colleague Senator Rice pointed out, there is a real lack of services, no matter what area you look into.
We know that there is no evidence that this is even an effective scheme. The Ceduna and East Kimberley trial sites were examined by the Australian National Audit Office, and it is crystal clear there is no effective impact evaluation. The report said it was 'difficult to conclude' whether there had been a reduction in social harm such as alcoholism and violence, because 'there was a lack of robustness in the data collection'. The same goes for these expanded trial sites.
But, amid the concerns about the trials and the scope of the process, the lack of evidence and the lack of data, we should not forget the terrible human impacts this kind of social policy has. Let me just share the words of a domestic violence survivor who was part of the cashless debit card trial. She said she would not have been able to escape her abusive marriage under this shameful scheme. This is the story of Jocelyn Wighton, from Ceduna, South Australia. We know that Ceduna is a remote town and has a cash based economy, and many household items are bought in second-hand shops, which do not always have the facilities for this card. Jocelyn said:
If I was on this card when I escaped from my husband, I would not have made it. I bought secondhand furniture down to the plates and knives and forks. You can't do that on the card.
This is what the cashless card does to people. It causes real people real harm.
Ms Asusaar is a single mother, and her family's income is reliant on Centrelink payments for her son's disability as well as for her role as his carer.
This year, she was enrolled in the latest trial of the cashless welfare card in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.
We've had people who try to [put] stickers over part of the card, literally hiding it up their sleeve.
The article continues:
Sam Harding, a Kalgoorlie resident who receives the disability support pension, said she had endured multiple incidents of abuse in public associated with her card.
"I was doing some shopping and a transaction went through incorrectly … I think [the cashier] made about 10 to 15 attempts but it didn't work," Ms Harding said.
"People just started saying 'oh that's one of those … card people' … by the time I was ready to leave, I was in tears.
This is the real impact on the real people living in these towns and in communities. So I ask the Senate: is this really what we want to be forcing onto already vulnerable people, people who already don't have the services that everyone in Australia deserves?
When these deeply flawed trials were being developed in 2017 and again this year, my colleague Senator Rachel Siewert worked tirelessly in committees to prevent this gross violation of human rights from proceeding, and I really, deeply thank her for her work and wish to draw the chamber's attention to some key points the Greens made in our dissenting report on one of those committees. This is what we said then, and this is absolutely relevant now:
The Australian Greens reject the committee view … that extensive consultation was undertaken … The evidence presented to the committee showed that the consultation process was flawed. The Government's … consultation with the community members who would be subject to the card was almost non-existent and showed a fundamental lack of respect for people receiving income support.
Unlike the view expressed in the majority report the Australian Greens are deeply concerned that this bill limits human rights. As outlined in many submissions to the inquiry the circumstances in the trial site are not so extreme or exceptional as to warrant an approach that infringes on the human rights of income support recipients and the Australian Greens reject the committee view that this approach is warranted and legitimate.
Our dissenting report also said:
The Australian Greens oppose Compulsory Income Management. It is a failed measure as can be seen in the final evaluation of the NT Intervention.
To not have learnt from this sorry chapter in our history is also pretty saddening—a chapter that enjoyed bipartisan support and whose impacts are still being felt in those communities. As we said:
Compulsory Income Management impacts negatively on individuals and the community and imposes significant costs on Government.
Evidence that was provided through submissions and through hearings to this inquiry did show the fundamental and very deep flaws in this approach. We all know that income management has proved to be a completely ineffective policy that totally disempowers and harms those that need our help the most. As we said:
Submissions to the inquiry by peak social service bodies and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations from across Australia expressed deep and fundamental concerns with Compulsory Income Management.
… Despite the history of its imposition, there is no clear evidence that compulsory income management works, or improves the lives of those it affects.
There have been and still are vocal and consistent concerns raised by those who will be subjected to this card in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area. A number of submissions were received from individuals who will be subjected to the card if this bill passes, and a number of these individuals also provided evidence at the hearings for the inquiry. I'm really concerned that their views have not been heard through those consultations, and they're definitely not reflected in the bill that we are debating today. Accordingly, Senator Siewert again highlighted some of their concerns, which I am going to talk about below.
Say No to the Cashless Welfare Card Australia/No Cashless Debit Card Hinkler Region group was concerned, among other things, about the lack of public consultation from the local member and the costs associated with the card, both monetary costs and costs for those subjected to the trial. They said in their submission:
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.
They continue on to say:
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.
… … …
Just like the people on the card in other regions, our residents do not deserve to be treated as a sub class citizen with their human rights removed, their freedom removed, their ability to travel, decided for them …
Let's not forget that these are communities, as I said earlier, and these are people who are already suffering because they don't have the services; we haven't provided them with the services. I've lived on the Mid North Coast for many years. That is where my children grew up. I did see the impact of the lack of services that are available in regional areas, and it is much more so in the areas we are actually talking about.
The Department of Social Services, in the Auditor-General's report Implementation and performance of the cashless debit card trial, concluded a number of points that I would also like to highlight today to this chamber. The conclusion of that report says:
The Department of Social Services largely established appropriate arrangements to implement the Cashless Debit Card Trial, however, its 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.
Why would we keep pushing a policy that has been seen to have been a complete failure?
Social Services established appropriate arrangements for consultation, communicating with communities and for governance of the implementation of CDCT. … However, it did not actively monitor risks identified in risk plans and there were deficiencies in elements of the procurement processes.
The conclusion of the report goes on to say:
Arrangements to monitor and evaluate the trial were in place although key activities were not undertaken or fully effective, and the level of unrestricted cash available in the community was not effectively monitored. Social Services established relevant and mostly reliable key performance indicators, but they did not cover some operational aspects of the trial such as efficiency, including cost. 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. Aspects of the proposed wider roll-out of the CDC were informed by learnings from the trial, but the trial was not designed to test the scalability of the CDC—
And here we are, increasing the number of people by the thousands. I just cannot understand how this policy should pass this chamber, should become concrete, when there are so many missing gaps and so many flaws that have been highlighted again and again by so many different groups.
Locals who will be subjected to this trial want to see the money spent more usefully. They want to see the money that would be spent on the trial go on to fund services such as for homelessness, for domestic violence shelters, for education pathways and for creating jobs for local young people. That's how we will get a vibrant economy that actually does work for everyone. That is the kind of social policy that we should be pursuing, not this disgusting, patronising and violating policy from the coalition.
And it is not just the citizens and the Greens who have concerns. A long list of expert submissions have opposed this bill and continue to oppose this bill. Since the last inquiry into the cashless debit card the Australian National Audit Office, or ANAO, has released its report The implementation and performance of the cashless debit card trial. And in its submission to the inquiry the Accountable Income Management Network gives a really blistering assessment that I think some opposite would benefit from hearing, if you haven't heard it already. The ANAO report on the CDC has explicitly condemned both ORIMA's evaluation process and its final report. The ANAO undertook an audit of the CDC trials to identify whether the Department of Social Services was appropriately informed and positioned to justify a further rollout of the CDC. The ANAO's report concluded that the department's approach to monitoring and evaluation was inadequate, as I said earlier. This report highlighted the same risks and the same issues that all the other reports have highlighted before.
So, how can the coalition go ahead with such a policy, which has the support of literally no-one and which is going to be harmful for the most vulnerable of people and which does not actually set up and use the massive amounts of wealth that we have in Australia to help and support people and get them out of poverty? This legislation is no good for anyone. The Greens vehemently oppose this bill.
The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018 will allow for the expansion of the cashless debit card program to the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay areas. There's a fourth trial site under the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, and the trial will be extended to this site until 30 June 2020, providing sufficient time to implement the trial and for it to operate for at least 12 months. The bill updates the current limitations on the number of participants from 10,000 to 15,000, recognising the increase that would come from implementing the cashless debit card to this area. The bill also moves the provisions in the Social Security (Administration) (Trial of Cashless Welfare Arrangements) Determination 2018 into primary legislation, or, in uncontentious cases, such as the authorising community bodies, into a notifiable instrument. This will mean that for all four sites, including the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay sites, the trial parameters will be embedded in the legislation, providing greater legislative consistency across all sites and improving parliamentary oversight over the cashless debit card legislation.
These amendments specify trial participants for each site, including any exceptions and specifying wellbeing exemptions where being a participant in a cashless debit card trial is determined to pose a serious risk to an individual's mental, physical or emotional wellbeing. In the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay trial site, trial participants are defined as persons under 36 of age receiving Newstart, youth allowance, parenting payment, or single or parenting payment, partner. The selection of the cohort in this area has occurred in response to significant consultations with the impacted community, recognising the need for supporting interventions in the areas of youth unemployment, young families and intergenerational welfare dependency. In the current operating sites of Ceduna in South Australia and the East Kimberley and Goldfields regions of Western Australia, all persons living in the trial area and in receipt of a working-age income support payment are defined as trial participants, which is enshrined in the primary legislation. This aligns with the current arrangement at these sites but provides greater certainty for these communities around the trial arrangements.
For each site, amendments in the bill allow the secretary to make a determination that will vary the restricted percentages for a cashless debit card participant in the event of an unforeseen circumstances, such as a natural disaster or technical failure of the card or the account. The bill also allows the option to establish a community panel by notifiable instrument and clarifies who can be voluntary participants in the current trial sites. Persons living in Ceduna or the East Kimberley or the Goldfields trial sites who are receiving a trigger payment as defined in the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 or an aged pension and are not otherwise trial participants may volunteer to be part of the cashless debit card trial. However, persons in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay trial site who are outside the class of persons identified as a trial participant cannot volunteer. This will allow the opportunity to test the effectiveness of the program on a targeted cohort in the context of a larger urban population with high levels of welfare dependence. The Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area also has a different cultural composition with a much lower proportion of Indigenous Australians in this site compared to the three current trial areas.
The cashless debit card aims to reduce the devastating effects of alcohol, drugs, and gambling abuse. The card operates like an ordinary debit card with the primary difference being that it doesn't work at liquor stores or gambling houses, and it cannot be used to withdraw cash. Consequently, illicit products cannot be purchased with the card. To further this extent, the bill also introduces provisions that allow merchants to block restrictive goods, like cash-like products, at the point of sale, to keep in line with the intent of the program by preventing participants from circumventing the program to spend the welfare payments on alcohol, gambling and drugs. This bill will support additional card functionality at merchants in each of the trial sites and could allow trial participants to access additional merchants. It's important to note that the trial does not detract from the eligibility of a person to receive welfare payments nor reduce the amount of the person's social security entitlement.
The cashless debit card trial has been operating in Ceduna, South Australia, and the East Kimberley, Western Australia, for more than two years, and it was recently expanded to a third site—the Goldfields region in Western Australia in March 2018. Results from the evaluation of the cashless welfare card found that a benefit of the card is that it can increase motivation to find work. A final report evaluating the Ceduna and East Kimberley sites shows feedback from some card participants in 2017 which indicate almost a quarter of people on the card were spending several hours a week looking for work. This was an increase from 11 per cent in February 2017.
By limiting spending on alcohol, drugs and gambling, the cashless debit card can help stabilise people's lives, particularly young people, in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area, with the potential flow-on impacts of improving chances of finding employment or successfully completing education and training. The government has also announced a second evaluation of the cashless debit card across all three current trial sites to assess the ongoing effectiveness of the program. The second evaluation will use research methodologies informed by the University of Queensland and draw on the baseline measurements of social conditions in the Goldfields developed by the University of Adelaide. Findings for the second evaluation will be published in late 2019. The initial positive finds of the impact of the cashless debit card in Ceduna and the East Kimberley have been encouraging. The expansion to Bundaberg and Hervey Bay will help test the card and the technology that supports it in more diverse communities and settings. This will build on the evidence available to further evaluate the impacts and outcomes of the cashless debit card on all participants.
In drafting the bill, the government has carefully balanced community support for the cashless debit card at existing and proposed sites with the concerns raised in parliament around allowing additional time for the gathering of evidence to further evaluate impacts and outcomes. The government remains committed to the continuation of the cashless debit card to provide a strong social welfare safety net through reducing social harm in areas with high levels of welfare dependency and supporting vulnerable people, families and communities.
Just briefly—I'm pleased that Senator Faruqi is still in the chamber—can I just make some short comments on her contribution. In her maiden speech she indicated her interest in Indigenous affairs, and I thank the senator. I normally rely on Senator Siewert in these matters, but it's tremendous to have someone else with that interest. However, I can see early in the piece that some of our views will move. Senator Siewert knows my strongly-held views on this. I come from the Northern Territory where the effects of the first cashless debit card, which was the BasicsCard, was trialled. I can remember a Northern Territory with many communities simply awash with grog. I appreciate more services so that when people are getting bashed we just have to build more domestic violence services. I'm not suggesting any mischief in your approach. The approach we took was that alcohol was causing so much dysfunction to communities, tearing down a culture. If somebody else could have pointed to a way in which we could reduce the amount of alcohol consumed in communities—because I don't think the results of that consumption can be controlled—we would have been more than happy to listen to that. I've been in this place for a while since then and have been listening carefully to Senator Siewert and others, but there is no alternative. This isn't doing something because it is something to do. This is a very important matter.
I understand that one of the groups in Ceduna that have been really, really badly affected—in fact, I understand that their small to medium-sized business has been completely interrupted and they've moved out of Ceduna—has been those people who are purveyors of methamphetamine. They have complained bitterly and effectively don't think there's really a market in town. The pubs, those people who run the poker machines, have said that this is absolutely outrageous: 'Look at the amount of money that we've lost through our pokies. We should have people from Ceduna here.' A lot of the poor people come into Ceduna and put all their money through the pokies. Those who run the pokies were adamant. They were saying, 'This is a terrible thing to happen to us.' But I don't share that business model and I think the cashless welfare card is an important tool.
In the Territory, while people will say, 'No, no, you can't find a person in the Territory that will support the card,' let me tell you, it's a bit like the privacy of the booth: you can't get women to say too much publicly because the guerillas and thugs are out there to make sure that you don't speak up about domestic violence. 'You don't speak up about the cashless welfare card. We've decided, the community'—mostly men in the community—'that we don't want the cashless welfare card because it stops my life, my life of making sure that I'll go and gamble, I'll go and drink and I will take the money and I can take it in cash. But I can't now.' And, in the Territory, it's only 50 per cent, so 50 per cent of the money is still spent in whatever discretionary way we have. Some of the trial sites are indicating movement to 80-20. This is a debit card. Whatever you want to point to—second-hand shops, anywhere—you can buy what you want. The only thing you can't get is cash, and you can't go into a place that serves alcohol. They're normally separated, like in Woolies. They separate those places.
I think these are very good initiatives. These initiatives have been at the behest of the leaders in the community. Of course, there'll be those who say, 'Oh, no, he's not the leader,' and, 'We don't really like her,' because they might differ. But fundamentally the leaders of the communities have been very supportive of this. In terms of meeting with the women's groups, if you said, 'Let's get rid of the BasicsCard—we'll just pay you all cash again,' there would be an outrage in the Northern Territory. The women would say, 'Please don't do this to us. Don't take us back to those bad old days.' I think that in and of itself is very much a voice worth listening to.