Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Bills

Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018; In Committee

12:01 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I table a supplementary explanatory memorandum relating to the government amendments to be moved to this bill. I seek leave to move government amendments (1) to (5) and (8) to (11) together.

Leave granted.

I move governments amendments (1) to (5) and (8) to (11) on sheet JC538:

(1) Clause 2, page 2 (after table item 1), insert:

(2) Clause 2, page 2 (table items 3 and 4), omit the table items, substitute:

(3) Page 4 (before line 1), before Schedule 1, insert:

Schedule 1A—Amendments commencing day after Royal Assent

Social Security (Administration) Act 1999

1 Subsection 124PD ( 1 ) (definition of trial participant )

Omit "subsection 124PG(2)", substitute "sections 124PG to 124PGB".

2 Subsection 124PD(2)

Omit "legislative", substitute "notifiable".

3 Section 124PE

Omit "legislative", substitute "notifiable".

4 Section 124PG

Repeal the section, substitute:

124PG Trial participants—Ceduna area

(1) A person is a trial participant if:

(a) the person's usual place of residence is, becomes or was within the Ceduna area; and

(b) the person is receiving a trigger payment; and

(c) the person has not reached pension age; and

(d) the person does not have a Part 3B payment nominee (within the meaning of Part 3B); and

(e) the person's payments (if any) under the scheme known as the ABSTUDY scheme that includes an amount identified as living allowance are not being paid to another person; and

(f) the person is not covered by a determination under subsection 43(3A); and

(g) the person is not subject to the income management regime under section 123UC, 123UCB, 123UCC or 123UF; and

(h) subsection (3) does not apply to the person; and

(i) the person is not covered by a determination under subsection (4).

(2) To avoid doubt, if a person's usual place of residence becomes within the Ceduna area and subsection (1) applies to the person, the person is a trial participant on and after the day that the person's usual place of residence becomes within that area.

(3) This subsection applies to a person if:

(a) the person is undertaking full-time study (as defined by section 541B of the 1991 Act); and

(b) while undertaking that study, the person is living outside the Ceduna area.

(4) The Secretary must determine that a person is not a trial participant under this section if the Secretary is satisfied that being a trial participant under this section would pose a serious risk to the person's mental, physical or emotional wellbeing.

(5) 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.

(6) A determination under subsection (4) is not a legislative instrument.

124PGA Trial participants—East Kimberley area

(1) A person is a trial participant if:

(a) the person's usual place of residence is, becomes or was within the East Kimberley area; and

(b) the person is receiving a trigger payment; and

(c) the person has not reached pension age; and

(d) the person does not have a Part 3B payment nominee (within the meaning of Part 3B); and

(e) the person's payments (if any) under the scheme known as the ABSTUDY scheme that includes an amount identified as living allowance are not being paid to another person; and

(f) the person is not covered by a determination under subsection 43(3A); and

(g) the person is not subject to the income management regime under section 123UC, 123UCB, 123UCC or 123UF; and

(h) subsection (3) does not apply to the person; and

(i) the person is not covered by a determination under subsection (4).

(2) To avoid doubt, if a person's usual place of residence becomes within the East Kimberley area and subsection (1) applies to the person, the person is a trial participant on and after the day that the person's usual place of residence becomes within that area.

(3) This subsection applies to a person if:

(a) the person is undertaking full-time study (as defined by section 541B of the 1991 Act); and

(b) while undertaking that study, the person is living outside the East Kimberley area.

(4) The Secretary must determine that a person is not a trial participant under this section if the Secretary is satisfied that being a trial participant under this section would pose a serious risk to the person's mental, physical or emotional wellbeing.

(5) 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.

(6) A determination under subsection (4) is not a legislative instrument.

124PGB Trial participants—Goldfields area

(1) A person is a trial participant if:

(a) the person's usual place of residence is, becomes or was within the Goldfields area; and

(b) the person is receiving a trigger payment; and

(c) the person has not reached pension age and will not reach pension age before 26 March 2019; and

(d) the person does not have a Part 3B payment nominee (within the meaning of Part 3B); and

(e) the person's payments (if any) under the scheme known as the ABSTUDY scheme that includes an amount identified as living allowance are not being paid to another person; and

(f) the person is not covered by a determination under subsection 43(3A); and

(g) the person is not subject to the income management regime under section 123UC, 123UCB, 123UCC or 123UF; and

(h) subsection (3) does not apply to the person; and

(i) the person is not covered by a determination under subsection (4).

(2) To avoid doubt, if a person's usual place of residence becomes within the Goldfields area and subsection (1) applies to the person, the person is a trial participant on and after the day that the person's usual place of residence becomes within that area.

(3) This subsection applies to a person if:

(a) the person is undertaking full-time study (as defined by section 541B of the 1991 Act); and

(b) while undertaking that study, the person is living outside the Goldfields area.

(4) The Secretary must determine that a person is not a trial participant under this section if the Secretary is satisfied that being a trial participant under this section would pose a serious risk to the person's mental, physical or emotional wellbeing.

(5) 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.

(6) A determination under subsection (4) is not a legislative instrument.

5 Paragraph 124PH ( 1 ) (a)

Repeal the paragraph, substitute:

(a) the person is receiving a trigger payment or an age pension; and

6 After paragraph 124PH ( 1 ) (b)

Insert:

(ba) the person does not have a Part 3B payment nominee (within the meaning of Part 3B); and

(bb) the person's payments (if any) under the scheme known as the ABSTUDY scheme that includes an amount identified as living allowance are not being paid to another person; and

(bc) the person is not covered by a determination under subsection 43(3A); and

(bd) the person is not subject to the income management regime under Part 3B; and

7 Subsection 124PH ( 3 )

Repeal the subsection, substitute:

(3) Until a person withdraws the notification, the person is a voluntary participant, unless the Secretary determines that the person is not to be subject to cashless welfare arrangements under subsection (4).

8 Section 124PI

Repeal the section.

9 Subsections 124PJ ( 3 ) to ( 5 )

Repeal the subsections, substitute:

(3) For a person who is a trial participant or voluntary participant, the Secretary may make a determination that:

(a) varies the percentage amount in paragraph (1)(a) to 0%; and

(b) varies the percentage amount in paragraph (1)(b) to 100%; and

(c) varies the percentage amount in subsection (2) to 0%.

(4) The Secretary may make a determination under subsection (3) only if:

(a) the Secretary is satisfied that the person is unable to use the person's debit card that was issued to the person and that is attached to the person's welfare restricted bank account, or is unable to access that account, as a direct result of:

(i) a technological fault or malfunction with that card or account; or

(ii) a natural disaster; or

(b) the person's restrictable payment is payable in instalments and the Secretary is satisfied that any part of the payment is payable:

(i) at a time determined under subsection 43(2), where that determination is made because the person is in severe financial hardship as a result of exceptional and unforeseen circumstances; or

(ii) under a determination under subsection 51(1).

(5) A determination under subsection (3) takes effect on the day specified in the determination (which must not be earlier than the day on which the determination is made).

(6) A determination under subsection (3) is not a legislative instrument.

10 Subsection 124PK ( 4 )

Repeal the subsection.

11 Subsection 124PK ( 5 )

Omit "The", substitute "Subject to subsection (6), the".

12 At the end of section 124PK

Add:

(6) The written direction has no effect in relation to a trial participant or voluntary participant during the period a determination under subsection 124PJ(3) is in effect in relation to the trial participant or voluntary participant.

13 After subsection 124PQ ( 2 )

Insert:

(2A) For the purposes of subsection 51(1) of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, the declining of a transaction by a supplier of goods or services is specified and specifically authorised if the transaction would involve:

(a) money in a welfare restricted bank account; and

(b) the obtaining of:

(i) alcoholic beverages; or

(ii) gambling; or

(iii) a cash-like product that could be used to obtain alcoholic beverages or gambling.

Note: For cash-like product, see section 124PQA.

14 After section 124PQ

Insert:

124PQA Cash- like products

Without limiting sections 124PM and 124PQ, cash-like product includes any of the following:

(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.

15 Application and transitional provisions

(1) Section 124PG of the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, as substituted by this Schedule, applies in relation to a person whose usual place of residence:

(a) is, on the day this item commences, within the Ceduna area; or

(b) becomes, on or after the day this item commences, within the Ceduna area.

(2) Paragraph 124PG(1)(a) of the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, as substituted by this Schedule, is taken to be satisfied in relation to any person whose usual place of residence was within the Ceduna area on any day during the period beginning on 15 March 2016 and ending at the end of the day this Act receives the Royal Assent.

(3) Section 124PGA of the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, as substituted by this Schedule, applies in relation to a person whose usual place of residence:

(a) is, on the day this item commences, within the East Kimberley area; or

(b) becomes, on or after the day this item commences, within the East Kimberley area.

(4) Paragraph 124PGA(1)(a) of the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, as substituted by this Schedule, is taken to be satisfied in relation to any person whose usual place of residence was within the East Kimberley area on any day during the period beginning on 26 April 2016 and ending at the end of the day this Act receives the Royal Assent.

(5) Section 124PGB of the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, as substituted by this Schedule, applies in relation to a person whose usual place of residence:

(a) is, on the day this item commences, within the Goldfields area; or

(b) becomes, on or after the day this item commences, within the Goldfields area.

(6) Paragraph 124PGB(1)(a) of the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, as substituted by this Schedule, is taken to be satisfied in relation to any person whose usual place of residence was within the Goldfields area on any day during the period beginning on 26 March 2018 and ending at the end of the day this Act receives the Royal Assent.

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

16 The whole of the instrument

Repeal the instrument.

17 Saving provisions

(1) Despite the amendments made by this Schedule, a legislative instrument in force under subsection 124PD(2) of the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 immediately before the commencement of this item continues in force on and after that commencement until the first notifiable instrument made under that subsection commences.

(2) Despite the amendments made by this Schedule, a legislative instrument in force under section 124PE of the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 immediately before the commencement of this item continues in force on and after that commencement until the first notifiable instrument made under that section commences.

(4) Schedule 1, heading, page 4 (line 1), at the end of the heading, add "commencing later".

(5) Schedule 1, item 3, page 4 (lines 14 to 16), omit the item, substitute:

3 Subsection 124PD ( 1 ) (definition of trial participant )

Omit "124PGB", substitute "124PGC".

(8) Schedule 1, item 10, page 5 (line 17), omit "124PGA", substitute "124PGC".

(9) Schedule 1, item 10, page 6 (after line 22), at the end of section 124PGA, add:

(6) A determination under subsection (4) is not a legislative instrument.

(10) Schedule 1, items 12 to 16, page 6 (line 25) to page 8 (line 29), omit the items, substitute:

12 Application provision

Section 124PGC of the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, as added by this Part, applies in relation to a person whose usual place of residence:

(a) is, on the day this item commences, within the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area; or

(b) becomes, on or after the day this item commences, within the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area.

Note: That section may continue to apply to the person if the person's usual place of residence after the commencement of this item ceases to be in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area.

(11) Schedule 1, item 22, page 11 (line 3), omit "124PGA(1)(b)", substitute "124PGC(1)(b)".

The government also opposes schedule 1 in the following terms:

(6) Schedule 1, items 4 to 6, page 4 (line 17) to page 5 (line 2), to be opposed.

(7) Schedule 1, item 9, page 5 (lines 12 to 14), to be opposed.

12:02 pm

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

I have a series of questions. I was just flagging those when we ran out of time during the last sitting debate on this particular bill. Firstly, can I ask the minister to explain why these amendments are necessary? My take on these amendments—and if you could confirm whether this is correct—is that they move decisions that were previously under disallowable instruments to a point where they are no longer disallowable. Is that a correct understanding?

12:03 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

In a nutshell, yes. The amendments will make the current trial sites legislatively consistent with the proposed Bundaberg and Hervey Bay trial site. We believe that this will give certainty to trial participants and local communities. In summary, these amendments, as you indicated, move the current content of the Social Security (Administration) (Trial of Cashless Welfare Arrangements) Determination 2018 into primary legislation, or, in uncontentious cases, such as authorising community bodies, into notifiable instruments. You are, in essence, correct.

12:04 pm

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

Let's just be clear for the committee: that's to ensure that this chamber can no longer consider those measures as disallowable instruments in the way that, for example, during the last sitting we considered some of those issues for the current trial sites. That's what this is about. Then, when you look at community bodies as notifiable instruments—community bodies, so everybody knows, are very contentious in the trial sites that have community bodies, where members of their own community cannot find out who are the people making decisions over their lives, literally. At the moment, as I've articulated in this place, members of the communities cannot find out who the faceless people on these community bodies are and, secondly, whether they exist at all. In Kalgoorlie there isn't a community body, and it's yet to be seen who goes on the community body, if there is one, in the trial site that we are currently discussing. This is what this is about. To be honest it's because the Greens and I have been raising concerns about the way these trials are operating. The government has moved to stop that from occurring by taking these into the primary legislation, as the minister just articulated, which removes and reduces the transparency and accountability of this government on this highly contentious social policy. That's what these amendments are about. I confirm—and it will come as no surprise—that the Greens will not be supporting these amendments.

12:06 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to make a few remarks to explain Labor's position on the government amendments—unless Senator Siewert has further questions around them?

12:07 pm

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

I confirm to Senator McAllister that I have a series of questions around this particular bill generally. My first series of questions was just about this particular set of amendments.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

Then It might assist for me to put the opposition senators' view about this. We do not support these amendments. This is primarily because we do not support the expansion of the cashless debit card beyond the trials in Ceduna and the East Kimberley. It is also because we are concerned that the changes could reduce parliamentary scrutiny of the trials, where certain changes to trial areas would be enabled through a notifiable rather than a disallowable instrument. The purpose of the trial is to allow scrutiny of the effectiveness of that trial. If presented separately, Labor would support powers for the secretary in relation to reducing the proportion of income that is loaded onto the card. That is something we would be prepared to consider, but while they are clustered together we cannot support the amendments as a whole. We are of the understanding that, in circumstances of technical malfunction or natural disaster, changes could already be made quickly by the minister through a legislative instrument. It is our expectation that the government has the numbers in relation to this amendment. We are not at this stage seeking for parts of it to be considered separately.

12:08 pm

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

I'm seeking the guidance of the committee. As I flagged, I have a series of questions around the bill itself, not just relating to these amendments. We can either deal with them now or vote on the amendments and then come back to these questions. I'm in the committee's hands, Chair.

The CHAIR: The question before the chair is that the amendments as moved by Senator Fifield be agreed to, then we're back in the hands of the committee as to how we proceed.

I therefore ask the minister, on the amendments, why specifically these amendments are now being moved, if it's not to reduce the ability of this place to look at the amendments and review amendments around these specific issues. Why are you doing it now when in the past you felt that the best way to proceed was to have them as disallowable instruments?

12:10 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

The purpose and intent is to give greater certainty to the communities.

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

How does it give greater certainty to the communities?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Greater certainty in terms of the basis upon which the trials will operate.

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

What's changed from when you first brought in the trials?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Further consultation, which has indicated a desire on the part of communities that there be greater certainty.

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

Could you please table the survey and the information on which that claim is made, in terms of the community asking for greater certainty.

12:11 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I can take that on notice.

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

Could you also, as part of that, table anything that outlines the degree of community support for that. Did you speak to the reference group that operates? Did you hold a community-wide survey? Could you, in taking that on notice, provide that level of information, please.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Certainly.

The CHAIR: The question is that government amendments (1) to (5) and (8) to (11) on sheet JC538 be agreed to.

12:19 pm

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

We'll now move to the second part of the government's amendments on sheet JC538. The question is that items 4 to 6 and 9 of schedule 1 stand as printed.

Question negatived.

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

As I indicated, I'd like to ask the government a series of questions about the bill. In the bill, why does the secretary not have to satisfy themselves that the individual's inclusion in a trial would not pose a serious threat to their mental, physical or emotional wellbeing before the individual is subject to the card, which is different to the approaches in the other trial sites?

12:20 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to check I am understanding Senator Siewert's question correctly. Senator Siewert, you were asking why the secretary doesn't have to satisfy himself that there isn't some adverse personal effect on an individual before they're subject to participation in the trial. Is that correct?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

The government's view would be that the starting point and assumption should not be, and isn't, that the trial and participation in it is to the detriment of an individual or that it restricts their human rights, so I think we're starting from a different point of embarkation, if you like.

12:21 pm

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

Sorry. This is a provision that is in the other trial sites—to provide an exemption for someone from the card. Sorry if I framed that question poorly. Why is that not included in this trial site when it is in other trials?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

The secretary can still exempt someone from participation on the basis of a range of criteria.

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

Why was the decision made to be less specific in this trial site than in other trial sites?

12:22 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm not sure that's the case, Senator.

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

Could you take that on notice then, please? My understanding is that this is different to other trials.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll take that on notice, but I'm not immediately aware of the distinction, if there is one.

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

Can a trial participant stop being a trial participant if they become a full-time student studying away from the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area or become a new apprentice after being placed on the card?

12:23 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I need to take that on notice.

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

You mean that your advisers don't actually know the answer to that pretty important question?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

It's an individualised circumstance, so they would need to check and take advice.

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

Has the government not thought of this occasion where they move out of the region and become a full-time student? It's a highly possible scenario, given that this trial is particularly focused on the under-36-year-olds.

12:24 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Individual cases will be looked at individually, but I'm advised that, in the circumstance you outlined, they would likely come off the card.

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

I thank the minister for his answer. If you could take the clarification of that on notice, that would be appreciated. In terms of the panel mechanism, I want to clarify the issues around the community panel in this particular trial site. Is it the government's intention that a community panel now be put in place?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

It will be up to the community as to whether they decide to exercise their right to have a community panel.

12:25 pm

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

Could you please outline the process you'll go through to enable the community to decide or support the community in deciding how they will make the decision, because I've had some pretty strong feedback from the Goldfields area that the process you used in the Goldfields was not adequate.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

The proposition would be tested with the community reference group.

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

Can you please articulate who's on the community reference group and how many actual future participants—in other words, the people who are in the income support categories and are under 36—are on that panel.

12:26 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

In terms of the number of people below 36, we can provide that. There are 6,700 participants. In terms of your question as to how many would be represented on the community reference group, we'll have to check on that.

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

Do you already have the names of the people who are on the community reference panel? If you do, could you provide them please.

12:27 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

The government does have them, but I'm not certain that they're here with us in the chamber. I'll have to take that on notice.

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

With all due respect, you've all got one of these—a mobile phone. Could the officers please get them for us now. We're debating a bill that's very controversial in the community. The community have the right to know who's on the reference panel, who will be making decisions on their behalf and whether participants are actually involved in the decision-making.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Thanks, Senator. We will take up your invitation and check remotely with the minister.

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

Thank you. I'll move on and come back to that, given the minister's response. Going back to the trial focusing on those under 36 on the specific areas of income support: did the community—I'll use the term 'community consultations', though I think I've already articulated my concerns about some of the consultation processes—ask for the trial to be focused on those that are under 36 and on those specific areas of income support?

12:28 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, that's correct; that was the feedback.

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

Is there a report that's been written and is available in terms of what the community said out of all these community consultations?

12:29 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll check that.

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

If there is, could that please be provided to the Senate?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I will have to check the status and nature of the report, if it does indeed exist. If it's possible to then of course we will.

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

Thank you. Could you also outline how many of those that will be impacted by this—in other words, future participants in the trial—were actually consulted—not told and informed about it, because the inquiry heard from people that were likely to be affected by the trial that they were told what was going on but they weren't consulted. But that's, of course, the people that we spoke to during the hearing. What I'm interested in is how many people that are future participants were actually consulted about the trial.

12:30 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I think we could ascertain the forums and the formats and those who attended those, who would have been informed and consulted with, but it would be a more difficult proposition to categorise and number those who hadn't been consulted with.

12:31 pm

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

If there is a report, will it contain that information about whether people who are likely to be future participants—it's not as if you don't know that people are on income support—were consulted as part of the process?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I can't say what may or may not be in a document when we have yet to ascertain if the document is there, but it might assist if I just go through what occurred between May 2017 and December 2017, when the Department of Social Services conducted over 188 meetings in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay areas. Before the announcement on 21 September 2017 that Bundaberg and Hervey Bay would be the fourth CDC site, the department conducted over 110 meetings in Brisbane, Bundaberg, Childers, Hervey Bay, Howard, Maryborough and other areas via teleconference. This included five meetings with Commonwealth government agencies; 19 meetings with community members, including business leaders and church leaders; three meetings with the community reference group; two large community meetings with the public, including potential card recipients; 25 meetings with local government representatives; four meetings with peak bodies; 55 meetings with service providers, including Families and Children, Employment, Financial Capability and Indigenous; and three meetings with state government agencies. Community members who were unable to attend face-to-face meetings were invited to contact the department via the CDC hotline, email or the DSS Engage portal. The Engage portal was a website that was set up for people to submit a question, with the answer then made publicly available.

12:33 pm

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

Thank you. I will come back to this area of questions once I've found out if there is actually a report of the consultation process. Could you please tell us: will people in the proposed trial site have access to the external transfer facility where the extra $200 per 28 days can be transferred from an Indue account to a personal account that is currently available in the Ceduna and East Kimberly trial sites?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm advised that that is the case.

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

Thank you. Some concern has been raised with me about the terms and conditions that Indue apply on the card compared to what the government's terms and conditions are on the card. Could I clarify that: are Indue allowed to put additional terms and conditions on people's accounts?

12:34 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

If some specific examples have been put to you as to where there might be differences then that would be of assistance to us in seeing whether there are any circumstances where that could be the case.

12:35 pm

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

I'm trying to be clear as to whether they are enabled to do it first. 'Are they allowed to do it?' was my question. Are they allowed to put additional terms and conditions, or are the terms and conditions on the card those that the government provides as they relate to the use of the debit card in the trial sites?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

There should just be one set of terms and conditions, which is why I'm asking: if you have evidence that there might be a case where that appears not to be so, that would be helpful.

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

There is a book of terms and conditions that everybody on the card is provided. Can I swap the question around and say: has the government signed off on all of those terms and conditions?

12:36 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

We'd need to take on notice whether the department has signed off on their publication, so we will check that.

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

Can I be clear: the department isn't clear whether they've signed off on the book that everybody gets?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I can't speak about knowledge that I don't personally have; therefore, we will check what the clearance mechanism and process was for that publication.

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

Again, senators are being asked to vote on a card where the government can't tell us—hopefully you can before we vote on this—whether they have signed off on the terms-and-conditions booklet that Indue provides and implements on every cardholder.

12:37 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I've just been advised that the department would have signed off on the terms and conditions. Again, I didn't want to proffer what was likely without having it confirmed.

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

I want to move to the issue about online merchants and the problem that people are having with using the card on certain websites. Could you please now outline the process for online use of the card and how quickly it happens?

12:38 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm advised that the department whitelists websites. If there is a website that isn't on that list that a participant would like then they can make an approach to have that included.

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

A whitelist is just a list, I presume. Is that available?

12:39 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

That's right. It's a common term in relation to a list of approved things in a range of different contexts.

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

How long does the process to list now take, and how does someone do it without turning up? I have an example where someone had to turn up physically at an office to make that happen, and it took some time. How long does it take, and what is the process?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Within hours, and it can be done over the phone.

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

I have a couple of questions for the minister. The first is related to a statement that was made by Indue Ltd in their submission to the Senate inquiry into this bill. Indue wrote that Larry Anthony's tenure as a director of Indue concluded in October 2013. Indue does not have any current relationship with Larry Anthony or any company related to him except that Larry Anthony is a co-owner and founding director of SAS Consulting Group. As recently as September of last year, when an extension of the cashless welfare card was being proposed for the Goldfields region, SAS Consulting Group listed Indue Ltd as a major client and actively lobbied the government on their behalf.

Looking at SAS Consulting recently, it appears that Indue is no longer listed as a client under SAS profile on the Australian government registry of lobbyists. However, Larry Anthony, as most people in this place are aware, is the federal president of the National Party. At their federal council in August, the National Party referred to a policy committee resolution supporting the rollout nationally of the card for people under 35 on welfare and those on parenting payments. Also, we note that in here the National Party is, indeed, supporting the government's proposal currently before the Senate. Could the Minister please clarify why the Liberal-National government does not see it as a serious conflict of interest that the company it contracts to administer the cashless debit card was a major client of a consulting group co-owned and run by the federal president of the National Party, a party which is actively attempting to expand the card nationally?

12:41 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I will make a couple of points. Obviously I do know who Mr Anthony is, but I have no knowledge of his professional engagements. What I can state very clearly is that the organisational National Party, along with the organisational Liberal Party, have responsibility for choosing parliamentary candidates. They do not determine the policy of the coalition government. It is the joint party room of the coalition government and the various other internal processes of the government that determine government policy.

12:42 pm

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

I don't believe you touched on my question, which is in relation to a conflict of interest. My second part is: at any time did Indue advise the government that it was using SAS Consulting? And was the government aware at any time that Indue was using SAS consultants and that Mr Anthony is the director?

12:43 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

My understanding is that these matters were addressed in Senate estimates and I wouldn't have anything to add to that.

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

Could you explain how they were addressed at Senate estimates, because this was raised in a Senate committee and they received a letter from the chair to say that Indue did not raise any privilege concerns.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

As I said, I don't have anything to add.

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

I have asked you to clarify what was said at Senate estimates, because I'm asking directly why the government doesn't consider this to be a privilege matter. Secondly, I've asked whether Indue ever disclosed to the government it was using SAS consultants or whether the government was aware that Indue was using SAS consultants. If that was asked and directly responded to at Senate estimates you could supply me with that, but if it hasn't been directly answered. I am asking whether the Indue relationship with SAS consulting was advised to the government and whether the government knew of the relationship between Indue and SAS. They are simple yes/no questions.

My second question is relation to Indue's terms-and-conditions book, which I'm sure your department is aware of. Some of the submissions we received in the Senate inquiry imply that Indue imposes conditions on cardholders or applies settings on the card or deposit account products, but, as we know, Indue is not a decision-making body in respect of the functional design of the cashless debit card. All functional design decisions or decisions about particular individual limits are made by the Commonwealth government. If I'm not correct in that, I'd appreciate your, before I go on, just indicating whether I'm correct.

Senator Fifield interjecting

I'm correct, thank you. Yet, on evidence available publicly, looking at the Indue terms and conditions, there is nowhere in this document that indicates that the terms and conditions are imposed by the Commonwealth government. Indue at best confused its own card and business T&Cs and all non-CDCT transfer limitations, such as the waiting of 28 days for certain transfer payments, with the limits set by the Commonwealth directions. My question to you is: can you please clarify why there is no reference to the department in Indue's terms and conditions? I'm happy to table this document if you so wish.

12:47 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm not clear what the point is that you are seeking to make as to whether, where, why or for what purpose the reference might be made.

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

I apologise if I haven't been clear enough. We agreed that the government sets the terms and conditions for how the cashless debit card operates, what the limits are and all those day-to-day events. What I've had a look at—which I'm happy to table, but I'm guessing the department is well aware of this—is Indue's debit card, its conditions and how it's used. There is no reference to the Commonwealth government. If the Commonwealth government is setting the terms and conditions, why isn't that spelled out in the conditions of use that Indue publish?

12:48 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm advised that there is reference to the Commonwealth on page 5.

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

I will take a few seconds to check that.

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We note the lacklustre effort from the minister in this regard, particularly around the consultation, where the best he could offer was taking on notice whom they had consulted with. The reality is that those of us who have spent time in that area—and I have, as the duty Labor senator for that area—have done proper consultation with the community, unlike those opposite. The government made the decision: 'This is what we are going to do. We are going to come in and impose this from on high.' The local member, Keith Pitt, the member for Hinkler, has been completely part of this. Senator Lines made a good point in regard to the National Party's outrageous behaviour. The federal president of the National Party has been lobbying for this, and Keith Pitt, the National Party member for Hinkler, has been pushing this in the local community.

Unlike the government, the opposition has spent the time to consult properly with the community. That includes a town hall forum I held with the federal Labor leader, Bill Shorten, where there was strong community opposition to this draconian proposal from those opposite. I have also met with the local mayors: the mayor of Hervey Bay, who was only recently elected, and the mayor of Bundaberg, Jack Dempsey, who was a former LNP minister. The response we got from those mayors has been interesting. The mayor of Hervey Bay, on the Fraser Coast, who is relatively new, has been vehemently opposed to this. He faced a by-election, which he contested and won, based on his strong opposition to this. He received an overwhelming vote. The mayor of Bundaberg—as I said, a former LNP minister in the previous Queensland government—was originally in favour of this proposal, but, due to the strong community opposition in Bundaberg, he has now switched his position. So the mayors of the two biggest towns that make up Hinkler are strongly opposed to the plan by this government. When the government say they consulted, they'd already made their decision and now they are trying to force this on the community. They've got no interest in what the best outcome is for the people in Hinkler. All they want to do is continue their ideological obsession. They're not going to do anything to boost the services that need to follow such a decision that they're making in this regard.

I've recently accompanied the shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen, and the shadow finance minister, Jim Chalmers, through Hervey Bay, Bundaberg and the surrounding communities. Whilst federal Labor have spent this year in Hinkler listening to these communities, the government have done nothing of the sort. They've sent a few bureaucrats, but they've actually sent no-one on the ground who can make decisions, no-one who can listen to those people and make decisions accordingly.

What's become clear is that there is no support for this proposal in the community. The fact that the local LNP mayor, who was a minister in the Newman government, has now come out and opposed it shows you that the community has turned against this government and, in particular, this proposal. All the government will do through what they're pursuing—and it's disappointing that apparently some of the crossbenchers have decided to sign up to this—is divide the community. That is all they're going to do, and they're very good at it. They've divided Australians all over the country, and they're going to divide the community of Hinkler as well. And they're not going to ensure that there will be any benefit to the people who will be impacted by this. So this is a terrible decision by this government. It's one that Labor will continue to highlight, and Labor will continue to work closely with the impacted communities.

The new shadow minister, Linda Burney, has agreed to travel there to ensure that we continue to listen to those local communities and that they get the representation they need. It's clear that they're not going to get the representation they deserve from their local member, Keith Pitt, or this government, which is completely arrogant and completely out of touch. This is another lacklustre representative effort from the minister responsible here, Senator Fifield.

12:52 pm

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

Thank you for the reference to page 5, Minister. The beginning paragraph does say that the debit card trial is an initiative of the Commonwealth government, and towards the end of that paragraph it references a website for further information. Is that what you were directing me towards?

12:53 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

That's correct, but it's also important to recognise that participants receive a range of other information, not just the booklet you have with you.

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

Was the booklet, which was put out by Indue, developed in consultation with the Commonwealth government and with the department? Was it developed by the department and then sent to Indue? How did it arrive in this form? What was the interaction between the department and Indue?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

There was consultation with the department, but exactly what form it took, I'd have to check. Off the top of my head, I can't advise the genesis and processes that were involved in the creation of any given publication, but we can certainly seek that advice.

12:54 pm

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

With respect, Minister, the department is here. I would think that they would be able to inform the Senate today what that consultation process was and if there was drafting back and forth between Indue and the government or if the government drafted the document and sent it to Indue. That's the process—the department officials are here, so I think that question should be able to be answered fully.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, there are officials from the department here, but they're not necessarily the people who actually worked on that particular document, so we will seek advice for you.

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

With respect, as Senator Siewert pointed out a little while ago, we all have telephones here. This is the government's opportunity today—I mean, this is our opportunity as opposition and crossbench senators to ask our questions. I'm asking a drafting question and I'm wondering if the answer could be sought while we're in the committee stage.

12:55 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

This is not my second or first first speech—

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yet here we are!

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Indeed. I just have a few questions—and, forgive me, I'm somewhat new to this area. I have just been in Bundaberg and had some fabulous consultation with the Say No to the Cashless Welfare Card Hervey Bay region people. They are dead against this card. They feel that it will increase stigma, it will reduce their autonomy and it won't help them pay their bills. It will make it harder for them to live their lives. It certainly doesn't empower them to make financial decisions about what they do with their own money. Is this just an ideological commitment from the government to tell people how to spend their money? There seems to be a disconnect there. I don't think the minister has even been to the region and asked these people what they think.

There was a Senate inquiry that didn't even get to the area. I managed to go and Senator Siewert managed to go. My predecessor, Senator Andrew Bartlett, managed to go, and I hear that a number of Labor senators have managed to go as well. When is the government going to send its minister to this region to actually listen to the community and hear that they don't want this draconian approach to them spending what are already limited funds?

I note that yesterday Senator Siewert introduced her bill to increase Newstart and youth allowance, because they are clearly already below the poverty line. Then you are cracking down further on people who are doing it tough and who are doing their best, and who don't need the patronising, dead hand of this painful Liberal government telling them what to do.

12:57 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator, you asked if this were ideological. The answer is no. You asked if the minister—which was, until very recently, Minister Tehan—had been to this area. I'm advised that he has been.

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Can I just follow up on that? What efforts has the current minister—who, obviously, has only been in the role for a short period of time—made to visit the region, or at least plan a visit to the region?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

As a minister of probably a little over a week's standing, I understand he is planning to visit the region.

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Could you tell me when that will occur? Will that be before this bill has passed through this house, or after?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

That would presume that I know the mind of the Senate and how long this particular debate will take.

12:58 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Surely, you would appreciate the need for the minister to visit the region and listen to the people who will be subjected to this draconian measure before the law passes?

And perhaps I will just seek some further detail. You said that Minister Tehan had visited the area; can you tell me how many times and who he spoke with? And, likewise, for his predecessor, Minister Tudge—how many times did he visit the Bundaberg-Hervey Bay region and with whom did he speak?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

We'll take that on notice.

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

Before I go on to my other questions, I'm wondering whether the minister has yet got the names for the reference panel in the Hinkler trial?

12:59 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm still waiting for advice from the minister's office.

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

Can we go back to the terms and conditions, and switching on online merchants? The process there seems to be different from the process for the excluded merchants. There is now a process for the excluded merchants, whereas it seems to be that for online purchases everybody is excluded until they're on the whitelist. Is that correct?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

The department will nominate sites to be accessed, but, if the individual wishes to have others put forward for consideration, they can.

1:00 pm

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

So, in other words, I'm correct: everybody is excluded until the government puts somebody on the list. How is this the same as an everyday debit card? I don't need to have permission to access a website with my cards.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry, could you repeat the question?

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

The claim is that the Indue card is just like everybody else's card—it's just like a normal debit card; it's just like the normal process. How is it normal when, if I'm on the Indue card, I can only access sites that the government approves—those that are on the whitelist—and, if a site is not on the list, I have to seek permission to use it?

1:01 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

The card operates in the same way in that there's no separate or additional infrastructure required for the merchant to operate the card. The card operates in an analogous way. Clearly, there are differences in the way it operates, which is the purpose of this discussion.

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

So, in fact, that puts the lie to the fact that this is just the same as using any other card. Previously it has not been stated that it is just at the merchant or when you're physically using it. The community has been told is just like anybody else's. That's not true, is it?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

What I've said has been said before. To say that something operates in a similar way is not to say that it operates identically. Clearly, the purpose of the trials and the legislation is to put something in place that wouldn't otherwise be the case.

1:02 pm

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

Okay, so let's go back to how I use the card in a restaurant that also sells alcohol. Shock, horror, I've had a glass of wine with my dinner. How do I pay for that on the card?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm advised that there are individual agreements with merchants. I do seem to recall you asking this on a previous occasion when this legislation was through and I was in a similar situation of being not the substantive minister but the minister who's carrying it for a colleague. As on that occasion, on this occasion I will seek more precise advice as to how that particular scenario would work.

1:03 pm

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

Yes, I asked this when the trials first became a thing. At the time we didn't reach a satisfactory conclusion as to how that would operate. I understand that the department has been looking at this. One thing that has been suggested to me is that extra infrastructure has been put in. I'd like a clear outline of how that process now operates such that it is just like using a normal debit card.

1:04 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Rather than conveying to you the sotto voce advice to me and so I can share with you in a substantive way, I'll ask the relevant officials to write down how that would be the case.

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

Thank you. I now want to move to the evaluation process. The government have outlined that they are now undertaking a second round of evaluation. Can I get a clear understanding now of the full process of the evaluation? I understand there have been some appointment contracts let for some of the initial baseline materials. Have the final decisions been made on the full evaluation process and, if so, could details be provided of the full evaluation process?

1:05 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

The University of Queensland and the University of Adelaide have undertaken the baseline studies.

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

How much are those costing? I understand that the baseline studies have started. Could you confirm that for both the Goldfields and, for that matter, specifically the Hinkler site? I'm actually after the process for the whole of the evaluation. Has that now been completed—contracts let et cetera?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Not for Bundaberg, because there isn't the legislative authority as yet.

1:06 pm

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

Could you tell us then who has the contract for the full process for the evaluation for the Goldfields site? Are they also doing East Kimberley and Ceduna?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

That has been put to tender, which hasn't been concluded. The costs are in confidence as a result of the status of the process.

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

So, once again, we are being asked to vote on a piece of legislation that we don't know the full cost of, in terms of the evaluation process? Is it the government's intention to then expand that evaluation process to the Hinkler site, or would it be done under a separate tender?

1:07 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

It would be done under the same tender.

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

So the tender's being let on the understanding that it will be expanded if this legislation passes and that there'll be an additional cost to the tender? If you're still only tendering it now, how does that process work?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

You are correct, Senator Siewert, that the tender would be let on the basis that there could be subsequent work. Tenders are often let on the basis of an 'up to' value.

1:08 pm

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

When is it expected that the tender process will be finalised?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

The end of October.

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

Have the baseline studies been completed and will they be publicly released now rather than after the evaluation's undertaken?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

They haven't been completed. Release would be a matter for decision by the minister.

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

When is it expected that the baseline studies will be completed for both the Goldfields and Hinkler?

1:09 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

The beginning of October.

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

Can I very quickly go to implementing the ANAO report recommendations and any cost-benefit analysis being done. If that's being done, when is it going to be released?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

All of the ANAO report's recommendations, I am advised, have been accepted, and the cost-benefit analysis is underway.

1:10 pm

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

When is the completion date? When is it anticipated that it will be finished? Who's doing it, and when is the completion date?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

The department is working on it internally. In terms of completion, I'm looking to see if there's a flicker across the faces of advisers, but there doesn't appear to be, so we'll have to check that.

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

Thank you. Will there be peer review of the cost-benefit analysis being done by the department?

1:11 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

That will be a decision for the minister.

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

This is still not my first speech. Minister, forgive me if we're going over some ground that we've already covered, but, just for clarity, can I ask: what is the estimated cost of expanding the card to the Hinkler region?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm advised that it's an additional $4 million. Sorry, let me just go through for you and let me just correct that number that I gave you. Funding for the Goldfields and Bundaberg and Hervey Bay trial areas was secured in the budget in 2017-18. The cost to establish the trial and operate for one year in Ceduna and the East Kimberley, as you probably already know, was $17.8 million, with about 2,200 people on the trial in those sites from 2016. The additional cost for the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay trial areas, as negotiations are still underway, can't be finalised or advised.

1:12 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Thanks, Minister. Sorry, but you said there was a budget line item. Was there no estimate for the Hinkler rollout?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

There would be, but at this stage it's commercial-in-confidence.

1:13 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. Just staying with that theme, you did say an extra $4 million before, but you've pulled that back.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Correct.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development (Senate)) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry, Senator Waters. The minister just answered your question: 'Correct.'

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, thank you. I'm just trying to get the figures straight.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

It was a misreading of something. It wasn't an inadvertent slip of a number.

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Okay, so I'm not to place too much attention on that. Be that as it may, am I correct that the figures that we do know are that about $2.6 million has been spent or is dedicated to be spent on support services out of that $17.8 million that was committed for Ceduna and the Goldfields, which is roughly a seventh of the money?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

We'd have to look at that figuring.

1:14 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I guess my question is going to the cost-benefit of even rolling this card out at all in the region. I've already noted in my consultations with the folk there—Kathryn Wilkes and Daniel Stafford in particular—that there is no support for this card and, in fact, they are crying out for money to be spent on funding services like homelessness and domestic violence shelters and education pathways and on creating jobs. So my question is: has the department or the minister, or anybody in charge of this, actually done that cost-benefit analysis of funding those support services?

Surely they would reap far more social benefits, as QCOSS has pointed out. With the dubious benefits of the card so far, the evidence just isn't there to show that it works. In fact, there's the potential for social harm to increase. Why don't you just fund the services that we know work and help people. Surely doing at least a cost-benefit analysis of that is worthwhile. Is that on the cards? If so, can you tell me anything about it?

1:15 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

The view of the government is that you don't have to choose between the cashless card and support services. The government is committed to both. The first independent evaluation has shown that the card has a considerable positive impact in communities, including 48 per cent of drug-takers using fewer drugs, 41 per cent of drinkers drinking less and 48 per cent of gamblers gambling less. A recent media release from the mayor of Kalgoorlie, where the trial of the card began earlier this year, stated that all the indicators were positive.

1:16 pm

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

When are you going to stop reiterating that, when, quite clearly, the ANAO report has shown that you do not have enough information to show there has been a reduction in social harm? As for Mayor Bowler, I pointed out very clearly during the last debate—I acknowledge that Minister Fifield was not in the chamber at the time—that WA Police have said that they cannot point to the cashless welfare card as being the body that's responsible for any reduction of antisocial activity in the Goldfields area, because their operation, Operation Fortitude I think it's called, was running at the time. So claims there has been a reduction in social harm are just not correct. The ANAO report has clearly pointed that out. For the record, people, please read the ANAO report, because it has shown that there is not the evidence to claim there has been a reduction in social harm. The statistics that were just quoted are cherry-picked from a very flawed analysis by Orima. Read the ANAO report and look at what they said about the data that was very conveniently not included in the analysis: the flawed approach to the survey of participants; the push-polling approach to the participants; and the fact that so many participants have said it's made their lives worse. In fact, when I was in Leonora the other day to discuss the storage of waste and uranium mining, which I'll talk about in the chamber at a later date, the issue of the card was raised with me there. A person who had previously been a supporter of the card is now on the card and, quite frankly—surprise, surprise—it's making their lives more difficult. They are unable to use it satisfactorily. So can we please not keep falsely claiming that this card is reducing social harm, because the evidence is not there to show that it is. At best, the evidence that the government uses is anecdotal. I can repeat many anecdotal examples that people have given directly to me. They have told me of the harm that it is causing them, the difficulty in using it and the many other concerns they have about the card, including being called 'druggies', being stigmatised, feeling humiliated and dealing with the difficulty of managing and using the card. So, please, don't keep repeating just what is handed to you by the government, which at best is basically just anecdotal points.

1:19 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to pick up on something you said in response to an earlier question—that you don't have to choose between support services and the cashless debit card. What is the announcement, then, of the increase in funding for those support services in the Hinkler region?

1:20 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

The government has increased support services in all areas where the trial exists, and that would also be the case in this area if this legislation passes.

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I tried to clarify those figures with you before, but unfortunately you weren't able to, so I seek some more clarity on whether the quantum of increased funding for support services that you would intend for the Bundaberg and Hinkler region would reflect the community's desire for funding for the homeless, domestic violence shelters, education pathways and job creation for young people, or whether that's just lip service to cover the fact that you want to paternalistically tell people what to do with their money.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

What would be done in the new areas would be similar to that which has been done in the existing areas.

1:21 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Would you mind indulging me by telling me a little bit more about that? I have had a period of time out of the Senate, and I genuinely don't know what has happened, but I'm concerned for the people of Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. Are you able to tell me a bit more than that?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

It's about a million dollars in each site.

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Has that already been budgeted for?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes.

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

If so, which line item will that come out of, and what other services will be cut to make way for that—or is this an additional amount of budget allocation?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

It has been budgeted for, but not everything that has been budgeted in the budget is disaggregated to the level that you are seeking.

1:22 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm interested in the amount of money Indue is making out of this whole arrangement. I'm also concerned that they appear to be drafting the terms and conditions rather than the department doing what I thought would be the government's job, but other people have prosecuted that. I'm interested in the amount of profit Indue is making out of this and, again, whether there has been a cost-benefit analysis of whether that profit would be better spent on community services to help people in that community.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

The government isn't in a position to know the profit of individual businesses.

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

But you're paying them. It's taxpayer money.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

A profit is something that a business has after they've accounted for their expenditures. The government doesn't know what the profits of individual businesses are. The government would know what is paid in the contract, but a government wouldn't know what the profit of an individual business is.

1:23 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

With respect, how do you know whether or not you're getting a good deal? You could be being completely ripped off. Taxpayers could be being completely ripped off—which, frankly, it looks like they are. Surely you would want to satisfy yourself that that wasn't the case.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I've answered it.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to follow on with additional questions around cost. Our understanding is that the government has already paid $7.9 million to Indue. The government has also paid $1.6 million to ORIMA for their research report that has been referred to over the course of the debate. That has been heavily criticised, including by the Auditor-General, for providing essentially meaningless information about the success or otherwise of the program. We understand that the accrued cost of the cashless debit card trial up to 15 March this year is about $24 million for just two sites. Can you confirm that the cost of the trial across the two existing sites is well over $10,000 per person?

1:24 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm advised that the costs of delivering the CDC trial are projected to go below $2,000 per participant once the program is expanded to the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region—unlike recent comments suggesting, as you have, that the cost of the CDC trial is around $10,000 per person.

1:25 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

What costs are included when you provide that per capita calculation? What are the assumptions that underpin that number?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

It's the running cost of the card per capita.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

What's the overall cost to government per capita?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm advised that it has been provided at Senate estimates. The total cost is $17.8 million, but you are asking for a different figure per capita?

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

Perhaps I can assist. The reason I'm interested is that you provided information which you said was based on the operational cost of the card per individual. I suspect that the program cost is greater than that. I'm trying to understand what the overall cost of the program is to government and what that means for the costs allocated per participant.

1:26 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

If this program is extended to Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, the cost would be around $2,000 per participant.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

As a total cost to government?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Two thousand dollars per participant.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

Can we get an indication of the total cost of the trial that is proposed for the rollout at Bundaberg and Hervey Bay and the relevant time periods associated with that costing?

1:27 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

As we've already advised, at this stage that's commercial in confidence.

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

Now that you've got the Goldfields trial up and running, can you tell us how much that costs?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

We 'd have to take that on notice.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

You've indicated that the cost of the trial is commercial in confidence. You've also indicated that the cost of operating the card will be around $2,000 per participant. How many participants will there be in the trial in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay?

1:28 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Six thousand seven hundred.

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

Can I go back to the issue around the cost of the Goldfields, because when we debated that we were in the position that we are here—that is, you couldn't tell us for commercial-in-confidence reasons how much the Goldfields was going to cost. Can you get that information before we finish the discussion here—in terms of how much the Goldfields costs?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

As indicated, it's commercial in confidence.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

A rough calculation—if there are 6,700 participants and it costs $2,000 a person, the cost is $13.4 million. Can you confirm that the cost of the trial in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay is around 13½ million dollars.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I can't add to what I've already said.

1:29 pm

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

Can I get this right: you are never going to tell us the cost of a trial site—if you're still running the commercial-in-confidence line. You have now got the Goldfields trial up and running. Why can't you tell us how much it is costing for the Goldfields?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

It's commercial-in-confidence because there's a tender in process, but, obviously, once arrangements are established, it will be public in the usual way.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Siewert may wish to go back to some of the questions around cost, but I wanted to ask about the tendering process. Am I to understand that Indue may not win the tender in the Goldfields?

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: While the minister is waiting, Senator McAllister, do you wish to get that final statement on Hansard?

Perhaps just to clarify: I am trying to understand what is commercial-in-confidence about these questions if the provider is already known?

1:30 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

The provider is not known for the fourth site, Senator.

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

The provider is known for the Goldfields. I understand the evaluation is still out there, but why can't you tell us how much the rest of it will cost for the Goldfields?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm advised that the Goldfields numbers will be published at the end of the four-year cycle.

1:31 pm

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

Did you just say the four-year cycle or the full cycle? Why can't you do that now? This is the Senate. We are being asked to consider a bill that relates to another trial site, for which you won't give us the amount of money that it's costing. The Goldfields is already up and running. Why do we have to wait for the full year or full cycle?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Because it won't be known what the total expenditure is until the end of that period, but what is spent year by year will be public.

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

Can you tell us how much the contract or the tender for the provision of services by Indue for the Goldfields is, now that that has been let?

1:32 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Not at this stage, because there hasn't been 12 months since the work was commenced.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, perhaps you could explain the nature of the contract or any other constraint which provides that you can't give us that figure until 12 months?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

We won't know what the 12-month spend is until the 12 months is concluded.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

So am I to understand that the structure of the contract is such that the expenditure is unknown and is on some sort of unit pricing arrangement?

1:33 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

On the AusTender website, there will be a contract value, I assume, of the nature of 'up to', as is often the case with tenders which are on the AusTender website, but there are a number of variables which would determine what the spend in a particular year is.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

Could you provide an indication of what those variables are?

1:34 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator, there will be a range of variables which we can get for you, but, as you know, there are many elements to these sorts of contracts.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

I will just make a final remark about this. I can see that you question why this information is being sought. I would say this: this is a contract of significant value being let in the Goldfields and then there is a further one to be let in the Hervey Bay area. It goes to providing a service to government that many consider will be very intrusive and will certainly have significant impacts on the lives of individuals. There are serious questions being raised by the ANAO about the value for money that has been offered so far by the trials in the existing sites. I think there are real concerns about proceeding on the basis of such limited information. If the minister and, indeed, the government are in possession of information that would provide us with some detail about the kinds of costs associated with this—the value and the cost-effectiveness of what is being proposed—it would assist the Senate in considering the business before us. That is the basis of the previous series of questions asked by me.

1:35 pm

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

In the budget papers at the moment it says that, for commercial reasons, the budget isn't being articulated. What is the government's budget now that the Goldfields has been proceeded with and has gone ahead? Are you just going to keep using the commercial-in-confidence argument for everything when you don't want to tell us what something is costing? The trial has gone ahead. Why can't the government now tell us what their budget is for that area? Secondly, how can you tell us that this is now $2,000 a head when you don't know—and this is what I am taking from what you are saying—how much it's going to cost? How can you tell us it's $2,000 a head?

1:37 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm advised that the AusTender website indicates that, up to June 2019, the tenders could be up to $21.7 million for all three sites. That's the maximum because, as I've said before, with these tenders it's an 'up to' value, but obviously the government makes sure that it makes adequate provision for what might be required.

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

That's the three existing sites?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes.

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

So you're now claiming commercial in confidence in terms of what the Hinkler site will cost? That is the reason why you are not saying? For the Hansard record, the minister is nodding. When will you then make the 'up to' figure available for the Hinkler site?

1:38 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

When the tender is let, it will appear on the AusTender website.

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

I want to go back to the questions I asked previously that the minister said he was going to try to use the phone to get some information from the minister or the department about. Can I start with the reference panel, please.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm advised, in relation to the reference panel members, that the minister would like to individually contact the reference panel members in relation to them being referenced.

1:39 pm

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

So now not only are the community panel members in the other trial sites not going to be made available but for this trial site the reference group members are not going to be made available if they say no—is that the case?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I can't pre-empt the minister's conversations with the individuals.

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

Is the government prepared to require the name of anybody who goes on a reference panel to be made publicly available so that members of the community—their community—can know who to talk to about the trial and who is making the decisions that affect their very lives?

1:40 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I think the minister is endeavouring to extend a courtesy to these individuals.

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

I take on board what you've said, but my question is actually different to that. Is the government prepared, from now on, to say to reference panel members that people will know who the panel is and deliver a degree of public accountability to members of their own community?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Look, I can't really add to what I've said as to the process that the minister is going to go through.

1:41 pm

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

Is the minister in a position to confirm whether there is actually a participant or somebody who is likely to be a participant—that is, they're under 36 and on income support—on the reference group? I'm not asking for the name right now; I've heard what you've said—I'm not agreeing with it, but I've heard what you said. Can you tell me if there is at least one, if not more, future participants on the reference group?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm not in a position to confirm that.

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

You also took on notice the consultation process and if there were people who were actually under 36 and who were likely to be participants on notice as well.

1:42 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm advised that there isn't a consolidated report as such. There are a number of documents that relate to 180 instances of consultation.

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

Is there a summary? Sorry, do I understand that there is no summary of that? And where can somebody find the various summaries?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I understand that there is a summary which is in the form of an answer to a question on notice, which we can provide.

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

Can I confirm that that is the only summary that's actually available?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

At this stage, that is correct.

1:43 pm

Photo of Tim StorerTim Storer (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I move the amendment on sheet 8495:

(1) Schedule 1, page 8 (after line 14), after item 15, insert:

15A After section 124PR

Insert:

124PS Evaluation of trial review

(1) If the Minister or the Secretary causes a review of the trial of the cashless welfare arrangements mentioned in section 124PF to be conducted, the Minister must cause the review to be evaluated.

(2) The evaluation must:

(a) be completed within 6 months from the time the Minister receives the review report; and

(b) be conducted by an independent evaluation expert with significant expertise in the social and economic aspects of welfare policy.

(3) The independent expert must:

(a) consult trial participants; and

(b) make recommendations as to:

(i) whether cashless welfare arrangements are effective; and

(ii) whether such arrangements should be implemented outside of a trial area.

(4) The Minister must cause a written report about the evaluation to be prepared.

(5) The Minister must cause a copy of the report to be laid before each House of Parliament within 15 days after the completion of the report.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Storer's amendment goes to monitoring and evaluation. This has been a very significant issue in this debate so far, because you have already paid $1.6 million to a company called ORIMA Research, which provided an evaluation of the existing trial sites that a range of experts have essentially described as useless. The Auditor-General has said that the information was of such poor quality that it is not actually possible to say whether or not the trial was effective in any way. Their words, in particular, were:

… 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.

Given that the evaluation process to date has been of such poor quality and has yielded so little information about whether this program is of any value whatsoever, what can you tell us about changes to the department's practice in terms of monitoring and evaluation that could provide any assurance at all that further monitoring and evaluation will produce anything of value?

1:44 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

As I indicated before, the department agrees with the ANAO's recommendations and notes that all recommendations are either covered by existing departmental practice or included in the continuation of the trial. Overall, there were appropriate arrangements and processes in place. However, the department does acknowledge the issues raised in the report and, where improvements can be made, the department has been making improvements to the trial and process over time and will continue to do so. These improvements will ensure the trial can continue to be effectively implemented and monitored. Senator Storer's amendments will require the government to conduct a review of any evaluation to ensure that the findings are accurate. We welcome Senator Storer's amendment and will be supporting it.

1:45 pm

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

I'm not sure who I ask this question to, whether it's Senator Storer or the minister. It says in the amendment:

If the Minister or the Secretary causes a review of the trial of the cashless welfare arrangements mentioned … to be conducted …

What's the definition of 'review'? Is it the evaluation that's currently being undertaken, or is it something different, and does that mean that the evaluation is evaluated again?

1:46 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Storer will correct me if I'm wrong but my understanding is that it's a review of the review, if you like, a review of the assessment.

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

So the definition of review is the evaluation that you are—is that correct? I'm so used to words being interpreted differently and not always to the benefit of the community. I want to be really clear what this means.

1:47 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

It would be a separate review of the evaluation.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, can I go back to the answer you provided to me earlier? I asked you what had changed in the department following the Auditor-General's scathing review of the monitoring and evaluation program. Your answer indicated that you accepted the Auditor-General's remarks but, in any case, they just confirmed existing departmental practice and you were putting in place arrangements to ensure that monitoring and evaluation continued. That doesn't sound to me like any meaningful or material change to the way the department thinks about these kinds of tasks. My real question to you is in the context of the amendment before us. Senator Storer is asking for serious monitoring and evaluation, and that is an objective that I support not just in the context of this kind of program but in all social policy. My question to you is: what has been learnt from the failures of the $1.6 million ORIMA review—what has materially changed in the way the department will conduct future reviews of this program?

1:48 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

The department has updated how it undertakes data monitoring and evaluation, including with the creation and appointment of the chief evaluator within the department. In order to build on the findings of the first evaluation report, the government has committed funding towards a second evaluation of the cashless debit card trial to further assess the ongoing effectiveness. The department has also developed a monitoring strategy to improve visibility of how the cashless debit card is being implemented. The strategy uses cashless debit card data collected by the department, the card provider and the Department of Human Services to ensure that the program is operating as intended, identifying potential issues and allaying concerns regarding the card.

1:49 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, the concerns that were articulated by the Auditor-General were essentially this: no baseline data was collected about participants' behaviours. Therefore, at the end of the trial, because no adequate baseline data was collected, it was not possible to evaluate whether or not any changes to people's wellbeing had taken place as a consequence of your intervention. What you've told me is that you've got some better processes in place to gather information about cost. Okay; perhaps that is an improvement. But the core issue that we're trying to test here is whether or not an intervention of this kind makes people's lives better. What is the department doing, in this second evaluation that it has now commissioned, to make sure that that can be meaningfully evaluated? And, incidentally, you mentioned a commitment of funding. What funding has been committed to the second evaluation?

1:50 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

The senator mentioned baseline data. As I've already indicated, the University of Adelaide and the University of Queensland are undertaking such work.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

Are you able to tell me the funding that has been allocated for this second evaluation?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

It's part of the allocation for the program.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

I think people deserve to know how much money is being expended on evaluation given that they already know that $1.6 million has been expended on a program that was a total failure. How much is being expended on this second round?

1:51 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Because things have been tendered, I can't be any more specific at the moment.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

Will ORIMA have any role in this second evaluation?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I don't know who will bid or who will be successful.

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

I want to go back to the baseline studies that are being undertaken for the Goldfields and the Hinkler region. The answer you gave me to the question was that they're going to be completed in early October. That's correct, isn't it?

1:52 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Correct.

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

Confirm for me when that information's going to be publicly available.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

That'll be a matter for the minister.

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

I should have anticipated that answer. Is there a commitment from the government to release this information—first I'll ask that—prior to the final evaluation?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Again, that'll be a matter for the minister.

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

So much for transparency and accountability, if we can't get access to that baseline information. Do I interpret what you said in response to Senator McAllister's question around monitoring that it's going to be publicly available?

1:53 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

At the risk of repeating myself, that will be a matter for the minister.

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

Sorry: I was asking about the ongoing monitoring of the use of the card that you were articulating to Senator McAllister. Can I confirm that you aren't going to be releasing that information? What is the point of evaluation from a point of that process if it's not going to be available to the community in a transparent manner?

1:54 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Are you referring to the ongoing monitoring by the department?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, I guess all departments monitor programs on an ongoing basis, but the manner in which that is reported and communicated publicly is ultimately a matter for the minister. I can't tell you how and when that will happen, but no doubt it will be something which is shared in the context of estimates, committees and other forums of this place. I can't tell you what will be a mechanism in addition to that which the minister may choose.

1:55 pm

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

I'll indicate that the Greens are not supportive of this amendment, because we don't think anything can make this trial better. With all due respect to Senator Storer, I think he's been sold a pup. There is no evidence from the ANAO report that this process has reduced social harm. We cannot support causing more distress to more people in Hinkler and the Goldfields and continuing that distress in Ceduna and East Kimberly. I was about to use a pretty poor analogy, but I won't. You just can't make this nonsense better. We can't support this, because you can't make it better. We won't be supporting the amendments.

1:56 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development (Senate)) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Storer, did you wish to add anything before I put the question?

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

I will quickly place Labor's view on the record. We agree with Senator Storer that increased scrutiny is certainly needed. The significant flaws in the existing evaluation have been referred to on many occasions in this debate, and an improved evaluation would be very welcome. We will, therefore, support your amendment. But I also wish to place on record my scepticism that it will improve things a great deal. Already $1.6 million of public money has been spent on a failed evaluation. I am not certain that the minister is capable of conducting a successful one.

Question agreed to.

Bill, as amended, agreed to.

Bill reported with amendments; report adopted.