Senate debates

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Bills

Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Cashless Welfare) Bill 2019; In Committee

9:33 am

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

The committee is considering opposition amendments (1) to (4) on sheet 8730.

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

I have a couple of extra questions, and then I'll explain our position on these amendments. Yesterday the minister articulated that support would be available for people to fill in forms and to participate in the process to apply for exemptions. Senator Lines, who is now in the chair, asked a question about whether community organisations would also be able to provide that support. I'm just wondering whether funding will be available to those organisations for additional support for people, because some community organisations are already pretty flat out providing service support to community.

9:34 am

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

My understanding is the funding is already available for assisting people, broadly. So there is actually funding available for people to exit the card currently under the wellbeing provisions. Obviously, if additional resources are required, we would look at it. But at this stage, we believe that adequate resources are currently being provided to enable the assistance of these people but, obviously, we'll keep a very close eye on it.

9:35 am

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

Thanks for that. Could you perhaps, if you haven't got it available, take on notice to provide how much it is and which organisations in the trial sites it's going to?

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, of course.

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

Also, I just want to follow up on the costing question and answer that we went over yesterday in terms of the cost of the trials, the $34 million. My understanding is that there's around $126 million over the forward estimates. What is that for? Is it for the ongoing trial sites and the expansion of the Indue card in the Northern Territory? Or is it for something else?

9:36 am

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

It's for the ongoing operation of the trial sites, the four trial sites as they currently are, and also forward funding for the NT and Cape York subject, obviously, to the passage of legislation through this place.

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

I also just want to clarify, in your sum-up, you made comments around the number of purchases that had been rejected from the card. My recollection is you said the number of rejected attempts to purchase alcohol and gambling amounted to $400,000. Are they failed attempts on the card? I'm sure you're aware there has been quite a lot of failed attempts to use the card, not just because people were buying alcohol and gambling but because the system wasn't working or whatever. Is that $400,000 purely around alcohol and gambling or does it also include failed attempts to use the card?

9:37 am

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

No, the $400,000 I stated in my summing up statement yesterday was from unsuccessful purchases or alcohol or gambling products.

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

Thank you for that clarification. Do you have figures on the failed attempts as well?

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Just to be clear, are you referring to failed attempts to use the card where the card has been the problem as opposed to some other external EFTPOS machine?

9:38 am

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

But an EFTPOS machine can fail more generally. Are you asking about the specific failure rate that is directly attributed to the card?

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm happy to take that on notice for you.

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

I can now articulate the Greens' position on this amendment. We will support it. I have thought quite long and hard about this because I do see the other side of the argument, which is this will enable us to make quick decisions if there's some other way to enable people to opt out. My concern is that it could be used in future to make things harder to opt out rather than to facilitate opting out. So, on balance, we will support this amendment because we're concerned about ramping up and perhaps narrowing down how people can opt out.

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I just would like some clarification from the minister because, in her responses to questions yesterday, I thought she'd indicated that there was going to be additional funding made available to organisations to provide services to support people to get off the card. And I think she has now said that these organisations are already funded. If she can clarify which is correct?

9:41 am

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

To clarify, in answer to the question from Senator Siewert about the funding that was made available to the community service organisations, that is already built into the funding that we receive. There is, however, additional funding that is available to assist people coming off the card as required.

9:40 am

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the minister able to tell the Senate how much we're talking about in terms of additional funding? What organisations will be receiving that funding and at what level?

9:41 am

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I will take that on notice and get back to you.

9:40 am

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

I appreciate the minister took that on notice. I'm wondering if she can tell the chamber what the quantum is. Is that available? I appreciate you need to take on notice how much will be available for the trial sites and organisations, but how much is the quantum for this process?

9:41 am

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

In the interests of accuracy, I will take that on notice, Senator, but I'll try to get it back to you as quickly as possible.

The CHAIR: The question is that amendments (1) to (4) on sheet 8730 as moved by Senator Brown be agreed to.

9:48 am

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

by leave—I move Australian Greens amendments (1) to (3) on sheet 8733:

(1) Schedule 1, item 9, page 5 (line 9), omit "an offence", substitute "a serious offence".

(2) Schedule 1, item 9, page 5 (after line 19), after subsection 124PHB(3), insert:

(3A) For the purposes of subparagraph 124PHB(3) (a) (ii), a serious offence means an offence where:

(a) the offence:

  (i) involves violence against a person; or

  (ii) is a serious drug offence; or

  (iii) involves serious damage to property; and

(b) the offence is punishable by:

  (i) imprisonment for life; or

  (ii) imprisonment for a fixed term of not less than 3 years; or

  (iii) imprisonment for a maximum term of not less than 3 years.

(3) Schedule 1, item 9, page 6 (lines 1 to 6), omit subsection 124PHB(8), substitute:

Reconsideration of Secretary ' s determination

(8) If a health or community worker:

(a) has a direct professional relationship with a person who is the subject of a determination under subsection (3); and

(b) considers that it is necessary for the person to be a trial participant for medical or safety reasons;

the worker may request the Secretary to reconsider the determination.

These relate to the issues that I raised in my speech on the second reading and in some of the questions I was asking around 'serious offence'—the offence provision and the exit criteria—to add 'serious' in front of 'offence', so that it's a serious offence that is taken into account. The other one relates to the relationship with a health and community worker. I did ask some questions about that in the chamber, where the minister articulated that there will be notes in the guidance around this issue to clarify that they will have to have a professional relationship. We think it is better off in the legislation. I appreciate that the minister made a commitment to do that, and on the form, but I do think that it's better off in the legislation. So that is what that particular amendment is about. I commend the amendment to the chamber.

9:50 am

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I would just like to indicate to the chamber that the Labor Party will be supporting this set of amendments.

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Siewert. As an explanation of why the government won't be supporting these amendments, whilst we take Senator Siewert's point in relation to the seriousness of the offence, many of the offences that would not be captured under this particular serious criteria are the offences that are, indeed, the reason why the card was put in place in the first place. Many of these sorts of antisocial behaviours would not attract a serious offence. However, they are considered very serious in terms of the impact they're having on these communities.

The CHAIR: The question is that the amendments (1) to (3) on sheet 8733 as moved by Senator Siewert be agreed to.

9:57 am

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I move opposition amendment on sheet 8729:

(1) Page 6 (after line 31), at the end of the Bill, add:

Schedule 2—Community support for cashless welfare arrangements

Social Security (Administration) Act 1999

1 Subsection 124PD(1)

Insert:

community discussion report : see subsection 124PV(4).

community support report: see subsection 124PT(2).

2 Subsection 124PD (1) (definition of voluntary participant )

Omit "subsection 124PH(3)", substitute "subsections 124PH(3) and 124PHAA(4)".

3 At the end of section 124PG

Add:

(7) A person ceases to be a trial participant on 31 January 2020 unless a determination is made under section 124PV that applies to the Ceduna area.

4 At the end of section 124PGA

Add:

(7) A person ceases to be a trial participant on 31 January 2020 unless a determination is made under section 124PV that applies to the East Kimberley area.

5 At the end of section 124PGB

Add:

(7) A person ceases to be a trial participant on 31 January 2020 unless a determination is made under section 124PV that applies to the Goldfields area.

6 At the end of section 124PGC

Add:

(7) A person ceases to be a trial participant on 31 January 2020 unless a determination is made under section 124PV that applies to the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area.

7 Section 124PH (at the end of the heading)

Add "—general".

8 Paragraph 124PH(1 ) ( bd)

Repeal the paragraph, substitute:

(bd) subsection (2A), (2B) or (2C) apply to the person; and

9 After subsection 124PH(1)

Insert:

(2A) This subsection applies to a person if, before 31 January 2020, the person is not subject to the income management regime under Part 3B.

(2B) This subsection applies to a person if, on or after 31 January 2020, the person is not subject to the income management regime under section 123UC, 123UCB, 123UCC or 123UF.

(2C) This subsection applies to a person if:

(a) a determination has been made under section 124PV that applies to the trial area that is the person's usual place of residence; and

(b) the person is not subject to the income management regime under Part 3B.

10 At the end of Subdivision B of Division 1 of Part 3B

Add:

124PHAA Voluntary participants—Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area

(1) This section applies on and after 31 January 2020 unless a determination is made under section 124PV that applies to the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area.

(2) A person may notify the Secretary, orally or in writing, that the person wishes to be subject to cashless welfare arrangements if:

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

(b) the person is receiving newstart allowance, youth allowance (where neither section 540AA of the 1991 Act (about new apprentices) nor paragraph 541(1) (a) of the 1991 Act (about full-time study) applies) or parenting payment; and

(c) the person is under 35 years of age on the day this section commences and the person has not turned 36 years of age; and

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

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

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

(g) the person is not otherwise a trial participant.

(3) A person may withdraw the notification at any time.

(4) 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 (5).

(5) The Secretary may determine that a person who is a voluntary participant is not to be subject to cashless welfare arrangements. If the Secretary makes such a determination, the Secretary must notify the person, in writing, accordingly.

11 At the end of Part 3D

Add:

124PT Community support for trial of cashless welfare arrangement

(1) As soon as practicable after this section's commencement, the Minister must cause a review to determine whether the community in each trial area genuinely supports the trial of a cashless welfare arrangement in that area.

(2) The persons conducting the review must provide the Minister a written report (the community support report) of the review before 31 December 2019.

(3) The Minister must publish the report on the Department's website as soon as practicable after the report is given to the Minister.

(4) The Minister must cause copies of the report to be tabled in each House of the Parliament within 15 sitting days of that House after the report is given to the Minister.

124PU Statement on support for the provision of services in trial areas

(1) Before 31 December 2019, the Minister must publish on the Department's website a statement setting out the steps that have been taken by the Commonwealth to support the provision of relevant services in each trial area and set out future improvements to those relevant services.

(2) Relevant services in a trial area are services relating to the care, protection, welfare or safety of adults, children or families including economic development and employment programs, early intervention and community services, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation services.

(3) The Minister must cause copies of the statement to be tabled in each House of the Parliament within 15 sitting days of that House after the statement's publication.

124PV Determination to allow for continuation of cashless welfare arrangement in trial area

(1) The Minister may, by legislative instrument, make a determination in relation to a trial area if the Minister is satisfied the community in the trial area genuinely supports the trial of a cashless welfare arrangement in that area.

(2) In determining whether the community genuinely supports the trial, the Minister must have regard to all of the following:

(a) the community support report in relation to the trial area;

(b) the community discussion report in relation to the trial area;

(c) any submissions made to the Minister under subsection (5);

(d) the views of communities bodies (if any) in the trial area.

(3) The determination must set out the Minister's reasons for being satisfied the community in the trial area genuinely supports the trial of a cashless welfare arrangement in that area.

(4) Before making the determination, the Minister must cause:

(a) a meeting to occur in the trial area for the community to discuss with the Department the effect of the determination if made; and

(b) a report (the community discussion report) to be prepared of the discussion that occurred at the meeting; and

(c) the community discussion report to be published on the Department's website.

(5) Before making the determination, the Minister must publish a notice inviting written submissions about making of the determination to be provided on or before a day (the closing day) that is no earlier than 2 weeks after the day of the notice's publication.

The cashless debit card trial has been going on for too long. It is no longer a trial. The amendment sets out a process for establishing genuine community support for the card before the end of the year. Unless the government is able to clearly demonstrate that support, the amendment would make the cashless debit card voluntary from 31 January 2020. This applies to each of the existing cashless debit card areas—East Kimberley, Ceduna, Bundaberg, Hervey Bay and the Goldfields.

The amendment requires the minister to produce by the end of the year a community support report demonstrating whether there is genuine community support for the continuation of the cashless debit card in each of the trial areas. Support from a local MP or a mayor would not be enough to justify the continuation of the card. The report would need to clearly examine whether there was genuine support in the local community. This report will be required to be made public and tabled in parliament. The amendment will also require the minister to produce a statement on the support for the provision of services. This requires the minister to set out clearly what wraparound services are available in a cashless debit card trial area and how they will be improved. This is necessary because the communities are being told by this government that the cashless debit card is the only support they will get. This is reactionary thinking, and it is the kind of approach to income management that has been disproved time and time again. The blanket application is on par with the shameful system of food stamps used in the United States. The government needs to be forced to outline the investments it will make in economic development and job creation, early intervention, health and education, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation, because the rights supports and opportunities can address some of the underlying causes of disadvantage much more effectively than the cashless debit card. If, after completing the process of producing these two reports, the minister does think there is genuine support in the community, they must make a determination to continue the cashless debit card. As part of the process, the minister must also hold a community meeting so any claims about support are transparent. The determination would be disallowable by the Senate. I commend the amendments to the Senate.

10:00 am

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

The Greens will be supporting these amendments. They don't go far enough for us however. We moved a second reading amendment that said we should get rid of income management and the cashless welfare card. The cashless welfare card, as I articulated in my second reading contribution, demonises people and stigmatises people, and it is not the way that we address the very serious issues that we know communities are facing. I've gone through the details of that extensively in this place on many occasions. So we think this is a step in the right direction, which is why we're supporting it. We should make the cashless welfare card voluntary.

I'm very sceptical about testing community support because the experience at the moment is that it is a flawed approach. The government keeps tells us it's supporting communities; however, when I go into those communities, I don't see a whole lot of support for the people who are stuck on the card, who are suffering the effects of the card, whose lives have been made harder by the card. I've articulated those experiences in this place on many occasions—in particular, yesterday in my second reading contribution and the night before in my adjournment speech. There are a lot of people whose lives have not been made better by this card; they've been made significantly worse in terms of not only their capacity to manage their finances but also their physical and, in particular, mental health.

Having said that, this is a step in the right direction. I know that what the Greens expect from the amendments around community support and testing is an independent process, not one that is driven by government. Quite frankly, we simply cannot trust them to do the job properly. We've seen flawed consultation processes in the past; we've seen flawed evaluation processes, and, again, I've spoken about those flaws on many occasions. So we say that this consultation process needs to be carried out independently and needs to be clear, transparent and accountable. Having said that, these amendments are a step in the right direction, so we will be supporting them.

10:03 am

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

The government won't be supporting these amendments because the government believes that one of the strengths of this particular initiative is the fact that we are able to work in partnership with communities to make sure that we continue to be flexible, backwards and forwards, about meeting their requirements. Also, we have and we continue to consult and work with community leaders, representative bodies, local governments, service providers, community members and people on the card. So far, the experience we have had is that, overwhelmingly, these people are in support of the positive benefits that are being generated by this particular initiative, and we will continue to work with them to that affect. Obviously, there are a series of reviews that have been in place to assess the validity and the benefits of this card, all of which have been made publicly available and which will continue to be made publicly available into the future.

Most importantly, when we consider the benefits and outcomes that we've seen in the trial sites of the delivery and operation of this card, are the rights of the children. The rights of the children in delivering this card have been at the absolute forefront of everything we've done, and ensuring the welfare of children ranks as one of the most basic and important tasks of any government and any society. Children have the right to access food, safe housing and education, and we will continue to work in partnership with communities across Australia to make sure this program continues to deliver benefits to our most vulnerable—our young.

10:04 am

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

I can't let that remark about considering the children go past without comment. That's why you brought in the intervention, the Northern Territory intervention. The claim of the government at that time was that this was about the children. Twelve years later, have we seen that situation fixed? No, we haven't. We see an increasing number of kids going into out-of-home care; we see an increasing number of kids interacting with the justice system. Clearly, it is not working.

The final evaluation of the intervention shows it has met none of its objectives. It is not working. The government keep reiterating this because they are ideologically committed to it; they are not genuinely committed to looking at the evidence. You dismiss proper evaluation of the evidence, independent evaluation of the evidence, such as that which was carried out for the Northern Territory intervention. You don't take any of that into account when you're commenting on the children.

There is no evidence that this helps. Twelve years worth of this giant experiment with income management has not worked, because children in the Northern Territory are still going into out-of-home care. We've still got those very same issues. We need to change the way we do things; we need to look at the underlying causes. All this does is entrench dependence on the system, which is what the final evaluation of the Northern Territory intervention suggested—that is, there's evidence to suggest that financial management has gone backwards. And that's also what people are saying to us.

When you say you're consulting with people—the baseline evaluation by the University of Adelaide was not a baseline evaluation; it was a semi-evaluation, the same as what the ORIMA process had done. It was push polling of people. People are on the card, they know they don't want to be on the card, so when somebody being paid by government comes along and says, 'Are you drinking less?' then of course they're going to say yes, because they know that person is being paid by the government.

The Labor government did the same thing—sorry to the opposition; I'm not directly attacking you—and Jenny Macklin came out with a report that showed there had supposedly been improvements in people buying fresh food et cetera in the Northern Territory. AIHW had to come out and say, 'Actually you've interpreted this data wrong.' This was for exactly the same reasons that I've just articulated. When people who are dependent on the system know the person asking them questions has come from the government, then of course they're going to say they're feeding their children more, they're buying more fresh fruit and vegetables. When you're evaluating something, essentially you don't do push polling.

Please, spare us the lecture about looking after the kids. If you're looking after the children, you would not be perpetuating this system.

The CHAIR: The question is that amendment (1) on sheet 8729 as moved by Senator Brown be agreed to.