Tuesday, 11 February 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator Ruston. Minister—through you, Mr President—my question relates to the opt-out provisions of the cashless debit card. According to the Department of Social Services' latest available data, so far nobody has successfully been exited from the cashless debit card using those provisions. To date, 635 people have applied to exit the card, yet nobody has come off it. Why has nobody been exited from the card yet? Would you expect that, after more than six months of these provisions being applicable, more people would have been exited than none?
I thank Senator Siewert for her ongoing interest in the cashless debit card and income management more generally. The issue which Senator Siewert raises is in relation to the exit provisions that have newly been put into place for people to be able to exit for a different reason than the harm that potentially could happen to people—the psychological harm for people in distress. This is a different exit mechanism for the cashless debit card. It came about through some legislation last year, and we started the process of enabling people to contact the Department of Social Services to seek to exit the card last year. Subsequent to a number of people having put forward the request to be able to exit the card, there were a number of quite complex pieces of information that were required, some of which were actually under the purview of the state and territory governments. Currently, we are undertaking the review of the requests from those people who have requested to come off the card, and we will continue to work with the state and territory governments, in the areas where the cashless debit card currently exists, to make sure that we have fully examined all of the criteria necessary to determine whether the aspects that we require—that the government and the legislation require—for people to exit the card have been able to be met.
Minister—through you, Mr President—do you acknowledge that it is too hard for people to successfully meet the highly subjective exit criteria? Do you acknowledge there is a conflict of interest in having local partners provide assistance in completing exit applications?
I thank Senator Siewert for her follow-up question Let's be clear: no. The implication that possibly comes from your question is that people haven't been able to exit the card. I have not said that. What I have said is that the process under which we need to undertake the assessment—working with various stakeholder groups, with state and territory governments and with local providers to be able to gather the information to determine whether those criteria have been met—has been complex. So the process is ongoing. People who have made application will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, and obviously processing times are going to vary between applications. So we will continue to work with the trial sites and with the local providers so that we can make sure that, when we make the assessments to determine whether people come off the card or not, we are dealing with issues like the drug and alcohol related issues, crime, violence and antisocial statistics.
Thanks, Senator Siewert. Obviously, as I said, the complexity of this process is something that is going to take time. When we are in a position to be able to make the assessment—as I said, there is the difficulty with working with state and territory governments and in collating information from local community groups, and there are differences between each of the trial sites. There may be some much more complex processes than we possibly imagined in the first place, but I can assure Senator Siewert we have not refused people's exit. We are merely going through the process of assisting and making an assessment in relation to the criteria in the legislation as to the validity of their exit process.