Tuesday, 8 December 2020
Consideration of Legislation
At the request of Senator Ruston, I move:
That the provisions of paragraphs (5) to (8) of standing order 111 not apply to the following bills, allowing them to be considered during this period of sittings:
Aged Care Amendment (Aged Care Recipient Classification) Bill 2020
Aviation Legislation Amendment (Liability and Insurance) Bill 2020
Civil Aviation (Unmanned Aircraft Levy) Bill 2020
Civil Aviation Amendment (Unmanned Aircraft Levy Collection and Payment) Bill 2020
Corporations Amendment (Corporate Insolvency Reforms) Bill 2020
Excise Levies Legislation Amendment (Sheep and Lamb) Bill 2020
Customs Charges and Levies Legislation Amendment (Sheep and Lamb) Bill 2020
Export Market Development Grants Legislation Amendment Bill 2020
Financial Sector Reform (Hayne Royal Commission Response) Bill 2020
Corporations (Fees) Amendment (Hayne Royal Commission Response) Bill 2020
Foreign Investment Reform (Protecting Australia's National Security) Bill 2020
Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Fees Imposition Amendment Bill 2020
Health Insurance Amendment (Compliance Administration) Bill 2020
Immigration (Education) Amendment (Expanding Access to English Tuition) Bill 2020
National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment (Technical Amendments) Bill 2020
Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020
Territories Legislation Amendment Bill 2020
Bankruptcy (Estate Charges) Amendment (Norfolk Island) Bill 2020
Treasury Laws Amendment (2020 Measures No. 5) Bill 2020
Treasury Laws Amendment (2020 Measures No. 6) Bill 2020.
I rise to speak briefly on this motion. I note that the government is seeking to exempt 20 bills from the cut-off, and the opposition is seeking to assist the government with what appears to be a mismanagement of its program, largely, so that we've got this last minute rush of bills coming before the chamber. I think you'll find our preparedness to cooperate is quite reasonable.
There is one bill on that list of 20 bills, the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020, that the opposition does not support, and I'll go to the reasons why, because they are linked to this motion that the government has put. We do not believe this is in any way a good bill. We have opposed it in every forum possible. By having it as part of this list, we are not able to support it because, by doing so, we would be complicit in bringing on this bill in this chamber, where we know the government is desperate to get it passed and is placing pressure on the crossbench to support it. There is absolutely no reason why this bill needs to be rushed through. The government has another bill that has been in this place for 12 months—should it wish to extend the trial sites in the areas where the cashless debit card is currently operating—so we don't accept the government's view that it must be dealt with this week. There is another alternative for the government, one that is quite reasonable and wouldn't require this procedural motion to get it through.
I'll just make a couple of points about why we are so opposed to this. Firstly, in the 13 years since the Howard government's intervention in the Northern Territory, there is no evidence that compulsory broad-based income management works. Secondly, the minister decided to make the cashless debit card trial permanent before reading the independent review by Adelaide university that you commissioned, Minister Ruston, at great cost to the taxpayer: $2½ million. You made the decision before that. You've not published the Adelaide university study you commissioned, which makes us suspicious about what that report has actually found and why the government is insisting on dealing with this bill this week without the benefit of that information. Thirdly, the proposal is racially discriminatory, as has been widely understood through the various forums where this has been investigated. Approximately 68 per cent of the people impacted by this bill are First Nations Australians. The government has failed to adequately consult affected communities, especially First Nations communities. We are very concerned about this. It's a very heavy handed way of doing what has been passed off as a budget decision but will have such significant consequences for so many people.
The bill that the government is seeking to exempt is substantially the same as one that is already on the Notice Paper which would allow the continuation of the trial. The second reading debate on that bill was adjourned on 2 December 2019. Given that that bill has, effectively, sat on the Notice Paper for 12 months without being debated by the government, we see absolutely no reason why this bill needs to be rushed through the Senate this week and exempted from the usual procedural processes that would allow senators to properly review and scrutinise the legislation before it's, potentially, passed into law. We don't believe the motives of the government are fair. We think this is all about putting pressure on the crossbench. We do believe that the Adelaide university report should be released before the Senate is required to make such a massive decision as making the cashless debit card—which significantly affects First Nations communities—mandatory across those trial sites and into the Northern Territory.
I'll leave my comments there because I know that many of my colleagues will speak, should we not be successful with this motion and should we be in a position where this bill actually gets through. But I would urge those on the crossbench to consider supporting us when we ask that the question be separated so that we vote separately on that bill from the other 19 that we are prepared to exempt from the cut-off. There are many thousands of people around this country who rely on the Senate to do the right thing on this, and the right thing is to not allow this to be swept through in a last-minute rush before Christmas just because this government has taken a budget decision. Rather, it should allow the proper processes and the full evaluation of the trial sites to be provided to this chamber to consider before we're asked to cast our votes on it.
The Greens are also asking that the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020 be voted on separately because we certainly will not be supporting this being rushed through this place. This is a continuation of a punitive, discriminatory approach on income management which was first foisted onto the Northern Territory and, to make matters worse, is a continuation of the intervention in 2007 through converting the BasicsCard to the cashless debit card and moving people onto the cashless debit card. It also entrenches the four so-called trial sites. Those of us that have opposed this from the beginning pointed out, when the government moved to establish these trials in the first place, that they were never intended as trials. I'm glad that senators on the opposition benches have finally realised that these were never meant to be trials—that these were always meant to be permanent—and are now opposing them.
We had less than half a day to consider this legislation that impacts on so many people in this country. We simply did not have time, in the short time that was made available for the inquiry, to hold a broader hearing. This has implications for thousands and thousands of Australians on the BasicsCard in the Northern Territory and in Cape York, and for those that are on the cashless welfare-debit card in the so-called trial sites around this country. This is about continuing this government's punitive, discriminatory approach to those that are on income support.
There's no evidence that the card works. There wasn't evidence, I might add, in the first five years after the intervention, when it was extended, and there's no evidence now. There was evidence that came out, very clearly, in fact, in 2014 that showed it met none of its objectives in the Northern Territory. That's the government's evidence. None of the other so-called evaluations have proved their point, because they are flawed. The government obviously think that the next evaluation they've paid for isn't going to demonstrate that it works. In fact the cat was let out of the bag yesterday in The Guardian, where it was shown that there is little support for extending the cashless debit card in the Goldfields. That snippet that we saw yesterday in The Guardian about the Goldfields trial showed that there isn't the support to continue the card as it operates now.
So it's very clear why the government isn't releasing the evaluation. This isn't based on evidence, on what works; it's based on ideology, pure and simple, which seeks to control the way people spend their money, because the government think they have the right to control people's income support. Controlling the way that people use their money does not achieve the objectives, because there are workarounds and all sorts of things. The card has not reduced, and it has not dealt with the underlying causes of, drug and alcohol addiction, which the government claim they are addressing. This is a flawed approach.
The government doesn't have evidence that the card works. It wants to rush the legislation through and make the card permanent. There are other people on those benches across from us who actually want to roll this out across the country. This is just a stepping stone to try and roll out the cashless debit card across the country. We know what the agenda is and we will vote against this card every single time, including when the government tries to exempt this punitive, discriminatory card from the cut-off and rush it through this place.
The motion put up by Senator Ruston basically allows the bills within to be considered during this period of sittings. We're coming to the end of the year and it is very important that some of these bills get passed. The Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020 needs to be passed. If it is not, the card will come to an end on 1 January. That is exactly the intention of the Greens, who have opposed it constantly over a period of time. The Labor Party states that this is about balancing the budget. That's got nothing to do with it.
I actually went to the hearing in Kalgoorlie. There were only a handful of senators there. I don't know how many senators have actually been to hear the debate that has gone on with regard to the cashless debit card. The government didn't go out there and say, 'We're actually going to put this cashless debit card'—
Honourable senators interjecting —
Senator Hanson, please resume your seat. With all due respect, Senator Siewert was heard in silence. I would ask her colleagues to show the same courtesy to other speakers, in what is a procedural debate to determine whether there will be a debate on these bills over the remaining course of this week.
Thank you very much, Mr President. It might be very hard for them, because that's their character and that's their nature. Anyway, the fact is that the government didn't just go out there and say, 'We're going to put this cashless debit card in the Kimberley, in Kalgoorlie, in Hervey Bay, in Bundaberg or in Ceduna, for that matter.' These communities came to the government asking for this to be put into those communities.
Senator Chisholm interjecting—
Senator Chisholm, count to 10, quietly.
Senator Chisholm interjecting—
Order! Senator Chisholm, this place will have a very messy last few days if people completely ignore the chair, no matter who's in it. There is an opportunity to debate this later on. This is a procedural debate to determine whether there will be an opportunity to debate it later on. Can it please be conducted with courtesy.
The whole fact is that we're having allegations thrown around this chamber, and most people have not had the opportunity to go to hear what the communities were saying. What I offer to this debate is important. We actually heard from the reports from the police association that domestic violence was on the decline, that even alcohol abuse was on the decline and that it has assisted communities. I haven't got the numbers; I have asked for the figures. But people have asked to opt into the cashless debit card. So they actually see the benefits of it.
You also have to understand that, in these communities, the Aboriginal culture is that you've got family members and others in the community who are actually going and forcing them to take money out of their account, so they don't have money to actually—
Honourable senators interjecting—
Order! Senator Hanson. I called Senator Waters to order earlier—I'm referring to it, not pointing at you, Senator Waters. This is a procedural motion about whether bills will be dealt with this week. We should not be debating the substance of the bills as much as whether or not they should be exempt from the Senate's cut-off order. If it's adopted, there will be an opportunity to debate the bill. So I just ask all senators to keep in mind that this is not the time for substantive debate on these bills.
If I was doing that, it was in response to Senator Siewert and her comments with regard to this. It is so important to these communities that we continue with the cashless debit card. There is a response in this chamber: 'We know what it's all about. What they intend to do is roll it out to the rest of the country.' That is not the case at all. It will not be going into any other communities. It will be taken to the next election, if they intend to do that. So what others are saying about it is not the truth.
Honourable senators interjecting—
You, the Greens, have no evidence of it whatsoever. I'm sick of the allegations being thrown around this chamber. It's also said that it's going to tie in pensioners and those who are on invalid pensions. That's not the case at all. It is people in the working-age group who are tied up in this, especially those in Hervey Bay and Bundaberg who are 35 years old and under.
It is so important. A lot of people have actually got off the alcohol and stopped wasting money on that. There are reports that children are now getting fed. The mothers can buy the food. They still have 20 per cent of their money in cash to spend how they wish to spend it. Sometimes there's such a thing as tough love. You need people to take responsibility. If you are quite happy with people going to spend their money on alcohol and become inebriated to the point that they have domestic violence—
We have every right in this chamber to make points of order, and I would ask Senator Hanson, through you, Chair: if she wants to stand by what she said, she can say it again and you can hear it and you can make a decision. But just throwing around that people's points of order make them 'touchy'—there will be a lot more of it.
Senator Hanson-Young, I said before I don't think anyone in the chamber can claim they're entirely innocent, whether it be disorderly behaviour, whether it be interjections or not. I remind senators that one of the ways of maintaining decorum for a debate like this is to stick to the motion, which is on whether or not bills should be exempt from the cut-off order, rather than to address substantive issues. I gave some latitude to Senator Siewert to do that. Senator Hanson, I have given you the same amount of latitude, and I urge you, as I did to Senator Waters earlier this morning, to come to address the procedural motion before the chair. These other matters can be left to debate if the Senate so determines it.
Some of us in this chamber have got thick skin and others don't. But, anyway, that comes with age and wisdom and knowledge. The fact is that what I am saying here is it's very important that we deal with this motion and that we deal with the cashless debit card in the chamber. It is going to impact on a lot of people, so I am calling on the senators here: you may have your disagreements with us and say that it's against human rights, which the Greens have said all along, and that we're denying people their rights, but the people are on this welfare payment purely because of the grace of the taxpayers of this nation, who have given them the ability to actually access money. We, as people, must also understand that a lot of people are tied up on drug addiction, alcohol and gambling. That is a big problem here as well. If it is helping these people, if it is saving just a few lives in these communities, surely that's got to be taken into consideration.
I know the Labor Party are not going to support this, because that's their voter base: 'How dare you deny the people control of how their money is spent?' We talk in this chamber about the sexual abuse of children. That comes from people who are inebriated—it may be alcohol; it may be drugs. We actually see the decline in domestic violence. Why aren't you prepared to actually say that if it leads to this—spending the money where they do spend it wrongly—that is impacting on their daily lives? Why can't you make the decisions based on what is right for these communities? The people have been crying out for it. When you have meetings with these people, they are crying out for it. These communities came to the government and put their own hands up for it. They wanted this card. If you don't pass this with the cashless debit card, it's going to go back to the BasicsCard up in the cape, so this is very important. At least give them a further trial.
That's exactly where I was heading, encouraging the members to actually vote for this and allow this to be dealt with this week in the chamber. I've explained my reasons why it needs to be dealt with, so I call on the senators, even those on the crossbench who may be leaning against voting for this—and I know that Senator Patrick went up to Ceduna over the weekend to see for himself and used the card himself. So I'm calling on those crossbench senators: we need to use common sense and pass this legislation before the parliament is finished.
I rise to support my colleague Senator Gallagher in that this Senate should not proceed with the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020 as part of the procedural motion that is before the chair. I know from my conversations with the crossbenchers—and in particular with Senator Patrick, who has said this not only to me personally but also publicly—that they are very torn by this piece of legislation. Senator Patrick has provided over 50 questions for the government to answer, and my understanding is that they have not been answered. There are thousands and thousands of families across the Northern Territory who are going to be greatly impacted by this piece of legislation. It is incumbent on the senators in this Senate, who are going to rule on the lives of the people of the Northern Territory in particular, to understand what it is they're talking about.
I appeal to the crossbenchers and I thank them—Senator Patrick and Senator Lambie—for coming to the Northern Territory, listening to the people of the Northern Territory and recognising that when the BasicsCard came in, in 2007, people didn't ask for the BasicsCard, just like they're not asking for the cashless debit card. The Senate must be acutely aware of these facts. I urge our crossbenchers in particular not to allow this procedural motion to go ahead in including this particular bill.
There is a great deal of work that still needs to be done. There is no need to rush through something that the government has had on the Notice Paper for 12 months in relation to those four trial sites. It is not the fault of this Senate that the government has been unable to get its act together. It is not the fault of this Senate that the government has failed to evaluate those four trial sites. It is not the fault of the Senate that the government has refused to allow us to see the University of Adelaide report, which it spent $2.5 million on, to evaluate those four trial sites in order for the Senate to review, examine and investigate—as we should do in the Australian parliament when we are making decisions about people's lives. The government has failed to do that. It has done a sloppy and inefficient job. It has degraded the lives of the people who have lived on this card for the last four years. Now you want to add thousands more from the Northern Territory to it. I urge this Senate, I urge the crossbenchers: do not support this motion.
As I understand it, the only bill in this motion I've been asked to treat differently is the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020. That's the only one. I will put the motion without that bill, so with all the other legislation listed, and then separately I'll put the question on the contentious bill. The question is that the motion moved by the minister but without the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020 be agreed to.
Question agreed to.
The question is that the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020 be included with the other bills exempt from the cut-off order.