Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020; Second Reading
Before I was interrupted, I was discussing some of the examples of how there's a complete lack of evidence that this card creates positive change for the people who will be subjected to it. In their submission to the Senate inquiry on another government bill related to the cashless debit card, the Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation wrote:
The ALPA Board of Directors is disappointed that the Government is moving forward and expanding this oppressive policy when there is no evidence demonstrating that it creates positive change for the people who will be subjected to it. This erosion of people's choice and control over their own lives destroys any sense of self-determination, it is an attack on their basic rights …
There are people who have no history of addiction, who get no benefit from the card, yet they end up losing their financial autonomy while suffering the stigma of having to take the card out to pay for things. Jocelyn, a disability pension recipient in Ceduna, wrote in an online article about this stigma and lack of autonomy:
Imagine going out for a coffee with friends and having to use the card. Imagine buying the local paper … and having to use the card. Imagine not having cash for something you really love on the local buy/sell/exchange. Imagine trying to sell some items to get cash to survive. Imagine every time you pull the card out that you are labelled as a loser. Imagine pulling out a card that doesn’t always work! Even if you have a dollar balance on the card, it refuses you at the checkout, with people waiting behind you in the queue at the local supermarket. Imagine going to the chemist and the card will not work for your prescriptions. All of this has happened to me, and others, many times.
I ask those on the other side: how would you like to live like that? I challenge any of you to live like that for a month and then come in and say you think that it's alright to do so. If somebody in your suburb has an addiction to drugs and alcohol, maybe you should have to be on the card! I don't think you'd like it. Another story reported in an article in TheSydney Morning Herald in September last year involved a single mother of four who wasn't able to send one of her children on a school camp because she had restricted access to cash. The same mother couldn't buy second-hand textbooks for university and had to abandon her nursing placement because she was unable to buy a stethoscope online with her card.
Let me be clear: Labor are not opposed entirely to income management, but we know that the approach works best when it's targeted and when it's voluntary. An evaluation of income management in the Northern Territory found that compulsory income management does not work but that voluntary income management might. For example, in Cape York, the local community is applying income management based on individual circumstances. In contrast to the approach in this bill, the government themselves wrote in favour of voluntary income management in a document presented to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The document said:
… there are more positive results associated with people who volunteer, as they have made a choice to change their behaviour and receive assistance, positive findings have been found for people who have been referred for Income Management by a social worker or a child protection officer.
Two-thirds of the people who will be forced onto the cashless debit card—that is, 23,000 out of 34,000—are First Nations people. As Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory pointed out in their submission to the inquiry:
Income management cannot provide a transition to employment in locations where few employment opportunities exist and those that exist are largely undertaken by outsiders. Instead, for many Aboriginal residents of the NT, particularly those living remotely, compulsory income management is long term and, regardless of a person's lifestyle and financial management capacity, it is almost impossible to exit the program.
The submission said an evaluation conducted by the Social Policy Research Centre had found:
90.2 per cent of those on income management in the Northern Territory were Indigenous and 76.8 per cent of those were on compulsory income management. More than 60% of this group were on income management for more than 6 years. Of those Indigenous people on compulsory income management, a mere 4.9% gained an exemption compared to 36.3% of non-indigenous people.
This bill is an absolute insult to First Nations Australians. It's discriminatory and it's judgemental. Yesterday I heard in the chamber from Senator Hanson:
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.
I really want to point out to Senator Hanson that the sexual abuse of children is perpetrated by people from all walks of life, and they certainly don't have to be inebriated or on drugs. I feel that this comment was gratuitous and plainly wrong. Sadly, child sexual abuse is conducted by people from all walks of life—judges, doctors, schoolteachers and even politicians—so don't try to paint one group of people as responsible. The view that many people on a welfare payment are on drugs and alcohol or have a gambling addiction is also highly ignorant.
I will leave the final word on the problems with the cashless debit card to a member in the other place who, in her speech in the second reading debate on this bill, outlined many of the same concerns I have. The member said:
The cashless debit card program is a punitive measure enacted on the presumption all welfare recipients within the trial areas are incapable of managing their finances and require the government's assistance.
She went on to say:
It's somewhat ironic to me that you can essentially have an income management assessment trial for half a decade that can't show conclusive results and yet there are a number of evidence based programs that cost far less and that have demonstrably worked …
This contribution was from the Liberal member for Bass, Mrs Archer. Could there be any greater indication that this is a bad bill than that it is opposed by one of the government's own members? Unfortunately, Mrs Archer didn't have the courage of her convictions and failed to vote against the bill, a vote that would have seen it defeated. Shame on her!
Despite the overwhelming evidence against compulsory income management, there are government members and senators who have publicly advocated for a national rollout. We know that this is the government's ultimate plan and this bill is just the beginning. This has caused a number of welfare recipients to worry whether they will be placed on compulsory income management. They are people who have no history of drug, alcohol or gambling addiction and no need for any intervention in how they spend their money. In her second reading contribution, Mrs Archer spoke about the anxiety that pensioners in northern Tasmania express about having their income managed.
This bill is a prime example of this government rejecting evidence based policy in favour of an ideological bent. It will not address Indigenous disadvantage; it will not help close the gap. Instead of empowering communities, it rejects the government's stated partnership approach in favour of punitive and counterproductive measures. All it will do is perpetuate distress, anxiety and stigma for those subject to compulsory income management. I urge the crossbench in particular to reject this bill and I urge the Senate to reject this bill. (Time expired)
I rise to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020. The primary purpose of this bill is to transition income management participants in the Northern Territory and Cape York regions onto the cashless debit card, the CDC, and to allow the CDC to continue as a permanent measure in the existing trial sites of Ceduna, the East Kimberley, the Goldfields, and Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. Labor will not be supporting this bill, and it is incredibly disappointing that the government is ignoring evidence to pursue this discriminatory policy. I want to associate myself with the contributions in this debate from Senators Dodson and McCarthy. This is a racist bill. Sixty-eight per cent of those who are impacted by it are First Nations people, and it is a prime example of policy being done to First Nations people and not with them. They are disproportionately affected, and now the government is pushing through the legislation.
The evidence presented to the inquiry into this bill is largely unsubstantiated and anecdotal, but those sitting opposite are happy to ignore the facts and expand the CDC program based on their distorted political ideology. There has been minimal engagement with the communities being impacted, and now the government plans to roll out this scheme permanently. The dichotomy between the CDC program and the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, which claims to emphasise genuine partnerships and shared decision-making between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, is stark. This card is not the answer to overcoming systemic social issues. There needs to be greater emphasis on employment, training pathways, transitional housing, financial counselling and addiction support.
Labor supports voluntary participation in this scheme, and the government themselves have conceded that there are positive results associated with people who volunteer for this program. But forcing people to use cashless debit cards is demeaning and removes their personal liberties. I myself have been a recipient of government assistance and have experienced the stigma associated with being on social services support. This system of income management takes away independence and a sense of pride. I understand why, if they haven't had this lived experience, so many on the other side have no understanding or concept of what the forced adoption of this program is like for individuals—to have your individual rights taken away from you, to be stigmatised when you're going to purchase something, not to be able to have cash to buy second-hand furniture, and not to be able to give care and support to those people who have been neglected by governments of all persuasions over a long period of time. To now try and enforce such action is unforgivable.
As uncovered at the Senate estimates, the minister, Senator Ruston, commissioned a review undertaken at a cost of $2.5 million, and she admitted that, prior to the introduction of this bill, she hadn't even read the report. This really goes to show the attitude and, quite frankly, the arrogance of this government. They are not serious about evidence based policymaking. It needs to be noted that the government did not make the University of Adelaide evaluation public in time for it to be considered by the inquiry into this bill. Why not? The failure to permit the inquiry to examine this evidence is a very clear indication the government's pursuit of this bill is ideologically driven. The evidence presented in the report has not been substantiated. It is flimsy and mostly anecdotal. It is not rigorous or reliable, and there has been nothing to produce which can show the accuracy of the claims made by the government about the way in which this card has had a positive effect on any community across Australia. In fact, significant harm has been associated with compulsory broad based income management. Most recently, an independent analysis of the CDC in Ceduna, conducted by the University of South Australia, concluded:
… had no substantive effect on the available measures for the targeted behaviours of gambling or intoxicant abuse. There is evidence for an increase in total store spending.
Here the data showed:
… increased spending on healthy foods, but there is an overall shift toward a higher proportion of spending on less healthy foods.
It is crystal clear that those sitting opposite have cherrypicked the submissions and accounts, and what has resulted is a flawed assessment of the measurement of the effectiveness of the cashless debit card. This government is not interested in evidence. There is no evidence that this scheme is working to its desired effect. There has been intervention in the Northern Territory for 13 years, and there is nothing to suggest that income management has had any positive effect. We cannot determine whether positive gains are attributable to the CDC as opposed to other interventions, such as alcohol restrictions or increases in social security payments during COVID, yet the government still wants to progress this bill.
There have been several inquiries into the efficiency and the effectiveness of the CDC, and none of them have found any clear evidence of the effectiveness of this policy—none, zero. Why is the government rushing to legislate this? We want to know what the evidence is. It's not unreasonable to expect that evidence to be presented. It concerns me that the current government is looking to continue the Intervention in the Northern Territory on a permanent basis by stealth by continuing to expand the reach of the cashless debit card into the Northern Territory. Thirteen years after the Intervention began, it is clear that such an approach to the delivery of services is a failure and has left people worse off. This government also has plans to roll out this scheme nationally, no matter what they come into this chamber and say. It established a CDC technology working group consisting of representatives from the four big banks, supermarkets, EFTPOS and Australia Post. This is a precursor for a national rollout, which Senator Canavan has openly endorsed. I know that the people in my home state of Tasmania will not welcome this news.
Bridget Archer, the Liberal member for Bass, has spoken out against her own government, condemning the program, but the reality is she cannot have her cake and eat it too. You can't say one thing in the chamber in the other place and then go back to your community and say something else. We get paid to make decisions. Politicians are paid to come here and vote on legislation and put forward good policy. The member for Bass has failed her community because she doesn't have the courage of her convictions. She wimped out. If she had not abstained from voting, if she had had a backbone and voted against her government, we would not be here tonight debating this flawed legislation. It is not good enough to pretend you care and to give an impassioned speech if you aren't prepared to stand up and to vote bad legislation down. That's the reality of the life of a politician. Sometimes you've got to make tough decisions.
Parliamentarians go to parliament to vote and to make policy. It is unforgivable that somebody who has made an impassioned plea in her speech in the House of Representatives about what it's like to live on welfare—we all commend her for being honest and frank about her experience, and we admire her for being elected to the House of Representatives, but you have to be able to walk the walk not just talk the talk. In keeping with that logic, what is the point of Mrs Archer being the member for Bass if she doesn't have the backbone to stand up and vote on behalf of the people who elected her?
I'm sure that the community will not forget this, particularly when we see this rolled out nationally and when Tasmanian welfare recipients are forced onto a CDC.
Labor is calling on the government to listen to and engage with communities, including First Nations communities; invest in job creation; and pursue evidence based services and partnerships rather than base their policy on distorted ideology. Continuing to pursue the CDC and broad based compulsory income management is not likely to have any positive impact but rather will remove individuals' liberties and take away human rights. The government needs to stop its pursuit of action without cause and abandon its technology working group and preparations for a national rollout of the CDC. The Labor Party is incredibly disappointed by the government's insistence on this bill. Not only is it counter to the Prime Minister's commitment to a new partnership approach to closing the gap, but the government has no foundation to argue that this program will deliver better social outcomes for those communities. It's not consistent with genuine partnerships. This program limits freedom of choice, discriminates against First Nations people and has no sound evidence to prove its effectiveness. The scheme limits the human rights to social security, to a private life and to equality.
This inquiry did not engage in meaningful two-way discussion, and the government will now attempt to roll out this program with little information or guidance offered. In order to overcome social issues and welfare dependency in these communities, a bottom-up approach which emphasises genuine engagement and inclusive structures of collaboration is required. It is about time that this government stops spinning its way out of accountability and engages in evidence based policies so that we can have a better outcome for all Australians.
I want to finish by bringing to the attention of this chamber, and particularly the government, that in the debate on the legislation which they've brought before us there have been comments and contributions that I'm embarrassed by. I'm embarrassed as an Australian senator to have heard the comments of Senator Hanson—the racist, vilifying comments that she has made in this debate. All legislation like this does is bring out racism in this country. It shines a light on the worst aspects of some of our community members. When you're an elected member of parliament—whether it's in a state parliament, in the House of Representatives or in the Senate—you have a responsibility to show leadership, and leadership means that you have to be tolerant, you have to be inclusive and you have to lead from the front. You have to show leadership. I was ashamed to sit in the chamber and in my office and to hear some of the contributions to this debate. I was ashamed of those contributions. I'm all for a debate about the merits of whether or not this legislation should be supported, but I hate to see Australians set against Australians in such a racist tone as in Senator Hanson's contribution.
I implore the crossbench to consider all the facts before them and to vote this legislation down. We can do better for our First Nations people. We can do better for our people who need a hand-up on welfare. No-one ever knows the circumstances in which they or one of their family members—one of their kids or grandchildren—may end up needing welfare. That's what welfare's there for: to give you a hand-up. We're a rich country. We can do so much more. We have to ensure this legislation is defeated, as it should have been in the House of Representatives. (Time expired)
I wish to make my contribution to the debate on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020 and I endorse the comments of all my colleagues on this side. But I'd also acknowledge Senator O'Sullivan, who has lived and breathed this stuff and has done a lot of work in this area. Senator O'Sullivan, you know that there's a lot of difference between us. We'll probably be on opposite sides of the chamber when the vote is taken—not probably; we definitely will be. Anyway, I wanted to put that on the record.
It's a well-known fact that this is not the first time I've made a contribution on the cashless debit card. I've made extensive contributions on this. For those from WA who have been on another planet and don't know, I work very closely with people in the East Kimberley, and I've got some very good friends in the East Kimberley, and I want to say this very, very clearly: there is no way known that I support mandatory rollout of the cashless debit card, but I do support voluntary participation.
There are a couple of things I do want to say tonight. I want to talk about the Wunan Foundation and I also want to talk about who heads up the Wunan Foundation—a very dear friend of mine, Ian Trust. So let me just share this with senators. The Wunan Foundation is an Aboriginal development organisation in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia. Wunan operates with a clear purpose and a strategy to drive long-term socioeconomic change for Aboriginal people by providing real opportunities, by investing in people's abilities and by encouraging and rewarding aspiration and self-responsibility. Wunan's efforts are guided by the philosophy that Aboriginal success grows from investing in people's ability, real opportunity and reward for effort. Wunan is committed to serving the East Kimberley region via funded programs and innovative solutions. Its programs span its strategic priorities to improve the lives of Aboriginal people, while its social enterprises are spread across the hospitality, health, business, accounting, research and evaluation, and maintenance industries. Wunan has created long-lasting partnerships with the community, business sector and government to make the East Kimberley a place where Aboriginal people can look forward to building a stronger and more independent future for themselves. Wunan's vision is to shift the current dependence on welfare among Aboriginal people in the East Kimberley from 80 per cent to 20 per cent. Wunan's purpose is to ensure that Aboriginal people in the East Kimberley enjoy the capabilities and opportunities they need to make positive choices that lead to independent and fulfilling lives—essentially, to have dreams and a real chance of achieving them.
The second favourite topic that I want to talk about tonight is my very, very dear friend Mr Ian Trust. Just so senators know where Ian is coming from, I will be using Ian's words in the chamber later, because the least I can do is give Ian the opportunity to have his say in this chamber—and for the people that he represents. Ian has been involved with Wunan since its inception in 1977, he's been the executive director since 2004 and he has served as chairman of the organisation since 2008. A local Gija man from Wuggubun community, Ian speaks English and Kriol, of the English Creole language family. Ian has a strong and coherent vision of a better future for Aboriginal people in the East Kimberley—a future beyond welfare and government dependency. Ian is one of the driving forces behind Wunan's key strategy of establishing a strong economic base which allows it to deliver sustainable programs to assist Aboriginal people of the East Kimberley to create better lives and a positive future for themselves. Ian has worked tirelessly to progress this vision, through initiatives such as the ATSIC Regional Council's 'future building' strategy of 1996, the East Kimberley Aboriginal Achievement Awards and reforms in the Aboriginal housing and infrastructure sector, and as executive director of Wunan Foundation. In addition to Wunan, Ian has engaged with a number of national and regional organisations that contribute to the broader objective of creating Aboriginal independence. These include the Indigenous Land Corporation, the Kimberley Development Commission and Kimberley Land Council, driving Kimberley Futures. Ian is also involved in the support and development of emerging Aboriginal leaders in the East Kimberley because he believes developing strong leaders from within the Aboriginal community is crucial to drive and maintain development strategies and ensure Aboriginal people achieve their full potential.
Ian is also one of the leaders of the East Kimberley Empowered Communities Group, but it's also important, I believe, that senators should also know what other positions Ian has held. Ian has been a director of Indigenous Business Australia, the IBA; a director of the Indigenous Land Corporation, the ILC; a director of Aarnja board in the west Kimberley; a board member of the North Regional TAFE; a former founding chairman of the Wunan Foundation, from 1997 to 2003; a former ATSIC commissioner for the Kimberley; and a former chair of ATSIC Wunan Regional Council.
As I said, I would like to quote Ian's words. Ian said:
The essential quality of leadership is about faith and belief, and the vision of something better. This is the glue which holds all great nations, communities and families together. We believe our people have the potential to achieve a better quality of life than they currently have, but someone needs to believe in them. This is something university studies do not or cannot measure, but without it nothing can be achieved. This is what drives the Aboriginal people of Kununurra and Wyndham who support the CDC. We have never said the CDC is a silver bullet and that it will solve all our problems. No single strategy can do that, but it is the start we need for our people to create a better life.
Our critics keep saying that the CDC is a failure and we should go back to a system which has been an absolute failure for our people over 50 years. The payment of cash welfare benefits has not produced any tangible benefits for our people and the Closing the Gap statistics produced each year by government prove this. The success of the CDC has varied between locations. Towns such as Wyndham and Ceduna have achieved better results than towns which are more of a community hub, such as Kununurra. The influx of people from outlying communities around Kununurra and over the border who are not on the CDC distorts the outcomes in Kununurra. The problem is also compounded by the fact that each cashless debit card region has a limit on the number of participants (by legislation) who can be put on the CDC, and once this number has been reached new participants receiving benefits in the region are not put on the CDC but receive their benefits in cash.
The major positive results from the CDC in places like Kununurra is the reduction of gambling and the harassment of the elderly and vulnerable people for their money on payday. If you are a vulnerable person this outcome alone is huge. It has also helped people budget their money for the whole fortnight rather than running short of funds towards the end of the pay period to purchase food. Another advantage of the CDC is that a record of expenditure is maintained of the expenses incurred on the card. This is particularly important to monitor the spending patterns of the elderly and vulnerable people using services such as taxis. Not all taxis and other services are exploiting vulnerable people, but in the cash payment environment it is impossible to monitor if such people are being exploited, which we believe they were.
Although the achievements are modest, they are better than what we have experienced from cash welfare benefits, and we believe it is easier to build a strategy for change using the CDC as a base than cash welfare. We do not believe the CDC does any harm as participants receive the same amount of money as those on cash welfare benefits, but it has the potential to be improved over time, and that is what we need to do to build a better future for our people.
The vote for the CDC is a simple choice between trying something different which we believe can, over time, achieve change, or staying with a system which has created dependency for many Aboriginal families over generations.
Ian, you know that I will stand with you. My party has made the decision, and I back my party's decision. I will not support the mandatory rollout. But I want to continue to see how many people actually volunteer to come into it. We must always remember that we cannot vilify those who want to do it. Who are we to think that we can make these comments, and how dare we think that we know better than they do?
I have read Ian's words, and I am concluding with mine. I won't be supporting the bill, but I will be doing everything I can to work with Ian and all those in the East Kimberley who voluntarily are on the card and want to make a better path for their life and, more importantly, as they say, look after the old people—but their children come first.
This week we are really starting to see this government's true colours. For months we've been hearing from the Prime Minister and many other members of his government that through this pandemic 'we're all in this together'. And for many of the last few months Australians have been in this together regardless of their political persuasions, regardless of where they live, regardless of their racial background. We have all had common cause, fighting the pandemic and making sure that all of us get through it okay and all of us come out the other side in a recovery that is shared equally among all of us. But that approach, which has been put forward over and over again by the Prime Minister, has this week come to a screaming halt.
This week, despite the fact that we are in the middle of the deepest recession this country has seen since the Great Depression, despite the fact that we still have well over a million Australians who are unemployed—and more still who are underemployed and not able to get the amount of work they need to get by—as we approach Christmas the government has refused to permanently increase JobSeeker for those poorest members of our community who can't find work. This week the government has maintained its position that superannuation should be cut. This week the government has introduced new laws which would actually cut workers' pay in the middle of a recession. And this week the government seeks to push through this legislation, the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020, to enshrine a cashless debit card which is racially discriminatory, doesn't work and has no evidence to back it up.
Putting all these things together, you can see very clearly that the government no longer thinks that we are all in this together. What you can see is that the government is rapidly choosing to leave behind vast segments of the Australian community. It's leaving behind the unemployed by refusing to grant a permanent increase to JobSeeker. It's leaving behind the very essential workers we have all relied on to keep us safe, to keep us fed and to keep us healthy throughout the pandemic by cutting their pay. And it's also leaving behind some of the poorest and most remote communities in our country by forcing them, through this legislation, to remain on the cashless debit card, which so many of those communities rightly reject. It is profoundly disappointing that, in the middle of a recession, the government is so determined to leave so many people in our community behind, including through this legislation. It is a very sour way for this year to end after all the Australian community has been through.
This bill, as other speakers have said, will make the cashless debit card permanent in the existing trial sites of Ceduna, the East Kimberley, the Goldfields and Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in my home state of Queensland. It will also permanently replace the BasicsCard with the cashless debit card in the Northern Territory. It will replace the BasicsCard with the cashless debit card in Cape York and extend income management in Cape York until 31 December 2021, and it will make a number of other changes as well. As I and other Labor speakers have said, we will be opposing this bill because it is another example of the Morrison government leaving people behind in the middle of a recession, in the run-up to Christmas, when people are feeling more insecure about their welfare than ever before.
The cashless debit card has been shown over and over again, through independent research, through Senate inquiries and through other means, to be expensive, to be cumbersome, to be racially discriminatory and, arguably worst of all, to have no evidence whatsoever to back it up. It is really hard to escape the conclusion that, in the absence of evidence that this actually works, the government's determination to push on with the cashless debit card, to extend it and to make it permanent, is ideologically driven. There is no evidence to support what the government is doing. The government is doing this out of its ideology, which, despite being theoretically a small-government party, sees it dictating to people how they will live their lives and imposing a scheme that applies vastly disproportionately to Aboriginal communities and makes it harder for some of the poorest people in our community to take control of their own lives and actually get ahead.
When the government is asked to come up with evidence that this scheme works, it points to an evaluation of the scheme that was performed by researchers at the University of Adelaide. It cost $2½ million to commission this research, so the cost of this scheme is not just the cost of rolling out the scheme itself. The government has spent more money commissioning research, which it says backs up what it's trying to do. I'll admit that I haven't looked at this report; I haven't seen this research. Do you know what? Not one of us has, because the government won't release it. The so-called evidence base that the government has spent $2½ million commissioning is so good and so conclusive that the government won't release it.
Does that not tell you how weak the evidence is for this government in pushing on with this scheme? If the government actually had evidence that demonstrated that it worked, they would put it forward. They have spent money on it. They have got the report. Why continue to hide it? The only conclusion that anyone can draw is that the research does not back up what the government are doing. It would help the government's position if they could actually point to this research, take us through it, show us the pages and show us the evidence. If we saw this evidence some of us might even change our minds, but the government won't do that because they know that the research that they are relying on doesn't back it up.
Card users say that they can no longer buy second-hand goods online, they can't buy school uniforms at op shops and budgeting is hard because they can't put money aside in a separate account for bigger expenses. It has practical problems. When an EFTPOS machine is out at the pharmacy, the post office or the supermarket, people on the cashless debit card won't be able to get their medications, pay their bills or get food for their kids' lunches because they don't have access to their own money. Through this mechanism the government is controlling how they can spend their money and what they can spend it on.
As I said, one place where this cashless debit card has been rolled out is the Bundaberg-Hervey Bay region in my state of Queensland. There is no doubt that that region suffers very high levels of poverty. It's principally because it has suffered from very high levels of unemployment for a long time, certainly under this government and, to be fair, under previous governments as well. Wouldn't you think that the best solution to that would actually be for the government to get in there and create jobs and invest in some of the industries that have the potential to grow and employ people? This government is so lacking in imagination that, rather than actually doing the hard work of investing in the region and creating jobs—like the state Labor government is doing—it chooses this punitive measure of restricting people's ability to control their own lives and to control what they spend their income on and when they spend it.
It's no wonder that, as one example, Bundaberg-Hervey Bay mother of three Kerryn Griffis told ABC's 7.30 program:
I feel like in the Government's eyes I'm a lesser person … If my partner was to quarantine some of my money and tell me where and when I can't spend it, tell me it's for my own good … people would be screaming financial abuse. Why is it OK for the Government to do it?
That is a very good question: why is it okay for the government to do something that, if it were being done by someone's partner, we would rightly say amounted to financial abuse? Childers single mum Hannah Leacy said she experiences problems with the cards monthly and the extension 'just makes it harder for us to become independent again and support ourselves and budget our own money'. If you actually speak to people who are on the cashless debit card—as I have done in Bundaberg through meetings with the very active group campaigning against this, who've done a fantastic job raising community awareness about the problems of this proposal—the thing that they find most hurtful is that it removes their independence.
Day after day, we hear members of the government and their supporters in the media and the business community say: 'Unemployed people should go and get a job. They should get off their bums. They should take some self-responsibility and get ahead in life.' But that's exactly what this government is stopping people from doing by controlling how, where and on what they can spend their income. How can you demand, on the one hand, that people show a bit more personal responsibility and get their own house in order, and then, on the other hand, say, 'But we're not going to let you choose how you spend your money, because we know what's best for you'?
I heard Senator O'Sullivan earlier today—and I do get along with Senator O'Sullivan on many things—saying that those who deny that the cashless debit card should stay in place are being paternalistic. I would argue that it's actually the other way around. A government saying how people should spend their income: that is the act of paternalism, and it's unbelievable to me that in 2020 it continues to go on, particularly in First Nations communities. We know, when we look at the figures, that the vast majority of people who are on the cashless debit card are from First Nations communities. Around the country, over 68 per cent of people who are on the cashless debit card are Aboriginal Australians. The percentage is obviously even higher in the Northern Territory, where it's 83 per cent, and in East Kimberley, where it's 82 per cent. If this isn't paternalism, I don't know what is.
Labor have been very strong in our opposition to this proposal, but we're not alone. The organisations that don't support the cashless debit card include St Vincent de Paul, the Law Council of Australia, the Queensland Council of Social Service and the Australian Council of Social Service. Aboriginal Peak Organisations NT said in their submission to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry on this issue:
… imposing the Cashless Debit Card on approximately 25,000 Aboriginal Territorians will fundamentally impinge on the equal enjoyment of human rights and freedoms.
They went on to say:
Rather than building capacity and independence, the program has had the opposite effect, by further entrenching an individual's dependence on welfare.
There are many other organisations which, like Labor, oppose this cashless debit card.
As I've already said, the research that the government points to in support of its proposal doesn't stand up to scrutiny because it's not allowed to have any scrutiny. The government won't release the very piece of research that it spent $2½ million worth of taxpayers' money on, which it says supports what it's doing. But the research we do know about, which has been made public, includes research from the University of South Australia, which released a statement on 16 November this year that said:
We found no substantive impact on measures of gambling, drug and alcohol abuse, crime or emergency department presentations.
These are the things that the government say are being reduced as a result of the cashless debit card. They can't produce any evidence that backs them up, but here we have evidence, from people who've actually had a look at it and are prepared to make their research public, saying that it hasn't made a difference. They go on to say:
…if there are plans to expand this scheme, we should be sure it's meeting its objectives, and the data indicates it just isn't doing that.
If that isn't clear that the evidence to back up what the government is doing isn't there, I don't know what is.
In conclusion I'm very pleased, along with my Labor colleagues, to be opposing this bill. The bill is worrying not only in what it proposes for some of the poorest members of our community, particularly those in First Nations communities, but because it is another example of what we're seeing over and over again from this government—that is, now that we are, hopefully, through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are leaving so many people behind. Indigenous Australians, workers, the unemployed—that's not who this government is for.
I rise to speak on this rather contentious and emotive bill, the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020, also with a bit of politics involved, I think. I have an engineering background, and that's the way in which I like to look at things. I like to find workable and practical solutions. And so the fundamental question for me, in whether or not to support this legislation, is: does the card work? That's the fundamental question. This card has an objective of reducing alcoholism, gambling and drug abuse amongst welfare card recipients. I think everyone would say that that's an admirable aim. But does it do that?
One of the problems we've got here—and, actually, I think most people recognise this—is that we do not have any empirical data, any definitive dataset, that would guide us as to whether or not it actually achieves those particular objectives. As Senator Watt indicated, there is a report that is available to the minister that hasn't been made available to other senators. We don't know what that report says, although there have been some leaks that suggest it also doesn't contain the definitive data, the objective data, that is required for the government to prove their case. What that does is leave every senator in this chamber working on anecdote. As an engineer, in the absence of data, I thought, 'How am I going to research this?' I got myself a CDC. Senators are allowed to have a CDC even though they're not welfare recipients. I think there's only one other senator that has a CDC—I think that might be Senator O'Sullivan—who's been out there and tried it and used tap and go. It's actually quite an impressive bit of technology. It replicates pretty much a credit card. A number of changes have been made to the card which get rid of some of the stigma—not all, I will tell you. Whilst I was using the card, as I travelled about, it was very easy to use, but I did go into some alcohol shops and bottle-os. I tried to use the card and got rejected. And I found myself looking for some sort of excuse as to why my card had been declined. Of course, I was then able to rip out another card and pay for a bottle of wine, or something like that.
I then went out and about to the coalface, because, if you're relying on anecdote, the last thing you want happening is that anecdote being infected by chinese whispers, which is what happens with distance and as messages pass from person to person. So I went to the coalface. I've got to thank—in the first instance, when I went to the Northern Territory—Senator McCarthy for inviting me up to Darwin to talk to Aboriginal corporations and Aboriginal elders and then taking me to Nhulunbuy in Arnhem Land to meet with Indigenous people in that community. I really am grateful for Senator McCarthy's assistance in that regard. I'm also grateful to Minister Ruston, who came to Ceduna with me and also facilitated me meeting a whole range of different people. Some of those people were from Indigenous communities; others were from business. But I actually stayed there a couple of days—one with Senator Ruston, one without. In the day that I was without Senator Ruston, I talked to health officials. I talked to the Aboriginal health service there. I also talked to people in the street. I talked to my neighbour on the balcony next to me in the hotel I was staying in. I must apologise to her now; I was being a little bit sneaky. When we had our conversation, I started talking about the CDC card. All of those conversations were useful in informing me. Indeed, probably the most important people I spoke to were those that were required to use the card. Senator Siewert put me in contact with people; so too did Senator McCarthy. So I did talk to people who were on the card, and, of course, through emails and people calling into my office. I actually called a number of people. I spoke to a gentleman named Frank in Mount Barker, who told me his story. He wasn't on the card. He was a very troubled person. It sounded like he had his life in order, but he was just fearful that he would end up with the card being imposed on him, which would simply add to the burden he already suffered through a disability and through having had difficult interactions with Centrelink in the past.
I also had a look at some of the wraparound services that go with the card. One of the really difficult things here is that you can't put your finger on whether the card is actually a major contributor or a minor contributor to something that may or may not be working. For example, in Ceduna, when you go to the bottle-o, you have to show your licence. If you come from one of the Indigenous communities, you can't purchase alcohol if, for example, you're from Oak Valley or Yalata. That's a measure that the Indigenous community has imposed upon themselves. There are also other services, such as rehab and sobering-up centres, health centres, community help centres and so forth. In trying to look at all of this, again, it's hard to work out what the card contributes to the purported benefit from the government and, indeed, how that might affect what is being said in the anecdotal information being transmitted to me.
I will say that in this debate and in consideration of this bill, sadly, my office was swamped with people who were quite rude about the card—quite rude about the fact that I hadn't made up my mind and that there was a possibility that I might vote against it. They were aggressive and threatening to my staff to the point where the Special Minister of State has now had to implement measures, including the AFP being involved, to make sure my staff are safe. They have been yielding threats against me as well. I engaged some of these people, trying to have a discussion with them, to have them shout down the phone at me. Some people chose to name my staff on Facebook and other social media platforms—staff that took their call and listened to what they had to say to pass on to me. I think every senator will agree with me when I say this: we have people in our offices who work for us who may actually have the same feelings or the same attitudes towards the person calling, but they very professionally represent me; they very professionally answer calls from people who may be sharing the same thoughts and opinions that they have, and they are getting abused. To all those people who have campaigned in a rude way, understand that you have not affected my decision; indeed, you have prevented other people who wanted to have their say from talking to my staff and having their concerns voiced to me. To those people who did that, please think about that in the future.
In the end, weighing up all the evidence, the difficulty for me is that the government has not made out its case. When I balance up everything I've seen, unfortunately, the data to support the concept that the card will achieve what it is intended to achieve is not there. It is on that basis that I will not be supporting this legislation.
I rise to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020. It is no secret to anyone in this place that I've long been involved with the evolution of the cashless debit card. Prior to my life in politics—I was elected 18 months ago—I had spent my life working at the Minderoo Foundation. I actually led the project and the significant community consultation which underpinned the development of the cashless debit card. I spoke to people around Australia and heard their wishes and desires for their communities. The idea sprang up out of the community. It was an idea from the community before it was even thought about by the government. We took it to the government at the time and worked with the government to establish the trials.
I've taken the same approach since I was elected as a senator. So far, I've been to all the trial sites apart from, sadly, the Hervey Bay region in Queensland. I had planned to get there but, given the COVID restrictions, I was unable to travel there. There was a meeting in Perth just a week ago, and folks from that region came over, so I got to meet people on the ground, and I've met and spoken with many over the telephone, Zoom and those sorts of formats. The experiences of people on the ground are absolutely critical. People who are dealing with the impacts and the implementation of this card day in, day out are critical. It's a view that you really only get by being on the ground, listening to people and hearing their views. It's not a view that you can get by sitting behind a desk at a university on the east coast or from the comfort of an armchair. To really understand the challenges, you have to get out on the ground and spend time in these communities, not just fly in and fly out but spend time. I know Senator Sterle has done that over his career as a senator. When I'm in the Kimberley I hear people speak incredibly highly of you, Senator Sterle, because you are someone who understands, because you've spent the time and you've got the relationship. That's the approach that I've taken across these sites. As a senator for Western Australia, I've been working with the minister and the department to make sure we continue to improve the platform and work with communities on the ground to bring their experiences into this place. I'm proud to be part of a government which continues to support this program and is working hard to make sure that it's better.
This bill will extend the cashless debit card program in each of the trial sites, and it will establish the Northern Territory and Cape York areas as CDC program areas and transition income management participants in these areas to the CDC program next year. Supporting this bill is the right thing to do, but let me just deal with a few facts. Firstly, what actually is the cashless debit card? The CDC is a Visa debit card where 80 per cent of the cardholder's working age social security payments are paid into the CDC account. The remaining 20 per cent are paid into any other standard bank account. The CDC Visa card can be used at over 900,000 merchants—nearly a million merchants—across Australia, which is basically wherever there is an EFTPOS terminal. In practical terms, it works wherever Visa is accepted. The only limitation is that it won't work at a liquor store or a pub, and it can't be used to withdraw cash at an ATM.
I've heard those opposite saying in their contributions that this is controlling how people can spend their money. That's simply not true, because you can use this card absolutely everywhere except for a liquor store and a pub. You can purchase online. You can pay your bills. You can engage in commerce online. People have said, 'You can't buy second-hand furniture using Gumtree.' Well, you can use PayPal. There are many ways. You can even go to Centrelink and get an additional $200 a month to enable transactions that can't be covered by the cashless debit card. This means that the CDC can be used to purchase everyday items that individuals need to be able to provide for themselves and for their families. As I said, they can pay their bills. They can buy things online. They can use the card at bricks-and-mortar merchants as well. There really is actually very little impost on a cardholder, particularly when you consider that cashless and contactless payments have become the predominant way that people transact with merchants now. We've seen that accelerate significantly during this COVID pandemic. In fact, there are many cafes that won't take a cash payment. You have to use a card. Well, guess what? The CDC will work at those merchants as well. To date, the CDC has successfully blocked access to approximately 40,000 transactions. Senator Patrick said that, when he was using his card, he tried to use it at a liquor store to buy a bottle of wine, so he's possibly one of those 40,000-odd transactions that were counted when a participant was attempting to use the card at a place that was restricted.
This bill will allow the 25,000 people on the BasicsCard in the Northern Territory and Cape York to transition off this old and clunky technology, which is the BasicsCard, and move to a better and more ubiquitously accepted cashless debit card, which, as I stated, operates on the common Visa scheme. The BasicsCard can be very limiting for cardholders. A lot of the negative feedback that you get from people about the card is actually conflated with the BasicsCard, because the BasicsCard is a very old and clunky system. The main reason for that is that, for a merchant to be able to accept the BasicsCard, they have to opt in and sign up to an agreement with the BasicsCard provider. This results in there only being 16,000 merchants across Australia that will accept the BasicsCard, whereas, as I said before, nearly a million merchants are able to accept the cashless debit card. So it's a much, much better system.
If this bill passes, I look forward to seeing the people in the Northern Territory and Cape York get access to a much better system, because the government has heard of instances where people have had to travel across town to be able to make purchases because their local retailer doesn't accept the BasicsCard. But, if they're a retailer in business these days, where most people are actually opting and preferring to use contactless and cashless payments, then of course they've got an EFTPOS machine. Pretty much every merchant now has that facility. Even farmers markets have little Square or PayPal machines. They're everywhere.
The other fact that seems to be overlooked in this debate is that the CDC came about because the communities called for it and they designed it. How do I know this? Because I was there. I actually did it. I was part of the consultation team that saw this card initiated. I sat with the very brave members of those communities that called on the government to give this system a go. Senator Sterle spoke of one of those brave members of the community in the East Kimberley, Ian Trust. Ian is an absolute champion in that community. We're all very proud of him. He's a great Western Australian and great Australian.
These communities wanted to have a circuit-breaker to help them deal with the devastating impacts of the harms caused by chronic alcohol and drug use. Since being elected to this place, I've been speaking with community leaders, meeting with organisations directly involved in the delivery of this scheme and the wraparound services which support it. Their feedback has been clear, as have the results in each of the current trial sites and their respective communities. Participants in the program have reported drinking less frequently, using drugs less frequently and gambling less often. Has it removed these problems in the communities? Of course it hasn't. No-one was expecting that it would. Kids are now going to school with a belly full of food, which is helping them to get the most out of their education. Slowly these communities are starting to become stronger and more cohesive and are seeing less violence as a result of drugs and alcohol.
I visited a school in WA's north-west, which, not that long ago, before the cashless debit card was implemented, was providing large quantities of food at the breakfast club on a Monday morning, because these kids had not eaten all weekend. Now in that community, the food that they have to serve has decreased significantly on a Monday morning, because these kids are not coming to school as hungry. In Ceduna, Foodland reported to us that petty theft was down and that the purchase of fruit and vegetables had increased noticeably. They said people were buying groceries that they had not seen before. Their employment services provider, which is part owned by the local Indigenous corporation, reported that more people are getting into work and looking for work—they are seeing that there is something better. These are stories of locals on the ground, and the commentators and those who are opposed to the card think that we shouldn't use them because they are anecdotes. They believe they aren't a valid representation of the impact of what is actually happening on the ground, but they are important. If we aren't listening to these people, if we aren't looking at the evidence that they are putting forward to us as decision-makers and if we aren't taking their advice, then who should we be listening to?
We've seen the opposing position put forward on glossy reports which only use cherry-picked data. Evidence which supports the program is slammed as anecdotal, whilst anecdotes which oppose the card are somehow supported as evidence. All the views of people on the ground should be heard. Every experience is important, whether that's a good experience, a bad experience or otherwise. We've heard senators opposite say that people on this card feel demonised, targeted, disenfranchised—there is a whole list of adjectives used. Yet the primary places that I've heard these views come from are outside the trial areas. In fact, I heard Senator Walsh come in here today and speak of Helen, who opposes the card, saying it will significantly impact her. She then went on to say she is from Victoria. The CDC is not going into Victoria. If it was, it would require further legislation, because this legislation specifically lists the locations where it will be operating. The chain and campaign emails that I've received, and I know that you have received, almost always come from everywhere except these communities participating in the trial. Those opposite believe they know what is best for everyone. This is the height of paternalism, in my mind. To say to those people in these communities who want to see the continuation of the card that they don't actually know what is good for their own community—well, that is just so patronising.
In contrast, this government has been listening to those on the ground. We've received positive feedback and we've also received feedback on where it needs to be improved. That's why I've been working with the minister, with the banks and with the major retailers to improve the technology so that we can reduce some of the stigma that Senator Patrick was talking about and reduce some of the friction points that other senators have mentioned here today.
Is the CDC a silver bullet? Of course it's not, but we will continue to support the card and work with the communities to ensure that its evolution reflects what they need and what they want to see. We're continuing to do the same with the wraparound services, making sure that people can deal with addictions, that they can get the support that they need and, importantly, that they can get into a job pipeline so that we can connect them with jobs that actually exist. One of the next focuses that I'm going to have across the CDC trial sites is to make sure that we're actually seeing jobs, not welfare, as a destination. I commend this bill to the Senate.
I've always seen a lot of good in the cashless debit card. I've been out there for years talking to people about what it could do and the difference it could make. I've been in the newspapers, I've been on the radio and I've been here on the floor talking about how it could work. I've stood beside four government ministers who have tried to get this thing off the ground. I've worded them up on where the person before them got to and I've told them what the next step should be. I've supported them to get legislation passed when they needed it. Over those years, I've been running around the country meeting people who are on the card and talking to people who could be about to go on it and encouraging them to do that. My staff and I have visited Ceduna and Hervey Bay and the Goldfields and the Kimberleys multiple times just to check in to see how things are going and to follow up on whether the promises are being delivered. We've been all the way to Milingimbi Island in Arnhem Land and all the way down to Papunya, a few hours drive from Alice. I've listened to the tough guys who say they hate the card and I've heard the little old ladies whisper in my ear that it's actually putting food on the table. I've talked to mayors who say their neighbourhood has been safer and calmer and I've listened to Indigenous leaders beg me not to keep the card around. I've gotten to know the people in the communities, and I've met the kids, the mums, the dads, the aunties, the uncles, the elders and even the dogs. I've heard them out. We've had some tough conversations. I've gone down, I've sat with them on mats under those gum trees in the sweltering heat and I've asked them: 'Should I vote to make this thing permanent? Should I send it up to the Northern Territory?' I learned a lot from the answers I got to those questions.
The things I've heard have changed my thinking about the card and how it works. I have to be brutally honest. When I first came out swinging for the cashless debit card, I was thinking about what life was like for me when I was on Centrelink. I was living on that little bit of money that they gave me for eight years, and I know how hard it is. Every single dollar matters. You have to scrimp and you have to save and you have to do everything you possibly can to make it stretch. You have to put off paying electricity bills one week so that you can pay your rego before it expires, and you live off Weet-Bix for days on end so you can pull together enough money to pay for your kids to get some sandshoes or footy boots, just so they can get on the sporting field. You shop at Vinnies for the kids' clothes, and you have a lovely day if you can pick up a pair of surf jeans with the original price tag still on them and they're brand new. I can tell you, you don't have a lot to spend on anything that isn't rent, bills or food.
That's why I've always thought the card wouldn't make a big difference for people who have found a way to budget their money in a way that's good for them and their family. From their perspective, they'll keep doing what they're doing, and not much is likely to change. But if someone who is living on a tiny amount, on that little bit of money that we do get when we're on welfare, is managing to spend more than 100 bucks a fortnight on booze or pokies or drugs, there's a fair chance there'll be others around them who will go without. There's also a fair chance they're probably not doing too well. More than likely, they could probably use a bit of help. More than likely, they're in some serious trouble. Sometimes they're making a bit of trouble for the people around them as well. The thing is, I know what it looks like. I recognise addiction. I've watched people I love turn into shells of themselves. I know how to spot when someone has been using again, even if it's been a while since their last hit. I see it in their eyes by the way they put their sentences together and the tone of their voice. When someone you love gets like that, they do not make good decisions and they start doing things they would never have done if their addiction hadn't taken their will. They lose sight of who they are and they lose sight of what they care about, and each day blurs into the next. Someone like that will easily blow every dollar they have to feed their cravings. They have no boundaries and they are beyond thinking about the consequences, and every bit of money they get hold of will find its way to the dealer, the bottle shop or the poker machine. I know all of this, and I will do anything—absolutely anything—to make it stop for every single Australian family that has been through this or is going through this across the country. I'd do anything to stop the absolute tragedy and heartbreak that comes from losing someone you love to an addiction. That's where I come from on this thing.
That's why, when I heard about this card, I was so hopeful that it could help. That's why I wanted to give this card a shot. It gave me hope that things could change, and that's the reason I've been the face of this thing for years. I've spoken out so loudly about the good I've seen from the card. Sometimes it feels like people out there forget that it's actually coalition policy and not mine. Somewhere along the way it became the Jacqui Lambie cashless debit card, and I didn't mind that for a while. I was prepared to take that. I still don't mind, I suppose. I know the card could do a lot of good. I've seen kids going back to school in some of these places, and I've seen, as Senator O'Sullivan said, food on the table. I've watched those elders and those women stop being abused.
But I've always said to the government: if you want to make this thing happen, you can't let the card be the only thing you do. It's not a magic wand. You can't wave it at people and expect things to somehow get better, because the problems that you see in the trial sites need a lot more than the cashless debit card to fix, and that's what I heard every time I went to the trial sites. I heard it in the Northern Territory too. Those people up there can't live better lives with just the cashless debit card. They need jobs, they need medical facilities, they need counsellors and they need skills training. They need the government to quit pulling the rug from under them by constantly funding short-term projects that never have enough time to get up and running and actually make a difference. The cashless debit card was never going to solve those problems, but it could have been a way to start making change. If it had come with the right funding so that people could get trained up, it could have made a real difference. If it had come with a jobs package to help people get off welfare, we could have made a fresh start for those people in those trial sites. But I've come to realise that the commitment from the government to make that happen has never really been there.
Take Ceduna. To be fair, the community have actually been given a lot of money since they opted into the trial—first in, first served—and good on them for having the courage to do that. I can tell you that's probably where you'll see the biggest change, because that's where we invested to start with, and we really put in the funds. But every trial site after that got less and less, and people got less and less interested. But all that money went into funding in Ceduna to 40-something charities around the town, and, even though the people who set them up are doing their best to make a difference, they're all pulling in different directions. They can't scratch the surface of the problems that Ceduna faces. Meanwhile, the TAFE hardly runs any courses. What about some trade training and some apprenticeships? All this was supposed to come along with the card. That was part of the package. The CDP isn't helping people either. We should have just stuck with the CDEP. We already knew that was working. Once again, you put a card out there, you short-changed them and you backed off in the jobs area. We need to get people trained up and ready to enter the workforce instead of being forced to show up to twiddle their thumbs.
Alcohol and drugs are still a problem in Ceduna too. Five years later, they're still an issue. The sobering-up unit can take people in and look after them for a night if they've had too much to drink, but then they have to send them back on the street when the morning arrives. Anyone who actually wants to do something about a drinking and drug problem has to leave their loved ones behind for weeks on end and travel for five hours to a rehab centre in Port Augusta. It just doesn't work for them, and most people just won't go. A lot of them are Indigenous. They don't have the cars to get up there, they don't have five hours to get up there and it makes no common sense. Part of your recovery must involve family and friends; that gives you a better chance of recovery. To just shove you somewhere and hope you recover without that support is never going to be enough. In the end nothing changes, they're back to square one and no-one goes anywhere; it's just one big, vicious circle.
I can't tell you how many times I've raised these problems with the government, and they know what's going on. This is the sad fact of the matter. They've been kicking this can down the road for years now, and it's becoming more and more obvious that they haven't had the will to make these things happen. They just haven't put in enough, and that's been the really sad fact. The card could have been something great for the country. It's taken us nearly five years to get the damn card right. We haven't even started on the rest, and the rest is the hardest bit. The rest is the jobs, the training and the rehab. If it's taken us five years to work on a card, on something plastic, how long is it going to take to get the real-life stuff right?
I had to take 20 months out of this place. I sat on the sidelines. For 20 months I had to sit back and just let it go. In all that time, I wondered, 'How is the card going?' Unfortunately, I couldn't get out there and check on it like I used to. Do you know what the government did in that time I was gone? It did pretty much nothing. Nothing happened the whole time. There was very little progress. Here's the truth: when I came back, the card was pretty much comatose; it was dead in the water. That's when I first started to wonder if the people in this government actually wanted this thing to work. Now I've finally decided that I don't think they really do at all.
What could have been so great for this country is now becoming heartbreaking. If this were really a trial, they would have done a proper study and they would have got the job done. They would have released the Adelaide university report. They know, as I do, it's going to have failings in it everywhere, because they haven't done the job. I know it. Through the chair, I'm sure Senator O'Sullivan knows it. That's really sad, and not because we want that report to look like that. It's just that somehow you guys stopped putting effort into it. It was like Ceduna was the best thing; it was great. After that it just started to become watered down. It's fallen apart.
They tell us why they think it makes sense to have this card in a few regional areas in the Northern Territory but nowhere else. They should have a reason for quarantining 80 per cent of people's money in Ceduna, Hervey Bay, the Goldfields and the Kimberley. In the Northern Territory, it's fifty-fifty. They could come out and show us that they actually want to invest making regional areas with the card prosper, put money into the jobs that people need in those areas and find a way to get people off welfare and into work, but none of that's happening. Five years is becoming six years next year since we started. This is the thing: no matter how much promise this card has, it won't work without a government prepared to make it work. You can't go at 50 per cent. You can't be half pregnant; it's not 110 per cent or nothing at all. To the government: unfortunately you just don't have that in you. You've lacked to show me that action.
For months, the government have been trying to make it look like the card is paying out everything they promised. But in truth they have set the card up to fail. If their hearts were in it in the first place, that's great. But they're certainly not there anymore. If they really cared about making the CDC work, they would have done more to get people off welfare and into a good job and a good life, because that was the promise of the card; that was the hope. The card was to give people hope to be able to change their lives around, to get out of the conditions that they've been living in for years and to get them off welfare. They would have given them something to strive for, and they would have given them that carrot; that's the answer. The government have had the stick out for so long now, it's like they forgot to pull the carrot out of the ground; it's still sitting there. That in itself has become really, really sad. As hard as this is for me—because I did see some difference. But you just didn't put in the effort over there, and that effort dwindled as each year went past. This card's just not worth it anymore, because every time you promised me you were going to do this or you were going to do that over the five years, you didn't deliver, and that's why this card has failed. It has failed because you would not deliver. You had this man over here, Senator O'Sullivan. I told you for 18 months, 'This is the man that built the jobs, he worked on it for 10 years,' and you sat him on the sidelines. There was your first hope. You had someone who knew this card, who could have made a difference really quickly, and for 18 months you still sat him on the sidelines. So for me to think you are actually going to make any difference after five years of my asking for things to make a difference—I just don't believe you anymore.
Chair, I'm not sure if Senator Lambie is finished, and I'm just wondering if she might seek leave to talk for a few more minutes if she wishes to finish up? She's right. No worries.
Senator Lambie is often a hard act to follow, particularly when she combines her own personal experiences with some of the current challenges we are facing in the chamber, and I think tonight we've seen another example of that. But what Senator Lambie's speech has done is actually mirror some of the experiences that I've found when I've been out in the electorate of Hinkler, where those Bundaberg-Hervey Bay communities have been part of the trial sites, and I as a Labor senator happen to be the duty senator for that area. I've spent plenty of time there since they've been a trial site. I've held community forums in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay to which anyone is allowed to come along, and I've also had Linda Burney, the Labor shadow minister, with me, where we've gone up there and heard from those people. I will make some broad statements before I talk about some of the local examples that I've seen and the people I've met and the stories that they've told.
At the end of the day, when you look at the application of this legislation, it is racist, it's discriminatory, it stigmatises those impacted and it divides communities like those of Hervey Bay and Bundaberg. What is shameful is that not one National has come into this chamber and defended it. Not one National has spoken in this chamber and defended this legislation. The seat of Hinkler has been held continuously by the National Party for 27 years. The member for Hinkler has been from the National Party. Yet not one of them has come in and defended this. Just as shameful is that we've only had one Liberal who has been prepared to come in and defend this. I don't know Senator O'Sullivan well, but I believe his sincerity when he talks about what he has done in this. But this is the party of freedom, the party of choice—individual choice. They say, when they've allowed young people early access to the superannuation, that it's their money. But not with this and the way they treat those people in Hinkler, those people of Hervey Bay and Bundaberg; the way they treat those people in remote Cape York; and the way they want to treat those people in the remote Northern Territory and in some of those other communities. It's not freedom of choice for them. It's not their money when it comes to this. They're going to be treated differently and restricted, and it has a massive impact.
The member for Hinkler, whose own electorate is the most impacted—it is the biggest trial site—did not even speak on this legislation. That will become permanent if it passes. He did not even speak on this legislation. So I'm going to focus the substance of my speech on Queensland and the impact of the card on Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, but I have also in recent times visited those communities that will be impacted in the cape—some of those communities that are on the BasicsCard at the moment.
As I said, I've held community meetings in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, along with shadow minister Burney, and we met with anyone who wanted to come along and tell us their story. Some of the service providers have been dealing with the fallout in those communities, and we've held roundtables for them as well, and I want to tell some of their stories tonight. But let's bust some myths. One of the myths is that communities were consulted. The communities of Hervey Bay and Bundaberg were not consulted. The member for Hinkler still won't meet with those that have been impacted by this decision. He refuses to meet with constituents. I've had them talk to me. They cannot get a meeting with their local member. The fact is that none of the communities of Bundaberg and Hervey Bay were consulted. This was imposed on them from up high. There was no consultation on the ground. The government did not even try to evaluate this card before pressing ahead to make it permanent. It has led to a thriving black market, particularly in those Indigenous communities; many of those have been impacted as a result.
And the government promised more support for social services. I know that in Hinkler it took more than two years for the government to deliver on that. They imposed the card but didn't actually give the wraparound services—this is some of what Senator Lambie went to—to provide support for people who did need help, who did have addictions, who did have substance abuse issues that they wanted to be rid of. The government provided none of those extra wraparound services to those people.
So the truth behind the government's plan is laid bare: it's actually a big rollout of the cashless debit card, and it is coming permanently. How can they say they're going to treat the community of Hinkler differently to that in Brisbane or any other city? Why should those people be treated differently? Why should those Indigenous communities be treated differently? It is nonsense, and that is something the government no doubt have planned. This bill seeks to remove the trial site parameters and establish the cashless debit card as an ongoing program. It will add the Northern Territory and Cape York, in changing from the BasicsCard to the CDC, and it will mean that those communities of Bundaberg and Hervey Bay will be on the card permanently.
Before introducing the new law to make this trial permanent, Senator Ruston hadn't even read the report by the University of Adelaide, which was looking into the effectiveness of this trial before a big permanent rollout of the cashless debit card was launched. How arrogant has this performance been from this government? The study cost $2.5 million and the government wasn't even prepared to read the results before rolling out the card. The Liberal and Nationals parties obviously didn't want to read the report before they made the card permanent. It has been reported that the trial found no substantive impact on measures of gambling, drug and alcohol abuse, crime or emergency department presentations. Dr Luke Greenacre, one of the authors of the University of Adelaide report, said:
We have shown the CDC policy to have had no substantive effect on the available measures for the targeted behaviours of gambling or intoxicant abuse.
It has been reported that the government has now spent $4.8 million on evaluations, but so far all have failed to produce credible evidence to support claims of effectiveness, efficiency or suitability, as noted by ANU researcher Elise Klein in her submission to the committee inquiry into the legislation.
The government had claimed that the card would help with youth unemployment, but this doesn't bear out in reality. Since the trial period beginning in late 2018 there hasn't been an improvement in unemployment or youth unemployment, especially when you look at similar communities like Gympie compared to Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. For those who don't know, Gympie is about an hour-and-a-half drive away from Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in regional Queensland. In June 2018 the unemployment rate was 9.5 per cent for the Bundaberg local government association, 10.7 per cent for Fraser Coast—which is where Hervey Bay is—and 8.9 per cent for Gympie. In December 2019 they were 7.6 per cent, 8.8 per cent and seven per cent. So, despite the fact the trial had been running for a year and a half, there was no significant statistical difference between the towns of Bundaberg and Hervey Bay on the cashless debit card compared to Gympie, which is a comparable town nearby.
The unemployment rate in the Wide Bay labour market region of Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Maryborough and Gympie has stayed high. In September 2018 the unemployment rate for people aged between 15 and 34 was 10.9 per cent. In December 2019 it had increased to 13.8 per cent. In a similar period the Brisbane rate dropped by over one per cent. So, when we're talking about youth unemployment, those people impacted in the community, in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, had actually seen an increase in the youth unemployment rate through the period of the trial of the cashless welfare card before COVID hit. Since January 2010 the average unemployment rate in Wide Bay for 15- to 34-year-olds has been 14.6 per cent. For too long this area has had a high level of youth unemployment. But what the government has done with the cashless welfare trial has seen no change to a high youth unemployment rate through that region. So there's no evidence that the cashless debit card has had any impact on youth unemployment through the trial sites.
I want to talk about the forums I held in Hinkler. I repeatedly heard about the emotional toll the card was having on those impacted. I heard from Jodie, who shared her story. Jodie has been forced onto the card. She travelled from Bundaberg to Hervey Bay to share her story with me in November 2019. I've spoken previously in the chamber of how Jodie suffers from chronic pain from her arthritis and prolapsed discs. She doesn't drink or gamble and was applying to opt out of the trial. In July this year, they rejected her application to opt out after nine months of waiting. This caused her to have a stress-induced heart attack caused by long-term severe stress. She couldn't include this in her review of the decision and has been forced to make a new opt-out application.
We heard from a mother who was almost unable to see her son's school concert performance because she couldn't get the cash out to buy a ticket. It was a good Samaritan who handed the mother the cash to pay the entry to gain access to watch her son perform. The fact is that it limits people's ability in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay to visit local fresh food markets and to buy fruit and vegetables from local stores. The Bundaberg and Fraser Coast region is so renowned for having good access to fresh fruit and vegetables, but people are missing out on that opportunity. There were countless stories of people missing rent payments because Indue had miscategorised a payment as rent, meaning that, when the actual rent bill came, there wasn't enough money in the real account to pay the rent.
We heard from people who had been abused and shamed in shops for having the CDC. One person had taken the step of putting a cover on her card so that it wasn't obviously a cashless debit card so that she wouldn't be targeted when paying for people and be stigmatised as a result. It's clear to these residents that the government and Keith Pitt, the member for Hinkler, weren't listening to their concerns. None of those extra services focusing on jobs that Senator Lambie talked about have taken place in Hinkler to give them a chance for this to thrive.
Then I raised the lack of access to support services. Hinkler was promised $1 million in extra funding for support services. It took the government over two years to grant the local funding. They said that this was going to be part of the proposal, but it took them two years to actually deliver the extra support services that were so much needed in an area that has such high youth unemployment and has had for such a period of time. In September 2019, I called on the government to stand up and keep their end of the bargain with the community after two years of neglecting to fund these services. It still took a few more months for them to actually deliver on this.
There's no doubt that this bill is the thin end of the wedge of the cashless debit card. We know that there are LNP MPs out there who have called for the national rollout of the cashless debit card. Senator Canavan was on the news yesterday doing the same. In February, we saw Senator Ruston say that there was absolutely a case to introduce the cashless welfare card in major cities given the results of trials in Bundaberg-Hervey Bay in Queensland, in Ceduna in South Australia, and in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. She told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age:
The reason we haven't done it in the major cities is because we need to deal with the technology issue, which we are now close to resolving.
So there is no doubt of the trajectory of this legislation and what the government want to achieve if they are able to do it. We know the Senate estimates established that they had a working group with big banks and supermarkets to look at how this could be rolled out across Australia. We know that those receiving DSP are on the cashless debit card, and it's only a matter of time before this is introduced.
There's no doubt that the government think that beating up on welfare recipients is good politics for them. They've made an art form out of it since the Howard government 20 years ago. But it is an opportunity for us here in the Senate tonight to say, 'No more,' and to say that stigmatising and dividing Australians and targeting those people on welfare will not pass this Senate tonight. Labor will oppose this bill, and we will continue to stand up to the government's efforts to roll this out across Australia. I know, from the work I have done in Hinkler over a number of years now, that this doesn't work, it divides communities and it is not the answer to problems that need fixing.
This is a quote from a member of the other place, Bridget Archer MP, member for Bass in Tasmania, a member of the government, a member of the Liberal Party of Australia and a vocal opponent of the cashless welfare card. These are her words, not mine:
Whenever you approach a human problem by inciting shame and guilt, you have already lost those that you are seeking to help. The rhetoric that surrounds social security and systems like income management plays in to the very worst of human nature; we're essentially inviting people to look at their fellow Australians as something 'other' or 'less than'.
Mrs Archer also said in her speech:
That's not the Australia I want to live in.
Well, it's not the country that I want to live in either. But Mrs Archer is part of the government. She's in a position where she could have actually done something to stop this insidious demonising of welfare recipients. But, unfortunately for our country, Mrs Archer was too spineless to match her words with action. She abstained from voting on the bill yesterday in the House of Representatives. She just didn't show up. She wasted her vote. She could have crossed the floor. If she had voted no to the bill, the bill would have been defeated. Instead, she amply demonstrated the Prime Minister's shameless practice of being all announcement, no action and of being there for the photo op not for the follow-up.
I note that Mrs Archer has a quote under her photograph on her personal Facebook page. It says: 'Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.' Well, by her decision to waste her vote—to not show up and vote according to her convictions—Mrs Archer has shown no courage, only fear. She's chosen cowardice over courage and gutlessness over conviction. Her lack of resolve has sold out tens of thousands of Australians. Her actions do, however, give us all a very clear picture of just how much opposition there is to this bill on the government's backbench.
Mr Pearce, the member for Braddon, the electorate right next door to Mrs Archer's, has said that the cashless welfare card isn't coming to his neighbourhood, so it's not a problem for him to support it being legislated. He's quite happy to sell out tens of thousands of Australians, as long as it doesn't come to his backyard. But the question I have is: will it? He will keep his head in the sand, his hands over his ears and look the other way. He voted for the bill three times—more fool him! Who is next, I wonder? Age pensioners? Those on disability support payments? Youth allowance? Watch out, Tasmania! Mr Pearce and Mrs Archer will be held responsible for bringing the cashless debit card to Tasmanian shores. There are 5,087 people on the disability support pension in Bass and 6,590 in Braddon. There are 7,888 Tasmanians in Bass on JobKeeper, and 7,034 in Braddon. There are 1,220 young people on youth allowance in Bass and 1,064 in Braddon. On the age pension, there are 14,653 people in Bass and 16,739 in Braddon. These are thousands of Tasmanians who have every right to be in fear today and every day that we have a Liberal government in this country. That's over 70,000 people in the two electorates of Bass and Braddon who are on some form of social security payment and will hold Mr Pearce and Mrs Archer to account. Mrs Archer sold out her beliefs when she could have made a difference—a huge difference. Mr Pearce is simply not listening and not doing his job.
Surprise, surprise, what did we see on the news yesterday? Senator Canavan calling for a national rollout of the cashless debit card! And so it begins. So there is no doubt that the Morrison government has a thinly veiled plan for the card's national rollout—potentially making life harder for millions of social security recipients and hurting local businesses. This is how unhinged the Morrison government's ideology has become. Despite a clear indication from people in our communities that they do not want the card, despite their own backbenchers thinking it's a stupid, cruel idea and despite a total lack of evidence that the card does anything other than humiliate and demean the people forced to use it, the government persist with their rampant ideology to torment and diminish welfare recipients.
Let's make this very clear: the Morrison government's cashless debit card policy is based on ideology, not evidence. There simply is no evidence that the cashless welfare card imposed on communities has a positive effect. It is a weapon for disempowerment. It is a weapon to diminish Australians who are already doing it incredibly tough. Since the start of the recession, the number of people receiving unemployment payments has doubled to 1.6 million. Those people thrown into unemployment by the Morrison recession deserve our support. They deserve a comprehensive plan for jobs and retraining. They do not deserve this kind of ritual humiliation fed by a barking mad, ideological bent.
This is about tormenting people to the point where they are too frightened to go into a Centrelink office—to the point where they will resort to almost anything, including prematurely accessing their own superannuation, in order to avoid going anywhere near Centrelink. The anxiety, the degradation and the stigma—that's what they fear. This government, the Morrison government, should be ashamed that they have allowed this climate to thrive in our country.
I note also, and importantly, that this bill and the government's cashless debit card policy are racially discriminatory. The bill would place over 34,700 people on the cashless debit card permanently. Over 23,500, or 68 per cent, of them have identified as First Nations Australians. This is from a government, from a Prime Minister, who had the gall—the absolute gall—to stand in our parliament in February of this year and talk about a new approach to closing the gap, that he has built on a partnership with First Australians on giving back responsibility, on an approach of listening and of empowering. Those were his words. That's what he said! The hypocrisy of it!
The bill is appalling, inhumane and racially discriminatory in effect. It is part of an ongoing and relentless attack on some of the most vulnerable in our community—those living below the poverty line and struggling to make ends meet. At its heart, it impinges on the rights and freedoms of people on social security payments, particularly, as I have said, our First Nations people. It reveals the twisted heart of this government and the Morrison government's ideology, seeking to further marginalise those on social security with the assumption that recipients are to blame for their circumstances. High unemployment rates and dependence on social security have everything to do with this government's history of a negligent lack of economic policies for job creation.
In Launceston in late 2019, during the Senate Community Affairs References Committee inquiry into the adequacy of Newstart and associated payments, I heard from recipients who were brave enough to talk about their experience on what was then called Newstart. Debra was physically ill and, having worked for 35 years in manufacturing, had been forced to live on her redundancy before then accessing welfare payments. Despite her years of experience she could not get a job interview. Her words were:
Frankly, I'm scared about what's going to happen to me … People like me deserve to be treated with some respect for our contribution to our country and to be able to keep some dignity … and not to be reduced to the poverty line and be forgotten about. We paid our taxes and we deserve better.
Now, because of this recession, there are twice as many Debras out there—scared and struggling with the system.
The vicious determination of this government's multipronged attack on welfare recipients is more evident than ever before. The government humiliate them, terrify them with false and illegal debts—robodebt—starve them, drug test them and now deny them the right to make choices about how to manage their money. My office has been approached by a constituent who moved from interstate, from an area that is currently part of the cashless welfare card trial—a trial that the government now seeks to make permanent. He was concerned that he would have to stay on the card that was imposed on him. He has sole custody of his two children, and, unfortunately, the card followed him when he moved to Tasmania. He had no choice and no say. Given that 80 per cent of his pension is quarantined, he struggles to provide lunch and pocket money to his kids. He's also constrained in accessing local farmers markets and purchasing second-hand goods like school uniforms and books for his children, who can't participate in school banking. It's difficult to send his kids to school on special days that require a gold coin donation.
In Tasmania we have a great tradition of country markets and roadside honesty stores. Some of the best, cheapest and freshest produce that you can buy will be from the small stand at your neighbour's gate, except he can't do that. He must go to the supermarket, because the card that quarantines his income has to be spent at big supermarkets. He's constantly frustrated in trying to live on a tiny income and give his children the best life that he can. He's constantly humiliated when trying to explain to his children and community why he and his children can't fully participate in what he might see as normal and desirable activities.
In 2019, the Senate committee inquiry heard from academics, community groups, economists and researchers that demonstrated there is no independent, rigorous evaluation of the trial sites that indicates the card is effective in reducing social harms. The Morrison government hasn't even waited for the findings of the review they commissioned from Adelaide university, before deciding to make the card permanent. There's been little or no consultation in the communities in which this bill will have the greatest effect.
The government literally has no interest in hearing from those that they wish to impose the sanctions on. This government—those opposite—admit that this bill is simply another way to demonise and shame those on social security payments, to kick those in the community who are already down. If this government truly believes its mantra—that the best form of welfare is a job—then it'd best get about making a decent plan to create those jobs. That way people who are trying to do their best to make ends meet, to provide for their children and to gain employment in the midst of a recession can actually get on with living their lives with dignity instead of worrying about the punitive measures that the Morrison government is going to take against them next.
I also rise tonight to oppose the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020. It is racist, and it takes away people's basic human rights. I've listened to a lot of the contributions that have been made in this place today and yesterday, and I certainly wish to associate my remarks with those of Senator McCarthy, Senator Dodson and Ms Linda Burney, the member from Barton, in the other place.
I've heard those opposite accuse us of being emotional and of missing the point, saying that, because we live in the city, perhaps we don't understand. That's just bunkum. I've participated in nearly every single cashless debit card inquiry, whether it was a reference inquiry or whether it was a legislation inquiry, and I've heard of no research that supports the rollout of this card. In fact, what we've done across this country is trick those people who are currently stuck on the cashless debit card, because they believe they are on a trial site. We've heard much about the trial in the north-west of Western Australia, the Kimberley, Kununurra and the East Kimberley. We've heard a lot about the trial site in Ceduna. So emboldened were those opposite that they put on a sham trial in Kalgoorlie. And who did we hear from in that inquiry? Mainly local government. Do they deliver services? No, they do not. Do they police the local communities and towns? No, they do not. Do they provide welfare? No, they do not. They just had a feeling about the antisocial behaviour in their town and that, somehow, it would be fixed by this cashless debit card.
When those opposite decided to roll the card out in Hervey Bay and Bundaberg—a trial site—guess where we had the hearing? Did we have it in Queensland? No. So gutless were those opposite, the Morrison government, we had it in Perth. Western Australia is where we held that inquiry, not Hervey Bay. We heard from people on the phone who were having this card imposed upon them. And guess what? The government, in their wisdom, decided they'd start with a brand new trial there and put everyone under 35 on it. So we've got all these different so-called trials happening across this country. And then, all of a sudden, we hear that we're going to take the Cape York trial, the Cape York card, and make that permanent. Now, that operates entirely differently. And where did we hold that inquiry? Did we go up to Cape York? No, once again, we didn't. We held it in a capital city. I think we had something like two or three hours to investigate that card, from memory. In fact, for this latest bill, we had, I think, a two- or three-hour inquiry. That was it. We're rolling this card out. No longer are we ever going to pretend it's a trial, because it was a sham to suggest it was a trial. We're just going to roll it out and we're not going to consult with anyone. Not only that, we're going to scoop up thousands of people in the Northern Territory and we're going to scoop up those in Cape York, where we've got very different processes in place.
Have we consulted with people in the Northern Territory, with First Nations people in the Northern Territory? No, we have not. We had a three-hour telephone hook-up with officials in Canberra, with those of us who participated, like me, coming in from all across the country. I heard those opposite say we'd never been to the country. Well, I've held public meetings, like Senator Chisholm. I held a public meeting in Kalgoorlie, so alarmed was I, so concerned was I, about the emails I was getting from participants who were affected. Do you know what? That was a public meeting. We had One Nation members there. Elected members in the state parliament in Western Australia were at that meeting. The council was at that meeting and so were a lot of card holders. They told me the stories that you've heard in this chamber tonight. They told me how their rent had been messed up by the card. The grandmothers who like to give their kids money for lunch couldn't do that anymore. We heard about the woman who just wanted to pay her kids' sports footy fees in cash, and they didn't have any other way to accept the fees. She couldn't do that anymore. We heard from a woman who had very severe anxiety problems, who had prided herself on the way that she had managed her money all of her life and, suddenly, that was ripped away from her. We know that people on low incomes juggle their incomes: 'A bit of money here for this payment. If I delay that another week, I can pay this payment.' I heard all of those stories in Kalgoorlie, and the Morrison government has taken that away from people by imposing the card.
What does the government rely on in its majority report? Make no mistake—for those people listening in—if it's a legislation inquiry, the Morrison government has the numbers. They talk about 'the majority report'. We had a newsagent in Kalgoorlie come and tell us, anecdotally, how suddenly, because of the card, things were better outside her shop, and the government somehow trades on that. We heard that the government relied on the Orima research, which has been absolutely discredited. Imagine walking up to someone on the street and saying: 'Excuse me, are you on the cashless debit card? We'd like to ask you about your drinking.' That's exactly what they did—no baseline data, nothing! We'll hear tonight the minister quote these wonderful figures out of Kalgoorlie. What we won't hear the minister say is that the Western Australian government put significant additional police resources into that town, and that's why crime went down. It was nothing to do with the cashless debit card. We won't hear tonight from the minister that kids are going hungry in Kununurra and are breaking into houses. What we'll hear is that one Aboriginal leader now—one only—supports the trial. And he'll tell you, every time he comes before a Senate inquiry, that it's just one thing that he thinks is worth trying; he doesn't believe that this is going to fix all our problems.
Where did this idea come from? Was it a well-researched idea backed up with academic evidence? No! It came from a billionaire based in WA. It was an idea of Twiggy Forrest's: 'Oh, I know what we'll do! We'll control people's money.' Because he has money, power and privilege he was able to just walk into Mr Howard, at that time, and put this idea on the table. Then he was given the opportunity to go out and talk to people. How outrageous! We have academic after academic in this country who have done social research for many years, but they were simply overlooked because they don't have the power or the privilege that brings the access that Mr Twiggy Forrest has. I have nothing against him—good on him if he has made a buck. But that does not entitle him to set social policy in this country.
I've been to Broome and I've spoken to women caught up on this card—women who don't drink, who don't gamble and who have worked all their lives but who suddenly find themselves unemployed and caught up on the cashless debit card. We've all talked about those stories tonight. We can't all be wrong on this side of the chamber—some of what we're saying must be true! What those over there on the crossbench are about to do tonight, if the crossbenchers support the Morrison government, is bring into place a racist and discriminatory card in these so-called trial sites in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland, when they haven't even had the decency to say to those people: 'Hey, guess what? There's no end in sight for you now. This is your lot! And in addition to that, we're going to impose it in Cape York and the Northern Territory.' Something like 60 per cent of people caught up on that card there are First Nations people. This is racist legislation, and shame on those opposite—shame on you!
I was given a piece of research tonight by a PhD student who spent 12 months at Ceduna. That person says that harm from alcohol and drugs remains an issue for people. That person says that violence has remained the same or increased, as the cashless debit card limits access to cash. This research—research!—says that it includes extreme examples of prostitution, which we've heard before from Ceduna, and violent arguments over money. She has found, further, that violence and abuse are not reported to police because of the distrust and fear.
We know that the cashless debit card is not helpful in gaining employment—in fact, it is a disincentive because people lack the ability to have cash—and we know that the need for social support has increased. We've got the research—well we don't have it. We understand the minister has got the research that the government commissioned from the University of Adelaide—$2.5 million on a piece of research that's obviously never going to see the light of day. I wonder why that is. Maybe it's because the stark truth that those of us on this side of the chamber have been speaking tonight is laid bare in that research, and that is that the cashless debit card does not work. I hope that each and every one of you over there who votes for this piece of legislation tonight is held to account. I hope you do go to Bundaberg, Ceduna, the Kimberley, the Northern Territory and Cape York and front the people to whose lives you are doing harm. But I don't think you will. If you can't be bold enough to hold an inquiry in Bundaberg to push the cashless debit card onto people there, what hope is there? You had to have the inquiry in Perth, which, of course, meant people couldn't participate other than by phone.
It is time you stopped pretending that this card works. In the Kimberley we do not have the wraparound services that were promised. The community have told you over and over again what they need. I'm sure Senator Dodson will correct me if I'm wrong, but I think we have only one sobering up shelter, and that's in Broome. It's a very long way there from Kununurra. Maybe if you live in the cities on the eastern seaboard you don't appreciate that. It's not something you can just pop down to, and it's certainly almost impossible if you rely on the cashless debit card.
For the crossbenchers: if any of you are wavering tonight, I urge you to listen to the speeches that have been made in here about this racist card, about this card that has not worked, about trial sites that have been trial sites for way too long with no proper evaluation. We are now being incredibly dishonest to those thousands of people caught up on this card, because we're implementing it without any consultation. I don't know what is going to happen in the Northern Territory when people's cards and what's being accessed are suddenly changed. I know Senator McCarthy went into some of that today. You need to have the courage of your convictions. It is not too late to back out of this card. It's racist, it's unfair, it impacts people's human rights and it should be put in the bin where it belongs.
I rise to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020 in the context of some very moving speeches by those on this side of the chamber and on the crossbench.
The first thing I think you should do when you're legislating is talk to the people who might be affected, who are affected, by the legislation. There's nothing more basic to our jobs than that. But this Morrison government has demonstrated its complete disinterest in listening to the people who would be affected by its legislation to lock in the cashless debit card that has been trialled in recent years. The context for this failure to listen particularly matters when it comes to this legislation, because this isn't just more Morrison government power-grabbing centralisation of government and paternalism, although it is all of those things, and it's not just more arrogant 'we know better than you', although it is certainly that; it is that this legislation comes in the context of generations of paternalism towards First Nations people in this country, of generations of disempowerment. So when the Morrison government chooses not to listen to First Nations people about something that deeply affects them it is throwing back to an attitude that we all hoped government in this country moved past with the national apology in 2008, an attitude that says government knows better than the people it serves, the smugness that says government can manage some people's lives better than they can manage it themselves, the same superiority that let government think they were noble for stealing children from their parents. Those opposite seem to have learnt nothing from their history, because they think they don't have to. They think their smugness is worth more than facts and evidence. They think they know better than the sum of our own history, and so, to paraphrase a famous saying, they are condemning First Australians to repeat it.
Isn't it interesting how those opposite purport to be the party that gets out of people's lives, the party of small government, and yet they want to reach into the lives of thousands of First Australians in designated areas and control nearly every decision they make, and somehow this is supposed to be for their own good. But there is no other community in Australia where those opposite would tolerate such a proposition. They wouldn't tolerate it for any other Australian who needed help from the government. And, if we're honest, we will recognise that the vast majority of us have help from government in one form or another at some point in our lives and never face the level of disempowerment, when we do, that our First Nations brothers and sisters face. We're still trusted to make decisions in our own best interests from the choices available to us.
You've heard tonight a great deal of disappointment, frustration, anger and sadness towards those opposite, and I have criticisms especially of those who purport to be moderates inside the Liberal Party, because they would never propose legislation like this for non-Indigenous Australian but they're fine with it for Indigenous Australians. I ask them: doesn't it concern you at all to hear from Indigenous Australians what this legislation means for them? Doesn't it concern them at all to hear the ways in which their cashless debit card can trap women in unsafe situations of family violence? Does it not concern them at all to hear from witnesses at the Senate inquiry on this legislation, such as Olga Havnen from the Danila Dilba Health Service in the Northern Territory, who said:
… there is an absolutely astonishing lack of credible evidence that income management has made any significant improvement to any of the key indicators of wellbeing: child health, birth weights, failure to thrive, and child protection notifications and substantiations. There are no improvements in school attendance, and … nothing we can see would suggest that there has been a reduction in family or community violence.
So why is the government proceeding with this legislation? Let's remember the Prime Minister's lofty words when he talked about closing the gap. He said:
… to rob a person of their right to take responsibility for themselves; to strip them of responsibility and capability to direct their own futures; to make them dependent … is to deny them of their liberty—and slowly that person will wither before your eyes.
And yet this legislation in his government's name will do exactly that.
I cannot understand why this government flat-out refuses to take on board what people affected by this legislation have to say about it. Why do they insist they know best when the evidence proves they don't? Why do they insist on repeating the mistakes, indignities and outrages of the past? Why do they insist on treating our First Australians as second-class Australians? And why do they continue to spurn the generosity of our First Australians? I am constantly stunned by the asymmetry of what First Australians ask of the rest of us compared with what has been and is taken from them. And I'm not talking purely about our history; I'm talking about our present—how little some in this place are prepared to give, even when it costs them nothing. It costs them nothing to demonstrate respect and inclusion by displaying the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags here in this chamber, but those opposite won't. It costs them nothing to support Senator Dodson's call for a Senate select committee into Makarrata, but they won't. Have you no shame? This is a man who, in his first speech, spoke of hiding in the grass so he was not taken away, and he extends the hand of reconciliation and you turn your backs. It costs nothing for those opposite to denounce the racist interjections from their own side, but they won't and they didn't today. It costs them nothing to listen to First Australians, but they don't. And it costs so little—nothing—for those in the Morrison government who purport to be moderate to actually do something helpful for race relations and reconciliation in this country, but they don't. Instead they put forward legislation like this, proven to waste taxpayers' money with its inefficiency and ineffectiveness. So often, they are allowing decisions about First Australians to be driven by the most extreme elements amongst the coalition.
I say to those self-described moderate senators: if you could summon one fraction of the courage that Senator Dodson, Senator McCarthy, Ms Burney or other First Nations members of this parliament have to summon every single day, we might actually get somewhere. But they won't summon that courage, because all the evidence points to an embarrassing reality: they don't have that courage to summon. They just cede the ground to the hardliners and extremists in their party and let their chapter in Australian history be written for them. It will be a tragic coda to the history that has already been written—a history for which this parliament has already once apologised. For so many of the reasons articulated tonight and by those we are privileged to have in our caucus, Labor opposes this bill.
I turn now briefly to the second reading amendments. Labor's second reading amendment, which we have moved and has been circulated, goes to the fundamental flaws in what the government is proposing here tonight. Thirteen years after the intervention of inflicting compulsory income management on thousands and thousands of people across the Northern Territory, it simply hasn't worked. We believe the bill should be abandoned and the government should instead invest in local jobs, scrapping the CDP and replacing it with a program that gives local communities control, and make sure there are services and opportunities, not just punishment.
I also indicate on behalf of the opposition that Labor will be supporting the Greens second reading amendment to the bill. As has been said by many of my colleagues, we believe this is a racially discriminatory policy that is not based on evidence and that is being imposed on communities without consent or consultation.
Finally, Labor will not be supporting Senator Patrick's second reading amendment. We do not believe we should be picking and choosing who this card is imposed upon, dividing Australians into the 'deserving' and 'undeserving'. This card is being foisted upon many in the name of social issues faced by a minority. We do not believe this card should be rolled out generally, and therefore it shouldn't just be pensioners who are excluded. The reality is that the bill does extend, in its current form, the cashless debit card to pensioners and that there are already pensioners subject to compulsory income management. Thank you.
I rise this evening to speak on this bill that continues our commitment to improve our welfare system and deliver a real difference to the lives of Australians. This bill, the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020, allows for the continuation of the cashless debit card in existing sites and provides for the transition of income management participants across the Northern Territory and Cape York region to the cashless debit card.
The government thanks the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee for its report on the bill. The committee published the report on 17 November and recommended that this bill be passed. The report identified that the cashless debit card program is delivering significant benefits for the community where it operates. The program has the objective of reducing social harm caused by excessive alcohol, gambling and drug use; helps welfare recipients with their budgeting strategies; and encourages socially responsible behaviour.
I want to spend a moment taking the chamber back to where this all started, because when we consider why this card was put in place there can be no doubt about why it is so important to continue with this program. In 2011 the South Australian coroner handed down a heartbreaking report of the 'sleeping rough inquest' into the deaths of six people in the state's far west coast. It found that efforts to curb alcohol abuse in the region had not been successful and that it was having devastating impacts on individuals, their families and their communities. Indigenous community leaders approached the government and said they were sick of their people dying because of alcohol. That is the reason the communities in the Ceduna region asked for the cashless debit card.
It is clear to anybody who visits Ceduna now that the community has come a long way, and there is a returned sense of pride in the region. The card is not a silver bullet. This government has been clear on that from the outset. But it's clear that it has provided a circuit-breaker that, in tandem with wraparound support services and a lot of hard work within communities, is making a difference. Across the four sites, card participants are spending more of their welfare payments on essential items for themselves and their families, such as food, paying bills, clothes, household goods and fuel. This is confirmed by our card usage data, which shows that spending at supermarkets is up by almost 35 per cent and spending on household goods by over 160 per cent. Over the life of the program over $125 million has been spent at businesses that sell groceries and food that could not be spent on restricted items like alcohol, drugs and gambling products.
There have been more than a dozen evaluations of the CDC, which have provided consistent evidence about welfare quarantining. The policies show decreases in drug and alcohol issues; decreases in crime, violence and antisocial behaviour; improvements in child health and wellbeing; improvements in financial management; and ongoing and even strengthened community support.
I also want to put on record that the government is not interested in telling people where to spend their social security payments. We have no issue with people having a beer or putting a punt on from time to time, which is exactly why there is a percentage of the payment that is exempt from quarantine. What this program seeks to do is to reduce spending on alcohol and gambling products which, when consumed in large quantities, cause significant social harm for individuals, their families and their communities.
It is also the reason the government has been investing heavily in the technology that sits around the cashless debit card. It is practically no different to the debit cards that any of us in this chamber have in our wallets. It can be used in more than 900,000 stores across the country, basically anywhere an EFTPOS machine is available. It is for this reason that we are committed to transitioning income management participants in the Northern Territory and Cape York onto the cashless debit card. It provides income management participants with greater consumer choice and autonomy while reducing red tape for businesses. For example, it provides interest on participants' funds, gives access to new technology such as contactless payment, provides greater choice as to where participants can shop and enables participants to know when and how their money is being used, just like you or I do every day with our own bank cards.
The government has trialled income management through the BasicsCard and the cashless debit card in different communities to improve financial management and reduce harm. The government recognises that the BasicsCard was defective and can restrict an individual's ability to have choice. It is simply that—basic—and only works in around 16,000 stores that have signed a merchant agreement with Services Australia. The government is disappointed that those opposite are not willing to provide participants in the Northern Territory with the benefits of the cashless debit card, which is more user-friendly and works everywhere, except when individuals try to purchase alcohol, gambling products or some gift cards or to withdraw cash, at over 900,000 stores.
I also want to correct claims from those opposite that the cashless debit card is only targeted at Indigenous Australians. Across the four existing sites, about 34 per cent of total participants are Indigenous. The card applies equally to all eligible welfare recipients and is in locations where it has been identified that it can support people, families and communities experiencing high levels of welfare dependency and social harm. Anyone residing in locations where the cashless debit card operates and receiving an eligible payment will become a participant.
You just have a look at the positive impacts the cashless debit card has had across the current four program areas, from a reduction in drug and alcohol related presentations in emergency wards and fewer police call-outs late at night to a general feeling of improved safety on the streets in those towns. We cannot stand by and allow these communities to return to the levels of disadvantage and dysfunction that were so prevalent before their leaders had the courage to come to government and ask for the cashless debit card. As I've met with people who are on the cashless debit card across the country, many have told me how it has helped them improve their lives and helped them budget. From business leaders, local Indigenous leaders, local government, police and health officials there is a consistent message: the card must stay. It's the view of these people who actually live in cashless debit card regions that we should be listening to and considering in this debate.
I would like to take this opportunity to read a joint statement from eight community leaders: Ian Trust, Jean O'Reeri, Robyn Nolan, Corey McLennan, Tammy Williams, Maxine McLeod, John Bowler and Faye Whiffin, who provided the following statement in support of the cashless debit card. This statement was prepared at the request of Senator Patrick, who, I'm extremely disappointed to note, has heard the feedback from the community leaders who have asked for this to continue and dismissed it. The statement reads as follows:
We, the undersigned, support the passage of the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020 to pass. In principle, we support the continuation of the CDC as an ongoing income management program, to make the existing CDC trial sites permanent, and to transition income management in the Northern Territory and the Cape York region from the BasicsCard to the CDC.
We agree to continue working together to support the Commonwealth Government in delivering the objectives of the CDC, and identified that the ongoing implementation of the CDC should be underpinned by:
• Economically thriving, healthy and strong communities;
• A collective and culturally respectful voice on the positive impact the CDC does and can have;
• Enhanced technology to ensure CDC participants have access to a world-class cashless banking and payment experience;
• Improved delivery of wrap-around services to support CDC participants;
• Improved financial literacy for CDC participants and the broader community.
Since the introduction of the CDC, we have observed positive changes in our communities. Fewer vulnerable people have been harassed, or ‘humbugged’, to hand over cash to others. More children are attending school, families have money to spend on groceries, and alcohol-fueled violence has decreased. Our communities are safer, people are saying they have the money they need to provide for the basics of life such as buying clothes and food, and paying rent and bills.
We agree there are differences of opinion and the CDC is not perfect, but we are collectively committed to working with Government to support the changes the CDC can bring about. We recognise and accept the CDC model must continue to evolve in response to community needs, such as reflecting the importance of local authority by involving community Elders in the decision-making processes, and there is much work to be done to achieve the changes we so strongly want for our communities.
In order to create stronger, safer and healthier communities now and for generations to come we call upon our parliamentary representatives to pass the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020.
I acknowledge those in this place who, as part of the consideration of this bill, have taken the time to visit these communities and hear from people this measure is impacting firsthand. Specifically, I'd like to thank Rebekha Sharkie and Senators Griff, Patrick, Lambie and Hanson, who, despite not necessarily supporting the government's position, have decided and genuinely engaged on this issue. To those who haven't, perhaps you should. I also undertake the government's current support package in the existing sites will contain wraparound supports, and the government will continue to work community leaders to identify the most appropriate way to target those supports.
This bill gives four communities and the new region of Cape York further confidence about the government's commitment to reducing the devastating effects of the overuse of alcohol, drugs and gambling through a two-year extension to the program. We must continue to support the communities that put their hands up and drive positive change and improved outcomes for vulnerable individuals within their communities.
Finally, the government will not be supporting the second reading amendments that have been moved by the opposition and the Greens, because those amendments seek to destroy the very fabric of the purpose of this bill. The government will, however, be supporting Senator Patrick's second reading amendment in relation to the clarification that age pension and service pension recipients are not included in the cashless debit card, with the exception of those who volunteer or who are referred by the Family Responsibilities Commission, child protection workers, social workers or the Northern Territory Alcohol Mandatory Treatment Tribunal. I commend the bill to this chamber.
I move the Greens second reading amendment, as circulated in the chamber:
At the end of the motion, add ", but the Senate:
(a) notes that:
(i) this bill will entrench the racist, discriminatory, paternalistic, ineffective, top-down, blanket approach of compulsory income management via the Cashless Debit Card,
(iii) the Government failed to consult with people currently on the Cashless Debit Card about making it permanent; and
(b) calls on the Government to:
(i) abandon all forms of compulsory income management currently operating in Australia,
(ii) carry out extensive consultation around Australia for any move to make income management voluntary and ensure that any new program is co-designed, and
(iii) immediately release the second impact evaluation being undertaken by the University of Adelaide".
I move my second reading amendment:
At the end of the motion, add ", but the Senate calls on the Government to provide a commitment that no recipient of the Age Pension or a Veteran or Service Pension will be placed on the Cashless Debit Card, with the exception of those who volunteer or are referred by the Family Responsibility Commission, child protection workers, social workers or the Alcohol Mandatory Treatment Tribunal in the Northern Territory".