Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020; Second Reading
I rise today to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020. Well, here we are again talking about a discriminatory, racist, punitive approach to income support in this country. It has been going on for far too long, and it is time it ended. The Greens have stood in opposition to compulsory income management for the last 13 years, and while I draw breath we will continue to oppose compulsory income management because it causes great harm to communities and individuals.
This bill will make the current cashless debit card trial sites permanent in the areas of Ceduna, East Kimberley and the Goldfields in my home state of Western Australia—that's two sites in WA—and the Hervey Bay-Bundaberg region in Queensland. It will permanently introduce the cashless debit card into the Northern Territory and Cape York. The government has finally come clean with its intentions. It always intended to try and make this card and this process permanent. This was its plan all along—to entrench this racist, discriminatory, paternalistic, ineffective, top-down, blanket approach of compulsory income management. In the middle of a global pandemic and Australia's first recession in 30 years the government has chosen this moment as the right time to make the CDC permanent. It's astounding the government refuses to make any decisions on the base rate of the JobSeeker payment and youth allowance due to the 'changing' economic conditions but is happy to introduce compulsory income management. You can't raise the rate but you can entrench this punitive approach!
I am so deeply disappointed that this bill did not receive the scrutiny it deserved of the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, because of the tight time line put on it by the government. We had a single half-day public hearing into this bill, and many organisations and individuals, including First Nations organisations, missed out on their opportunity to voice their opposition. This level of scrutiny is simply unacceptable when you know that this policy will permanently impact, and, I say, harm the lives of tens of thousands of Australians.
I'm also disappointed with the complete lack of proper consultation about making the cashless debit card permanent. About 82 per cent of people who will permanently be transferred onto the cashless debit card in the NT are First Nations people, and they were not properly consulted. The government didn't even bother to ask First Nations communities whether they supported the introduction of the cashless debit card or the continuation of compulsory income management—just like they didn't consult the Northern Territory when they introduced the Northern Territory Intervention. I have said it before and I will say it again: information sessions explaining the policy is not consultation; it is simply explaining the policy and not listening to people's opinions on it.
There is a letter that has, I understand, been circulated to crossbenchers from Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory. I haven't got time to read out the whole lot, but in the absence of the government doing proper consultation I'll read out bits of it. This is from Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory to the crossbenchers. They say: 'We acknowledge the extreme pressure you are under in making this decision but want to let you know that you have the backing of APO NT and thousands of constituents we represent living in remote communities across the Northern Territory. The opposition to the CDC from the Northern Territory has been clear and unambiguous since it was first proposed, and members have lived with compulsory income management for more than a decade and remain subject to this enduring legacy of the punitive 2007 federal Intervention. We support income management as a voluntary measure for those experiencing hardship and who value the structure it can provide during difficult times or as a measure for individuals considered to be at high risk and vulnerable by Aboriginal controlled health organisations. Even in the latter situation, the period of income management should be time limited and closely monitored and supported. The clear and positive message from the Northern Territory is for improved education and training delivery and pathways to meaningful employment, not compulsory income management which traps people in a cycle of poverty.' The letter goes on, but I don't have time to read it all out.
The failure to consult directly contradicts and undermines the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap, which has been founded on the principles of shared decision-making and self-determination. The government should be ashamed of itself. The ink is barely dry on that agreement and already they are undermining it. The evidence used to support the recommendations of the Community Affairs Legislation Committee to pass the bill was deeply biased. The majority report cited 50 citations of pro-cashless-debit-card submissions and 96 citations of anti-cashless-debit-card submissions despite the fact that 90 per cent of submissions were against the card. What's worse is that Generation One—The Minderoo Foundation was cited at least as many as 16 times, which was more than all the organisations in the Northern Territory. Despite five years of the cashless debit card trials and 13 years of compulsory income management, there is no evidence to show its effectiveness. In fact, research shows that compulsory income management has produced worse outcomes for First Nations people in the Northern Territory.
The academic community has done some very good work reviewing the flawed government evaluations and undertaking independent research in the trial sites. Earlier this year, researchers from Monash University found that the cashless debit card had no substantive effect on gambling or alcohol use. They also found people on the card had a higher proportion of spending on less-healthy foods. Another study from the University of Queensland found that the social, emotional and economic costs of continuing with compulsory income management outweigh the benefits. Unsurprisingly, the government is refusing to release the latest University of Adelaide evaluation. Here we are debating making this card permanent, making compulsory income management permanent, and they won't release a study they've paid around $2 million for and wasted hundreds of hours of participants' time through that review process. They won't even release it so that we have the benefit of looking at it in order to consider these bills. On Tuesday, The Guardian reported that researchers conducting the evaluation say
… there is "little consensus" the cashless debit card is fulfilling its intended aims of reducing drug and alcohol abuse in—
the Goldfields trial site. It continues:
"only a minority" of those interviewed in the … back the card … in its current form
No wonder the government doesn't want to release it, because then we'd actually see what that evaluation said. It's not backing what they claim, I suspect.
Compulsory income management fails to address the underlying structural issues and social determinants that have an impact on health and financial outcomes. It breaches people's human rights, disempowers them and denies them control over their lives. It is an unacceptable denial of individual autonomy, choice and self-determination. Yet the government continues to obsess over this ineffective policy when we desperately need reforms in our social security system that would make a difference—for example, increasing the JobSeeker payment and making sure that communities have access to quality social services and support services and that they can be accessed on demand.
I would like to acknowledge government MPs like Bridget Archer who have displayed courage in speaking out against this card. Ms Archer knows what it's like to live on income support payments and recognises that the CDC is not the answer. Maybe if more parliamentarians had lived experience of the social security system then they would understand this card is not the solution. They would understand how people feel when their income is managed, how it takes away their autonomy, how it makes them feel anxious, how it makes them feel like they are losing their dignity because somebody else is controlling their money.
I find it deeply problematic that the objectives of the cashless debit card have shifted under this bill. There is a new objective of the policy related to financial literacy to support program participants and voluntary participants with their budgetary strategies. This is unbelievable, given the empirical research which shows the cashless debit card has not only failed to support people with their budgeting strategies but has made budgeting more difficult by preventing people from paying their bills and rent.
We also have to ask whether the cashless debit card could ever be an effective budgeting tool when the biggest challenge facing people is the low rate of the JobSeeker payment. People on income support are some of the best financial managers you can meet, because until the coronavirus supplement came in they had to manage on $40 a day. I tell you what: that takes a lot of financial management. The cashless debit card is an outrageous waste of public funds. We have no information about the cost of making the card permanent, because we're told that's commercial in confidence. The supporters of this bill are essentially giving the government a blank cheque to spend an unknown quantum of money rolling out an ineffective policy. This is irresponsible and reckless conduct from a government that claim they're good financial managers. What a joke.
There are a number of serious technical problems in this bill, of which I'll outline a few. The bill gives the minister the power to quarantine 80 per cent of someone's income support payment on the card. While the bill maintains a 50-50 quarantine ratio for people moving from the BasicsCard in the NT and the Cape onto the card, there is nothing stopping the minister from increasing this ratio to 80-20, as it is in the other trial sites. This is an unnecessary and unchecked power. You've got to question the government's motives on this. The bill also reintroduces an element from previous versions of legislation that enables the minister to revoke an exit or wellbeing exemption. The retrospective application of this could mean exit approvals made prior to the passage of this bill could be revoked, another flawed mechanism in this bill. As we all know, the exit application process is already deeply flawed and not many people have come off the card, given the number of applications. This will make that situation worse.
The bill also removes the ability of the secretary or the AAT to review certain decisions relating to child participation. It's incredible that the government is taking away these rights. This means that an individual will no longer be able to seek a review from the secretary or the AAT when they are first placed on the card and will instead need to apply for an exit or exemption from the scheme. Again, this is appalling. Also, there's no clarity in this bill about whether the government intends to place new income management recipients onto the cashless debit card. This bill lists the cap on the number of people who can be placed onto the card. Although the minister paused new entrants being placed onto the card in March, it's unclear whether this clause will remain in place if this legislation passes. Newly unemployed Australians have the right to know whether they will be placed on the card before the scheme becomes permanent. The government must come clean about this, but, when I asked about it in estimates, the minister could not answer my question.
This bill will be responsible for entrenching a two-tiered banking system that goes against section 12DL of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001. Sending a debit card or a credit card to a person who did not ask for one is an offence under this section of the ASIC Act. Today I'm calling on ASIC to take action against the government for sending unsolicited cards to people on income support.
We have had 13 years of this discriminatory policy. It has not worked. The government can't produce the evidence. They produce anecdotal stories all the time. I get emails, Facebook messages and tweets every single day from people who have trouble with the cashless debit card. Rent is a particular problem; they cannot pay their rent. A lady who could not pay her rent using her card had to get Indue to pay it. Indue told her that they had paid it and so she went out and made other purchases only then to find that her rent hadn't been paid, so in fact it made her life more difficult. She was trying to follow good financial management and Indue once again stuffed up because they didn't pay her rent. Now, if she applies to exit the card, they'll say, 'You can't manage your money,' when it was Indue's fault. Repeatedly they will not pay rent. They mess up all the time. This card is a racist, discriminatory, paternalistic approach that costs this country a fortune but, more importantly, takes away people's dignity and causes anxiety and stress. It is not a good measure. It is a poor measure. Compulsory income management is an appalling infliction on our social security system. This needs to end. (Time expired)
I rise to speak against the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020. It's a bill that all senators should be totally against. They should be against it because it's—and it can be summed up in one word—inefficient. This government has failed to do what it should have done in representing Australians in these trial sites. I spoke in the Senate this week about this government's failure to adequately evaluate what was going on in the four trial sites across Australia. This government has failed to bring to the Senate, to Senate estimates and even to Senate inquiries what it is about the cashless debit card that is so good.
All senators in this Senate must uphold the highest standards in the work they do in approving or disapproving legislation. There is no evidence to prove that this legislation before the Senate, which forces people into compulsory quarantining with the cashless welfare card, is a good thing. If anything, the evidence shows the reverse. It shows how discriminated against people feel. It shows how discriminatory the behaviour of others towards them is. It shows that it doesn't empower residents of Australia to rise above poverty and vulnerable circumstances. There is no evidence that shows this card does what the government espouses it does. Have a good think about that for a moment.
We here in the Senate must always research, inquire and ask the deep questions: Is this good policy? Does this help our fellow Australians? Does it enable them to take their place in Australian society as equals? Does it enable them to pay their bills with dignity, without having to be scrambling and scratching on a phone for hours, begging for help to get some dollars out? It's not empowering when they need to pay their bills, their rent or the local supermarket or they need to take their children to events or functions but can't. There is no dignity for families who cannot look after their own simply because they are forced onto a card—all because the government says they should be. The real problem here is that the government has failed to show any evidence to prove otherwise. If anything, it is that the cashless debit card is so discriminatory and so racist, like the BasicsCard we have in the Northern Territory.
Let's look at the history of that in the Northern Territory. In 2007, then Prime Minister John Howard intervened in the lives of First Nations people across the Northern Territory, and 70 prescribed communities were immediately forced onto the card under the emergency intervention. The then Prime Minister and the then Indigenous affairs minister said it was based on 'caring for children' and the 'rivers of grog', but we know that only a few months after that decision former minister Alexander Downer publicly said, 'We only intervened in the Northern Territory because we could.' Those of us in the Northern Territory knew then what being disempowered felt like. I was the member for Arnhem and stood in the Northern Territory parliament representing the people of Arnhem Land, and never in my life had I felt so disempowered. Here I was, a politician representing thousands of people in my electorate, and I could not change or stop anything.
I went out to Arnhem Land on 3 August 2007, a couple of months after the Intervention occurred. There were meetings of First Nations people happening at the Garma Festival, at Gulkula. I knew when I went there that I was going to face a barrage of criticism, concern and hurt from First Nations people, and I did. I went out there to face them knowing it wasn't me who'd made the decision of the Commonwealth to come in and impose such draconian laws on people of colour, but they were my constituents and I had to go out there and face them, because no-one from the Commonwealth was coming up. No-one from the Commonwealth parliament was walking there on Gulkula country and saying, 'Oh yeah, this is why we've intervened in your life.' So on 3 August 2007 I walked in on that ceremony ground and I got eaten alive. First Nations people were so hurt, so angry, and they let us know it. They turned to me and my parliamentary colleagues from the Northern Territory parliament and they said: 'You did nothing! You did nothing, and in our lives we're all being treated like we're paedophiles, we can't feed our children, we don't care for our children, we don't work, we're all druggies and alcos. You did nothing!' As we walked away, some of my colleagues said to me, 'But we couldn't do anything.' I said: 'Yeah, we could've. Constitutionally we might not have been able to. We're a self-governing territory; the Commonwealth can intervene on us any time it likes. But we could've protested, we could have marched the streets, we could have had civil disobedience. But we did nothing.'
The hurt was palpable. The anger has never gone away. That sense of deep oppression, of racism, has gone on for 13 years since that Intervention, in the policy of the BasicsCard, and more, across the Northern Territory. Oh yes, I heard all the arguments: 'Oh, but millions of dollars is going into the Northern Territory now, millions of dollars. We've got all these Canberra public servants flying back and forth, assisting with the establishment of safe houses, safe places—even a few extra police stations. There's millions of dollars going in.' And I turned around and said: 'Yeah, but we needed that anyway. Why did you have to intervene on people's lives to give them what they rightly deserved in the first place—to have decent homes; to have safe houses for their families, especially the women; to have more police protection, like any other Australian community?' Why is it that First Nations people always have to feel grateful for receiving something that is a basic right for any other Australian in this country?
Now the government comes to the Senate and says not only does it want to make the four trial sites across Australia for the cashless debit card permanent; it wants to include every single one of those families under the BasicsCard—25,000 extra people. On what grounds? On what basis? There has not even been an evaluation of the BasicsCard in the Northern Territory since 2014—that's six years ago—and even that evaluation proved that the BasicsCard was not working. So I raise it in the Senate here: where is the evaluation for those families who have felt completely undignified for all of this time?
Their children have had to grow up over the last 13 years feeling like oppression is their future, oppression is their life. That doesn't give hope.
I expect better of this Senate. I expected better of the minister and I expected better of the government. At least have a decent, good reason as to why you're doing what you're doing. But you don't, do you? You've been sloppy in the way you've gone about getting any evidence; in fact, worse, you've abrogated responsibility to Australians by not even looking at the $2.5 million worth of evidence that you called for. And you still brought this legislation into the Senate. You passed it in the House! You had a member on your side telling you that this legislation was wrong. I wish she had had the courage of her convictions to cross the floor, because we would not be having this conversation in here if she had done that. I know that Bridget Archer MP is not the only one in the House who has that view. So it's left to senators to show courage—not just some but a hell of a lot of courage. Even if you like the cashless debit card, even if you think purchasing goods from 900,000 outlets across Australia is a wonderful thing, I ask you to consider this: do not reward a government which has been lazy and inefficient and has abrogated its responsibility to this Senate to have the right kind of evidence to bring to the Senate, to respect the Senate so that senators are able to make wise and just decisions on behalf of all Australians. What you have brought in here in this legislation is not that. You have failed.
You have not even spoken to the people of the Northern Territory or given them the opportunity to tell you how they feel about the BasicsCard; you're just expecting them to roll across onto the cashless debit card. There is no decency in that. It is so un-Australian; it really is. We here in the Senate do pride ourselves on trying to examine and investigate everything from every perspective. I urge senators to recognise that, even if they do like this cashless debit card, they cannot make a decision on behalf of thousands and thousands of Australians when no evidence that says the cashless debit card works has come forward in this Senate. At the very least, you should condemn this government for its failure. You should condemn this government because of the position that it's put the Senate and senators into. It is not our place to fix its mess.
I say to the crossbenchers: this legislation is wrong; it is unjust, racist and so un-Australian. Vote no to this legislation and compel the government to do its job—to get off its backside, get out there and actually do its job. Listen to the Australians out there who are crying out for your empathy and recognition of the hardship that they are experiencing. Take the sand out of your ears. And let's hope we can soften your hearts, because all this legislation does is push people further and further into the ground. Please, Senators, vote no to this horrendous legislation.
I rise to make a contribution on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020. I'd like to associate myself with that incredible speech from Senator McCarthy. If there's a speech that's going to convince other senators to vote no to this bill, that's the speech to listen to and refer back to.
Labor will be opposing this bill. The reasons that underpin our opposition to imposing the cashless debit card on communities without their informed consent or adequate consultation have been extensively canvassed in this place through committee reports and contributions to debates, such as those made by Senator McCarthy. Indeed, senators from across the political spectrum have rightly found fault with the approach engendered in this bill and related bills over recent years. In fact, many of the concerns we've been flagging since the coalition government embarked on its rollout of the cashless debit card have regrettably been realised. Further to that, there is now an exhaustive base of evidence which has affirmed our opposition to measures in this bill.
The income management regime the Morrison government is seeking to impose with this legislation, in many cases on some of the most vulnerable and isolated social security recipients and communities in the country, has a number of irredeemable flaws. Put simply, it doesn't work, despite the government's continued but baseless assertions that it does. Thankfully, there are those in the coalition party room that recognise this—and we've heard comments from the member for Bass this week.
More than a decade has now passed since the Howard government's Intervention in the Northern Territory and its accompanying welfare quarantining measures. There is just no evidence that compulsory broad-based income management works. The evidence suggests quite to the contrary. Not only have the cashless debit card and compulsory income management policies more generally been found wanting in their effectiveness but, as Labor members have been highlighting, there is actually evidence of significant harm. It cannot go unsaid—in fact, it must be at the forefront of our consideration of the bill—that this legislation is racially discriminatory. We know that more than two-thirds of the people who would face increasingly severe restrictions and controls under this bill would be First Nations Australians. In fact, half of all welfare recipients impacted by this legislation would be First Nations people in the Northern Territory.
What's abundantly clear with the Morrison government's wholesale and flagrant disregard of the publicly available evidence is that its cashless debit card policy is firmly, if not exclusively, based on ideology. We see that playing out here this week—that this bill is the one that's most important to this government. It's the cashless debit card, on their program this week in the Senate, that is their priority bill. I think that speaks everything about this government. It certainly cannot claim to be supported by the data or the lived experience of Australians who've been subjected to it.
It should be noted, too, that this bill is meaningfully different to others we've had before us. It rushes to make the cashless debit card permanent in the existing trial sites rather than seeking to extend the trial period, as the government had originally sought to do. That key difference betrays another motivation implicit in this bill. The government are determined to proceed with their scarcely concealed plan to roll this card out right across the country, irrespective of the evidence, and, with it, make life harder for millions of social security recipients. Anyone who's in receipt of social security in this country should be worried by this bill. Make no mistake: that's clearly the direction this government is headed, or how else can we account for the Morrison government making the decision to forge ahead with this bill in the way that it has done?
The minister herself admitted at Senate estimates that she had not even read the $2½ million evaluation of the program before deciding to make the cashless debit card permanent. That's an evaluation the government itself commissioned—the very same report senators in this place have not seen, despite being asked to vote on this bill today. Clearly, it is not evidence that's motivating the approach from the Morrison government. If that's not sufficiently telling about the government's true intention, at estimates, we discovered the establishment of the so-called CDC technology working group. That group includes the likes of the ANZ Bank, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank and Westpac, as well as Coles, Woolworths, Metcash, EFTPOS and Australia Post. It's not difficult to deduce the scale of the government's ambition of a future CDC rollout with groups of that size involved. Why would they be involved unless there were greater plans afoot?
Regrettably, this is also another case of movement and action in lieu of substance and delivery from the Prime Minister. It's a pattern Australians are growing wearily familiar with. The Prime Minister attempts to chalk up a win, grab a headline, that, on the face of it, might suggest meaningful action, and then quickly move on to the next announcement. If it helps shore up support internally by appealing to the ideological biases of the hard-right wing of his party, all the better to do it.
I'll withdraw, according to your ruling. But what we've learnt and what Australians are quickly discovering is that, once the sugar hit of a headline has dissipated, any close review of those policies exposes that they chronically underdeliver or are even counterproductive, as is the case with this legislation. That's certainly part of Labor's opposition to this bill. It's also that it's an enormous missed opportunity, a classic case of opportunity cost—and that's before factoring in that too many of the people and communities that this bill would impact most heavily were experiencing long-term or intergenerational disadvantage well before the pandemic arrived on our shores. Yet the Morrison government's focus in this final parliamentary week of the year is not on evidence based policy that empowers or supports some of the most vulnerable in our community. Instead it's seeking, with unjustified haste, to push through another ideologically motivated program.
I'd like to turn to an issue that I alluded to earlier, and that's about the bill not being supported by evidence. Analysis from a broad range of specialists, many of whom contributed to the recent Senate inquiry, have provided compelling evidence that, when the cashless debit card and similar schemes have been compulsorily imposed, they have not worked. Professor Dreise, director of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the ANU, succinctly characterised the evidence supporting both the cashless debit card and the BasicsCard as 'flimsy and largely anecdotal, not rigorous and reliable. The evidence does not stack up'. On the contrary, he asserted that 13 years of compulsory income management practices in the Northern Territory had produced 'a very large amount of evidence' showing that 'it has had almost no positive impact'.
These findings are supported by the University of South Australia's recent independent analysis of the CDC trial in Ceduna, South Australia. With explicit reference to the issue of gambling and substance abuse amongst welfare recipients, which is often proffered by proponents of compulsory schemes as justification for intervention, UniSA's independent analysis determined:
… the CDC policy … had no substantive effect on the available measures for the targeted behaviours of gambling or intoxicant abuse.
We've also heard from the pre-eminent experts in addiction that the approach championed through this bill by the government is completely wrongheaded, particularly its focus on compulsion rather than employing proven methods which leverage voluntary involvement and positive reinforcement. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists stated in their submission that there was not clinical evidence to support the CDC. They said:
… we are concerned at the continued pursuit of this policy against the advice of addiction specialists.
… … …
More than 50 years of psychological research shows that positive reinforcement strategies are more effective than punitive strategies in bringing about behavioural change.
So why is the government proceeding in the face of this evidence? It's especially bewildering when you couple the highly questionable effectiveness of the program with its costs. Dr Luke Greenacre's more recent research with the University of South Australia 'examined the change in targeted behaviours following the introduction of the scheme in a South Australian trial area, finding no statistically significant improvement in any behaviour'. Dr Greenacre's research suggests the CDC offers a marginal return, 'if any' return at all, on government investment. He said:
We found no substantive impact on measures of gambling, drug and alcohol abuse, crime or emergency department presentations.
There you have it from the experts, but this government isn't listening to them.
The Liberal member for Bass, Bridget Archer MP, has spoken out against the government's cashless debit welfare card program, saying:
There is just not enough evidence … to justify the associated harm that it causes.
In her contribution in the other place, the member for Bass said:
I have been a recipient of government assistance at different times in my life and I can understand the distress that so many forced on to this card would feel … 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'.
Whenever you approach a human problem by inciting shame and guilt, you have already lost those that you are seeking to help.
I'd like to associate myself with those thoughtful remarks and reflections, brought out of her personal experience, which mirror my own.
Ms Archer's dissent has also been supported by the Liberal member for Monash, Russell Broadbent, who has registered his concern about the bill, specifically questioning the merit in singling out communities for a cashless debit card. I certainly hope that members of the Senate crossbench—and indeed, any members of the coalition in this place who are listening to these contributions and listening to the evidence—will have the courage of their convictions to join us in opposing this legislation.
Let's be very clear about what's happening here. The Morrison government are seeking, through this bill, to permanently establish the punitive cashless debit card, despite knowing it does not work; despite knowing it unjustly and disproportionately targets First Nations Australians; despite having failed to adequately consult with affected communities; despite having failed to invest in job creation, housing or adequate community services; despite knowing this bill is yet another step in a barely concealed plan to roll out this regime on welfare recipients right across the country; and despite the government's own members having conceded in parliament that all of this is true.
Why is this bill the government's No. 1 priority this week? Why is this the Prime Minister's No. 1 priority—to impose the cashless debit card, which disproportionately targets First Nations Australians? That, seriously, is his No. 1 issue this week. When we have so many people unemployed, so many businesses struggling and so many families trying to make ends meet, shouldn't that be the focus? But, no, it's this one. At the same time, we have the Prime Minister saying, 'We prefer to let Australians make decisions about how they spend their money.' He's been saying that all week, and then he turns around with legislation like this, which takes that right away from those communities where this is going to be imposed permanently. And then it will be rolled out across the country. So he says one thing to one group of people in this country, and then he acts this way towards some of the most vulnerable, isolated and marginal communities in this country—instead of working with them and listening to them. God help us if you actually listened and asked and worked with communities about how to support them and respond to some of the challenges that they may be experiencing in their homes and their communities!
'We've got it right. We won't listen to the experts. We won't listen to the report that we've commissioned. We won't even read it. We'll spend $2½ million of taxpayers' funds on commissioning a report that the minister herself has acknowledged she didn't read before taking the decision to permanently impose this on a number of communities in Australia, with the long-term view of rolling it out across the country.' That is the priority of this government. It's mean, it's nasty and it's playing to base politics. And they won't listen, because this is exactly what they want to do. All the way to the next election, they seek to marginalise, disenfranchise, demean—in the eyes of other Australians—the rights of some of the most vulnerable communities in this country. The Labor Party will not be a part of it. We will call it out, and we will call it out all day. I know many other senators in this place will call it out, too. Like Senator McCarthy said, I urge the crossbench: do not be bullied into voting for this bill. The government has got itself into a problem about timing because they've mismanaged their own program. Don't help them out. They don't deserve it. And the communities that are going to have this imposed on them don't deserve it either.
I rise to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020. This degrading, colonial type bill will introduce the CDC as a permanent program, not a trial, to replace the current BasicsCard for about 25,000 people in the Northern Territory and Cape York regions. There won't be any cap on how many people will have their income support managed by the government, allegedly for their own good. I'm not surprised that the government is trying to rush this through this place, because about 82 per cent of people who will be put back on rations through the CDC are First Nations people, particularly those who are living on country in remote areas.
The sovereign First People of this country are going to be put back on rations in the Northern Territory and Cape York. It's shame. It's 2021 rations. That's what this is. Let's tell the truth: it's putting black people back on rations. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the government of this country introduced legislation to regulate the lives of our people. These laws were commonly referred to as 'protection acts', because we were told that they were to protect our people. These acts existed and were used until the eighties as a means to forcefully separate our families, create division, disempower our people, try to destroy our cultures and assimilate the oldest culture in the world into settler colonial societies. We were doing just fine before those ships sailed into Eora country to plant their flags on our soil and use our people's country as a prison without consent. We weren't the ones needing assimilation. We were fine, yet these so-called protection acts were used as a way to control the lives of our people. Now, it's back to the future with this bill before us today.
In the second reading speech for this bill the minister said that this new rations program is 'helping welfare recipients with their budgeting strategies and reducing the likelihood that they will remain on welfare and out of the workforce for extended periods'. What a joke! If the minister cared for our people, the government would be bending over backwards to fully fund and resource our Aboriginal community controlled organisations to provide services to our people, because our people know what we need. This government is just blocking our path and our right to self-determination. Self-determination must drive how this government engages with any issue that affects us.
Our people need strong, culturally safe and self-determined supports and services. Services like Aboriginal-controlled financial management, social support, education, child care and legal assistance services. But since our people are not property developers or miners, then this government gives us nothing. Well, that's not true. We get the 21st century equivalent of rations and this new protection act. Our people have not forgotten the protection regime that they were forced into, especially the Northern Territory Aboriginal people. By 1911, 10 years after this country was federated, every state and territory except Lutruwita—Tasmania—had a so-called protection act giving the chief protector of Aborigines extensive power to control our lives. In the Northern Territory in particular, the chief protector of Aborigines was made the legal guardian of all Aboriginal children, displacing the rights of their own parents. Our people have been caring for our young ones and our babies for millennia and, now, the chief protector controlled our children and our babies because he said so. These protection acts included powers to direct our people off their lands to live on reserves and missions.
Our people were enslaved, something that the Prime Minister himself conveniently forgot. He must not have seen the pictures of our senior law men and women in chains and shackles. I'll be happy to provide them to him so he can understand history properly. Our women were abused, assaulted and raped. The police services of this country stole our children from their families and put them to work. The government then turned around to tell us that we were the bad parents. They did all this in the name of protection. What we needed protection from was colonisation. Our people were subject to near total control of movement, of who they could marry and when, and of the jobs that they could do. Our wages were stolen, our savings were taken and our property was seized. Then they put us on rations. They paid us for our labour with clothes and with flour, tea and sugar—foods that we did not have in our diets and that our bodies were not used to, foods that are still killing our people earlier than they should be dying.
People wonder why we are angry. You are lucky that all we want is a fair go. All we want is everything that was denied to our ancestors. How mad they get when we tell the truth, because there is nothing so fragile as white supremacy. I can see people in this chamber bristling at me for even raising white supremacy in this place. Don't forget that one of the first laws this very parliament passed was the Immigration Restriction Act, also known as the beginning of the White Australia policy. Here I stand in this place, along with Senator McCarthy and Senator Dodson, as a proud black person standing up for our people and our rights. We're dismantling the supremacy this country was built on, because we have seen this type of protectionist, colonial interference in our lives before.
This is not the first time that the government has wanted to control the income of our people by regulating access to and payment of social security. Our people were mostly denied any income support, such as child endowment payments, maternity allowance and old age pensions when they were introduced. This parliament even made amendments to legislation that meant that, although our people may have been entitled to income support, this could be paid indirectly to a third party like a mission or a government agency. The Child Endowment Act 1941 provided that the child endowment payment would not be made to Aboriginal natives of Australia who were nomadic or where the child was wholly or mainly dependent on the Commonwealth or a state for support. From 1912, a maternity allowance of five pounds was paid to mothers on the birth of a child. Section 6 of the Maternity Allowance Act 1912 specifically excluded the payment of the maternity allowance to 'women who are Asiatics, or are aboriginal natives of Australia, Papua, or the islands of the Pacific'. The Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act 1908 specifically excluded 'Aboriginal natives of Australia' from receiving the old age or invalid pensions. The Commonwealth scheme for unemployment and sickness benefits came into operation in July 1945. Under that law, 'an Aboriginal native of Australia' was disqualified. Now, here we are, with the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020 and the new protection acts being introduced into this place by the chief protector of Aborigines. Don't be fooled when they tell you that this is for our benefit. It's not. Management of income is racist and colonial nonsense all over again. And it's demeaning to us, a proud people.
So many people have shared their stories with me, like Annette Stokes, who was awarded the Order of Australia for her dedicated work for mobs in western Goldfields regarding genetics. Once her contract had finished, she had the right to apply for income support while looking for work and then was placed on a management card. She does not drink or take drugs and is practising culture. A Christian woman who attends church alongside her brother, Pastor Geoffrey Stokes, Annette sings beautiful songs in church, lives an honest life and is a wonderful mother and friend to many but is being placed on a 21st century ration. There is also Grant Gannet, a proud Aboriginal man, who was in tears about how cruel this card is to his people. I also want to speak to the story of a sister, Jmara King, who was on the card in Queensland and tells me that it took this government two months to send it to her. By that time she was so far back in her rent that court proceedings to evict her from her home had already started, so she had to move in with her parents in a crowded home.
This is shameful. We are condemning proud black people to rations and income management and 21st century protection acts. And we are proud; we have been proud for over 80,000 years. I love being black. Our people love being black. We are deadly! That's why they try to control us—control what we buy, when we buy it and where we buy it from. We are the oldest living culture in the world. Maybe that's the reason they are always trying to control us. The government is always big on how staunch we are, how proud we are, and that we are still here. The strength of our matriarchs still runs through this soil. The resilience of our people is stronger than anything you have ever witnessed. This is why we will not be voting for this protectionist bill. We are still here. You didn't wipe us out, even though that was the agenda. And we will continue to resist.
If this government is serious about helping our people, then resource us to work towards treaties. Fund our community controlled organisations. Fund culturally appropriate homes for our people. Stop deciding what type of home we have to live in. Resource our legal services. Give us our land back. Restore the dignity of our law men and women and our cultures. This card does not do that. Our people have not forgotten being forced into missions, having our wages stolen, having our backs broken and our families separated— (Time expired)
I join today the chorus of voices in this parliament opposing the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020. We've seen many iterations of this legislation come through this place in various forms. We know that with this legislation today the government is seeking to make the cashless debit card permanent in the trial sites in which it currently operates and to roll it out in the Northern Territory. I share absolutely the anger and frustration of many on this side of the chamber and, around the country, of many participants on the card and many communities.
We know that the CDC has been the subject of any number of inquiries. Those inquiries have consistently found that there is little evidence to show that the program works, but now we find that the government wants to make it permanent in some communities and that it wants to roll it out across the entirety of the Northern Territory also. It's disappointing, when we see the good work that's been done in this parliament to secure the representation of the Northern Territory, to help it maintain two seats in the House of Representatives and thus enfranchise Territorians, that the government ignores the community feedback from the Territory about the cashless debit card. This is no small point. The history of the Northern Territory is that, when it split from South Australia in 1911, it lost its democratic voting rights. I believe that if the Northern Territory had 12 senators of its own or participated in electing the 12 senators to South Australia this legislation wouldn't be here before us today, because the enfranchisement of First Nations people would have had an entirely different visibility and basis to it. Why was the Northern Territory managed by the Commonwealth back in 1911 as a remote territory? Frankly, it was because the thousands and thousands and hundreds of thousands of people—we don't actually know, statistically, how many people lived in the Territory at the time—who lived in the Northern Territory didn't have the right to vote at that time. I reflect on the fact that, had the people of the Northern Territory back in 1911 been white, the Northern Territory would have had representation in the federal parliament at that time. Here again we are paternalistically and patronisingly seeking to say that we in this place know what is best for the people of the Northern Territory.
This punitive micromanagement does absolutely nothing to build the capacity and resilience of people and communities. The focus on making the cashless debit card compulsory in the Northern Territory is implicitly and overtly racist. I draw on the example of the lack of voting rights historically within the Northern Territory as a parallel example of this. If we had proper participation and no paternalism in these policy debates then these policies wouldn't be here before us. Sixty-eight per cent of the people who will go on the card in the Northern Territory are First Nations Australians. The failure of the government to consult with these communities is disappointing in the extreme. But I can see why the government isn't consulting with people in a meaningful way; it's ideologically motivated to implement the cashless debit card, despite the lack of evidence.
When it comes to these debates, we must leave the cultural authority and leadership around finding things that work for community in the hands of those communities. Canberra is too far away and too remote. It's not them who are remote. It's not the Northern Territory that's remote. It's not the communities of the Kimberley that are remote. It is us who are remote from them. Many of those communities have had continuing cultures of many thousands of years. It is us who are remote from them. We've given these communities no real voice on these issues. We have to talk about those issues in those communities in a way in which they can determine their positions and their voices on them.
I note that an evaluation undertaken by the University of Adelaide was not even made available to the Senate committee that inquired into this bill for consideration during its inquiry. The government asked for evidence in terms of evaluations. If it didn't suit your agenda of wanting to support the card, it has been hidden away.
Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. Labor's opposition is not ideologically driven; it's driven by the evidence that demonstrates that the scheme doesn't work. So I say—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—that, rather than pursuing ideological policy that's not based on evidence, governments should partner with communities to support the health and economic wellbeing of First Nations Australians. They should make a genuine attempt to partner with communities and listen to First Nations Australians. They should partner with communities to build their economic resilience, and listen to and work with them to deliver on community driven health strategies.
There's a very relevant saying within HIV communities—and we've seen it in the context of COVID as well—if you're going to have proper strategies that work within community. The saying is 'Nothing about us without us'. This could not be more true in the case of communities and First Nations communities. When governments say they don't trust their own communities, we've seen that that's not the kind of management that works. We shouldn't be simply saying that people can't be trusted to use their unemployment support wisely. We shouldn't be saying the government simply knows better.
A national independent study that ran over three years was funded by the Australian Research Council. It made a series of absolutely damning findings. Of the survey participants, 67 per cent reported that they had no trouble at all managing their money before being placed on income management, and 87 per cent reported they did not have a problem with alcohol. If you take your average welfare participant and you take your average senator—there are 76 of us, so if you were to take 76 jobseekers—I can tell you which cohort of people would spend more money on alcohol, and it wouldn't be the participants.
Most cardholders felt income management was forced on them with minimal assistance and support to help them use it to their advantage. People had told researchers that income management not only had failed to alleviate the challenges of their lives—challenges that were largely non-existent in terms of issues like drugs and alcohol anyway—but had caused financial problems that did not previously exist: not having enough cash for essential items; difficulty providing for children and other family members because respondents did not have access to sufficient cash; difficulties participating in the cash economy because of lack of access to cash, meaning you're unable to purchase second-hand goods, for example; and difficulties paying rent and other bills because of glitches with processing payments, particularly via the cashless debit card. I want to highlight, in the context of, for example, remote communities in Western Australia, that there is a range of goods at the local store but, if you want to buy furniture, you have to travel a long way to get it from the nearest town and, more often than not, it will be traded second-hand in a cash economy. So how do you buy furniture for your family in the context of not having access to sufficient cash? What's the point of micromanaging the finances of people who simply don't have enough to live on anyway? I can't help but think about the context of the legislation before us, where the government wants to see the cashless debit card rolled out across the Northern Territory at the same time as reducing the welfare payments of people on it.
Frankly, I'm highly concerned about the astronomical amounts of money that have already been spent on the trial. Between 2015 and 2020 some $33.6 million was spent on the hotline, the management of the card, merchant management, administration, processing support et cetera. That's a lot of money that could have gone into expanding support services and giving people a better deal on their income support payments. The evidence from the Western Australian Council of Social Service said:
Attempting to address complex social issues with a blunt instrument like the Cashless Debit Card is simply misguided and fails to meaningfully target the causes of the issues being experienced in the regions the card has been introduced.
Instead of a policy like the Cashless Debit Card, the investment and focus for these regions should be on job creation and providing appropriate, culturally-accessible services that support people to maintain a basic standard of living and care for their families, address alcohol and other drug misuse and problem gambling when those problems are present, and maintain affordable and secure housing.
This card does none of that.
In closing I'm going to reflect on the fact that people do have drug and alcohol problems in their lives and, for those who do have those significant problems, there's always a way around them. A Yalata figure told ANU researchers:
They're trying to stop people from drinking. When they made this stuff.
The researchers said:
This person reflected with poignancy on the introduction of alcohol as part of the colonisation process. 'They made the alcohol. And it never stops. You can't stop people from drinking.' … 'We've lost our vision. A card cannot give vision to the community.'
We know that we need to empower communities around the country and we need to empower individuals, but this is not what the card does. Another person in this trial said:
I know from my ex-partner: he was went away for rehab. He was missing his family, got out, and went back on heavy drugs. If there was a rehab center here … he could have probably … put his mind to it.
That person is from Ceduna, and the nearest residential drug and alcohol facility is located some 500 kilometres away.
I rise to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020, which I think we call the cashless debit card. This bill would make the cashless debit card a permanent program—not a trial—and it would replace the current BasicsCard for about 25,000 people in the Northern Territory and for those in the Cape York region, where there's no cap on the number of participants. All up, about 82 per cent of people who will be transferred on to the cashless debit card in the Territory are First Nations people, and most of them are living in remote communities.
Income management from its outset was clearly racist, because it was targeted at First Nations communities, and the response of the government was not to revoke this racist policy but to extend it to white communities so that it remained bad policy but now it applied to more cohorts of people. My home state of Queensland was one of those test sites for the extension of the card, and the impacts of that trial on actual human beings, many of whom I've spoken with, as has Senator Siewert, make it clear why the program should not be continued and certainly should not be expanded.
The staggered rollout of the card in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay started in January 2019 and was completed in mid-May of 2019. Queensland's peak social services body, the Council of Social Service, or QCOSS as they're known, conducted surveys in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay at the outset of the trial after it had been running for several months, and, contrary to the government's claim that the trial had support, the initial survey indicated 65 per cent opposition. That grew to 81 per cent during the trial. So the lived experience of being on the card or having family members on the card or working in an organisation whose clients were subjected to it, hardened people's opposition.
People with experience of being on the card reported problems with health or mental health issues. They reported rent problems. Senator Siewert has already gone through some examples where rent was not paid by the administrators of the card, leading to potential eviction by people who through no fault of their own had their rent mismanaged thanks to those running the card. People who were on the card also experienced stigma and discrimination. They experienced cards being declined and cash-only opportunities missed.
Some of the responses are truly heartbreaking. One person said: 'My card's declined at supermarkets and petrol stations. I've been publicly shamed when using my card. Rent's declined. I've missed out on second-hand goods. I can't shop at roadside stalls or markets. My kids have missed out on tuckshop and fundraiser school events.' The next person who corresponded with us and who wanted their story shared said, 'I feel embarrassed to pull my card out to pay at places, so I will often avoid shopping on busy days as the added stress makes my anxiety unmanageable.' A third person said, 'I've personally been called a junkie and a dole bludger at the supermarket.'
Naomi, who is a Queensland single mum who has multiple sclerosis, wrote to me when the news spread that the CDC trial could be expanded to other regions of Queensland. Naomi was terrified by what this card would mean for her and her family. Her youngest son had just finished year 12 and was acting as her carer. He's a talented athlete, and Naomi was only able to afford the amount of nourishing food that he needs to stay fit and healthy by shopping at local farmers' markets, something that I'm sure many of the people in this chamber do regularly. Naomi was terrified that if the CDC rolled out to her region she'd have to forego healthy, affordable, locally grown produce at markets where you pay with cash and instead would be forced to buy overpriced, much older and less fresh supermarket food. She was worried that if her son had to contribute to those costs that he would no longer be able to use the small amount of carer's allowance that he gets to pay for race entry fees. His athletics career would be over. These are the legitimate fears of a Queensland single mum with MS who is petrified about the effect of this card being rolled out across our state.
Kathryn Wilkes lives in Bundaberg in Queensland. She's been a fierce campaigner against the card for years. She's dispelled the mistruths and she's supported her community to speak out against the disaster of this program. I visited Kathryn, as has Senator Siewert and many others, in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region, where we heard stories from people who've been forced onto the card. We heard directly about the impact that it's had on their lives. Their experiences were all different, but they shared the view that the card had made their lives worse. It's punitive and it does nothing to actually help people get a job or live with dignity. QCOSS agree. They said:
We believe addressing complex health and social issues, such as alcohol, drug and gambling problems, through the welfare system is fundamentally flawed. Evidence indicates that the CDCT is ineffective, expensive, harmful, unsupported, discriminatory and paternalistic.
These experiences in Queensland serve as a warning that the cashless debit card should certainly not be made permanent and it should not be rolled out more broadly.
My colleague Senator Siewert and several of the other speakers have outlined the issues with compulsory income management more broadly and with this bill in particular. Senator Siewert listed the many, many First Nations organisations that oppose this card. Of course, my colleague Senator Thorpe also gave a very powerful speech about the disproportionate impact of this policy approach on First Nations communities. This bill perpetuates a racist one-size-fits-all policy that targets First Nations and vulnerable people. The bill and the rollout in the NT contradict the Closing the Gap commitments.
Changes introduced by this bill will make it even harder for people to get off the card. It allows ongoing monitoring of a person's wellbeing, even after they've managed to get off the card. This bill is not supported by any robust evidence that the card has met any of its objectives. In fact, the ANAO found that there was no evidence that there'd been a reduction in social harm at the trial sites—no evidence. The final evaluation of income management as part of the NT Intervention found that it had met none of its objectives. Of course, we don't know what the University of Adelaide study that cost the taxpayer $2½ million says, because this government is not releasing it into the public domain and, as I understand it from some of the other contributors, the minister herself has admitted she hasn't even read the report. This is just farcical in the extreme.
This card is denying people their dignity and their quality of life. The cashless debit card is a punitive program that punishes people simply because they are on income support. Its impact has been to stigmatise and demean those who need support. In the middle of a pandemic and an economic and jobs crisis, now is when the government decides that it wants to make the cashless debit card permanent. The government uses economic uncertainty as a basis to defer decisions about raising the rate of JobSeeker permanently, but it's happy to try and lock in compulsory income management. This inconsistency will cause a lot of human misery.
The bill ignores the root cause of people's struggle to budget when they're on income support. The root cause is the fact that they're trying to survive on inadequate payment amounts. Surely a better way to reduce hardship, to support budgeting strategies, to return dignity to those on income support and to increase their prospects of gaining employment is to raise JobSeeker and youth allowance above the poverty line once and for all. Instead we see this government spending millions on an evaluation report that it won't release and on the privatised administration of this card. An astronomical amount has been given to a private company to administer people's own money, and to do so very poorly, with multiple examples of stuff-ups that have had real-world consequences for people and their housing security. What a waste of money! The money that they've spent on privatising this card could have been a down payment on a permanent increase in JobSeeker.
As my colleague Senator Siewert has said, it's kind of inconsistent—if you think that people with no money can't manage money, how do you think they would learn to manage money if you were taking away their autonomy to do that? There's a logical inconsistency. But, more importantly, that is such a fallacy. People who don't have enough money know down to the last cent how to manage that money. They have to. Every single day they make choices, choices that no Australian should have to make about whether to provide dinner for their family—for their kids—or buy their kids the latest textbook their public school requires. I don't imagine that anyone on this side of the chamber has ever had to face that sort of decision. And I know it's a cliche to say that they are out of touch, but I'm afraid, in this instance, it is true. They'll go off and have a nice, cosy Christmas holiday where they don't have to worry about where their next meal is coming from and they don't have to have someone else telling them how they can spend their limited money, and they will have absolutely no concept—
who I believe is speaking next and will no doubt unleash a tirade of stereotypes, abuse and criticism on my fellow Queenslanders, and I would ask that she desist in interjecting and we will attempt to do the same on her vile views when she shares them with the public. I will continue.
The other misnomer that this card is based on is the assumption and the abusive stereotype firstly that it’s the fault of people receiving income support that they can't get a job and secondly that they're druggies or alcoholics. If there are concerns with addiction, why don't you help people with a health led response that actually addresses those addictions that might exist? But no—the approach is just a punitive income management approach that won't actually solve any of those addiction problems, where those problems do exist, and they are by no means universal. Most of the people on this card are single mums. Single mothers, in my view, are the hardest working group of people in this nation, and the reward that they get from this government is an inadequate amount of income support and now a paternalistic taking away of their dignity and their ability to make decisions on how to spend that limited amount of money.
This card punishes people for not having work, when what this government should be doing is creating jobs. I think the latest figure is that there are 13 people for every job available. There are 13 applicants for every single job going. This government washes its hands of job creation. I've heard them say numerous times that they think that's industry's job, but it isn't. You could be investing in positive infrastructure—to create jobs and solve other problems at the same time—like schools, hospitals and renewable energy. You could be creating jobs. Instead, you punish people without jobs, you try to claim it's their own fault, you do nothing to fix the predicament that they're in, and then you try and mandate how they can spend their limited money. It is out of touch in the absolute extreme.
This card is punitive, it's ineffective, it's discriminatory, it's paternalistic and it's racist, and this government won't even release the report that says whether or not it works, when all of the other reports that have been released say that it doesn't. And the minister had the audacity to confess that she hadn't even read the evaluation report that she spent $2½ million of public money on. It is absolutely outrageous. And now, five seconds before Christmas, they want to ram this bill through, in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of a jobs crisis, when they still haven't said what the final rate of JobSeeker will be and when they've condemned people on JobSeeker to poverty for so many years. It went for 24 years without getting a raise. It was under the poverty line, and, under this government, it would drop back down to beneath the Henderson poverty line. Rather than fix that problem, they're handing out tax cuts to the very rich and to big corporates and they're saying that job creation is not their problem. I cannot even fathom this government anymore. I would like to foreshadow a second reading amendment which stands in the name of Senator Siewert. I believe we may well speak to that. It has been circulated in chamber.
The fact that the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020 is going to struggle to be supported is a very sad indictment of who we have become as a nation and, more importantly, what we have become as a Senate. It should be passing with strong support from all sides of the chamber.
The cashless debit card trials have made sure that some of the most disadvantaged people in Australia have meals in their stomachs and that they and their children have clothes on their backs and shoes on their feet. Thanks to the card, there is fuel in their cars and a roof over their heads because their rent and household bills have been paid. The card does this by ensuring that 80 per cent of the social security funds people receive are spent only on the necessities of life. It only applies to welfare recipients of working age and excludes those on age and veterans affairs pensions.
It seems harsh and controlling to some, but if there is ill-disciplined spending that leads to significant health and social problems, the controls are beneficial. Without that control, many cardholders would slip back into a life dominated by alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and gambling, with the well-reported problems that go with those, including addictions. As we know, if you have the basics, you are more likely to participate in society generally— go to school, work well in a job, build a career, have a better life—and transition off welfare to your own income. These are among the outcomes that Australians want from the social welfare system. We don't mind supporting those in need for a time, but we also want positive outcomes. We certainly don't want the taxpayer funded social welfare handouts to be wasted through poor spending choices.
Income management for many welfare recipients in the Northern Territory, Cape York and Doomadgee in the Queensland Gulf has helped to generate the same positive outcomes. The BasicsCard, which is held by those on these schemes in the NT and the Cape, ensures that a predetermined proportion of a participant's welfare funds are spent on the basics of life including health items like medicines and hygiene products; some public transport services; certain bills, like electricity; doctors appointments; and school meals for children, where they are provided. Cardholders can also make purchases at department stores and even use funds to pay off bigger items through services like lay-by, if they choose. The BasicsCard can be used at 15,500 participating outlets around Australia. The cardholder can have 60, 75 or 90 per cent of their regular fortnightly payments managed, as well as 100 per cent of any advances or lump sum payments.
The overall aims of these systems are to support the needy through good financial management and to ensure that kids are safe, fed and educated. This lines up with one of my personal—
An honourable senator interjecting—
This lines up with one of my personal platforms in all my dealings with welfare recipients, including those who are Indigenous Australians. The Cape York Welfare Reform aims to address dependence on welfare and support people in the communities of Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge to resume primary responsibility for the wellbeing of their families and communities. The control mechanisms also mean that the welfare funds cannot be directly spent on alcohol, pornography, tobacco products, gambling, home-brew systems and ingredients, or gift cards that could be swapped with others in exchange for cash, credit or goods. The goal is for the sordid symptoms of such purchases to also then be reduced, like alcohol abuse; domestic violence, including abuse of children; drug purchases and drug use; hunger; and poverty.
The cashless debit card has been trialled in four places around Australia. Firstly, from mid-2016, it was trialled in the Ceduna region of South Australia and in Kununurra and Wyndham, in the East Kimberley. In 2017, an evaluation report from Orima Research found that the cards had considerably positive impacts in the two trial communities: 41 per cent of the participants who drank alcohol reported drinking alcohol less frequently, 37 per cent of participants who were binge drinking reported binge drinking less frequently, 48 per cent reported gambling less and 48 per cent reported using illegal drugs less often.
The evaluation also found many related benefits. For example, 40 per cent of those surveyed said they were better able to look after their children and 45 per cent said they had been better able to save money. Feedback from the communities revealed a decrease in requests for emergency food relief and financial assistance in Ceduna. These are the reports that have come back, and they contain the percentages I have just read out. But, if you listen to others in the Senate, the cards haven't had any impact whatsoever. These reports clearly show that it has. There have been increased purchases of baby items, food, clothing, shoes, toys and other goods for children. Community leaders reported a reduction in crime, violence and harmful behaviours during the trial period.
It was rolled out in the Goldfields region of Western Australia from March 2018 and has been on trial in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland, where it has the additional restriction of applying only to those 35 and under. Welfare recipients are given the chance to opt in to this system and many choose to do this because they recognise the benefits of enforcing more focused spending of the money. Those on age and veterans affairs pensions can apply for voluntary inclusion in this scheme.
I have spoken before about humbugging, a term used in Aboriginal communities. It's where a family member insists that they hand over money to them. That's why they are quite happy to be on the card. They can say: 'I can't give you money. I haven't got it.' (Quorum formed) Humbugging is in these communities. They know that family members are taking money from them.
I want to turn to something here. We're talking about the cashless debit card. I can't let go what Senator Thorpe said earlier in this chamber. She commented that it's her land. I remember her comment to me yesterday. We were talking about the Indigenous community. They have raised that this is racist legislation. It's not, because it's not just directed at Aboriginals. She said it's her land. No, it's the land of everyone who was born here.
As I was saying, they make comments that this is racist. It's not racist at all. It's about doing what is right for the people in our communities Australia-wide. These communities have asked for it. I have spoken to the Indigenous people, the elders and the different ones who want this because it's helping the communities and stopping the abuse that's going on. The Greens in this place are all the time going on about domestic violence in their notices of motion. Wouldn't they want to address this so that there is no alcohol abuse? The drinking that's going on causes the alcohol abuse and domestic violence. They're not interested in that.
Senator Thorpe talks about her land. What about the white part? Where's her white father in all of this, who I should say is a member of the One Nation party?
Senator Hanson, please resume your seat. It is my responsibility under the standing orders of the Senate to ensure that debate is within the standing orders. I further remind you of a statement the President made on several occasions in this place about how this is a workplace and how we need to respect one another and to not refer to other senators in a personal way. So I would ask you to withdraw the remarks that you made about Senator Thorpe's family. Thank you. It's not a debating point. I'm directing you to do that, so please do that.
Order! Senator Hanson, please resume your seat. No, please resume your seat. This is a very difficult debate, and I appreciate the sentiments on both sides, but Senator Hanson is entitled to make her contribution and she's entitled to make it in silence, with the consent of other senators. If you don't wish to listen to Senator Hanson's remarks, or any other remarks of senators, you are quite free to leave the chamber. I would ask that Senator Hanson be given the respect of continuing her remarks with the silence and consent of other senators. Please continue, Senator Hanson.
Thank you very much. As I said, the cashless welfare card is of benefit to all Australians and it's going to help those people, and I outlined the reasons here. I don't like the debate in this chamber that it's been directed because it's racist. It's about looking after and caring about Australians and helping them with their spending.
There are problems in these communities. I have been to these Aboriginal communities. I've spoken to the people. I've spoken to the business leaders. I've spoken to the councils. I've listened to the people's concerns. It isn't just plucked out of the air that we should be denying these people the right to spend their welfare payments. When it has an impact on the children, if we really care about the future generation, why aren't we doing something about it? You know that the problems are there, so we've actually got to do something about it.
You talk about their rights and their human rights. Well, you know what? So many people, including former prime ministers in this country, have said the best thing to do is go and get a job. If you get a job, you earn your money and you go and spend it whichever way you want to. I'll tell you the feelings of many taxpayers. One woman said to me, 'I walk out of my house in the morning, and the neighbour next door is sitting on his porch and says, "Bye, love; have a good day."' She goes to work all the day and pays her taxes. She comes home and the neighbour says, 'Hi, love; I hope you had a good day,' and he's sitting there with a beer in his hand. He's had a wonderful day. He hasn't had the responsibility of going to get a job. So this is the attitude of a lot of people on welfare payments. They have no responsibility to the taxpayers, and I'll tell you what: the taxpayers of this nation have had a gutful of getting taxed more and more and having their money go into welfare. Our bill in this nation is nearly $190 billion in welfare payments. Those people on welfare have a responsibility to the taxpayer, and why shouldn't they have to be responsible? A lot of workers out there, including in mine sites, have to have drug testing. You can't have drugs in your system if you're going to attend a lot of workplaces. Why shouldn't these people be accountable to the taxpayer to ensure that they are not spending taxpayers' hard-earned dollars on alcohol, drugs and gambling? What is the problem with that?
What the government's cash card is ensuring is that this money is spent on food, clothing and other essentials that they need. It is ensuring that their rent is paid. That's what this card is about. It's not about a person's rights. When you go onto this card, you basically lose your rights as well. If you go on a welfare system, you've lost your rights. You have a responsibility to the taxpayers of this nation. That's a big problem. We've got third and fourth generations that are on welfare because it becomes a way of life. That's not good enough; that's not what I want for the Australian people. There are real benefits in this. If you vote against this and you don't support this card, from 1 January this is going to fall over. You are going to find that, in these communities, they will go and spend the money on alcohol. You will have an increase in domestic violence and you will have more problems in these communities, and you don't give a damn about that. That's what the big concern is about. You have to understand the impact of not supporting this card.
There is no evidence from the government whatsoever that they intend to roll this out Australia-wide to anyone else, any other areas, other than where it is now before the next election. These communities weren't just plucked out; it wasn't the case that a dart was thrown at a map of Australia and they said, 'We're going to put this cashless debit card there.' These communities actually asked for this trial. You've got people that have signed it. They don't have to be on it, but they've signed up to it. Why? Have you really asked yourself these questions? You've got a few letters from people saying: 'You're denying us our right. We can't spend the money how we want to.' They go to the markets and can't buy fresh food because they don't accept the card there. They have 20 per cent of their money in their pocket. Twenty per cent of the money is in cash. They can spend it how they want to. Yet you're denying that. I don't see any rhyme or reason to why you're actually doing this.
I will not sit here in the Senate and hear other senators claim that it's their land. This is racist; a certain number of people are being picked on. Like I said, in some of these communities, the population is truly Aboriginal. But the problem is that you really need to go and look at these communities. You need to travel through them. You have to understand that it's not the case in Hervey Bay and Bundaberg. It's for everyone. It's for Australians. I'm sick and tired of hearing the division in this nation of whether it's for the Indigenous or non-Indigenous. This is about helping Australians, regardless of the colour of their skin. It's about trying to make a difference for many people here.
This card will finish on 1 January. I did give you the percentages with regard to the BasicsCard. The advantage for BasicsCard holders is that the number of retailers and outlets that they can purchase from jumps considerably to 900,000. I've got to say to the senators who are opposing this card that what you've said in the past is, 'Go and get a job.' To hear other senators say, 'The government should be providing the incentives and siting infrastructure,' I totally agree. We should have the infrastructure projects to make jobs for people. But you've got to also understand that there are a lot of people out there who don't want to work. I've spoken to a lot of businesspeople. The jobs are available, but they don't even apply for the jobs. A lot of businesses have availability. Farmers can't get workers here in Australia. The whole fact is that they can't get workers because the welfare is too good. It may look poor in our eyes, because we are fortunate enough to have very good jobs that pay very well. A lot of us have worked hard to get here, but many people are quite happy to live on the welfare payments that they receive. (Time expired)
Labor opposes this bill and Labor rejects the statements made by Senator Hanson in this chamber today. So many people from around the country have contacted me to let me know that they oppose this bill too. 'I want dignity and respect, not the cashless debit card.' These are the words of Hannah from Nunawading in Victoria, and this sentiment is repeated time after time in letter after letter and email after email that my office has received on this scheme. People do not want this card.
Hannah knows, as do all the people who have contacted my office, that this bill, the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020, lays the foundation for punitive and compulsory income management to be rolled out across the country. This is yet another government scheme that proves clearly that this government's policy towards low-income people is to disrespect them, to disempower them and to demonise them. That is the reason the government are still pursuing the compulsory rollout of this card. First Nations don't want it. Australians don't want it. Every test, every review, every piece of research has told us that this card does not achieve its stated aims. It doesn't work. This bill, and this scheme, is straight out of the Liberal Party's bottom drawer; it's straight out of their old, tired, nasty playbook. It is designed to drive people down, not to lift them up.
The bill is a stalking horse for a national rollout of the cashless welfare scheme. The bill will make the card permanent in the existing trial sites of Ceduna, the East Kimberley, the Goldfields and Bundaberg-Hervey Bay. In the Northern Territory it will permanently replace the BasicsCard with the cashless debit card, and in Cape York too it will replace the BasicsCard with the cashless debit card. Across these sites, the bill will lead to over 34,700 people being on the cashless debit card permanently, without any choice: compulsory income management. We also know that government ministers have previously backed a national rollout of this scheme. We know that the government continues to invest in the back-of-house technology that would allow it to conduct that national rollout. We know that this government has an ideological obsession with income management, regardless of the facts and the evidence. This bill is a step towards the national rollout that this government so desperately wants. A national rollout would impact over 1.6 million Australians on unemployment payments, many of whom have just lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The government argue that the cashless debit card scheme for social security recipients reduces hardship and deprivation, helps with budgeting strategies and reduces the time recipients spend on welfare and out of the workforce. They hope to achieve this by forcing recipients to use a cashless card, which quarantines 80 per cent of their social security payments, but we know that it isn't working. The cashless debit card and compulsory income management have been the subjects of multiple inquiries—multiple inquiries that this government has chosen to ignore. It's pretty clear that this scheme is causing harm and hardship. It's making budgeting more difficult and penalising people who are already doing it tough. A recent independent study using data from the Ceduna trial site was the latest to prove just how ineffective this scheme is. It found no impact on the outcomes the government says it is trying to achieve—no impact. In a trial site where this government wants to make the scheme permanent, it was found to have had no impact. Dr Luke Greenacre, from the University of South Australia, one of the researchers on this study, summed up the scheme by saying:
… the card offers very little, if no return on investment … the cost of implementing and administering the card isn't producing substantial community benefits …
Another study, from earlier this year, wrote about how the scheme was causing more harm than good; that it was causing feelings of stigma, shame and frustration amongst participants. Professor Greg Marston, from the University of Queensland, said of participants interviewed for the study:
… they would be visibly upset, recalling incidents where they've been called out for being on the cards and the way in which they hide the cards when they're making transactions in shops.
He went on to say that most participants never had issues with managing their budgets or spending but that their biggest problem was that they just didn't have enough money for essential items. The study concluded that the case for continuing the scheme was weak.
Last year Dr Elise Klein, from the University of Melbourne, told the Senate's Community Affairs Legislation Committee:
If we … are serious about evidence based policymaking, we must stop the ongoing operations of the cashless debit card … or … make them entirely voluntary.
Again: if we are serious about evidence based policymaking, we must abolish the card or make it entirely voluntary. It is clear, many years after the first mandatory income management scheme was introduced, five years since the cashless debit card was introduced, that it does not work. It is clear that this card, this scheme, is having an overwhelmingly negative impact on people's lives.
Emilie, from Bundaberg, is already on the card. She says that hearing that the scheme would become permanent was hard to take. When asked how it made her feel, she said:
I guess hopelessness is the best way to describe it.
Those on social security elsewhere in the country are terrified that the card will be rolled out nationally. Hannah, from Nunawading, who I mentioned earlier, says:
… being forced onto the Cashless Debit Card will … further disempower me.
Lesley, from Katoomba, says:
I resent the fact the Government believes that responsible people like myself are unable to manage our own finances. [This card] … takes away our rights, our independence and more.
People who have the card don't want it. People who might have to have the card in the future don't want it. We know that all the evidence that has been collected points towards the card not working and not achieving the government's stated aims.
But it gets worse. This scheme and this card are clearly racially discriminatory. Of the 34,700 people this bill would put on the card permanently, with no choice, 68 per cent are First Nations people. First Nations people, organisations and representatives say the policy is yet another government imposition. Senator Dodson and Senator McCarthy have spoken in this chamber and described how this card takes away the autonomy of First Nations people and their self-determination. This is just another policy imposed on First Nations people without adequate consultation, without adequate consent from the community. Compulsory income management is racially discriminatory.
All Australians want a government that delivers practical solutions for their lives, not tired old ideological positions like this one. But what they have is a government whose only plan for their future is to take away their ability to empower themselves, to make their own decisions, to find their own solutions to the problems they face. But the government just doesn't seem to care about that. This bill is just another example of how its approach to low-income Australians is demonisation. This government thinks that if you fall on hard times it's your fault. According to the Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator Ruston, in her own words:
Giving [people] more money would do absolutely nothing … probably all it would do is give drug dealers more money and give pubs more money.
As we all know, according to the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, 'if you have a go, you'll get a go', 'the harder you work, the better you do' and 'if you're good at your job, you'll get a job'. These are his own words, and we all know what they're really saying: if you're poor, it's your fault; if you fall on hard times, it's your fault; if you're poor, you can't be trusted with your own money. This is the kind of thinking that drives their old, tired, nasty policy positions—policy positions that are straight out of their playbook; policy positions that have nothing to do with evidence, facts or what is actually proven to work; policy positions that end up causing pain, despair and disempowerment.
The cashless debit card is not the first program to cause this level of hurt to vulnerable and low-income Australians. We have just seen the government forced into repaying over a billion dollars to the victims of robodebt—a scheme that hounded and harassed people, a scheme that caused people anxiety and stress, a scheme that derailed lives, a scheme that destroyed lives, a scheme that targeted vulnerable, low-income Australians. Robodebt was deeply flawed. It was illegal. The government knew it for years, but they insisted that that scheme go on anyway.
Based on the evidence and the research, based on the stories and concerns of those already on the cashless debit card, we can see that this scheme is really no different to robodebt, because the government actually knows that it doesn't work. It knows it has a negative impact on vulnerable Australians, but it's going to push it forward anyway. Why? Because this is a government that goes after poor people. This is a government that hounds poor people. This is a government that harasses them. It attacks their dignity. It invades their privacy. This is a government that relentlessly pursues poor people and drives them into the ground. That tells you everything that you need to know about this government.
The cashless debit card takes this approach so far that even some of the government's own MPs have cold feet about this bill. The member for Bass, Bridget Archer, was damning in her assessment of the scheme. She said the scheme is punitive. She said that there is just not enough evidence that supports this program to justify the associated harm that it causes. The member for Bass summed it up pretty well when she said:
Whenever you approach a human program by inciting shame and guilt, you have already lost those that you are seeking to help.
The member for Monash, Russell Broadbent, also admits concerns about the cashless debit card scheme, so the government are not only ignoring the experts on this bill and on this program, not just ignoring the communities that this is going to impact so negatively, but also now ignoring their own backbench. Just as they ignored the warnings about robodebt, they're ignoring the warnings about the cashless debit card.
This scheme, as we know, is straight from the Liberal Party's bottom drawer, straight from the bottom drawer of their nasty, tired, old, ideologically driven playbook. This bill is the government's priority right now for this country. This is the bill the government want to pass this week. This is the bill that they want to focus on when they should be lifting up people, not driving them into the ground. This is the bill that they want to pass this week, when they should be focused on a big, bold, inclusive plan for Australia's recovery, not a plan that is discriminatory. They should be focused on a plan that is inclusive and that lifts up everyone. They should be focused on a plan which empowers people to find work; a plan that creates good, secure jobs; and a plan with real heart.
That's what Australians are looking for from this government this week, in the last sitting week of this parliamentary year. They're looking for a plan with real heart, not a plan that demonises people and not a plan that drives them to absolute despair. Australians are looking to this government for a plan that gives them hope for a better future, but instead what we have in this last sitting week of parliament for this year is this bill, which we know is racially discriminatory. They're focused on this bill, a bill which takes away autonomy and choice for First Nations people and for all people who are pushed onto this card. They're focused on a bill which has alarmed social security recipients. They're alarmed that the card is going to be imposed on them too. This is a bill that lacks basic evidence. It's a bill that lacks support around the country. It's a bill with damaging consequences, and I urge the Senate to reject it. (Time expired)
I rise to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020. The Greens strongly oppose this bill. The Greens and I completely reject Senator Hanson's disgraceful contribution to the debate on this bill. Referring to and bringing in a family member of Senator Thorpe's in her speech is a new low for Senator Hanson. If Senator Hanson had a skerrick—
Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party epitomises what is wrong with this bill: racism and discrimination. This bill will make current cashless debit card trial sites permanent and extend the card to the Northern Territory and Cape York, to replace the BasicsCard. Compulsory income management is paternalistic, it is cruel, it victimises people, and it punishes people for being poor and unemployed. Compulsory income management in Australia has been cynically and disgracefully targeted towards First Nations communities, from the introduction of the BasicsCard as part of the Northern Territory Intervention to its expansion to trials in communities with higher than average proportions of First Nations people. This bill is racist, this bill is discriminatory and this bill further punishes people who have been targeted by governments for more than 200 years.
The government has provided no evidence that compulsory income management improves people's lives. As the Greens dissenting report to the bill inquiry points out, the government continues to rely on debunked data from a single flawed evaluation to justify compulsory income management, while ignoring other independent studies that question the card's utility and find that it causes stigma, shame and frustration. The evidence base for continuing or extending compulsory income management is just not there.
What we do have is the testimony of people who are directly affected by this terrible policy—people who have already been hurt and people who will be hurt if this bill passes. The Senate inquiry into this bill heard from people who have either experienced life on the punitive cashless debit card or who are terrified of being forced onto it when it is expanded. The inquiry heard criticism and concerns from First Nations people, disabled people, single mothers, people who have struggled with their mental health and people who have suffered as a result of unemployment and a broken social security system. I want the Senate to hear what some of these people had to say. You should all know exactly what you are being asked to vote on, in the words of most important people: those who have been and who will be harmed by the passage of this bill.
There are too many to fit in my speech today, but I will read out some of them. I will start with a couple of excerpts on racism and discrimination: 'I know myself it was targeted to Aboriginal people, but for the government to sort of keep their nose clean, they involved everybody else, so it didn't have to be, didn't look like, it was pointed directly at Indigenous people. But we know, as Indigenous people, that's what it was. In my point of view, it's racial discrimination and a human rights breach, because this card was really aimed at Indigenous people. The card was designed to control the alcohol, but it hasn't, and the people that are doing good by it, we are getting the full punishment. It's just racist and violates our human rights, and it's not fair.'
Some people reflected on mental health, saying, 'Having experienced the difference in my mental and emotional health by participating in the cashless debit card trial, I can unreservedly say that the trial was one of the lowest points in my life. The fear of possibly being forced into it again is absolutely debilitating to my mental health, and it has prevented me from fully appreciating the freedom of being taken off the card. The stigma of the card has increased my levels of depression and anxiety. It will be a consistent reminder that I am unable to gain paid employment because of my disabilities, which I was born with. I didn't have a choice in the matter. I feel that this card will make me feel like a third-rate citizen who is perceived as not being able to manage my own money'. Other people described some of the most terrible of the impacts:
Over the last 5 yrs I have watched as people have become homeless, become hopeless, been medicated, tried to kill themselves, have opportunities ripped away for self employment as Indue refused to allow access to their cash to be able to buy stock etc.
I have seen people bullied, reduced to tears, I have seen Indue staff try to trick young people into giving out bank and credit card information for their parents without consent.
… … …
The women and their children are copping the brunt of the stigma, exclusion and financial destruction caused by being forced onto the card.
Another said the Indue card:
… makes life as a single mother more difficult than usual. You just lose any control in your life. You can't even properly manage your budget and go shopping with confidence.
Others reflected on disability: 'I have enough to deal with already, being disabled. My life is already horrible, and my family is brought down by my disability. It's demeaning and an awful way to live. I don't need the card making my life more miserable than it already is. I feel my depression would become unbearable if there were more restrictions put onto my life and my husband's life.'
So many people reflected on the shame and misery that this card brings: 'The day I applied for this income support is the day my world changed as my life became one of shame. In the eyes of politicians and the Australian public, I was someone to be vilified and demeaned.' 'The thought of being put onto forced income management and the Indue card horrifies me, and the economic control it represents fills me with anger.' 'This card spreads misery and suffering. To support the cashless debit card and compulsory income management requires either supreme ignorance or intentional malice. I do not know which would be worse, though given that the result is the same either way I guess it does not matter. Please show the public that you are better than that.' I wish I had time to read more of these so the people who are supporting this terrible, cruel punitive bill that punishes others in the community could listen to more of what people had to say.
This rubbish card and this rubbish bill are all about controlling the lives of some people. We know exactly whose lives this government wants to control. The lives that they want to control are the lives that they don't think are deserving of the same dignity and the same rights as they have. So I ask you all today, and especially the crossbenchers, to have some empathy, to listen to and actually hear the people that you are effectively punishing if you vote for this bill. The Greens and I vehemently oppose this bill.
I'm joining this debate today to talk about, as many speakers have done, the personal stories of people who have been on this card and are looking, through the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020, at the possibility of permanently being on the cashless debit card and the impact that that has had on their lives and will continue to have on their lives going forward. I also want to take some time today to address some of the misconceptions about the way that this program is operating in Cape York, because I know that has been referenced on many occasions. I've actually spoken to the people who are running this program, so I want to spend some time to talk about that today as well.
I want to respond to some of the pretty disgusting things that Senator Hanson said about people on this card but also people generally who, at times in their lives, need to seek support from the government. Ultimately, we know that this legislation will be voted on and decisions will be made by our crossbench senators. I want to take some time today to appeal to those crossbench senators on this legislation. We know that it is a big decision to make and a lot of pressure would be bearing down from the government on these senators to make a decision to support this program. But can I say that this is not the legislation to let the government off on. This is not the legislation on which to let the government get away with thuggish, cruel behaviour that treats vulnerable people as if they are worthless. This is not the legislation on which to let the government get away with pushing through a policy with no evidence in the last week of the parliament because they want to get this done before they go home for Christmas. We know that the Prime Minister was the architect of the robodebt scheme. This is not the legislation for our crossbench senators to let this Prime Minister get away with yet another scheme that will hurt vulnerable Australians.
It is the personal stories that we need to listen to today, because the government will assume that they know best but we need to listen directly to the people who are affected by this legislation. Kerryn Griffis, a mother of four from Queensland, told 7.30:
I feel like in the Government's eyes I'm a lesser person. In the public's eyes it's much, much worse … What have I ever done for the government to treat me this way? To treat thousands of other people this way? We've been branded as drug addicts and alcoholics and gamblers and dole bludgers. Most of us are just doing the best we can to get by.
These are extraordinary words: 'In the government's eyes, I'm a lesser person'. This government is treating people as if they are worth less.
Bundaberg resident Emilie Randell, who is 28 years old, was placed on the card in November 2019 after she finished full-time study and moved onto the JobSeeker payment. She said the decision to make the card permanent where she lives was difficult to accept. She said:
It is hard to put into words, I guess hopelessness is the best word to describe it … I was putting everything into them ending the trial in December. I’m really frightened for what it means for the future.
Hopelessness—that is what this program does to vulnerable Australians. Governments are supposed to look after vulnerable people, not punish them. If the government won't protect our most marginalised and disadvantaged Australians then this Senate has to step up and do that job and block this legislation. That is the job that this Senate must do because we know that this government won't.
This program has not had an evaluation made public for senators to consider whether it even works in the first place. We've received anecdotal evidence from people who support the legislation, people who have an interest—a very big interest—in getting this legislation passed. But the social services minister, Anne Ruston, admitted in the Senate that she didn't even read the report before deciding to make the cashless debit card permanent. The Morrison government spent $2.5 million on a University of Adelaide report but didn't even wait for its findings before deciding to proceed. That is because this legislation isn't about evidence based policymaking; it's about ideology. This is about treating people as if they are worthless. It speaks to the government's ideological obsession with income management and attacking the most vulnerable. It is the same ideological obsession which led to robodebt and the mental harm that robodebt caused.
There have been many inquiries and reports into the effectiveness of income management in the past, and what the evidence has shown is that compulsory, broad based income management is causing significant harm to communities. The Auditor-General has found no evidence that the cashless debit card works and recommended better baseline data collection and monitoring. Independent analysis of the card by the University of South Australia made several findings, including that it has had no impact on reducing gambling or intoxicant abuse. It doesn't work. It is not doing what the government says it does, and that is one of the reasons why senators in this chamber should not support this legislation. The study found that the cost of implementing and administering the card came with little to no return on investment. It costs money to deliver this card and deliver this program, and we are talking about value for taxpayers because taxpayers provide this welfare in the first place. But taxpayers are actually being ripped off, because there is no return on investment for a program like this because it doesn't do what the government wants it to achieve. It actually has the opposite effect:
… a very large amount of evidence shows … 13 years of new income management in the Northern Territory … has had almost no positive impact—
no positive impact, and yet the government is still trying to push this legislation through
The cashless debit card will affect two areas of Queensland directly, and I want to talk about both of those communities today—in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in the Fraser Coast region, and in the Cape York region. The government has chosen to make the trials permanent in those two communities for various reasons. They're two very distinct communities, but they will feel the same impacts. From the outset, can I say it reflects very poorly on the members in the other chamber who represent these communities in Queensland that they didn't have the guts to step up and speak about this legislation. They voted for it; they sat in the other chamber and they voted for the legislation. But they didn't have the guts to stand up and say why they were supporting it. That's because they know that in their community there is no support for this card. They are waving these changes through without questioning them or making it clear to the parliament where they stand.
Those two personal stories that I read out at the beginning are from locals from the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area. Many, many members of the community in Hervey Bay and Bundaberg have campaigned against this card, but they are not being listened to. The member for Hinkler and the member for Wide Bay have completely gone missing on this. It really does go to show why, in the last state election, these two areas swung towards Labor, and they were two areas where Labor actually picked up seats. I mention that because it's a warning to this government that, if you go down this road, the community will respond. They will respond to this. You're not giving them a jobs program or a jobs plan—a way to create jobs. Unemployment is through the roof in these areas. They don't want income management; they want jobs. But that's not what this government is doing.
I will make some brief comments about the Cape York program, because it's very important that the Senate understand that the program in Cape York is completely different from what the government is considering rolling out across the country. There are 128 people on income management in communities like Aurukun, Coen, Doomadgee, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge. Importantly, the decision to move to income management is only made after case management and discussions with the person involved. It is also regularly reviewed, and this is completely different from how the cashless debit card operates in other parts of the country.
It is not okay for this government to tie that program to the rest of these programs across the country by saying that this legislation needs to be pushed through; otherwise, that program in Cape York could fall over. We support that program in Cape York because the community members support that program. It is operating in a completely different way from the rest of the country. If the government wanted to do the hard work, they could have taken that program out of this legislation and dealt with it separately, but they've put it in this legislation to try to put a time line on passing this broader program through the Senate—again, cruel behaviour, thuggish behaviour, from the government.
We know that this bill will impact First Nations people more than any other group—and it was disappointing to hear those comments from Senator Hanson today. I know that maybe she has visited some of the communities in Cape York. She certainly hasn't listened to them, because, if she had, she would not be supporting a broader rollout of this program. Even the members of Cape York communities understand that their program is separate from the one being rolled out across the country, and they don't like the idea of this government using them to justify putting more First Nations people in the Northern Territory into a difficult position.
I started this speech by talking about personal stories. We have heard from people directly affected by this scheme. Many of them are single parents. I grew up in a single-parent household, and I am proud of the life that we had and of where I came from. I'm proud of the lessons that it taught me and the truth that comes from knowing that you're not better than anybody else, and no-one is better than you, just because you had the luck to be born in another suburb. But I understand feeling just like Kerryn when she says, 'I feel like, in the government's eyes, I'm a lesser person.' The problem with feeling like that, feeling like you're worthless, is that it becomes self-defeating and self-fulfilling. It is hard to step up and to step out of poverty when you are treated like dirt by this government.
There are many single parents who have fled their homes to escape domestic violence, and this card will prevent those families from starting a new life. I know. I was a kid bundled into a car to leave. I've stood there with friends and gotten all of their belongings together so that they could leave a home of domestic violence. One of the most important factors is having financial security, and if this government wants to tell people how they can and can't spend their money then it will definitely impact on those single parents and the kids that they are seeking to protect. There are many, many single parents out there who this will impact.
I honestly understand what it's like to feel embarrassed, but I don't understand why a government would want to embarrass people. Governments are meant to lift people up, not make them feel worse about themselves. So I'm asking the crossbench, and particularly Senator Lambie and Senator Patrick, to not let this government get away with making people feel like this. They've done a dodgy job on this program and this legislation from the beginning. There's no evidence. They haven't even read the report. They've left it to the last minute. Well, let them wear it. Let the government wear this problem. Let them fix the problems that not passing this legislation creates. Let them cop it, because, if we pass this legislation, the people that are going to cop it are the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our entire country. Don't let the government get away with this. Do not let the government get away with making people feel absolutely worthless.
I rise to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020, which is purported to be about reducing the rates of alcohol, drug and gambling addiction but is actually a triumph of ideological posturing over evidence based policymaking. The bill will make the cashless debit card permanent in the existing trial sites of Ceduna, the East Kimberley, the Goldfields and Bundaberg-Hervey Bay. It will also permanently replace the BasicsCard with the cashless debit card in the Northern Territory and in Cape York and extend income management in Cape York until 31 December 2021. This is an ill-conceived, racist and un-Australian bill, seeking to implement a poorly thought through policy.
It also contradicts the government's stated approach to Indigenous affairs. First Nations people were told by the Prime Minister in his Closing the Gap speech in February that his government's approach to closing the gap would be one of partnership with First Nations people. He said they would be listening to First Nations people, empowering them and handing back responsibility. Well, those words are completely meaningless if Mr Morrison's government don't practise what they preach, and this bill is a grave example of imposing policy on First Nations people rather than engaging in the promised partnership approach.
The bill also runs counter to evidence. We've had plenty of time to review this evidence. It's been 13 years since the Howard government's so-called Intervention in the Northern Territory. The evidence shows that compulsory broad based income management does not work. Not that the Morrison government is interested in whether the cashless debit card actually works—ever since it was first proposed as a trial, it was always the intention of the Liberals and Nationals to have a broad-scale, permanent rollout of the card, and who knows how far it may extend. After all, the Minister for Social Services, Senator Ruston, told Senator McCarthy in estimates on 29 October that she had not read the Adelaide University report on the Goldfields trial, even though this bill was introduced to parliament on 8 October. Yes, you heard me correctly. The government spent $2.5 million on this study, yet the minister presses ahead with making the cashless debit card permanent without even bothering to read the report. I'm not sure what outrages me more: the fact that there was the wastage of $2.5 million of taxpayer's money on a report that failed to be read by the minister or her decision to press ahead with a change that is going to impact 34,000 Australians without making sure she had all of the facts before her.
The Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquired into this bill, and the inquiry received a lot of interest, attracting 145 submissions in a short period, including 61 from organisations. Labor senators, in their dissenting report, outlined some of the evidence that showed that the cashless debit card, and income management more generally, lacks effectiveness. Professor Tony Dreise, the director of the Australian National University's Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, gave evidence in a private capacity and told the inquiry:
… the evidence supporting the impact of both the cashless debit card and the BasicsCard is flimsy and largely anecdotal, not rigorous and reliable. The evidence does not stack up. It does not show that the cashless debit card has had a positive impact, and a very large amount of evidence shows that, after 13 years of new income management in the Northern Territory, it has had almost no positive impact.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists told the inquiry that there is also no clinical evidence to support the cashless debit card. In its submission, the college wrote:
… we are concerned at the continued pursuit of this policy against the advice of addiction specialists… More than 50 years of psychological research shows that positive reinforcement strategies are more effective than punitive strategies in bringing about behavioural change.
Evidence given to the inquiry about the ineffectiveness of the cashless debit card has been backed up by many studies. An independent analysis of the cashless debit card in Ceduna found:
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.
Commenting in The Guardian in Australia, one of the report's author, Dr Luke Greenacre, said:
From the more quantitative, economic, whole of community perspective, it suggests the card offers very little, if no return on investment.
The Auditor-General also found, in his report on implementation and performance of the cashless debit card trial, that there is no evidence to support the government's claim that the card reduces social harm. Not only is compulsory broad based income management not effective in reducing harm, but, in some ways, it could actually cause significant harm.
During the inquiry's public hearing, Ms Kathryn Wilkes from the lobby group No Cashless Welfare Debit Card Australia detailed some of the harms reported to them by people subject to income management. She said that because Indue, the provider of the card, refused to set up continuous payments, people defaulted on their rent and ended up blacklisted or on the streets. Women escaping family violence who had worked hard to gain financial independence were suddenly finding it stripped from them because they were required to have a cashless debit card simply because of their post code. Ms Wilkes also said she'd been told of multiple stories of money being stolen from Indue accounts through hacking and scams, including a sole parent who had $942 stolen from her account. The general manager of community services for the Salvation Army, Stuart Foster, told the same public hearing that the mandatory participation of people on social security payments in income management was leading to 'negative outcomes, including poor mental health, social isolation and stigma'.