Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 May 2021


Welfare Reform

8:41 pm

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

I rise tonight to share an account of a mother who is trying to survive on the cashless debit card. To protect her privacy, I'm going to call this mother Emma. In 2020, Emma was living in a so-called cashless debit card trial site when she separated from her violent partner. She relocated to a small regional town to escape domestic violence, to find safety and to be close to family support. The town she moved to was not a cashless debit card trial site. It has a population of around a thousand people and is around 30 kilometres from the nearest regional centre.

The place she is living has one local store, an IGA. And guess what? It does not accept the Indue card. Emma does not have a drivers licence, and there is no public transport that goes to the nearest bigger regional centre. Emma has three children, including a relatively newborn baby, and accessing the regional centre is extremely difficult. She generally relies on the kindness of her community to collect shopping for her or to provide transport to that town.

Emma rents a property from a local resident and has negotiated to be able to pay the landlord using bank transfer. However, this consistently fails, and she often has to pay the rent using her cash portion. The inability to consistently pay is also quite embarrassing for Emma, who budgets adequately for rent but is let down by the system. This impacts on her reputation in this small community, where she is establishing a safe home for herself and her children and acceptance from her community is important. While her landlord has, thus far, been patient and supportive of her situation, it is not right to expect the landlord's kindness to make up for the failure in this system.

Emma chooses to live in this small community for several reasons, one of which is the supportive community around her. However, she is feeling increasingly stigmatised because of her inability to participate fully in her community. She is often left short of cash as a result of having to pay rent from her cash supplies when the system fails and to pay for essential daily supplies such as nappies, milk, bread and fresh fruit. This often leaves her unable to pay for items which should not be seen as luxuries, such as school uniforms and excursions, day care or second-hand clothes from the local thrift store.

Emma has applied to be exited from the card and has been rejected twice. The reason for the most recent rejection was that she did not supply bank statements. Emma has clearly told me, and has also sent details to prove this, that this is incorrect. There has been no follow-up from the department, and Emma is left in a precarious situation. It is very clear that, in these circumstances, the Indue card is simply inappropriate. The infrastructure to support the use of the card in this location is not up to standard, and she's not in a situation where this is working for her. Emma is in a unique situation. Despite her raising these very legitimate concerns about the efficacy of the card in this location, there have been no improvements since November 2020, and she hasn't been able to get off the card either. She's still not able to pay rent consistently or purchase basic daily groceries—simple, basic human requirements. Emma was experiencing domestic abuse by her partner, and this is financial abuse by her own government.

In November 2020 I wrote to Minister Ruston in regard to how she could assist Emma. I'm once again calling on the minister to show some compassion and ensure Emma gets off this card, because the government is causing abuse to this mother and her three children. This is a woman escaping domestic violence and trying to start a new life in a small community where she knows she will get support. The government—the government!—is undermining her life and her ability to mother her children and establish for herself a new life in safety. Shame on you, government!