Senate debates

Monday, 26 September 2022

Bills

Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading

6:31 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022. It's a privilege to be able to come into this place and again speak on a bill which is part of the Albanese government's plan to restore integrity to policymaking and implementation.

Supporting evidence based policy is a hallmark of any good government but, unfortunately, a principle which the former coalition government was unable to uphold. Labor made it very clear during the federal election campaign that we would abolish the cashless debit card because it marginalised people and was not in any sense of the word sound public policy. There was no evidence to support that it changed behaviours or spending habits in any tangible way. On principle, no government should tell its citizens how to spend their money, a further example that the 'liberal' in Liberal Party of Australia no longer means 'liberty' or 'freedom'.

This bill enables participants to progressively transition off the program from September 2022 and re-establishes income management in the Cape York region of Queensland. Communities have indicated their strong preference for support services such as alcohol and drug rehabilitation, early intervention services for domestic violence, and education and childhood programs to remain in place following the abolition of the CDC. This is welcome news because we know that good outcomes rise when communities embrace autonomy over their own futures. The government will be consulting further with the CDC communities about the future of the support services that have been funded through the CDC program.

The Albanese government is a government of consultation, cooperation and negotiation because it equates to better outcomes for people and communities. As a society we must move away from the privatisation of welfare, which occurred under the previous government. Governments should never demonise individuals or communities, or play individuals and communities off against one another. Our government will not do that. We have been elected by the people, and we must govern in the national interest and not leave anyone behind. There is something deeply unjust and simply wrong when private, for-profit companies control people's welfare and income support payments. It's just wrong. I've seen study after study that shows that the CDC or payment schemes similar to it, especially in New Zealand, did not cooperate or work effectively. There is literally no evidence to support that it works, and those opposite should accept the facts.

Now, unfortunately, the former government spent $170 million on the CDC program—money, quite frankly, which could have been better invested in support services within those local communities. Our government, the Albanese Labor government, will continue to consult with Indigenous communities and the entire community, including stakeholders, to ensure people understand this process and are not worse off. Transition arrangements will include an extension communication strategy and in-person engagement in each CDC site.

We want to bring our communities with us. We want to make sure they understand these changes because we want these changes to really matter to them and improve their lives. Participants who transition off the CDC will be able to opt out of the program from 19 September, engaging with Social Services officers to seek additional information and support, including choosing to opt in for voluntary income management; to set up a Centrepay arrangement where there is a need; or to receive a referral to available local services. This is a good outcome for all involved. Every Australian deserves the same opportunities in life, and it is up to the government to harness those positive opportunities and outcomes.

The existing policy was created to divide and demonise certain communities. It was the government of the day saying to you: 'Your different. You can't be trusted with social security, so we will determine how you should spend your money.' The Albanese government looks forward to this bill coming into law so the cashless debit card will not be forced on our fellow Australians again. I urge senators, and particularly those on the other side, to accept the fact that their policy—when they had policy—was bad policy, it was wrong and it did not achieve the outcomes that they sought to believe were going to happen. I urge people to support this bill.

6:36 pm

Photo of Perin DaveyPerin Davey (NSW, National Party, Shadow Minister for Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I will start with a quote. You may have heard this quote before in this debate, but that is testament to how important it is to hear the quote and to really take it on board. It is:

You guys will repeal this thing and then you'll walk away. You will repeal the card and then you will walk away and leave us to the violence, leave us to the hunger, leave us to the neglected children. It's very easy to forget about remote communities.

The quote, which really struck a chord with me, came from the founder and director of strategy of the Cape York partnership, Noel Pearson, who is widely regarded and respected as an elder who speaks with firsthand knowledge of these issues and who is very, very focused on closing the gap and on initiatives that support his people and Indigenous people around Australia. We've also had concerns raised by other organisations who work at the coalface of some of these communities who are actively working to close the gap, foundations like the Minderoo Foundation, which has said:

We are concerned the decision to abolish the CDC is being rushed through the Parliament without appropriate or meaningful community consultation. The removal of the CDC has the potential to exacerbate vulnerability, and this must be avoided at all costs.

The cashless debit card was introduced by the former coalition government after multiple examples of alcohol abuse, domestic violence, gambling and addiction that resulted in many, many families going hungry and being victims of abuse and deprivation. The cashless debit card has been described as 'an innovative program designed to tackle social harm particularly associated with drug and alcohol addiction in communities with high rates of long-term social security dependency'. When the Albanese government first announced their intention to remove this program without consultation, on unsubstantiated claims of human rights abuses and after running a massive scare campaign up and down the east coast of New South Wales, those who had firsthand experience of the benefits of this innovation knew what the consequences would be.

The government claims it has consulted. Senator Polley, though, actually highlighted what the truth is because she just explained that the government is starting the consultation. So they didn't consult before they made this announcement. Whatever consultation they think they might have conducted must have been scant and meaningless, and I suspect there was never really any real intention to find evidence of the success of the program; otherwise why would they now be backtracking? Senator Polley said they want to bring the communities along with them. I'm sorry, it's too late when the bulldozer is already rolling.

We can see the panic now in the government with the hurried announcement last Friday that people on the cashless debit card will leave the program from early October, because the bulldozer is taking off, but a new 'enhanced' card will be available to people who choose to remain on income management. This new, improved, voluntary card will also somehow be available at more than the one million merchants the existing card is available at, as well as online shopping and BPAY. If the work has been done to ensure the technology and systems and compatibilities are in place to deliver this, that is the fastest I have ever seen a government and a department and a social welfare system work. In our experience, rolling out the necessary EFTPOS arrangements to these additional merchants will take much longer than the few days since the announcement was made to when new arrangements will supposedly start in October.

We are also told that a further bill is coming. They must be realising the devastation that might ensue from this cancellation of the CDC. A further bill will be coming with the social services minister saying there would be an 18-month consultation process with affected communities to decide what the future of income management will look like. Wouldn't you think this consultation should have happened before the cancellation of the existing program, an existing program that works? This is putting the cart before the horse in every sense.

The government has also announced millions of dollars in additional social support for communities transitioning off the card. They wouldn't need those social supports if you'd left the card in place.

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

They would!

Photo of Perin DaveyPerin Davey (NSW, National Party, Shadow Minister for Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I will take the interjection, Senator Rice. The millions of dollars—we can support our communities, but the card supports the communities and stops the violence, stops the addictions and stops people standing over their spouses with their hand out, with a club in their other hand, to claim their welfare cash, because it's not there.

These last-minute changes we are now seeing from the government can surely only be an admission that Labor got it very wrong in the first place and that their election propaganda was based on little evidence and no consultation with those who have firsthand experience, those who attended the committee hearings that Senator Hughes attended, those that Senator Pocock heard from in his committee hearings. Had the government consulted properly they would have heard that abolishing the cashless debit card would give the green light to more alcohol, drug abuse and violence as per the quotes I read at the start of my contribution. And while the affected families and communities are the voices that absolutely should be front and centre of this debate, they are not alone in recognising the benefits of the CDC.

The government claims there is no evidence that a CDC works yet there have been more than a dozen evaluations of income management which have provided consistent evidence about welfare quarantining. The evaluations show decreases in drug and alcohol issues; decreases in crime, violence and antisocial behaviour; improvements in child health and wellbeing; improvements in financial management; and ongoing and even strengthened community support. One such evaluation by the University of Adelaide released in 2021 reported that the cashless debit card had helped recipients improve their lives and the lives of their families and other community members. That report, which obviously Senator Rice does not include as evidence, found that 25 per cent of people reported they were drinking less since being put on the CDC; 21 per cent of cashless debit card participants reported gambling less; evidence found cash previously used for gambling had been redirected to essentials such as food; and 45 per cent of the CDC participants reported the cashless debit card had improved things for themselves and their families. Do not believe the government's rhetoric and do not believe the claims of the Greens members, who are sitting in this chamber heckling away, who didn't attend the committee hearings, who were not there and who are ignoring the voices of the very people who they claim to represent and who they claim to want to help. Of the 17,000 people currently on the CDC, 4,398 of them in the Northern Territory are on it voluntarily. I'm also advised that most participants in Cape York are also on it voluntarily. If it didn't work, if they didn't see value in the card, why would they be volunteering to be on the program?

I urge the government to monitor more closely the impacts on those families who withdraw from the card. I urge the government to listen to the members and senators in this place who have firsthand experience of what families faced before the card was introduced and how those families' lives have changed since.

I know Labor really aren't interested in representing the vulnerable communities in South Australia or in the Goldfields in Western Australia, or the families in Bundaberg, Hervey Bay and Cape York who benefited from the CDC. I know they're pandering to the progressives in the city, far removed from the problems they are blind to, who think they're doing the right thing by our vulnerable communities but who really aren't. I say drop the scales from your eyes and look at the hard truth of the issue. Listen to the Noel Pearsons of the world. Listen to the families and the women who are asking for the cashless debit card to remain in place.

6:48 pm

Photo of David PocockDavid Pocock (ACT, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to start by acknowledging the strongly divided and deeply held views in this chamber on this bill. I have engaged with all sides in consideration of this legislation. I thank senators Ruston and Rice and other senators for their time during committee hearings, hearing tragic stories from people whose lives are being affected. I would also like to thank Minister Risthworth for genuinely listening and taking on board ideas to deliver better outcomes for the communities affected by the legislation, and Senator Reynolds for the encouragement to travel to committee hearings to hear for myself. I thoroughly enjoyed this experience, my first committee hearing as a senator for the ACT. I attended the committee hearing in Darwin and read the submissions to the Senate inquiry. I have since met with a range of other stakeholders.

I've tried to look at the available evidence and have listened to the stories and evidence from affected communities. I've heard the arguments for and against. What is clear to me from all of this is that compulsory income management has to end. What's also apparent is that there are individuals who want a voluntary form of income management that utilises the technology of the CDC card. There are communities who want to be able to decide for themselves who they put on income management, through their own self-determined processes. Throughout the course of the last few months I've worked with the government on this bill and commend them for making amendments based on some of these conversations and I'm sure many others. The main concerns I raised were protecting the Family Responsibilities Commission and the framework in place in Cape York, ensuring that the CDC is still available to them. Clearly this is something they want. They rate it as much more functional than the BasicsCard, and we have to ensure that they can continue with the work that they're doing up there. We need to ensure that people on the CDC in the NT do not have to go back onto the BasicsCard, which is clearly an inferior technology. We need to ensure that people who would like to keep income management on a voluntary basis have the ability to do so.

To be clear, we need to end all compulsory income management, and this bill does not do that. It simply allows the government to take people off the CDC. We need to continue to push the government to ensure that they prioritise ending all forms of compulsory income management. While I would like to have a time line from the government regarding the ending of all income management, these changes and the funding for support services outlined over the weekend are clearly a first step.

The research and the majority of the evidence given during the Senate committee hearings overwhelmingly shows that the CDC is not addressing the problems it was designed to address. I would like to reiterate that, with the changes negotiated with government, anyone who still wants to utilise income management can still access it on a voluntary basis. This is something we heard consistently during the committee hearing process. I welcome the government's commitment to support services and to codesigning them with communities. A more holistic approach is clearly needed—a focus on codesign and ensuring that communities are empowered to make decisions for themselves to solve their own problems, to partner with communities and work alongside them rather than dictate from Canberra what they need.

It seems to me that on this issue a Voice to Parliament would be something that would provide consultation and advice on an issue that overwhelmingly—disproportionately—affects First Nations people. The referendum to enshrine a Voice in our Constitution is something I look forward to working on with my colleagues in this place and with Australians to take this step forward for our great country and to begin to write a new chapter together.

This bill is far from perfect. But it is clearly a first step and is needed, and any significant delay in its passage will subject people to further distress. So I'll be supporting this bill.

6:54 pm

Photo of Marielle SmithMarielle Smith (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022 implements the government's election commitment to end a program that has never lived up to its promises. The cashless debit card, implemented over six trial sites across Australia, was designed to deliver a lot. The former government claimed it would help to address adverse behaviours relating to drug and alcohol misuse in communities by quarantining a proportion of a person's welfare payment. But the evidence from numerous evaluations, inquiries and audits simply isn't there to demonstrate that this program delivered on its objectives.

And now, the legislation that underpins the program is due to sunset on 31 December. The bill before us allows for the transition away from the CDC to be considered and staged. It is in response to the sunsetting of that legislation. The issues confronted in the legislation before us are tough and they are complex. I actually chaired the Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry into this, where we heard from representatives from across all of the trial sites in Australia.

We heard, firsthand, the lived experiences of many of those on the card. We heard how it had stripped away people's rights and left them feeling ashamed and humiliated and stigmatised; that it left people unable to buy basic necessities like second-hand school uniforms because there simply wasn't enough cash at hand; of kids being kept home from school to avoid the humiliation of not being able to give that $2 donation needed for an ice cream day on Friday because the cash was gone. And we heard of the workarounds being used to get cash, that compounded disadvantage and which demonstrated that a card—a piece of technology—in and of itself, can never and will never be a simple and single cure-all to drug and alcohol dependency. The reality being that without the right social help, and services to support people, these dependencies continue and they continue to cause harm.

What we heard during this inquiry was not greatly different from what I've heard on the ground in Ceduna in South Australia, where I've travelled with the then shadow minister for social services, Linda Burney, and our now Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth, in my work advocating for the Yadu Health clinic. On these visits I sat by Minister Burney and Minister Rishworth's sides as they heard similar stories: that the CDC was stigmatising individuals, restricting their access to the second-hand economy and limiting the ability of communities to make collective financial decisions. In several instances, I was told that, where people felt there may have been a positive impact for the program, it wasn't the card per se but the wraparound support services that were implemented—not always to the extent they were promised, mind you—alongside it. Again, we heard of the workarounds that were happening that were leaving some of the most vulnerable in that community worse off.

We know that for too many people this card, this program, hasn't worked as it was designed to. Indeed, it has made things worse for far too many Australians. I won't pretend that all experiences on the card, or views of the card, are universal. They're not. And I don't pretend to speak on behalf of everyone in the community of Ceduna or elsewhere. As I said, this is a complex issue and it's a complex issue in South Australia. There are supporters of the card as a mechanism for income management, including in Ceduna, and those concerned to see the transition done right. In Cape York, concerns were raised with the committee, as I said, in the inquiry I chaired, about the impact of the legislation on the continued operation of their unique model and the work of the Family Responsibilities Commission. Our inquiry heard these issues, we took them seriously and, as a result, we made a number of recommendations and added commentary in our report.

I'm really struggling to follow the commentary earlier from opposition senators that the government shouldn't have responded to the committee's recommendations, that by responding to these issues there was somehow a failure here. That is absolute nonsense. I've heard so much nonsense on the consultation argument from members of the former government, who never properly consulted before forcing people on this card—forcing them on it punitively in places like Bundaberg, where young people were put on this card without any consultation and without any choice. To the idea that the minister was somehow meant to consult before she was a minister, they know full well the former shadow minister has been out there for years listening to people on this issue.

I know Minister Rishworth is personally and deeply committed to getting this right and to leaving individuals better off. I thank her for the work on the amendments that the government is bringing forward, and the recent announcements that will be brought forward to address the concerns that have been raised. That is an appropriate response. That is what happens when you genuinely listen, like the minister has.

I want to take a moment to talk through some of these things. Firstly, were the concerns raised about technology? An updated income management technology solution with an enhanced card will be available as a voluntary income management tool for those who want to use it, providing access to more merchants, and facilitating BPAY and online shopping. This is in direct response to submissions to our inquiry. But critically, this enhanced technology will be delivered by Services Australia, removing the interface with a private company for customer support and will enhance support. It is not a punitive measure.

Secondly, the transition, of course, needs to be staged, with individual support for those who need it to come off the card. The legislation allows for this, and the minister has made it clear that Services Australia will provide front-of-house staff in trial sites throughout the transition. And the transition of course needs to be backed up with services that are well funded, codesigned and geographically, culturally and linguistically accessible. This is something our committee inquiry discussed.

The minister has announced that the government will continue current community support services, where funding was set to expire under the former government, and will invest $17 million in additional community led and designed initiatives to support economic and employment opportunities. In Ceduna in my home state, this will see some essential support services, such as the community bus for children who don't have access to other forms of transport that were set to have their funding expire next year, continue.

In addition, $49.9 million will be provided for additional alcohol and other drug treatment services and support in four of the cashless debit card trial sites. There was some interesting commentary in the chamber earlier today, but I would remind the chamber that this was support actually promised by the former government, just never delivered. So if that announcement in itself is an admission of failure or admission of error on anyone's policies, it is the government's own. I'm really proud that our committee's work has encouraged these commitments. That is what happens when a committee does its job. The idea that us making these recommendations and comments, which have led to better policy, is somehow a failure, I find absurd.

In Cape York, the government always intended for this unique model to continue. Let's have some facts on the table when it comes to this debate. Where issues were raised that they may be some unintended consequences in the legislation which would impede on this work, we made recommendations. Our inquiry made recommendations for these to be worked through. The government is bringing forward amendments to this end, which allow the work in Cape York to continue. I note those amendments have been welcomed by the Family Responsibilities Commission. I will also say for communities around the country who want their own model of community based voluntary income management, including in Ceduna if that is what the community decides it does want there, the minister left the door open on that too. These facts are important in this debate.

I understand that emotions run high. As I said, these are tough and complex issues, but facts matter, and of course a lot of work ahead remains in the Northern Territory on the future of voluntary income management. Not all of this work can or should happen overnight. To this end, I acknowledge the contribution made earlier of my colleague Senator McCarthy to this debate. If you missed her contribution, go back and listen to it because she could certainly teach a few in this chamber a thing or two about respect, about dialogue and about consultation.

This bill represents the start of the government's work to end what has clearly been a failed program, to end the blanket imposition of compulsory broad based income management that the evidence simply does not support. But of course there is more work ahead.

7:04 pm

Jacinta Nampijinpa Price (NT, Country Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have not been in this chamber very long but it is not hard to see the trickery, deceit, and the length this Albanese Labor government will go to to maintain lies and shallow election promises that were only ever about attempting to secure woke votes. The saying 'if you repeat something enough times it becomes the truth' should be Labor's motto, as this is exactly how this government have demonised the cashless debit card in order to justify their election promise to abolish it. We've heard from out-of-touch Greens senator Rice, who, I realise, had her fingers stuck in her ears when vulnerable Aboriginal Australians told her in the inquiry they desperately need the cashless debit card. We have heard from Senator McCarthy from the Territory talk about the Intervention and how it supposedly shamed adults, but she failed to admit it was the Northern Territory Labor government of the time that she was a minister of that sat on and did nothing about the Little children are sacred report. It was this report, highlighting the astronomical rates of child sexual abuse and STIs found in Aboriginal children, which was the trigger for federal action. Labor and the Greens continue to this day to ignore the suffering of vulnerable children instead of favouring the rights of abuses, perpetrators and adults controlled by addiction.

It hasn't mattered a single iota that this was a grassroots initiative in its very first instance, that the origins of the card came about because of the calls from vulnerable communities for a tool to curb spending on alcohol, drugs and gambling by vulnerable community members, nor the fact that alcohol in these regions desperate for the card had some of our nation's highest rates of child sexual abuse. We know because the evidence—not a repeated lie but the evidence—tells us that alcohol has played a colossal role in child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities. The stark evidence tells us loud and clear that alcohol plays an astronomical role in the rates of violence and abuse in Aboriginal communities—the very reasons these communities called for the development of the cashless debit card in the first place. I hear very little about the concern for children from across the chamber. How ironic that a grassroots initiative is now being scrapped to satisfy the uninformed demands of the elites.

I know these communities are far from the comfy lives that many of the members of this government live. We're told regularly that this government respects Aboriginal culture. We're told every single day you all acknowledge elders past, present and emerging, whatever that actually means, yet this government doesn't actually know Indigenous culture because none of you have lived it—really lived it or really lived in it. You think you may have been witness to it, but it's more than just parading around in animal fur, more than just putting some paint on one's face or playing a didjeridu, an instrument that belongs only to the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land. It's more than just walking through a bit of smoke. In fact, smoking ceremonies were never traditionally used at every single occasion and get together. They were precisely only used after the death of a relative, for medicinal purposes or to strengthen a newborn baby.

This government romanticises what it doesn't know and pays lip service when it's convenient. It's not just this government; the Greens all the time. Some cultural truths I know it will be hard to comprehend for many here: what it's like to constantly have your income demanded from you by addicted relatives on a regular basis; that everything you own, including the clothes on your back, can be taken from you because 'cultural protocol' dictates that you have to say yes and hand over your income, even if it means your kids go hungry. It is hard to comprehend that saying no to these demands is a breach of cultural protocol. The consequences of such culturally unacceptable refusal can lead to violent punishment. This is fact, people. Fact. I lived this culture, but this is the lived cultural experience of many. This is the protocol that has been embedded into one's psyche and passed down through generations. Members of this government could not fathom the oppressive actuality of not being encouraged or empowered to stand up for one's self and be able to say no. Communal living means consent does not belong to you as an individual. Many here will never understand, because our Western based democratic Australian culture upholds our individual rights, our Western based democratic Australian culture gives you freedom of choice, our Western based Australian democratic culture gives you the freedom to turn a blind eye in the name of political correctness to the oppressive elements of culture that belongs to our most vulnerable citizens. In fact, this government encourages and promotes separatism—the us and them mentality which sustains the breeding ground for cultural dysfunction. The favourable choice is niceties in reinvented cultural acknowledgements to country; strategically placing the Aboriginal flag in this chamber, or behind oneself at every speaking opportunity, to display ones virtues while ignoring the glaring and the disturbing intrinsic reality that plagues the lives of vulnerable Australian citizens—Australian citizens that I have been burying all of my life in communities that are far removed and out of sight, out of mind from the privileged circumstances we're all a part of here.

The only way a member of this government might feel pressured into giving the shirt off their back or all the money in their account to an addict, to the detriment of themselves or their children, is if they're under duress, in a toxic relationship, the victim of domestic violence or if they're an enabler themselves, but certainly not because it's their cultural obligation to do so.

Imagine receiving an urgent and dreadful call from your mother that she has been informed that your aunt, a woman you've loved all your life, a jovial and warmer character but an excessive drinker in her late 30s, has dropped dead on the town campground after spending consecutive nights drinking. Imagine arriving in the town camp to find she still lies in the same place on the dirt where she collapsed and died. Your other aunt is letting off heart-wrenching screams over her body. Other family—aunts; uncles; cousins; children; your young nieces and nephews, some as young as four, some in their teens—watch on. Some are in distress at the scene and some are unemotional—probably numb from the hysteria and the sight of yet another death of a loved one.

Imagine now your own children witnessing something like this. You think to yourself that it's not right that the little ones should be witnessing this. The police arrive. You are told politely that it might be best, given the circumstances, for family members to lift her body into the body bag and onto the stretcher. You want for your aunt to have dignity in those last moments. You want to get her off the ground but you also know she has now been taken away forever. This is one of many of my lived experiences of destruction by alcohol—the way in which it has taken away the lives of my family. I have many more stories to share but I won't today. Instead, I will fight to support the measures that are pertinent to curbing the destruction of alcohol where it collides with a culture that we're continually told is the world's oldest living culture, a culture I've lived. I've come to understand that during the thousands of years of its existence it has not yet developed the tools and mechanisms to successfully overcome addiction.

Addiction is a human affliction. The triggers for it within Aboriginal Australians have come from modern environmental influences; hence, why there are no cultural preventions for it. However, it becomes even more dangerous when cultural obligations are exploited by addicts and abusers. These are the very reasons why it is our responsibility as lawmakers in this nation to: (1) seek a deeper and more honest understanding of the authentic cultural practices that influence, and at times dictate, the lives of the vulnerable (2) make sound and sometimes tough decisions that work to uphold the human rights of the vulnerable as a priority before those who would destroy their lives and the lives of others. One life lost is one too many. It is not good enough to sacrifice any lives in the name of political correctness or for the shallow exercise of winning votes.

It has been an educational experience so far learning of the procedures we undertake to determine outcomes for our nation and the approaches we are confined to by way of committee. The cashless debit card repeal inquiry was strategically and deliberately rushed through by this government, leaving little to no contribution from vulnerable community members unable to access the support needed to provide a submission. People whose first language is not English and whose level of education impedes their ability to communicate efficiently and swiftly, but who need the cashless debit card the most, were effectively excluded from participating. This came as no surprise, given that Labor primarily give access to and heed only the voices of educated conformists who reflect their values and support their endeavours. I've come to understand that calling a swift inquiry with a short time frame and minimal opportunity for travel to affected remote communities allows for the stacking of submissions in favour of a particular position.

There were many calls for funds reserved for operation of the cashless debit card to be transferred to social service providers instead. When I questioned a service provider on the specifics how their service might be a better alternative to the cashless debit card, a detailed and precise answer could not be given. Noel Pearson made some poignant remarks during the delivery of his evidence and pleas to maintain the cashless debit card. He said:

… services are important—what people most need, what families most need, is more opportunity. Give them opportunity directly. We only think of services because it's the only way we think about how we support poor people. The bureaucrats see a problem, they design a program, they allocate a bureaucrat or a service deliverer with a four-wheel drive, a fax machine and everything else, but it doesn't do anything.

…   …   …

You've got to remember, we're urging you: service delivery is parasitic too. It's parasitic on the disadvantaged. It sees the disadvantaged people as a cause for a program and a job, and it doesn't do much to change their situation … So when you use the words 'service delivery', some of that is crucial mental health services and a whole lot of child protection services—they're really important—but a lot of it is rubbish too. It actually is feasting on disadvantage.

I learnt that despite the many invitations and pleas made by one of the shire mayors of a trial site to meet Minister Rishworth and Minister Burney to discuss the critical need for the cashless debit card, in the end they were simply ignored. I also learnt that Minister Rishworth met Aboriginal women from remote communities during her rushed consultations who told her they were grateful for income management, that it was a lifesaver for them. Possibly, despite the representations of pious inner-city academics far removed from the lives of the marginalised and their culture, despite the demands from service providers in favour of income management abolition and redirecting funds, the few voices of the deeply concerned and vulnerable might cut through. Perhaps this government can no longer maintain the con that demonises the cashless debit card. After all, if the card was not working, then why is the government making it voluntary? Why abolish the cashless debit card in favour of maintaining the inferior and restrictive technology of the BasicsCard?

Over the weekend, I read that Labor plan to replace the CDC with another card. This card will have updated technology and, no doubt, a whole new bright shiny name. So the government want us to believe it is scrapping the cashless debit card, as was the election commitment, when in fact it is keeping it and pretending to create a new one. The time and resources invested by the former coalition government to make immense improvements to the BasicsCard by way of introducing the cashless debit card have been completely overlooked for ideological reasons by the government and its supporters. On the same basis, they disregarded the 2021 University of Adelaide evaluation that found a quarter of the people on the cashless debit card reported they drank less frequently, and 45 per cent of recipients said it had improved their lives.

The cashless debit card works, and it always has, but the government must continue its con. Once you start a lie, you have to stick with it. It evolves and takes on a life of its own, as we have come to see. Again it's been a waste of our time and resources watching on while Labor rearrange the deckchairs on the sinking ship of Aboriginal community life, knowing full well that pulling the rug from clean under these vulnerable people, in the name of political correctness, is going to destroy lives. It's all smoke and mirrors. Albanese is the ringmaster of this circus, Rishworth is the illusionist and, with their colleagues, they put the heads of the vulnerable into the mouths of the lions while the taxpayers watch on, either cheering with approval or, like those with any real comprehension of the danger, gasping in dismay. Only when your intentions are driven by your concern for this nation and its people instead of your disdain for the opposition and hunger for votes will you actually find some real solutions for Indigenous people. (Time expired)

7:19 pm

Photo of Dorinda CoxDorinda Cox (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make a contribution on this bill, the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022. It is absolutely no secret that the Greens oppose income management. We believe that a socially just, democratic and sustainable society rests on the provision of an unconditional liveable income for everybody complemented by the provision of universal social services. We are pleased that this discriminatory, oppressive scheme is finally being repealed, but we are deeply disappointed that it has absolutely taken too long. This is well overdue and is just one of the many steps this country must take to stop the ongoing colonialism and oppression of First Nations people in this country.

In 2015, my predecessor, former senator Rachel Siewert, wrote in a dissenting report to the community affairs inquiry into this bill that established the trials:

Despite claims by the Government the proposed debit card is an extension of Income Management. Compulsory Income Management is a failed measure, which impacts negatively on the community and imposes significant costs on Government. Evidence provided through submissions and oral evidence to this inquiry show the fundamental problems in this approach.

We, the Greens, were ringing the alarm bells, saying even before it was enacted that this would be a disaster. Compulsory income management has consistently failed to benefit the people and communities upon which it has been imposed, and more often than not they are in fact First Nations people.

There is no clear evidence that compulsory income management works or even leads to the improvement of the lives of those who are subjected to these measures, so you can concoct any type of evaluation you want. One of the reasons for reducing income management is as a result of the alcohol and drug related problems, particularly in the Northern Territory, but there is actually no evidence that these problems have been improved by the imposition of compulsory income management.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has also stated that the application of the cashless debit card has not been shown to have been reasonable, necessary or proportionate. The CDC places unnecessary limits on economic, social and cultural human rights and undermines the right to self-determination. Now, I don't know what people from the other side think but, clearly, what we've been fighting for for 230-plus years is our right to self-govern and our right to self-determination. The CDC does not respect an individual's agency or their rights.

The stakeholders have referred to this program as 'collective punishment' and to the continuation of that. The impacts of this scheme have absolutely been devastating for people in communities. The cashless debit card prevents people from even taking cash out. For many, they survive on cash because they can't afford to buy things from the shop. Now, imagine not being able to buy things from the shop—people not being able to do that for themselves. That's about access. They purchase their clothes and their household items from op shops and garage sales and they purchase their food from farmers markets and roadside stalls. They don't get the privilege, like everybody else in this place, to go to the shop to buy the things they need, because they're on CDC.

One single mother stated: 'In three years, I've been subjected to the ludicrous thing that CDC has (1) attempted to prevent me from accessing a private speech therapist in community'—it has restricted her from doing that—'prevented me from using my tax return to buy my son a bedroom suite. Just think: put a bunch of people with no mental health, disability or domestic violence skills in charge of my financial situation in an arbitrary way,' and I bet that wouldn't happen to anyone in this place. She continued: 'When my ex-husband treated me this way, the Family Court called it financial control.' The fact is that the former government was never allowed to subject people to this level of control. If this same behaviour was by a partner or carer, they would actually call this financial abuse. It's absolutely barbaric.

As I stated earlier, the CDC has a disproportionate impact on First Nations people. It is not about a post code lottery. In fact, it is done and crafted and measured in a way where it actually will disproportionately impact on First Nations people. So make no mistake: the CDC is a continuation of colonialism in this country. It seeks to normalise policies that control First Nations people. It perpetuates the stigmatisation that we've just heard from across the chamber and in former speeches of First Nations people, as opposed to recognising their sovereignty and addressing the impacts of the collective and generational trauma that are the result of the attempted genocide of over 200 years of oppression in this country.

I don't know how many times we have to say it. We said it last week during our other speeches.

Change the Record also set this out in their evidence to the Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry into the repeal of the cashless debit card:

Colonisation and the dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from Country has taken many forms—including theft of land and resources—

commonly known as stolen wealth—

exploitation of labour, and theft and quarantining of wages and welfare payments—

stolen wages in this country—

These injustices have caused First Nations peoples to experience persistent economic inequality to this day, and their legacy continues to shape Australia's welfare and social security system.

Compulsory income management is a stark example of the type of discriminatory, coercive and top-down decision-making that has caused very real harm to First Nations individuals and communities. We welcome the decision to abolish it.

The CDC makes people more dependent on welfare rather than building capacity and independence; I don't have to say this, because I've lived that experience. But it's also a provision of the social safety nets provided globally, acknowledged by the WTO, the IPO and ESCAP in their definitions of how important that is. It's particularly important to our women and our children, as the former speaker mentioned.

The previous government have constantly shared their support for stage 3 tax cuts, saying to the public: 'This is your money. We're just giving it back to you.' Clearly this is a sentiment that only applies to white people in this country. It doesn't apply to blackfellas. If this government acknowledges the racist nature of this program and the harm it's doing, why shift some people to compulsory management through the BasicsCard, which is simply controlling us in the same way but under a different name—same-same, no different. We need to abolish all forms of compulsory income management.

I want to echo the comments of my colleague Senator Rice, who spoke very eloquently about the provisions of this bill that allow the minister to move people from the cashless debit card, once it's abolished, to other forms of compulsory income management. This, again, is simply unacceptable. We need to abolish all forms of compulsory income management, not just the cashless debit card.

We have a lot of unfinished business in this country. We are the only Commonwealth country that doesn't have a treaty with its first people. We are yet to enact legislation to enshrine the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Our children continue to be stolen at unacceptable rates. In my state alone I am 17 times more likely than a white woman to lose my children. Just think about that for a moment—I come from five generations of the stolen generation—and the amount of anxiety that that causes for my family. Think about First Nations people, who are the most incarcerated people in the world—with the fastest-growing prison population in the world being First Nations women in this country. We have a serious problem with colonialism, which is the legacy of colonisation in this country. The repealing of this card is just one of the many steps we need to take to heal this country, to provide justice and peace for First Nations people so that we can move forward.

The Greens are proud to support this bill, after calling for the cashless debit card to never have been established in the first place. We will continue to fight so that all forms of compulsory income management are abolished.

7:29 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022 is the first legislative step towards abolishing this paternalistic control of people's lives that was put forward by the former government. It delivers on the Albanese government's election promise to right this wrong through meaningful consultation and engagement with Australian communities affected by the cashless debit card.

The card commenced in 2016, which was followed by more than six years of confused mismanagement—mismanagement synonymous with the cashless debit card, and mismanagement that led to day-to-day interference, chaos and difficulty in people's lives affected by this card. Enough is enough.

The purported purpose of the card was to minimise the social harms caused by excessive alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling. But of course this was a one-size-fits-all solution, targeting every social security recipient who was receiving JobSeeker payments with a cashless debit card. I personally heard stories from the Kimberley about people having their rent payments not go through because of this system, and about numerous other hardships that took a long time to resolve in a very difficult bureaucracy.

The former government totally ignored all of these issues within the community. The former government was prepared to put forward what was obviously a racially targeted policy. It purports that it wasn't racially targeted because it targeted everyone in these communities, but if you look at the Aboriginality demographics of these communities it's very clear what the last government's motivation was. This is but one example of the many examples of the Labor Party having to undo and fix an ill-thought-out system that the previous government slapped onto the Australian public. There was no empirical evidence used in this program and it has instead led to people becoming more dependent rather than less dependent on social services. We can see that very clearly.

This program has burdened people's lives and has produced no evidence that it has delivered on its objective. You only need to go to the Auditor-General's report to see that. It certainly hasn't been a cost saver—not that it should be, but the former government spent $170 million on a privatised cashless debit card program. That's $170 million which could have been invested in locally run support services or putting money in the pockets of the needy—the families experiencing hardship. The former government had promised services to go along with the CDC—services that most often, in the eyes of the community, did not eventuate.

Last month I was privileged, with other members of the Community Affairs Committee of the Senate, to visit towns and communities affected by the CDC. We sought information on how the CDC affected people's lives on a day-to-day basis. But we also asked what was actually wanted and needed in these areas—what was needed to recover from the fact that these communities had been very much knocked around by the CDC, a card that has limited buying power to such an extent that it disadvantaged users within their local economy and stigmatised them.

It's been very keenly felt in my own home state of WA, where in the East Kimberley it's difficult to get people to talk to you about the CDC. It's difficult because they're scared of government and they're also scared of what will be done without their consent if they speak out. But once you peel beneath that surface they feel stigmatised. And they've experienced chaos, confusion and difficulty in managing their day-to-day finances, in paying their rent, in being able to take children on school excursions, and in a range of day-to-day tasks that we would expect households right around the country to be able to take for granted.

Wyndham has been a test site since 2016 and the local evidence shows that people have felt it. They talk about the shame of not being able to make their own financial decisions, about the frustration of not being able to freely use their money in the most effective way possible. It was a broad-brush approach across the whole community, irrespective of whether any of those families had a problem that needed support. It made support services less effective because our social security system proffered no guidance or support to help reach out to those people and families that actually might have needed help for drug, alcohol or gambling problems.

The report we put forward recommends that this bill be passed. It is a message this government has heard widely and universally. It is time to listen to the people impacted by this card, who we are trying to help, and to stop ignoring their rights.

7:36 pm

Photo of Matt O'SullivanMatt O'Sullivan (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with real sadness that I rise today to speak on the repeal of the cashless debit card. I was part of its design back in 2016-17. I engaged directly as part of the team that went out and engaged with the communities on the ground. I heard from communities on the ground about the need for such a card and such a program, so it is with real sadness that I am here now speaking on this bill.

I rise to speak on this Albanese Labor government's blatant and disappointing disregard for the welfare of those living in outer remote Indigenous communities. With this bill, we're seeing that the Albanese government have been obsessed with repealing the cashless debit card. They have shown, frankly, that they have no understanding whatsoever of the devastating impact this bill will have on some of our nation's most vulnerable communities. They have no compassion for those suffering from the most horrific abuse and trauma that will be exasperated by the alcohol and drugs that will pour into these communities across the country. As my colleague in the other place the member for Deakin said, this will inflict misery back into the vulnerable communities in places like the East Kimberley, the Goldfields in my home state of Western Australia, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland and indeed in Ceduna in South Australia. I have been to each of these communities. I have been to most of them years before the cashless debit card was ever implemented and I have been to them while it has been in operation. I can tell you firsthand that there is a stark difference but, don't just take my word for it, listen to the people on the ground living in these communities.

Labor claim they have been listening to the feedback from these vulnerable communities. They claim that they value and respect the process for consulting with these communities. But why is it these communities have said repeatedly there has been no community consultation prior to the tabling of this legislation? Are they not telling the truth? Are the people in these communities not telling the truth? We know the truth. The truth is they only started engaging with communities after the legislation was introduced into that other place. They talk about consultation.

The committee inquiry that I was a part of—I sat in on it—didn't even go to the CDC sites of Ceduna, the Goldfields or East Kimberley. Moreover, the government only gave stakeholders less than a week to put in a submission. What sort of consultation is that? How open are you actually to receiving feedback when you give them one week? The only people who have time are those who have people on their payroll ready to put submissions like this in. So what did we have? We had all of these academics, organisations based in the cities—Sydney and Melbourne. If you want to hear from people on the ground, you need to give them more than one week, because they are busy running their lives, busy getting the kids to school, making sure their grandkids are going to school. Those opposite have completely disregarded them; it is shameful. The lack of respect for communities that fought hard to see this card put in place in their communities is absolutely shameful.

This is coming from a government, a Prime Minister no less, that is out there pushing for an Indigenous voice to parliament, and on its very first test to listen to these communities, to let them have their voices heard, it didn't give them a voice at all. It didn't listen to the communities on the ground. The Albanese Labor government presumes to know what these vulnerable communities need without asking them. It's the height of hypocrisy. The Albanese Labor government presumes to speak for these vulnerable communities without speaking to them first. The Albanese Labor government presumes to represent these vulnerable communities, but it doesn't. It doesn't have a mandate from these communities, because it's not listening to the people who live in these communities who are being protected by the cashless debit card from the lawless and antisocial behaviours stemming from drug and alcohol abuse, from domestic violence stemming from drug and alcohol abuse and from sexual assault stemming from drug and alcohol abuse which will only get worse without the cashless debit card.

Granted, the CDC was part of the Labor Party election campaign, and we have heard Labor members get up time and again in this debate, talking about how they took it to the Australian people and the people voted. That's true. It was clear they were going to abolish it. We all knew it. So explain to me how the member for Hinkler won his seat, the member for Durack won her seat, the member for Grey won his seat and the member for O'Connor won his seat. These members of parliament are very vocal. Their support of the cashless debit card is known very strongly and widely across the community, and they all won their seats. There wasn't some big turnaround in those communities. Is there anyone on the other side who has the guts to stand up to their colleagues to protect Australians living in these communities? We need to help Australians living in these communities, not abandon them. This is just another example of the Labor Party abandoning those living in vulnerable and remote communities.

We know the use of drugs and excessive alcohol drives up rates of domestic violence and abuse, particularly against women and children living in these communities. Who on the other side is going to stand up for these women and children? We must listen to those who live in these communities who want to have the card, who have told us repeatedly that there are benefits to the cashless debit card, that there are better outcomes as a result.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Noel Pearson, the founder and director of the Cape York Institute. At the inquiry by the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee into this legislation he shared powerful stories about his work for more than 20 years to help his community through income management, with the cashless debit card being the only technical solution that exists right at this moment. He said:

This week we met with the minister. I spoke in no uncertain terms, like I'm speaking to the committee, that our work in Cape York will be severely kiboshed if we don't have a card facility attached to the FRC. It's crucial. You can't consider going back to the BasicsCard. It is a very inconvenient card. It doesn't have the functionality of the CDC.

The Labor Party have deliberately demonised the cashless debit card for the sake of their own political pointscoring. Running their lies about the coalition putting pensioners onto the cashless debit card in the lead up to the federal election in May is the genesis of this problem we've got. Why did they do this? Why are they now abolishing the cashless debit card when all the evidence is that it is actually working? They've painted themselves into a corner. In order to maximise the political advantage of the atrocious scare campaign they ran ahead of the election, they were put into a corner where they had to say, 'What are you going to do about the cashless debit card?' In a flurry, they said, 'We'll get rid of it,' and they've painted themselves into a corner.

There are amendments that have been distributed in the chamber. Their amendments and the funding for services that will be required to overcome the result of the abolition are proof that this government has actually lost at sea. In a flurry they made this decision to abolish the cashless debit card, and now they, very quickly, right here before us, are turning it around. There are some amendments here that are going to keep what they're calling an 'enhanced card'—and I'll come to that in a moment. So even now, months after the federal election, they continue to spout lies and untruths about how the cashless debit card does not work while choosing to consign welfare recipients in the Northern Territory back on to the clunky and outdated BasicsCard.

All the Labor Party have managed to do is demonise a method of income management that gives people the choice and the freedom to choose to spend their money wherever and however they want while still protecting their communities from lawless and antisocial behaviour stemming from drug and alcohol abuse. What we are seeing with the government amendments that have been circulated is that this lot over here have realised that they have painted themselves into a corner and that they are going to be putting people on to an 'enhanced card'. It says in here that they're going to put people on to a BasicsCard bank account. Now listen to this carefully, those in the back offices: I'm going to be asking some questions about this tomorrow when we get to the committee stage, so you make sure you come with information about what that actually means.

Last time I checked, the Australian government and Services Australia were not deposit-taking institutions. Now that's a technical term. It's listed in legislation that the only organisations that can hold money on behalf of other Australians, on behalf of citizens, is a deposit-taking institution—that is, a bank. The Australian government can't do that; it's not a deposit-taking institution. Now unless you're going to be nationalising a bank, you're going to spend millions and millions and millions and hundreds of millions of dollars on becoming a deposit-taking institution because you have to build all of the infrastructure and the services that go with it. If you're not going to do that, and I can't imagine you would because it would just be ridiculous, then you're going to have to outsource it. Who are you going to outsource it to? I bet it will be the same provider that's already providing the cashless debit card. You're just rebadging it. You're just renaming it.

Why don't you come in here and be upfront with the Australian people about what you're actually going to be doing, because you've misled the Australian people. Right through your election campaign you say you're going to abolish the cashless debit card. But guess what? Right here, in this amendment, it says that you're going to put them on an enhanced contemporary card. 'A contemporary card'. Well you've just belled the cat because we know exactly what you're going to do, you're just renaming the cashless debit card. I wonder if people are going to have to change their accounts. Will they be able to stay with their current accounts? I bet you they will because it's exactly what's happening. They probably won't have to change their account, anyone who wants to voluntarily stay on it, anyone who's in the Northern Territory, anyone who's up in Cape York. Be upfront: have the guts to come in here, stand up and explain to the Australian people what you're actually doing. You've belled the cat. Be under no illusion: this so-called enhanced card is just the cashless debit card rebadged. Come on, fess up to the Australian people. You've bitten off more than you can chew and, now that you know how it works, you've come around. But rather than fess up, you think you can just rename it and get away with it. Well shame on you.

The CDC functions like the millions of debit cards in circulation in Australia at this very moment. It can be used to make purchases anywhere where Visa or EFTPOS are accepted. By running on the Visa platform, the card has moved with payment developments and is widely accepted by merchants. It can be used on phones, through Apple Pay, Google Pay, and for online purchases. The CDC—it is the enhanced card that the government's amendments describe. All they're doing is renaming it.

In the two minutes I have left, I just want to give you some feedback from those who are on the ground, who have firsthand experience with the cashless debit card. Firstly, from my very good friend—and I think one of the most trusted Australians—Mr Ian Trust from Kununurra. He spoke about lifting people from entrenched disadvantage with the help of the cashless debit card. He said, 'I'd say the biggest contribution from the cashless debit card was probably a reduction in the harassment of vulnerable people, many elders, by their relatives, grandkids and children and so on for their money.' He's someone on the ground who gets it, not some academic from Sydney or Melbourne, not some bureaucrat or a bunch of politicians that don't really live it, don't really walk it. This is someone who lives in his community. He was one of the ones that called for it in the first place.

Some of the witnesses that we had before the committee advocated for more services and seeing support put around people. We heard from those in the Goldfields that, just this year alone, 70 people have moved off welfare and into a job. Due to the investment that we put into this community when we were in government, 70 people have moved off welfare and into a job.

I've been involved for a long, long, long, long time. I've forgotten more than most people would actually know about this sort of stuff, particularly when it comes to training and employment. I can tell you that to get that sort of result is outstanding. That is outstanding. I want to finish with this quote in the 30 seconds I've got left:

WA Police Commissioner Col Blanch said the card had been beneficial in remote communities.

"It gives opportunity for the more senior people in families and the Elders and some of the Aboriginal communities to use the money on food for the kids and other things," he said.

"It just seems to settle the community down and gives them better opportunity to spend their money on priority needs."

You've got to stick with this card. Come on. Be honest with the Australian people. Don't give up on these communities.

7:51 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

I think that contribution right there really belled the cat. In fact, what it said to me was that this is an opposition that has no policies, and it's an opposition for opposition's sake. This is a bill that delivers on the Albanese government's election commitment to abolish the cashless debit card. It is a position that we took to the election. What happened on 21 May is that we had a change of government. People voted for a change. That's what happened.

A couple of other things happened. A familiar theme has been flowing through the contributions by the opposition: we never listen; then, when we make amendments because we listened to the Senate inquiry into this bill, somehow that is wrong too. You never can get it right with this lot. You can never get it right with this lot. Regardless of what they want to tell you, and regardless of what they say in their contributions, this commitment was made following extensive consultations with individuals, with organisations, with service providers and with cashless debit card holders.

There have been numerous evaluations, inquiries and orders, none of which have been able to establish that the card is working. The latest of these was the ANAO report released in June, which highlighted the lack of evidence to demonstrate any success associated with the rollout of the card. Instead, what we've heard are the experiences of cardholders feeling stigmatised and believing that they're being punished for being welfare recipients. That is why Labor committed to abolishing the card. That is part of why the Australian people voted for the Labor Party—our commitment to abolish the cashless debit card.

The passage of this bill will mean that no new social security recipients can be put on the card. It will also enable the more than 17,000 current cardholders to transition away from having to use the card as part of this process. Everyone who is currently using the card will be able to remain on voluntary income management.

Submissions to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry into this bill revealed how poorly targeted the rollout of the cashless debit card was. According to UnitingCare Australia, most of the people on the cashless debit card do not have substance abuse or gambling problems, despite the previous government's claim that the rollout of the card would target welfare recipients experiencing those very issues. UnitingCare went on to say that the numerous evaluations and studies conducted since the card was first introduced in 2016 had provided, 'no evidence that the groups of people singled out and put on the card were in fact the people facing the highest risk of engaging in the behaviours that it was meant to target'. This is not new. This is not news to anyone. The coalition government had the same information to hand back then but they continued.

Last month there were over 17,000 of our fellow Australians on the cashless debit card. People aged 35 and under who receive the JobSeeker payment, youth allowance, parenting allowance and are in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay are required to use the card. All recipients of working age payments in Ceduna, the Goldfields and East Kimberley are required to use the card. Some income support recipients in Cape York and some income management participants in the Northern Territory are also required to use the card.

The current program relies on visa debit cards that have been issued by the payment company Indue or the Traditional Credit Union in the Northern Territory. One of the many problems is that these cards can only be used in stores that accept the cards. That lack of widespread acceptance of the card, and the workarounds developed by some community members and businesses, has led to increased hardship. In some cases rent payments have been blocked, making housing stability an additional challenge for those people.

We've heard, in a number of contributions here, about the issues that related to the use of the card and the extra hardship that it caused people who were required to use these cards. Anyone in this chamber should have a good long, hard look at themselves as to suggest that people should be not be able to shop where they want to shop. When you're putting these systems in place you need to have a good, long, hard look at yourself. I mean, seriously.

The previous government also claimed that this form of compulsory income management would help women in violent and abusive relationships, but, again, there is no evidence to support this claim—no evidence at all—and no-one, in all the contributions that we've had here today, has put forward any evidence to support this claim. If this is your position, if your position is to oppose this piece of legislation, you should be putting forward the evidence—not just blanket statements, but real evidence.

In their submission to the committee inquiry the Top End Womens Legal Service outlined some of the complexity faced by women survivors and victims of violence and abuse, including the shame of providing details to Centrelink and the problems accessing housing and crisis support when on the BasicsCard and cashless debit card—so the opposite of what you're saying.

The St Vincent de Paul's Society shares the view of many that there there's no evidence that compulsory income management has any widespread or sustained benefits. They were also concerned that the use of the cashless debit card did not lead to any discernible improvements in employment outcomes. Instead, it often resulted in stigmatisation, exclusion, financial hardship and discrimination.

This bill allows for a staged transition for people who currently use the card. This gradual process will allow Services Australia to conduct individual interviews with everyone subjected to the cashless card to ensure that each participant is well informed of their options and the support services that are available to them. The approach taken by this government is sensible. It's a government that cares about people. It's incumbent upon the opposition to come out in their contributions and put out cold, hard facts. Quite frankly, we haven't seen that. We haven't seen any facts to support the statements they are presenting to this chamber. They need to take a good, hard look at themselves.

This approach the government is taking is supported by the evidence from service providers that the most effective way to achieve long-term sustainable change is to provide individualised, culturally sensitive services and support for as long as they are required. When this bill is passed, anyone who wishes to cease using the card will be able to do so without having to prove anything to any government agency. They will no longer have to share some very detailed private information in order to be moved off the card. The gradual transition proposed by the government will also allow for further meaningful consultations with First Nations people and their representative organisations on the specific challenges faced by their communities. These consultations will explore the types of supports that will benefit these communities.

Welfare payments and associated supports are key components to delivering on this government's priority that no-one is left behind. A priority for the government will be to ensure that every measure we put in place to assist some of our most vulnerable citizens does just that—assists them. We will always have supporting the most vulnerable members of our community as our top priority. The delivery of housing, health, education, child care and income support will make Australia a better place. These important areas of public policy are key to delivering on this government's top two priorities—no-one left behind and no-one held back. Today we are taking a step forward on that journey. I commend the bill to the Senate.

8:02 pm

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Fine words, Senator Brown. The question is going to be: what actually happens on the ground when the cashless debit card is removed? Notwithstanding all Senator Brown's fine words and those given by an array of speakers opposite, and from the Greens and others, I genuinely fear in practice that the removal of this cashless debit card will be an absolute unmitigated disaster for some of our most vulnerable people in Australia. That is my heartfelt fear.

I rise to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022. Those opposite have said they have a mandate to remove the cashless debit card. Let's drill down to that. I am someone who believes all politics is local. In each of the four federal seats where the cashless debit card has been in place, a coalition member of parliament was returned: in the seat of Hinkler, where Hervey Bay is a place where the cashless debit card is in place, the federal coalition member was returned; in the seat of Grey, where Ceduna is a place where the cashless debit card is in place, the federal coalition member was returned; in the seat of Durack, which contains Kalgoorlie, the federal coalition member was returned; and in the seat of O'Connor, including the Goldfields, the federal coalition member was returned. Four out of four. Where is your mandate from the actual communities where the cashless debit card is in place? No mandate from those communities; it is from others who are far removed from what is happening on the ground in the communities most impacted. No mandate from the communities where the cashless debit card is in place.

And in terms of one of those seats, held by my good friend, Keith Pitt MP, in the federal seat of Hinkler, I just want to quote some of his words from his speech. We might disagree in this place about philosophy, ideology or approaches to issues, but I would hope that no-one in this place could in any way impugn the sincerity of Mr Keith Pitt MP, the member for Hinkler, who cares deeply about his community, which has the cashless debit card at the moment. He was returned. He has a mandate to fight for the retention of the cashless debit card. This is what he said in the other place on Tuesday 2 August 2022:

There were some 6,552 individuals on the card at this site as of 1 July 2022 and it's making a difference—

That's evidence. That's the local member who is closest to his own community. That is evidence. He's talking to people on the ground every day—

it is making a big difference. My site is significantly different to the other three. We do not have a majority of Indigenous or Aboriginal descent in my patch. It is only on four payments: Newstart, youth allowance (other), parenting payment single and parenting payment partnered. That is all. It has worked, and that is being demonstrated by the evidence.

And he goes on and he talks about why he's so passionate about the card in Hervey Bay. When it was introduced, or prior to its introduction:

… it was projected that without any intervention, 57 per cent of those under 30 on welfare would still be on income support in 10 years time.

There's someone who's concerned about young people in his own electorate who are facing that future of continued dependence on welfare. That was his concern.

What did he say in terms of those opposite?

But here is what we have seen from those opposite. They said they would consult. We did over 100 meetings for consultation in my electorate, but they went and talked to some activists who don't live in the area—in fact, they're not in the electorate of Hinkler—who are opposed because, well, they're activists, and that's no real surprise.

So that's Keith Pitt MP, my good friend, the member for Hinkler, genuinely concerned about his community and genuinely concerned about the impact of removal of the cashless debit card upon his community.

I pay tribute to the coalition senators who were involved in writing the dissenting report in relation to the removal of the cashless debit card, and there are a few points I'd like to make from their dissenting report. The first is it should be noted that the CDC program commenced in Ceduna, South Australia, on 15 March 2016, and has been in East Kimberly, Western Australia, since 26 April 2016. It was progressively rolled out in the Goldfields in Western Australia since 26 March 2018, and introduced in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay regions, represented by my good friend Keith Pitt MP since 29 January 2019. And I should say, in terms of the introduction of the card in Hervey Bay, I gave a speech in this place, probably about 24 months ago, where I talked about how the youth unemployment rate in Hervey Bay actually fell by an extraordinary rate after the introduction of the cashless debit card. It fell by an extraordinary rate compared to the rest of Queensland. It was also introduced in the Cape York region in Queensland, and in the Northern Territory in early 2020. As at 5 August 2022, there were 17,754 participants using the cashless debit card around Australia.

Why was it introduced? What was the intention behind the introduction? A lot of things have been said about the intention, all of which have been from those opposite, all of which have misrepresented the intention. The intention has always been to help people. You might disagree with the philosophy of the policy and you might disagree with its practical outcomes, but no-one can legitimately disagree with the intention, which has been to help some of our most vulnerable people make a transition from welfare to leading lives where they can have jobs and provide for their families. I quote from the dissenting report:

The CDC program was sparked by the heartbreaking report of the 'sleeping rough inquest' into the deaths of six people in South Australia's far west coast, handed down by the state's coroner in 2011. It found that efforts to curb alcohol abuse in the region had not been successful and that it was having devastating impacts on individuals and families and their communities.

The Cashless Debit Card program was designed to be a tool that could assist communities in addressing social harm issues such as domestic violence, child neglect and other antisocial behaviours that arose from alcohol and substance addiction and long-term welfare dependency.

Indigenous community leaders approached the government for support and worked with government to establish the CDC program. The further rollout was established on the same basis—that being community support.

That's the reality. That's what led to the introduction of this scheme in the first place. What is going to happen in those areas when this card is removed?

And what do the people closest to the community say? They're the people we should be listening to. It's their voices we should be listening to in terms of this debate. Noel Pearson, founder and director of strategy at the Cape York Partnership—an outstanding Queenslander—said, 'I think this legislation will wipe out 20 years of my work.' Is he wrong? Is Noel Pearson wrong? Is that evidence? It's pretty persuasive evidence to me—testimony from someone who has a close connection with this community, and who is an expert with respect to these matters. Is that evidence? It's pretty persuasive evidence to me. This is what he says:

… in the absence of a solution that had the same functionality as the cashless debit card, our Family Responsibilities Commission and the welfare reform work that we've done via that over the last 20 years will collapse, and that would be a very bad thing. We'd just have to give up. We would come to the point of just giving up on the idea that we can change anything for the future of these communities.

That's from Noel Pearson. No one cares more about those Cape York communities than Noel Pearson, and this is his testimony. That's evidence, and persuasive evidence at that.

What did the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder state in its submission? It said:

The decision to abolish the CDC has been made without any consultation with the regional community and the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder remains unconsulted on how the transition will impact CDC participants, social services providers, government agencies, and the community.

That's what they say in Kalgoorlie—one of the communities most impacted. What does the Mayor of the District Council of Ceduna say? Mayor Perry Will says:

We've had no consultation about it at all. The first we heard of it was in the PM's election promises, that he was going to do it. Prior to that, we had had no representation from any Labor politicians.

The former mayor, Mr Allan Suter OAM, was the same, and stated:

I might also add that Minister Rishworth was encouraged twice by a local member of parliament to contact me, because of my knowledge of the card, when she visited Ceduna, but, despite heavy prompting from our local member, no effort was made to contact me. I made sure I was available if the phone rang, and it didn't.

That's what people on the ground are saying.

We'll see the evidence of what happens when these trials come to an end. We'll see the evidence then, and those who support the abolition of the CDC will be responsible for those outcomes. It will be your responsibility, and every fine paragraph of oratory in this place will not make a damn difference to the people on the ground in those communities. It won't make a damn difference to any of them. It will just be fine words spoken in this place, but it'll mean nothing to their on-the-ground experiences.

Let's talk about evidence. You want to talk about evidence? How's this for evidence? This is from the coalition senators' dissenting report:

Findings from an independent impact evaluation by the University of Adelaide released in 2021 reported that Cashless Debit Card had helped recipients improve their lives and the lives of their families and other community members. Findings included:

    How's that for evidence?

      That's exactly as intended.

        How's that for evidence?

        The study also showed that slightly more than half of interview respondents (and especially stakeholders) reported they were in favour of the CDC continuing, albeit with certain improvements in certain aspects.

        Sure, let's try and improve it but don't abolish it. What is going to happen in these communities? These communities most impacted by this legislation did not give a mandate to the government to change it.

        Four federal electorates were trial sites. Every one of those electorates returned a coalition member of parliament; four out of four—100 per cent. Those opposite may have, in their own view, a mandate on a national basis for this policy. They do not have a mandate from the communities most impacted by the abolition of the cashless debit card. They do not have that mandate. Four out of four of those seats returned coalition members of parliament who fought the last election on retention of the cashless debit card. The communities most impacted by the cashless debit card voted for its retention, and those opposite need to soberly consider that fact, and it is a fact, just as we all will be forced to soberly consider the consequences, and I fear they will be disastrous for some of these local communities. All of us will need to soberly consider the consequences of the abolition of the cashless debit card.

        8:16 pm

        Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

        I rise to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022, which has a long title. Essentially, it's a simple bill that seeks to deliver on a commitment to abolish the cashless debit card. When I first came to this place, I had the good for fortune to be asked to serve on the Senate Standing Committees on Finance and Public Administration and that meant that I was deeply involved in a number of inquiries into matters which affected First Nations people. At the time I was on the committee, it inquired into the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, it inquired into the Community Development Program and it inquired into the legal services that were available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who required services because they were facing legal proceedings of some kind.

        A common theme flowed through the government's approach to all of these inquiries. The last government's approach to policy making in relation to First Nations people was almost entirely devoid of input from First Nations people. It was an approach that proceeded with a set of ideas about what would be good for community; it was not an approach that sought to engage community in the design or the delivery of programs that were inflicted upon them. The results were very clear in each of the programs that we examined in these communities. It is a deeply flawed way of dealing with communities that continue to suffer very significant impacts arising from a legacy of colonisation. However well-intentioned those were who sought to design and implement these programs, their inability to understand that unless we involve community in the process of building programs these programs would not be successful, and that inability to understand then flawed almost every measure that was implemented by our predecessors, who now sit on the other side of the chamber.

        The bill before us seeks to remedy yet another one of these failed interventions. The cashless debit card was introduced as a trial. The government at the time said that this was something they wanted to try with communities and they built an evidence base to evaluate whether or not it was a program that was in fact working. But like so many of these interventions, firstly, the people who were subjected to this trial were not really adequately consulted at all and, secondly, the trial was not constructed in a way that would yield an evidence base that would support a decision to continue or discontinue the program.

        The evaluation conducted by ORIMA into the effectiveness of the trials in Ceduna and the East Kimberley was utterly inconclusive at best, a point made by the ANAO when they reviewed it. There was insufficient credible evidence at that point to support the establishment of further trials. Despite that, the government relied on that evaluation to roll out more and more trials of the card. At the time, Janet Hunt, who was the deputy director of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the ANU, said that the evaluation showed the cashless debit card had not improved safety and reduced violence, despite that being one of the trial's key objectives.

        The ANAO report into the implementation and performance of the cashless debit card trial in 2018 uncovered some very serious issues, including false reporting of data collected through the trials. The evaluation noted a decrease in ambulance call-outs when in fact there had been an increase. The evaluation also said there was an increase in school attendance, but the ANAO found Indigenous school attendance had decreased after the introduction of the card. The Auditor-General's report of the trials also raised very real and serious questions about the cost of the program, including the high cost of the trials, budget overruns and flawed procurement processes.

        It seems a long time ago now, 2018, but, despite all of this information, the government persisted with an approach that, at the very best, you could say didn't have any evidence to support it, and, at the very worst, you could see there was evidence to suggest that it was not working at all. This is basically the problem. Communities were not involved, the evidence didn't suggest it was working, but those opposite pushed ahead. The program unfairly targeted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people from low socioeconomic areas. The evidence that keeps getting brought back to the parliament over and over again refers to the same kind of language. It talks about stigma, it talks about humiliation, it talks about having agency taken away from people.

        These kinds of reports should give policymakers pause. It's unlikely that programs that make people feel this way are going to have an effective or positive social benefit. It's surprising to me, even now, that our predecessors in the LNP were not inclined to listen to those voices when they repeatedly came before government and said over and over again that these kinds of measures are harmful to us and harmful to our people, harmful to our sense of self, discriminatory and stigmatising. It's an important reminder to us in this place why a voice to parliament is so critical and overdue. If we want to close the gap and engage with First Nations communities, then solutions and policy need to be genuinely community driven—not top down, not imposed. It's on this basis that I support the bill

        8:23 pm

        Kerrynne Liddle (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        I rise to make a contribution to the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022. Well, what a backflip by this Labor government. What a proverbial dog's breakfast. We heard from a Labor senator today—clearly with more than a glance into the issues confronting those who live with addiction—that he didn't want an end to the CDC, because he's seen and heard there has been change. He will vote with his own party. What a brave, honourable senator. It was refreshing to hear earlier today that it is not perfect income management, but it is part of a strategy to provide some stability to the lives of the most vulnerable in the most vulnerable communities.

        When in government for two terms, your former Labor minister and minister for Indigenous affairs, Jenny Macklin, whose advice we learned today you still value, was a fierce advocate for income management. Let me refresh memory. I quote from an ABC interview in 2010: 'There's less harassment for money, less money spent on alcohol and gambling, and more money for food and for their children.' Even Graham Richardson, a stalwart Labor person, said in the news media only this month: 'I think it's had a very positive effect and I think we'd be crazy to dump it.'

        I quote directly from the University of Adelaide's report, an independent academic evaluation released in 2021. It reported that the cashless debit card had helped recipients improve their lives and the lives of their families and other community members. The findings included that 25 per cent of people reported they are drinking less since the cashless debit card's introduction; 21 per cent of cashless debit card participants reported gambling less, and evidence found that the cash previously used for gambling had been redirected to essentials such as food; and 45 per cent of cashless card participants reported the cashless debit card had improved things for them and their families.

        This has been botched, and there's nothing here to celebrate. First responders, the police, the paramedics and the women's and men's shelters, those people who attend the carnage from addiction every single day, know what is coming. There is no stigmatising, because the evidence is right there. I dare you to stay around long enough when there's a battle going on between a couple, one wanting money from the other. What they don't know is that the war for them has not even really begun.

        The ANAO report of 2022 is another professional report. It mostly looked at administration. In it there is no recommendation to end the CDC. In fact, there is nothing in that entire 83-page report that smells of scandal or incompetence in service delivery, nor is there anything that suggests it is such a failure it needs to be dismantled. It does not say it does not work. In fact, earlier Auditor-General's reports in 2018 and 2019 said that it was difficult to conclude if the CDC trial was effective in achieving its objective of reducing social harm. It's about the data. It's about the baseline. As politicians, our job is to make Australia a better place, to fix things. This legislation will make a bad situation much worse.

        I now want to talk about consultation—or, rather, lack of it—in this decision. It's not consultation. As a senator for South Australia, I visited the community of Ceduna very recently. I've been there a number of times over the years. I walked the streets with Julian Leeser, shadow minister for Indigenous Australians. We went into a gaming room and one of the local bars. People knew we were there, and they were pleased to stop and talk to us. I don't know who you were talking to, but these were not scripted discussions with specially selected people. These were complete randoms.

        What they told us, we already knew. These CDC sites were trials. They were not perfect. They felt comfortable telling us they were on the card. They didn't like it, but they needed it to restrict the good times and to ensure their families were okay. I'll translate that. Yes, they didn't like it, but it was an important safeguard for them and their families. These conversations happened in the street, in the bar and in the gaming room.

        In the words of Mayor Perry Will from the District Council of Ceduna:

        We've had no consultation about it at all. The first we heard of it was in the PM's election promises, that he was going to do it. Prior to that, we had had no representation from any Labor politicians.

        Clearly, there was no recent consultation with him. Former Mayor Allan Suter OAM said:

        I might also add that Minister Rishworth was encouraged twice by a local member of parliament to contact me, because of my knowledge of the card, when she visited Ceduna, but, despite heavy prompting from our local member, no effort was made to contact me. I made sure I was available if the phone rang, and it didn't.

        There is not an education campaign less than a few weeks out from the changes you propose. Time is important to allow those on the card to have conversations with their families on decisions on remaining on the card. It is unbelievable that you would think that it was unacceptable or unreasonable to allow time for those discussions. That is also what free, prior and informed consent is about. It's about giving people the information they need so that they understand it in a timely manner and so that they can have those important conversations to reduce the backlash that might come their way.

        Some of these people have English as a second or third language. These are smart people. They should have been properly consulted. Even worse, I don't think I've seen, in all the material I've read, anything that looks even remotely like a social impact statement—a social risk assessment. Sure, the Senate committee looked at it, but we've also heard that it was rushed and prevented many people from being included. I would have thought that, at the very minimum, if you were going to take apart a program that had been in place for so long you would have done a proper, rigorous, independent risk assessment. Your decision should have been informed by the most recent data. We now, however, have a baseline, and from that you should be monitoring hospitalisations, incarcerations and child protection notifications from the date of the end of the card. Are you even planning to do that? Or has that just been conveniently forgotten? We won't forget those people who have been affected by the card.

        We've heard time and time again that it is about delivering on an election promise. Are you serious? There are 151 electorates in this country, yet only seven of them are in areas where the CDC currently exists. That's hardly a mandate, if that is what you're suggesting. If those who are on the card want an alcoholic drink or want to have a flutter or to play the pokies, I will celebrate and join in with them. In fact, they probably have enough cash that they can shout me, too. We could have a good time. They have cash available to them. There's a component that's quarantined, and there's also a cash component—discretionary; they can spend that at the local fete or they can choose to spend it on a drink, on the pokies or on anything else they want to.

        This is about living with addiction, binge drinking, drug abuse or gambling and providing some protection from the consequences of those things for those who need it most to protect themselves and others. I've heard directly from the people at the Sobering Up Centre in Ceduna that a blood alcohol level of—wait for it—0.02 is pretty matter of fact. I read the coronial report that led to Ceduna being established as a CDC location, and it refers at one point to regular levels being 0.02. But wait for this: it even refers to a 0.4—yes, a 0.4. I've heard medical people say, 'That's ridiculous; you should be legally dead.'

        These people walk around every day with these blood alcohol levels, and their bodies are ravaged by it. Their families are ravaged by it. They are completely ravaged by it. Their communities are ravaged by it, and the non-Aboriginal people in those communities are ravaged by it. Nobody wants to live like that. You should see the coronials: cirrhosis, bleeding of the liver—it goes on and on. The age of death is much lower than what you or I will expect to reach. That's the reality.

        Flip-flopping and confusion by this government at the 11th hour only adds to confusion for those who are currently on the card and already disadvantaged, mostly in education and employment and even in communication. You are not getting rid of income management in the Northern Territory; you are simply referring people to an inferior card with inferior technology while you work out the other bits—the technology. Well, when you live in a regional and remote area, communication is always a challenge. So, going into the Christmas period coming up, wondering if the technology is going to work, not even knowing what card you're going to be on and how that transition might happen is terrifying for these people.

        The CDC is an advanced technology that enables recipients to access their welfare payments using the universal banking system. The BasicsCard is a limited delivery mechanism. In fact, when I learnt of the benefits of the CDC as opposed to the BasicsCard a few years ago, I encouraged people to change over. I was absolutely gutted by what people were telling me. They had heard from mischievous people hellbent on progressing their philosophical agenda of all sorts of evils. It was ridiculous the stories I heard—cruel even.

        You know there is a terrible time ahead not just for individuals with addiction, their families and their communities—yes, even the non-Aboriginal residents—because you have provided $50 million for additional drug and alcohol support services. Is that for one year? Before you say it's good, is that for one year or is that for every year for the next few years? How many years is that for? It's light on detail yet again. What about the other services such as domestic and family violence services or financial counselling? We're not very far out from the end of this card, and you still haven't explained it to the people who rely on those services.

        Drug and alcohol and gambling addiction is about losing control and doing things to harmful levels because you simply can't stop on your own. You might take several attempts to actually get help, even if you know it's available to you. It takes at least three times for a person with addiction to be successful in conquering it. That's a lot of time for people who rely on not having a drunk come home, on not having an abusive person come home, on not having food taken from them, to wait while the card is fixed or while that person gets help.

        Changing the CDC to a voluntary card will make the most vulnerable in our communities more vulnerable. I have said it before, I will say it again and I will keep saying it. Whether you are living with or love those with an addiction, a frontline worker, a member of the public or the family or generation left to deal with the chaos and grief, there is no escaping the consequences of addiction and substance misuse, or the coercion and control that often follows. Addressing it benefits us all. In removing the CDC you have failed to respond to that. Your abandonment of the most vulnerable is a disgrace, and the way you are going about this transition is irresponsible and reckless. Delay it, like you're going to delay the other card, to reduce further damage and disruption at the worst possible time on the calendar year for those people it is going to affect the most.

        8:38 pm

        Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

        I rise to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022. This legislation will go towards delivering on the federal Labor government's commitment to the Australian people to abolish the cashless debit card. In my contribution today I am going to focus my remarks on my experiences in Queensland, particularly in Hinkler and also from the time I have spent in the cape. The commitment that federal Labor made around this before the election is something that I personally made many times in the electorate of Hinkler. It's something that I know was an important factor for us to be upfront with the Australian people about, and it is something we took to the election. There is no doubt what the federal Labor position was before that election.

        Throughout the previous term of parliament I spent a vast amount of time in the Hinkler electorate—in Hervey Bay, Bundaberg and surrounding communities—because I am the duty senator for that area. So it is something I have first experience of, having met with constituents who have been impacted by the card. It is something that has stayed with me as the Queensland senator, as I experienced those constituent issues firsthand. Part of the reason I experienced those issues is that their local member, the member for Hinkler, actually refused to meet with constituents who were impacted by it.

        So it fell on me as the duty senator to pick up some of that slack, that you would normally expect of a dutiful federal member of parliament as a basic function of their office and being elected, that they would look after those constituents or at least listen to them and help them out. But we didn't see that in Bundaberg. They were ignored by their local members.

        If you did go to those communities and listen, you were impacted by the stories you heard from people who were put on that card, and it was those personal stories that had a real impact on me. It was the mum who couldn't take her kids to the school fete because the card couldn't be used there. She didn't have the cash to do it. It was the young mum buying groceries in the local supermarket. A couple of blokes saw that she was paying with a cashless debit card and commented, 'She's one of those druggies,' because she's using that card. It was the lack of wraparound services that these people were impacted by, that were promised but took too long to deliver. It's clear to me, having spent time in that community, how divisive this card was, the stigma that was associated with it and the impact it had on those people.

        My office dealt with numerous constituent issues, over the course of the last few years, whilst this card was being implemented. We did our best to help, but the draconian nature of this card didn't always make it possible. There are also the practical things, the fact that a place like Bundaberg produces so much great, fresh produce—they have burgeoning farmers markets—yet people on the cashless debit card can't go and use it there; they're restricted in where they can use their card. It's practical things like that, that would enable people to live a better life and use fresh produce, that they weren't able to do. There was the issue at our office of people defaulting on their rent because of bureaucratic errors in the way the card was administered. There are so many issues with this card—and this is just in my experience in Hinkler—that had a negative impact on the community.

        The one constant theme was that there was no consultation before this card was implemented. In my contribution I want to dispel the myth, once and for all, that there has been no consultation on this legislation. We're not going to get lectured to by those opposite about consultation, given what they did to the electorate of Hinkler, given they came in from on high and implemented this legislation. They didn't consult with anyone in Hinkler before they did it; they just put everyone on it and said, 'This is the way it will be.' Then you add to that a local member, Keith Pitt, the member for Hinkler, who wouldn't meet with constituents who raised issues about this card, who had problems with this card. So there was no consultation before they did it, and then you had a local member who was so arrogant that he wouldn't meet with constituents who had valid concerns about this bill.

        I've heard numerous times from those opposite, in their contributions on this bill, that Labor haven't consulted. I know they're new to opposition but that's actually what a good opposition does. They go out and consult. And that's what we did. I went with the then shadow minister, Linda Burney, through Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. We met with local constituents. We did round tables. We did forums. We heard from people. That's how you form a view in opposition about what you want to do in government. That's something they could learn but they show no willingness to do it.

        Even since we formed government, the now minister, Amanda Rishworth, has been out and consulted, along with the assistant minister, Justine Elliot, with every community impacted by this card. So to claim that there's been no consultation is absolute nonsense, and we are certainly not going to be lectured to about consultation when they did none of it in Hinkler before the election. Let's dispel that myth once and for all. We are not going to be lectured to by these guys about consultation. We have done the consultation. That's what a good opposition does. We did it when we were in opposition.

        Then, when you come to power, when you come to government, you go about implementing your promises, which is what we've done, but we also had the minister and assistant minister visit these communities. We also had the Senate committee process, led by Senator Smith, do a really good job as well of going around and listening.

        I said I'd make my contribution focused on Queensland, because that's my experience. But I have seen the contribution from my colleagues in South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. They have done their job as Labor senators and gone about consulting their communities over the last couple of years as well. So this 'lack of consultation' myth can be completely dispelled. It is nonsense, and it is disappointing that the opposition continue to try to raise it.

        When the government first announced the card, they promised there would be an investment in wraparound services as well, and I know from my own experience in Hinkler that this took more than two years to be implemented. The card was being rolled out, yet the additional wraparound services that were promised in a much-needed area of the community took two years, and they got delivered only when there was a bit of public pressure and a bit of media pressure and when the local community said, 'Where are these additional services?' We see they wasted $170 million on this, but they didn't provide the services that were there.

        We also know that the Senate inquiry heard from many people impacted by the card, and many spoke about that lack of consultation that I experienced firsthand through my work as a senator. I know Kathryn Wilkes very well from the time I spent in both Bundaberg and Hinkler. She is someone who has been a good advocate for her community. Kathryn said:

        People for whom it turned up in the letterbox and they didn't have any idea what was going on. No consultation. No, 'Would you like it?' Bang, you're on it.

        That was a very common theme as well, from what I heard from people in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay.

        Throughout the time of the card we saw multiple attempts to change the goalposts to justify the trial as a success. First it was about how it would increase employment in the area. At the time, there were no significant differences between Bundaberg and Hervey Bay and the neighbouring areas of Gympie and Maryborough, which weren't on the card, so when you actually compared the criteria they were trying to set, there were no differences across the geographic boundaries in the area. They then shifted the goalposts to talk about crime and social impacts.

        The previous government again struggled to find any evidence to say that this was a fact, and after a $2 million study into the cards by the University of Adelaide, the Guardian reported in February 2021 that the cashless debit card review had failed to find proof that the coalition welfare scheme reduced social harm. So even their own report into this, which they commissioned, failed to provide the evidence that it was working. Then the ANAO audit into the performance of the cashless debit card again found that there was a lack of evidence to demonstrate the success of the card. There were no key performance indicators and no evidence or evaluation conducted to support the former government's scheme.

        Despite the evidence the card wasn't working, the government continued to pursue it, forcing more people onto the card, and it began to look at expanding it further. That is why this government is acting. We're out there. We're listening to constituents, we're listening to local communities, and we've heard stories from those people who want the card scrapped. We've heard from organisations that have long maintained that the card is punitive and doesn't work. We have also seen the evidence that this card doesn't work. We said we would repeal it as a priority, and that is exactly what is happening now we are in government.

        The Australian people deserve a government that doesn't take them for granted—one that delivers on investment into regional areas to create jobs and opportunities. As we make the transition away from the cashless debit card, this bill will ensure that it will be as smooth as can be and that the communities will have access to the support they need.

        This bill will remove the ability for any new entrants to be put on the card. It will enable more than 70,000 existing cashless debit card participants to be progressively transitioned off the card as soon as the bill receives royal assent, which we aim to have occur in the next sitting period, in September, allowing for participants to regain the financial freedom that they've been asking for and enabling the Family Responsibilities Commission to continue to support community members by placing them into income management where the need exists. That is not something that is new for those Cape communities; income management has been a factor there now for a long time. This will allow for the determination, following consultation, of how the Northern Territory participants on the CDC will transition and the income management arrangements that will exist. Finally, it will allow for the repeal of the cashless debit card on a date to be fixed by proclamation or, at a maximum, six months after royal assent.

        We know we need to continue to support communities, and we will continue to support these communities as they transition off the cashless debit card. The government's vision is that no-one will be left behind and no-one will be held back. We will make sure that all those in our society are supported and have the opportunity to succeed. Repealing the cashless debit card helps to do that. I commend the bill to the Senate.

        8:49 pm

        Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        The Labor Party have clearly shown us that they're not ready for government. And we all knew that. They've shown, in their short time in government, that all they can do is make grandiose statements that sound nice on social media but do not actually make one bit of difference in people's lives. We saw this recently. During the entirety of the 46th Parliament they harped on about integrity, and, within the first couple of months of government, they've had multiple ministers breach their ministerial code of conduct. I'm amazed there's not one in here tonight! And how did the PM deal with this breach of ministerial standards? Nothing—he didn't do anything to deal with it. He simply swept it under the carpet.

        Here we're seeing this pattern—of making statements but acting in another way—again, with the repeal of the cashless debit card. Despite all their talk about caring for our First Nations people, we see that this is all hollow, with the legislation now before us. The Albanese government's decision to abolish the cashless debit card has given the green light to more grog, drug abuse and violence in some of our most vulnerable communities, without ever studying any social impact of what might come out of this—without any evidence.

        You talk about the ANAO report, which clearly says that they can't tell whether it worked or not because of the wraparound services that you were just alleging weren't provided. Now you're going to have to spend even more on those, because you can't even help people manage their own lives. It's all about grandiose statements.

        This was an innovative program, designed to tackle social harm—something the Labor Party should give a damn about. It was particularly associated with the harms around drug and alcohol addiction in communities with high rates of long-term social security dependence—not random communities here and there, not 'from my day or two in Hinkler', not 'from my little junket here and there', but based on evidence.

        As my friend and colleague sitting next to me, Senator Liddle, has pointed out so rightly on numerous occasions in this chamber, the cashless debit card is an important tool in the mix of the solutions.

        Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

        Your government failed.

        Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        Would you like to debate on that? Okay; get on your feet.

        There is no silver bullet when dealing with such complex social problems—as the Greens would like us to think. The cashless debit card has played an important role in reducing rates of alcoholism and gambling in remote Indigenous communities. Findings from an independent impact evaluation by the University—

        Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

        But if you read the ANAO report—

        Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        Yes, I just referred to that! And, if you would stop interjecting, I might be able to tell you of a little bit more evidence, Senator Rice. Findings from an independent impact evaluation by the University of Adelaide, released in 2021, reported that the cashless debit card had helped recipients improve the lives of themselves, their family and their community. So you might just want to note that, Senator Rice—through you, Chair. Findings include, Senator Rice—

        Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        You will direct your comments through the chair, please, Senator Van.

        Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        Which I just did, Madam Deputy—

        Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        Come to order.

        Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        The findings include: 25 per cent of people reported drinking less since the cashless debit card's introduction; 21 per cent of cashless debit card participants reported gambling less—21 per cent, Senator Liddle; 21 per cent. And evidence found that cash previously used for gambling had been redirected to essentials such as food, Senator Rice—through you, Madam Chair. You're asking for evidence. This report said that 45 per cent of cashless debit card participants reported that the card had improved things for themselves and their family.

        Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        Order! Senator Rice, you don't have the call.

        Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        And, as I said, Senator Rice, the ANAO couldn't make that call because of all the wraparound services. That's their report. This top-down, consultation-poor—

        Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        Senator Van, don't direct your comments to Senator Rice. Direct them through the chair.

        Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        I did that through you, Chair, if you go back to the transcript.

        Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        And, Senator Rice, don't interject.

        Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        Go back to the transcript; I did it through you, Chair, and I will continue on doing so.

        This top-down consultation-poor paternalistic approach by the Labor government is becoming a defining feature of their approach to policy. If they listened to communities, those currently using the card, they would see how bad an idea it is to repeal this. Tammy Williams from the Family Responsibilities Commission said, 'The majority of people now using the CDC on Cape York are doing it on a voluntary basis.' I will repeat that: on a voluntary basis. Noel Pearson, the founder and director of the Cape York Partnership and one of Australia's leading lights said that this legislation will wipe out 20 years of his work.

        Senator Chisholm, you may want to pay attention.

        Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        Order! Senator Van, direct your comments through the President.

        Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        Madam Acting Deputy President, Senator Chisholm might want to stop and listen to what I am saying because it's contradicting what he just said.

        Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

        Have you met him?

        Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        Yes, of course. Mayor Perry from the District Council of Ceduna said, 'We have had no consultation about it at all. The first we heard was in the PM's election promises that he was going to do it. Prior to that we had no representation from any Labor politicians.' Must have been in Hinkler, Senator Chisholm—through, you, Madam Chair. If the government had any respect for the communities, as they constantly say they have, one would think that they would have spent some time talking to them to see how this legislation would affect their lives.

        Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        Order!

        Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        Thank you, Madam Chair, I would appreciate the silence, too. This truly worries me, because it is these communities that will be affected by the carelessness of those opposite. It also worries me because it looks like they're taking the same approach to their Voice to Parliament. They're asking Australians to make a change to our Constitution without providing us any detail of what those changes will be and without having any proper engagement or consultation. With such an important change, that would have far-reaching changes to the rest of society. If they approach the Voice to Parliament in a similar manner to which they have the cashless debit card, I fear that this government will implement changes that will hurt Australians even further.

        The government now clearly recognise they've made a terrible error with this bill. Their own amendments will allow Cape York, the CDC trial sites, and those in the NT who voluntary transitioned from the BasicsCard to the CDC, to remain on that card.

        As my friend and colleague, Senator Nampijinpa Price, said in a moving first speech, '…the removal of the cashless debit card, which allowed countless families on welfare to feed their children rather than seeing the money claimed by kinship demand from alcoholics, substance abusers and gamblers in their own family group.' It is time that those opposite have a good hard look at themselves.

        The role of government is to improve the lives of people, not to actively make them worse. What the government is doing by pushing this bill through by any means necessary is making those most vulnerable worse off.

        8:58 pm

        Photo of Wendy AskewWendy Askew (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        The amendments proposed by the government to the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022 will quite simply extend the cashless debit card. This goes against everything they said during the election campaign and shows this ill-conceived promise was made on the fly without proper consideration. This is yet another embarrassing backflip by the Albanese Labor government that ultimately means people in Cape York, the Northern Territory, and within the CDC trial sites who voluntarily transitioned from the BasicsCard to the cashless debit card can now stay on the card. These amendments are an admission by Labor they got it wrong and that abolishing the cashless debit card will have dire consequences for those vulnerable communities.

        I'm pleased Labor have recognised their mistake in time and provisioned $50 million for additional drug and alcohol support services to reduce the serious social harm that is likely to result from the removal of this critical welfare program. Despite the amendments allowing people to voluntarily remain on the CASHLESS DEBIT CARD program and the additional funding for drug and alcohol support services, the intention of the bill is still to repeal the cashless debit card.

        As the Chair of the Community Affairs Legislation Committee during the 46th Parliament, I led the inquiry relating to the transition of income management participants in the Northern Territory and Cape York onto the cashless debit card from the BasicsCard during 2020. The understanding I have of this program means I know the difference the cashless debit card made in the trial communities. I heard women speaking about how they felt safer, better able to feed their families and more capable of helping their children participate in school since being part of this program. Labor's decision to abolish the cashless debit card would open up these vulnerable communities to more alcohol abuse, more drug abuse and more violence. I simply cannot endorse a bill that will impact the 17,000 participants in this way.

        I also cannot support a bill that is being rushed. So little time has been spent considering what comes after the cashless debit card is repealed should this bill be successful, and that is distressing. During the federal election campaign Labor said it would abolish the card and leave no-one behind. However, forcing people who are used to using the system off the program with hardly any notice is not only poor planning but goes against the very reasoning it was set up in the first place. The act of abolishing the cashless debit card leaves behind thousands of people around the country. The government's amendments were induced today because, at the eleventh hour, Labor realised there was nothing was suitable to replace the program.

        Income management has been used in Australia since 2007, and the technology that enabled an income management program to operate with EFTPOS transactions was introduced as the BasicsCard in 2008. While the BasicsCard technology made important inroads at the time of its introduction, its use is restricted. The BasicsCard can only be used in around 15,500 designated outlets, which must be all individually approved by government. But there is a better system, the cashless debit card. The CDC program was introduced in Ceduna, South Australia, in March 2016 and then progressively rolled out to the other trials between April 2016 and January 2019. There were 17,754 participants using the cashless debit card around Australia as of 5 August this year.

        The CDC program was developed following the sleeping rough inquest in 2011, where the state coroner inquired into the deaths of six people on South Australia's far west coast. The coronial report found efforts to curb alcohol abuse in the region had been unsuccessful, and that had produced devastating impacts across those communities. The cashless debit card was designed to help these communities by addressing social harm issues like domestic violence, child neglect and antisocial behaviours that arose from alcohol and drug abuse and long-term welfare dependency. It must be said that Indigenous community leaders approached the government for support and worked with government to establish the CDC program. The further rollout of the program was established on the same basis of community support.

        The Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020 enabled income management recipients in the Northern Territory to voluntarily transition from the BasicsCard to the cashless debit card. As of 5 August this year, 4,398 participants in the Northern Territory had voluntarily transitioned from the BasicsCard to the CDC. The cashless debit card can deliver income management technology and operates using existing banking infrastructure. Those who have a cashless debit card can use their card at around one million outlets that have EFTPOS facilities within Australia, making it far more accessible than the BasicsCard. It can also be used online and internationally.

        Additionally, the Cashless Debit Card program is part of a series of measures introduced by the coalition to help people improve their circumstances as well as to keep their community safe. Besides the card itself, these measures include the $30 million jobs fund and job ready initiative to strengthen local support services and help participants to upskill. There was also $50 million for residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities, as well as mental health services, extra family support services, targeted youth activities and financial counselling. Not only will such measures and support systems be under threat once the cashless debit card is repealed; it will leave more than 17,000 program participants in a worse position than when they started.

        The cashless debit card operates as a Visa debit card, just like the debit cards you and I use at shops accepting Visa and EFTPOS. The only difference is that this card cannot be used to purchase alcohol or gambling products, and only a portion of payments can be withdrawn as cash. In most cases, 80 per cent of the recipient's support payment was quarantined on the cashless debit card with the remaining 20 per cent transferred to their personal bank account. In the Northern Territory the quarantined amount was just 50 per cent for most participants. For those in Cape York the quarantined percentage remained as it was under their previous income management arrangements. This strategy to reduce cash withdrawals also lessened the person's ability to spend their income support payments on illegal drugs. Orima Research published a report evaluating the CDC trial in 2017 showing a reduction in alcohol consumption, illegal drug use, and gambling. Other evaluations, including the University of Adelaide's 2021 report, have consistently shown this policy decreased drug and alcohol issues within the trial communities. It also decreased crime, violence and antisocial behaviour; improved child health and wellbeing; improved financial management; and strengthened the communities.

        Only weeks ago the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee heard from Noel Pearson, who founded the Cape York Institute. As we've heard previously, Mr Pearson spoke passionately about how the cashless debit card had positively influenced people in his community. It provided educational opportunities for families, like purchasing books, sporting equipment and school excursions. But he says this bill will wipe out 20 years of his work in the Cape York community. There has been discussion around quarantining income support payments and whether the government of the day should be able to stipulate how recipients spend such payments. Mr Pearson explained that quarantining money for essential purchases like rent and groceries gave those receiving income support payments the ability to save face when money was demanded of them. Instead of being forced to hand money over, recipients said, 'It's locked away; I can't give you the money.' Instead, the money fed, clothed and homed their families. The Cape York Institute worked with banks over many years to create a workable alternative, where money could be paid into a lockable or a pre-commitment account. But Mr Pearson told the committee no other option had been found. He said:

        … in the absence of a solution that had the same functionality as the cashless debit card, our Family Responsibilities Commission and the welfare reform work that we've done via that over the last 20 years will collapse, and that would be a very bad thing.

        In her submission to the committee's hearing in Bundaberg, Commissioner Tammy Williams from Queensland's Family Responsibilities Commission asked for the card to stay. She requested that the Australian government retain the cashless debit card for FRC jurisdiction or, if replaced, that the alternative have at least the same functionality, as the FRC does not support the return of the BasicsCard because it does not meet the standard.

        Witnesses in Alice Springs spoke out about how the cashless debit card made a real difference in their communities. A financial counsellor with Central Australian Womens Legal Service told the committee that most of the women she worked with actually liked being on income management because they feel 'their children are being looked after because they're able to provide food and clothing', and 'they're not being harassed as much for money'.

        If this bill is passed, will the Albanese Labor government take responsibility for the inevitable increase of violent crimes, alcohol and drug abuse, humbugging and child neglect that will follow? No, they will say they're leaving no-one behind, while walking away from the communities in Ceduna, East Kimberley, the Goldfields, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. But it's not just me saying this. Noel Pearson knows the impacts that tearing supports away from a community like Cape York will have. He said:

        You will repeal the card and then you will walk away and leave us to the violence, leave us to the hunger, leave us to the neglected children.

        This bill was pulled together in a rush, without actually speaking with those who will be impacted. During the inquiry, the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder submitted:

        … the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder remains unconsulted on how the transition will impact CDC participants, social services providers, government agencies, and the community.

        Ceduna mayor Perry Will said: 'We've had no consultation about it at all. The first we heard of it was in the PM's election promises'. But at the end of August Labor's hastily arranged CDC engagement team sent a raft of draft engagement documents to the Goldfields, with stakeholders given less than four days to provide feedback. They should have been consulted as soon as this election commitment was voiced or, ideally, as part of the policy development prior to announcing it. I wouldn't call this 'engagement'; I'd call it ticking a box so Labor can say that consultation occurred. Even the head of the Department of Social Services, the department which oversees this income management program, admitted the decision to abolish the card was an election commitment of the government. So the department would not have been involved in any consultation prior to the election.

        In the other place, my coalition colleagues have already argued against the lack of planning that has gone into this bill and the repercussions that are sure to follow. The member for Grey, Rowan Ramsey, whose electorate covers Ceduna, mentioned the positive differences the cashless debit card made in his community. He said that the people he'd spoken with were all horrified that the current government was going to stop the card. He shared the story of an elderly woman who was initially against the card's introduction but soon realised its value, as it was a buffer against the violence in her family and gave her the ability to stand up. Michael McCormack MP, the member for Riverina, pointed out that the biggest difference the cashless debit card had made was for children. If we, as the parliament of Australia, are to look after one thing—one sector of society—it should be our children. 'Children are our future,' he said. He is right. We must look after our children—our most vulnerable children—and this program did just that.

        The previous Minister for Social Services, the member for Bradfield, Paul Fletcher, said the program 'has made a significant difference in the lives of thousands of people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, in many communities around Australia'. He told members about how he was struck by senior Aboriginal women supporting the cashless debit card:

        … because it meant that women could use social services payments for food, clothing and rent for themselves and their children, rather than being pressured by family members, typically male, to hand over cash to spend on nonessentials like alcohol.

        Police told Mr Fletcher the number of callouts relating to domestic violence had dramatically reduced, while medical clinic staff told him significantly fewer people were presenting as a result of domestic violence. A chemist said that parents were buying medicines for their children because they could now afford to. A social worker in that community told him that people were able to save money for the first time. Residents said they felt safer. Despite all this evidence, this government is insisting on forcing the bill through, and the work done to improve the situations in these regional and remote communities will be undone. Repealing the cashless debit card does not fix the problem this program sought to address; it merely adds to the issues that need fixing.

        I do not support this bill, and I ask senators to listen to the words of those living in these communities before putting your support behind it. Think about what will happen once the program is repealed. Think about the antisocial behaviour that will return once money can be freely accessed. And then think about all those children whose futures will change as a result of that support system being removed from their families. It's not a nice thought, is it?

        9:12 pm

        Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

        or McGRATH () (): Time and time again, we hear fake cries from Labor and the Greens about the importance of consulting Australians on issues that affect them—that is, of course, until they are in government. Then, of course, things change. Seemingly overnight, Albanese and Labor have become all-knowing! They have an infinite knowledge of what is best for Australians. Don't dare question the so-called wisdom of Labor or the Greens. The swift and stealthy abolition of the cashless debit card by Labor and the Greens serves as another fine example of inner-city elites claiming to know what is best for you. Never mind the fact that most of these privileged Labor and Greens politicians have never set foot and will never set foot in the remote Indigenous communities and have never spoken and will never speak with those who directly benefit from the cashless debit card.

        Of course, there is no need, as these Canberra based politicians know best! How could one forget? That is especially the Greens MPs, from the inner-city suburbs, who share this deep and profound understanding of so-called issues affecting these communities yet have not found the time to consult amidst their very, very busy virtue-signalling. Don't let the increased rates of domestic violence, rape, assault, sexual assault, alcoholism or drug use get in the way of Labor and the Greens' plans to scrap the cashless debit card. Remember—these politicians know better than the communities facing these challenges!

        The Albanese government's decision to abolish the cashless debit card has given the green light to more alcohol and drug abuse and more violence in some of our most vulnerable communities. Labor has recklessly walked away from these communities. Labor and the Greens do not care about the real-life consequences for the people of these communities. They would rather feel good about themselves as they scrap the cashless debit card in the name of their so-called fairness agenda. As long as these Labor and Green politicians cannot see the rampant alcoholism, the sexual assaults, the rape, the domestic violence and the drug abuse in these communities, then, in their minds, it does not exist.

        This sensible and life-changing measure is being abolished so these Labor and Green politicians can just feel good about themselves. Prime Minister Albanese, Labor and the Greens know better than the director of strategy of the Cape York Partnership, Noel Pearson, who fears abolishing the cashless debit card will wipe out 20 years worth of his work in vulnerable Indigenous communities. Mr Pearson has said that once the card is gone the government will walk away, leaving his people to struggle with the return of violence, hunger and neglected children.

        With virtually no consultation, Labor has made it easier for those at risk to spend their taxpayer funded payments on activities and substances that cause harm to themselves, cause harm to their families and cause harm to their communities. If you don't believe me, take it from the Minderoo Foundation, who are concerned the decision to abolish the cashless debit card is being rushed through parliament without appropriate or meaningful community consultation. They said the removal of the cashless debit card has the potential to exacerbate vulnerability and this must be avoided at all costs.

        These are the voices Prime Minister Albanese, Labor and the Greens conveniently silenced. Why? Because it does not fit their narrative. Please, spare us your sanctimonious lectures on community consultation. You're ramming this through after being in power for only four months. This decision will inevitably bring more alcoholism, more domestic violence, more hunger and malnourishment of children, and more rape and drug abuse.

        I can't wait for Labor and the Greens to step forward and accept responsibility. When they don't—and they won't—we will be holding them accountable for this appalling decision they are proposing to make. I cannot wait for the MPs who support the cashless debit card's abolishment to head to these communities to help fight the scourge of alcohol and drug fuelled domestic violence alongside, in many cases, the understaffed and under-resourced local police. I know that won't happen. If the government is successful in abolishing the cashless debit card, the Prime Minister and his inner-city-dominated government will be responsible for every additional violent crime and neglected child that will inevitably occur as a result. This government has not just botched the process; it is going to botch the future for so many important Australians.

        Findings from an independent impact evaluation by the University of Adelaide, released in 2021, reported that the cashless debit card has helped recipients improve their lives and the lives of their families and other community members. Findings include: 25 per cent of people reported they are drinking less since the cashless debit card's introduction; 21 per cent of cashless debit card participants reported gambling less, and evidence found that cash previously used for gambling has been redirected to essentials such as food; and 45 per cent of cashless debit card participants reported the cashless debit card had improved things for themselves and their families. There have been more than a dozen evaluations of the cashless debit card that have provided consistent evidence about welfare quarantine policies, showing decreases in drug and alcohol issues, decreases in crime violence and antisocial behaviour, improvements in child health and wellbeing, and improved financial management.

        Of course, Labor won't let these black-and-white facts get in the way of this reckless policy decision. When they scrap the cashless debit card, they will be directly responsible for the harm that is inflicted on individuals, families and entire communities. If Labor had bothered to properly consult with communities and speak to people on the front line, they would know there is overwhelming community support for the cashless debit card. It has saved families and transformed communities. The Western Australia police commissioner, Col Blanch, said the card has been beneficial in remote communities. He highlighted how it gives an opportunity for the more senior people in families and the elders of Aboriginal communities to use the money on food for children and necessities. He said:

        It just seems to settle the community down and gives them better opportunity to spend their money on priority needs.

        Another facility Labor and the Greens would have you believe is that every single cent on the card is quarantined. This is not true. Generally, only 80 per cent of the recipient's welfare payment is quarantined onto the card. The remaining 20 per cent of the recipient's social security payments are transferred into the recipient's bank account and can be withdrawn and used without restriction. Those in Labor and the Greens might find this hard to believe, but the card is effective in blocking the purchase of alcohol and gambling products and only permits a portion of payments to be withdrawn as cash. Reducing the amount of cash that can be withdrawn also reduces the card user's ability to spend welfare payments on illegal drugs. This is fair. This is simple. As has been pointed out earlier this evening, no, it is not a silver bullet, but it has been effective in bringing about positive change in regional communities. You cannot argue with those facts.

        Those of us in the coalition have always believed in ensuring we care for and protect the most vulnerable in our society. Those opposite constantly purport to share this belief. However, the removal of the cashless debit card will bring violence and chaos back into the lives of our most vulnerable and will wreak havoc in regional communities. After all, Labor are only pursuing this policy because it makes them feel good about themselves. It makes those who live comfortable lives in comfortable homes in our capital cities feel warm and fuzzy inside. It is sickening to think that Labor's politicking has caused them to stoop so low that they have no regard for the safety and the welfare of the vulnerable in these communities, so long as they can abolish this card and give themselves a pat on the back.

        Meanwhile, Indigenous women and children are pleading for this card to stay. Regional police are begging for the card to stay. Indigenous elders are pleading for this card to stay. Regional mayors are pleading for this card to stay. Labor likes to bang on about an Indigenous Voice in this place, but the sad truth is that, according to them, Labor politicians and inner-city elites are the only voices worth listening to, not those whose lives will be directly affected if the cashless welfare card is scrapped. Quite simply, if you cannot directly see or are not directly affected by the alcohol and drug fuelled domestic violence, rape, child neglect and sexual assault, then it does not exist.

        Of course, context is absent from the Labor-Greens narrative that this card is somehow inherently racist. They wouldn't have you know that the cashless debit card is part of a suite of measures to help people improve their circumstances. The coalition government made a total investment in supportive services of more than $110 million across cashless debit card sites, including a $30 million jobs fund and a job-ready initiative to strengthen local support services and help participants in cashless debit card communities to upskill, become job ready and get on pathways of employment and including $50 million for drug and alcohol residential rehabilitation facilities.

        If the Labor government had bothered to properly consult, it would have heard firsthand how the cashless debit card is making a real, positive difference across many communities from community leaders like Kalgoorlie-Boulder mayor John Bowler, who expressed his frustration:

        It almost seems they [Labor] are putting the cart before the horse …

        I would have liked for them to come here, consult with us, consult with the community, and then make a decision.

        The coalition condemns the government for seeking to extend the BasicsCard in the Northern Territory without consultation or transparency while at the same time seeking to abolish the cashless debit card. Stakeholders consistently gave evidence that the cashless debit card was a significantly superior mechanism for the delivery of income management.

        Recent data from the Department of Social Services reveals that more than 4,500 people are currently voluntarily using the cashless debit card in the Northern Territory. Under the proposed legislation, these individuals will be forced to move back to the BasicsCard. It is unclear how many of these almost 4,500 people the government consulted or what their reactions were when they were told they would no longer have access to the cashless debit card. There is no evidence that any of these people were consulted.

        Labor like to think they are crusaders for fairness and social justice by scrapping this card. In actual fact, they are condemning families and entire communities to more chaos and violence. Shame on them. These people will not forget, and we will not forget, because we will hold this Labor-Green government to account for what havoc and what nastiness they have unleashed within these communities.

        9:25 pm

        Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

        It gives me great pleasure to rise on behalf of those rural and regional communities who seek to ensure that the cashless debit card remains a part of the way they manage their families' lives and the way they manage the provision of essential provisions for their families.

        Sometimes when we work in this city, and we come from the places that most of us in this place come from, the whole concept of a cashless debit card seems an anathema in a modern Australian environment—an affluent country, one of the top economic performers in the globe. Yet the reality, and sometimes the confronting reality, that we have to face, as the men and women who are tasked with leading our country at this period of our history, is that not everybody has been given the particular gifts that most of us that sit in this place have been given: a great education, supportive family and friends, and a community that's backed us and our potential.

        The reality is there are people, many Indigenous in this country, who haven't been given that opportunity. The cashless debit card has actually provided, particularly women and children, a safety net, a security to ensure that they can provide for the very real and essential needs that humans need to grow and prosper, particularly when they're far from the purvey of authority. That occurs in the far corners of this great nation and it occurs in the smaller communities of this great nation, and it occurs in silence because they do not have voices of power, they do not have the affluence that allows for them a strong voice. They're not the loudest person at the Uluru Statement and they're not the loudest person in their town halls. They are predominantly mothers in very remote parts of this country who struggle with a level of domestic violence and drug- and alcohol-fuelled abuse to both them and their children, that we don't speak often enough about here and we don't speak realistically enough about here. We're very heavy on the symbolism in this place.

        I am a former minister who negotiated the Barkly Regional Deal with the Northern Territory government and the Barkly Regional Council following a terrible incident with a young two-year-old toddler in Tennant Creek. That really drove our coalition government under Malcolm Turnbull, the Territory government under former chief minister Gunner and the local government of Barkly Regional Council, to say: enough—enough of being silent about what is happening in these communities.

        We all say we want to help and we all say we want to make it better. Well, you know what, the facts are, as much as you philosophically might not like it, the cashless debit card made it better. You know how we know that? It's not because we asked the rich guys. It's not because we asked the guys and girls in power. It's not because we asked the usual suspects, but because this Senate took our committees and our ears into communities on the ground, and we listened to the women and we listened to the children. We listened to those who are actually impacted by the realities of cash and income being used for negative purposes. And what is the outcome? Kids don't get fed before they go to school. Kids don't have footy boots to be the potentially magnificent AFL athletes—and I declare a bias—that Aboriginal boys and girls all aspire to be. We know from their stories that this makes a difference, and it doesn't matter whether it's Ceduna, the NT or Queensland—the Cashless Debit Card made an impact on and a difference to the people it was supposed to make a difference for, and that was a good thing.

        Listening to the debate today I heard Senator Malarndirri McCarthy come into this place and articulate that the greatest achievement she will achieve in this place is to ensure that she sees the death of the Cashless Debit Card, but she's really turning her back on the women, the children, and the small remote and rural Indigenous communities. The data says this card has made a difference to them.

        Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

        The data's not there!

        Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

        You know what? I will take the Greens interjection. Because if you want an example of symbolism over pragmatic, practical outcomes on the ground, I will take the practical lived experience of the women and children who speak to the efficacy of this policy against the piousness of the wealthy from inner-city urban seats every day of the week. I will stand—

        Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        Senator Rice, you have had your opportunity to contribute to this debate. You are being disorderly by interjecting. You will remain silent.

        Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

        We are all sent—particularly in this chamber, because none of us are here with a majority vote—to represent the voiceless. I am very, very proud to sit in a parliament—and I have been here a little while—that has 11 Indigenous MPs from across all political spectrums, from all sides of politics and from both chambers who have been duly elected not because they are Indigenous but because Australians from all walks of life have selected them to be here because of their capacity and their merit. It doesn't matter whether I'm talking about Labor Party senators or our own Senators Nampijinpa Price and Liddle here on our side of the chamber. The one thing that I do reflect on from when they all arrived and they were making their maiden speeches was that it didn't matter where they sat politically—all of them came to this place to make a practical impact on the future prosperity and the future aspirations of Indigenous Australians.

        Economic empowerment and making sure that your kids are clothed and they're fed and they get to school is the absolute bedrock in ensuring a future full of their potential. Every parent aspires to their child reaching their potential, but if you don't have those frameworks, bedrocks and foundations in place as a family—and there are a whole lot of families that don't have those foundations in place—then your kids really don't have much of a chance to succeed. They really don't, Senator Rice.

        So you can come in here and talk all the platitudes you like. You can espouse symbolism from Monday to Sunday. It's not me; it's Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I'm a former schoolteacher. I could tell which kids who, coming into my classrooms, had had their breakfast, had their uniforms—those who were able and ready to sit down and learn because things were okay at home, and those who weren't.

        I call on the government, honestly, to stop playing to your citycentric voters and listen, in particular, to the woman of Indigenous and remote communities who are saying: 'Stop. The Northern Territory has made a decision to end the ban on alcohol in our communities. They've lifted that. The sunset's occurred. It's coming back. We're having alcohol in our communities like we haven't seen it before.' Simultaneously, the Labor government is choosing to rid these families, and these women in particular, of a powerful mechanism to keep control of the economies in their families and to make sure that they've got something, other than their own will and physical presence, to stop people from taking the money for other purposes so they can actually say: 'You know what, brother? Our kids are going to school. I'm buying food this week. It's not me; it's the government. They're making me take care of my children.'

        Do you know what? You can't put it all on the women of Indigenous communities to stand up continually, night after night, day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year. We stand here with a list of Closing the Gap statements year after year, and I've been here long enough to have heard a lot of them. It's an indictment on you, on us and on state governments around this country. We finally have a policy mechanism that empowers women and families to have an alternative option, and you come to power—

        Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        Senator McKenzie, remember to address your remarks through the chair.

        Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

        I apologise. As a government, it's a great privilege to lead this country. It's a great privilege to sit around the cabinet table. It's a great privilege, but it's also a grave responsibility to not treat human lives tritely. With the decision you are making, this legislation is to pay your paymasters and to ignore the evidence and the cries from remote communities.

        You don't want to listen to me—I'm a white chick from Victoria—but you need to listen to the Indigenous women, the Indigenous children and the Indigenous communities for whom this policy has made a difference. What you're actually doing is giving the power back to men in these communities who do no have the interests of their families or their children at heart and who, because of the alcohol fuelled culture and violence in some of these communities, will leave future generations of Indigenous children to never reach their potential.

        It's an indictment on you. I wish you'd change your mind. I won't be supporting the bill

        9:40 pm

        Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

        I can't say it's a pleasure to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022, because I'm sickened by the Labor Party for bringing this bill on. I'm sickened by those opposite who refused to listen to the voices of the women and the children in Indigenous communities. And I'm sickened by the paternalism that underpins this policy, which ignores the grotesque family violence—like men maiming, injuring, raping, assaulting black women. And one of the drivers of this is money. I'm going to really say it as it is.

        What happens in these communities is that if the women do not hand over cash then they will be assaulted, abused and sometimes even killed by black men in alcohol fuelled family violence. Until Labor members and senators have been to the Alice Springs women's refuge, none of them should be bringing this bill forward. The Alice Springs women's refuge is a place that I spoke about in my first speech in this place. I visited there when I was chairing a House committee looking into family violence law reform. It gave me an incredible insight into what's actually going on in many Indigenous communities. It's the dark, horrific truth that we don't see in Canberra, that we don't see in the big cities. We only see it if we go out there. This woman's refuge is, in reality, a homicide prevention centre. It's built with two walls. There's an inner wall that prevents the men who are trying to get to the women from climbing over the wall and either maiming or killing the women. I could not believe my eyes when I visited this place, because it was the first time I had truly understood the scale of the violence in communities in and around Alice Springs.

        My eyes are open in terms of many things that happen in Indigenous communities. I proudly work for National Indigenous Television. Its headquarters were in Alice Springs. I was part of a great group of people, most of whom were young Indigenous men and women—amazing storytellers, amazing film makers—and it was an absolute honour to work for an NITV. I saw the very, very best of Indigenous Australia on display at NITV. But I'd never encountered anything like this until I visited the Alice Springs women's refuge. There's a double door into that refuge to increase the safety of women going into the centre so that they pass through a safety gate. They close one safety gate behind them and they get into a second door. And do you know what's happened in there? Some men, determined to destroy the lives of their womenfolk, have actually got into that centre, and there has been at least one murder. So, as I say, I am absolutely sickened by this government's initiative to stop the cashless debit card, which enables women and children more freedom from family violence. It enables women to feed their families. They are not holding cash. There is no incentive for the menfolk to bash the women for cash, which they then use to go out and buy more alcohol.

        I want to reflect, and we have heard some wonderful contributions from my coalition senate colleagues, on the words of Noel Pearson, the founder and director of strategy at the Cape York Partnership. He said, 'I think this legislation will wipe out 20 years of my work. In the absence of a solution that had the same functionality of the cashless debit card, our Family Responsibilities Commission and the welfare reform work that we have done over the last 20 years would collapse and that would be a very bad thing. We would just have to give up. We would come to the point of giving up on the idea that we can change anything for the future of these communities. You guys will repeal this thing and then you will walk away. You will repeal the card and then you will walk away and leave us to the violence, leave us to the hunger, leave us to the neglected children.'

        As we heard in this debate, this is not a silver bullet. This does not stop all dysfunction, family violence and abuse in communities but it makes a really big difference. We now know that Labor is crawling back on this because of its amendments to extend the CDC, which represents a very embarrassing backflip by the Albanese Labor government. Labor went out before the election and misrepresented the good work of this card. Now we see these amendments before the Senate which will allow Cape York, the CDC trial sites and those in the Northern Territory who have voluntarily transitioned from the BasicsCard onto the cashless debit card to remain on the cashless debit card. So this is a gross admission that this Albanese Labor government has messed up this ill-conceived commitment.

        Even worse than this, even worse than a botched election commitment is the fact that Labor decided the voices of the women in Indigenous and other communities throughout this country didn't matter. I tell you what's going on out there. When the committee members were travelling to take evidence on the card, the women were too scared to give evidence. That's actually the truth. Many women who want that card were too scared because—guess what? If they gave evidence that they want the card to stay, they will return to their home and they will get bashed. So I say to this Albanese Labor government: I am sickened by this decision. This card was doing a lot of really good work. As I say, it was not a silver bullet but it was an innovative program designed to tackle social harm, particularly associated with drug and alcohol addiction in communities with high rates of long-term social security dependency.

        There is substantial evidence of its success. Those opposite can ignore the evidence but it is there. Findings from an independent impact evaluation by the University of Adelaide released in 2021 reported that the cashless debit card had helped recipients improve their lives and the lives of their families and other community members. Even if it didn't help every life, why would Labor think it was a good idea to get rid of it? Seriously? This is helping Australians. This is making a difference. The University of Adelaide's study found that 25 per cent of people reported that they are drinking less since the cashless debit card's introduction, 21 per cent of cashless debit card participants reported gambling less, and evidence found that cash previously used for gambling—

        Debate interrupted.