Senate debates

Tuesday, 27 September 2022


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

12:34 pm

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

I rise to speak in continuation on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022. As I was saying in my speech last night, Labor's new amendments to extend the CDC, the cashless debit card, represent a very embarrassing backflip by the Albanese Labor government. But, more than that, they reflect the fact that Labor has not been listening to the women, particularly the women in the communities that have been served so well by this card.

I want to correct a statement made by Senator Chisholm in his contribution last night, when he quite improperly criticised the member for Hinkler, Mr Pitt. The senator said:

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 …

I want to strongly refute those comments by Senator Chisolm and put on the record that there was very extensive consultation in Hinkler. Between May 2017 and December 2017, the Department of Social Services conducted over 188 meetings in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay with federal government agencies, community members, local government representatives and service providers. This included five meetings with Commonwealth government agencies, 19 meetings with community members, three meetings with community reference groups, two large community meetings with the public, 25 meetings with local government representatives, four meetings with peak bodies and 55 meetings with service providers. The Hinkler electorate office contacted 32,000 constituents to get an indication of their views before the trial was even put forward; 32,000 individuals were sent direct mail, about 500 people were phone polled, and an additional 5½ thousand were sent emails.

The feedback that the member for Hinkler, Mr Pitt, received showed that 75 per cent were supportive. Throughout the consultation process it was highlighted by numerous groups, schools and frontline service providers that children in the Hinkler electorate were missing out on the basic necessities of life and needed to be the focus. In May 2018, the local newspaper, the NewsMail, and the Fraser Coast Chronicle engaged ReachTEL to do a poll. The ReachTEL poll showed that the overwhelming majority of people in the Hinkler electorate were not against the card. Just 27.8 per cent of those polled were opposed. So I really want to strongly put on the record and refute the pretty nasty comments made by Senator Chisolm, which were clearly and demonstrably not true. The member for Hinkler, Mr Pitt, has done an exceptional job in consulting with his community, and I've just outlined some of that work.

As I conclude my remarks, I just want to again say how sickened I am by the Labor Party's attempts to shut down the cashless debit card. We have now seen, of course, this dramatic backflip, where the CDC will now continue in Cape York in the trial sites, and those people in the Northern Territory who have voluntarily transitioned from the BasicsCard onto the CDC will be able to remain on the cashless debit card. As I said last night, I am also sickened because this government, the Albanese Labor government, has not listened to those people, those Australians, that this card has given so many positive benefits to.

I condemn this government for its attempts to shut down the card. As I've mentioned and as we've spoken about in this debate, these amendments made it clear that this government got this completely wrong. Not only did it botch its election commitment; it's demonstrated that it has not listened in relation to the overwhelming benefits of this card and the enormous amount of good work that it is doing for so many vulnerable Australians. I condemn the Albanese Labor government for trying to shut down the card, and I hope and trust that common sense will prevail and that this card, which is doing so much good in so many communities, will continue.

12:41 pm

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a very serious bill, Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022, and it has the potential to impact thousands of Australians and their lives, their safety and their community. As we have heard from other speakers, the areas of our country where cashless debit cards have been trialled and used are regions that have been, tragically and unfortunately, afflicted by domestic violence and by drug use and addiction. The cashless debit card has been a good-faith effort to improve the lives of the Australians who live in those communities, and not just those on welfare but those who would be or could be impacted by poor decisions made by those on welfare—especially children. Obviously, no young children get welfare themselves or get a cashless debit card, but they're often the victims in the lives of people who have, tragically, gone off the rails.

I want to take a step back. A lot of the debate we've had has focused on issues for Indigenous Australians, and there's an understandable reason for that: the first trial sites for the cashless debit card were Indigenous communities. That was because some of those issues I mentioned were highlighted in Indigenous communities, particularly through various coroners reports about the BasicsCard, which I'll get back to, and the cashless debit card grew out of that, in response. However, the cashless debit card has applied to non-Indigenous communities. Indeed, it has applied to the entire community of Bundaberg, a town of tens of thousands of people who are predominantly non-Indigenous. There are Indigenous people in Bundaberg too, of course, but it is predominantly a non-Indigenous population. It also has the cashless debit card. So this is actually not a policy or program that is focused only on Indigenous Australians. It is about people, and that is where we should centre this debate.

There is going to be, and there has been, a lot of political toing and froing here, with various claims about auditor's reports and all those things, but we should come back to why we are doing this and what its impact is on Australian people and their families.

I'm someone who has, fortunately, not had to resort to welfare myself over my life. But, when I think about these issues, I am struck by the difference between how we approach providing support to strangers, our fellow Australians that we might not know—how we provide help through this parliament, through our welfare system—and how we treat our own children, our own family members. I've got five children and I want to support them and help them grow up. They're not yet of an age that they would be applying for welfare, but, potentially, they could be in that situation where they might not have a job or might be between things. How would I help them if they didn't have a job, weren't in work, or didn't know what they wanted to do with their lives? Or, if they did, tragically, get addicted to drugs and those sorts of things, how would I try and help?

Well, I tell you what, as a parent I would not go anywhere near or do anything close to how we administer our welfare system. I wouldn't do that, because how we administer our welfare system for people, a lot of them on a BasicsCard or a cashless welfare card, is we say, 'You're in trouble; we want to help and support you'—that's an admirable goal and aim—and then we just say, 'Here, have some free money. Go down to the Centrelink office and you can get a few hundred dollars a fortnight. There are no questions asked. Just take it and do what you want with it.' That's not how I would try and support my children. I certainly wouldn't do that. I certainly wouldn't say, 'Hey, Peter—I will use different names so I am not identifying any kids; none of my children are called Peter—here's 500 bucks a fortnight; knock yourself out. It will tide you over until you work out what you want to do with your life.' That is not to say I wouldn't provide any help or any financial assistance to a child but I wouldn't do it without any strings attached. I wouldn't be just handing over money. It would almost be a dereliction of my parental duty and obligations to hand over money and just let them go. I would help and try to support them but in return I would want to see some response from my child, like doing some work around the home or applying for a study course or trying to train or doing something. That is what you do as a parent. You might fail—they might not do what you want them to do—but you try to put some boundaries, some discipline, some focus on your child's life while also trying to help them.

It is a basic life principle that if you are going to give something, you've got to get something in return. You need to teach people that principle. You need to teach your children the principle that you don't get anything for nothing—well, you shouldn't; at Centrelink you do. In normal life, you don't get anything for nothing. You have to work hard to get paid; you have to exercise to get fit. You try and impart those lessons on your children. Coming back to our welfare system, we do not do that. We treat people who need our help and support in a way that we would never even contemplate treating our children. That has traditionally been the approach but, as I mentioned before, measures like the cashless debit card have been good-faith attempts to provide more give-and-take. We do want to help and support people but there has to be an obligation that the help and support, in the case of the cashless debit card, is spent on things that are essential for someone's own life, for their family and for the children they support with food, education and things that are important to them.

Yes, those restrictions are onerous for people and they provide less freedom than earning money in employment or a workplace environment but it is very different to working and getting a pay cheque from week to week. You do not get that money for free. If you are working in a job, you do not get a pay cheque for nothing; you have to work. You have to give up time in your day. You have to give something to get something. Likewise, those on the cashless debit card get support but there are some restrictions on how they can spend that money. That is not to say of course that all these good-faith outcomes have been perfect or solved all the problems. They are not going to do that.

The issue I have with the approach of the government is what are you going to do when this goes? What is the plan? We need to think about the history of the cashless debit card. This grew out of another attempt in 2007, 15 years ago, to do something similar, to provide restrictions on what could be bought using the BasicsCard; however, the technology around the BasicsCard was very restrictive and it was even harder for people to work. The cashless debit card is better technology, it provides more focus on restricting items. Of course it still provides a certain level of cash to people that they can spend on anything but there is a component that is restricted.

The cashless debit card has been, you must say, successful in the sense that other people have wanted to join. We rolled it out in trial sites, so we didn't rush this out. It was a major change and we tried to take it step-by-step, starting in some Indigenous communities before moving on to broader Australian communities like Bundaberg as well. We took it step-by-step while we were in government. But you can tell something is a bit successful when other people seek to join it, when they put their hand up and say 'let's do it'. Communities in Cape York want to convert from the BasicsCard to the cashless debit card. There are people in the Northern Territory who want to go from the BasicsCard to the cashless debit card. They can see the benefits in this technology. The government's proposal here is to take away the agency and sovereignty of those communities—in these cases, Indigenous communities—take away their rights to make that decision, scrap it altogether and leave them with nothing.

But what are you going to do? If we go back to the old system I mentioned before—where we just hand out free money—we know that it will fail. It's failed everywhere in the world. It's not something just here in Australia and it's certainly not something that is just Indigenous community related. This is not about blackfellas and whitefellas. I can take you to lots of suburbs in Rockhampton, near where I live, that are welfare deserts because we have destroyed the culture of work, the culture of family, the culture of community, through our pipeline of unrestricted welfare. And we pat ourselves on the back here in this place, thinking we've done a good job. 'We've put out budget papers. We've spent $2 billion. We're helping people.' No, you're not. You're getting them addicted to free money that destroys their lives and creates a generational cycle that ends up, as I said before, with domestic violence, drug abuse and addiction. We know that.

We all have these communities, wherever we live, yet we continue this fiction of thinking that just an extra zero on the budget papers is going to solve people's problems. We know it doesn't, but it makes us feel good. It gives us a good media release. We can go on TV and say how good it is. But we destroy communities from doing it. And that's what the government is proposing to go back to—the failed welfare policies of the 1960s and 1970s that were just terrible and wiped out whole communities of working-class and poor communities when factories left or economies changed. A lot of regional communities have lost their forestry or fishery industries, and they have completely descended into a violent cycle of welfare dependence that we have at least facilitated, sometimes by turning a blind eye.

We're at least trying, with things like the cashless debit card. It's not perfect, but what are you going to do instead? What's going to be the alternative? We know what we learnt this week. We learnt more details yesterday in question time. The government are starting to wake up and understand that actually they can't go down this path, and that, if we were to completely scrap all of the income management proposals we have in this country, it would consign communities to this cycle of welfare dependence. You've got lots of communities out there shouting at the government right now to wake up to themselves before we go back to the dinosaur age of free money and free welfare that destroys people's lives.

There are going to be a huge number of amendments here in this place today. For those of you up in the gallery, it will be a long night if you want to stick around. We're going to be here till the early hours of the morning probably, because the government has to completely overhaul this ill-thought-through legislation, to reintroduce income management opportunities for communities—to allow the people of Cape York to continue the cashless debit card, to allow other communities across the country to do the same.

It raises the whole question now of why we are here. Why are we doing this? We don't need this legislation. The government are now apparently saying—we'll know when we see these amendments—that they're going to continue the cashless debit card. This is a broken promise I completely welcome, but they went to the election and said they'd get rid of it. As I said, it was ill thought through. They didn't consult properly with communities that are on this card, and they're now realising that and desperately backtracking. Well, I welcome that broken promise, and I won't make a political point about it, because it's better for communities for the government to understand the error of their ways and turn around here, do a complete U-turn, which is apparently what we've got happening here in the Senate.

But why do we need to do this bill? We don't need to do this. We've already got the legislation in place. The government can adjust the trial schemes as they see fit. But they are embarrassingly persisting with this legislation, taking up the Senate's time, making people stay here till all hours of the morning, making the note takers, the Senate staff, stay here all night, in a desperate attempt to save some face from an embarrassing policy decision they made on the hop, in a rush, in an election campaign.

So I do welcome that change, because what we need to do as a parliament now, in my view, is a little bit less talking—there will be a lot of talking over the next 24 hours, unfortunately, because we'll be here for so long—and more listening to those communities on welfare, those communities that actually are affected by these changes.

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

Less talking? You can talk!

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That's what we need to do. These government amendments are apparently going to do that, because they're going to allow communities to request these changes. They're going to allow them to do that. Hopefully the government will listen and not be so prideful as to obsessively insist on getting rid of something that some communities want and that works for them. I hope they do listen to them.

Senator Henderson mentioned earlier that Senator Chisholm had completely misrepresented the member for Hinkler yesterday and had accused him of not consulting with his community. Senator Henderson very succinctly rebutted the number of emails sent by the member for Hinkler's office. The member for Hinkler had sent tens of thousands of emails and done hundreds of calls to local constituents about this issue. Overwhelmingly, the feedback from the people of Hinkler was that they support the cashless debit card. In the member for Hinkler's case, 75 per cent of those surveyed said they support it. And it wasn't just the member for Hinkler. The local newspapers around Bundaberg—the NewsMail and the Fraser Coast Chronicledid their own independent survey that found that less than 30 per cent of people were opposed to the cashless debit card in the area in and around Bundaberg.

So the communities want it; they support it. The people who are going to be the real victims, if we persist with this obsessive attempt to go back to the era of free money and free welfare, will be those people who themselves are often not receiving the money but are on the receiving end of the destroyed lives that come from receiving free money. It's about the mums who might be subject to domestic violence and the children who might go uncared for in people's homes if we turn a blind eye to the corrosive effects of unrestricted welfare payments.

Free welfare might make people feel good in this place but it certainly doesn't build homes. It doesn't build communities. It doesn't help people's lives. We need to make sure that, if we're going to hand out support to people, we also help them with their lives and the responsibilities that are required to get them back on their feet, in work and rebuilding their communities.

12:56 pm

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to continue my remarks, and it will only be for five minutes.

Leave granted.

I do appreciate the chamber allowing me to continue my remarks. I think the cashless debit card is very important. I travelled to Kalgoorlie and spoke to the locals there. I spoke to the elders and other people, and heard their plight and their concerns. I've travelled to Doomadgee. I've been up to the Cape. I've been to the Northern Territory. I've been to many places around Australia and to Aboriginal communities.

Let's be honest: the card was rolled out in these Aboriginal communities mostly because of the problems and issues that a lot of these communities are facing. Let me explain to the people who may be listening to the broadcast. The card was rolled out to ensure that people had 80 per cent of their money put on the card to be used to pay rent and buy food or essential services; 20 per cent was in cash to spend as they so wished. Over the period of time from the card being introduced, there were decreases in violence, domestic violence and children staying away from school. School attendance increased, violence was decreasing, children were better fed—it was helping.

What people don't know is that in a lot of these communities alcohol is illegal. So what happens is people go outside the communities and spend a huge amount on alcohol. If they're going to purchase a cask of wine—a five-litre cask is called a pillow—they'll pay about $150 or more for that pillow. For a bottle of rum, they could pay $200 or $300. You see, they need the cash and they need the money, so these people would go to their family members and threaten to take their money—and they did. Their family handed over money to them, and that money was spent on drugs and alcohol, not on the children.

The people who are suffering from all of this are the children. Aren't we more concerned about the vulnerable, those people who cannot defend or look after themselves? When you go to these communities, as I have done, you see kids on the street in the middle of the night. These are young children—and I'm talking about three, four, five years of age—who are not in their homes. They don't feel safe in their homes, not only from the alcohol and drug abuse but also from sexual abuse. We are supposed to be protecting these people.

Also, why shouldn't the taxpayers have some accountability for the money that goes to these people? Regardless of your cultural background or whoever you are, if you're going to be receiving welfare, there has to be responsibility. Show some respect for the money that comes from a hardworking Australian who's paying their taxes. It's usually a person who works and earns $80,000, and the taxes they pay go to support one person on welfare. Their taxes go to support one person. We have a debt approaching $200 billion that we pay out in welfare in this country. There must be accountability for that.

It's quite funny now to hear that Noel Pearson complained about getting rid of the cashless debit card in Cape York for approximately 120 people. Now, you've listened to Noel Pearson. So, if you can listen to these people, why do you need a voice in parliament? Why do you need another chamber? Why do you need to put it in the Constitution when people can have their say and you listen to what they have to say?

I'm pleased to see that you are maybe rethinking this cashless debit card. The whole point is that we've got to look after the vulnerable. I also have to make a point of saying that I was so impressed with Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price's speech yesterday. This is a woman who has lived this. She has lived in these communities and has represented the people. I'm not Aboriginal and I'm not a person on welfare, but I listened to someone who spoke from the heart to try to explain. Those of us who have never been in these people's shoes must try to listen to someone who has been and who speaks commonsense.

We are here to make the right decisions. Do not let your emotions say that it's human rights and all the rest of it. Sometimes people need to be taken by the hand to show them love and give them guidance, and that's what we must do. Giving your sorries and all your apologies and everything doesn't change it for the stolen generations. That's not what it's about; it's about making the right decisions that will give future generations some hope for the future.

1:01 pm

Photo of Susan McDonaldSusan McDonald (Queensland, National Party, Shadow Minister for Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

I, too, rise to speak on these opposition amendments to the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022. I have listened to the speeches over the last day or so and I have reflected on the lived experience and the passion that so many senators are bringing to this discussion. I did hear an interjection earlier, suggesting that, in some way, this was about extending debate unnecessarily, and I reject that with all of my heart and soul, because there are those of us who live in communities that are marginalised and disadvantage—and this is not just Aboriginal communities.

I heard Noel Pearson, who was one of the people who inspired me to get involved in politics, speak at a Press Club function in about 2008. He talked about these being issues not of race but of poverty. The cashless debit card, when it was enacted, was rolled out to try to assist people who needed additional protections. They needed additional support not just for themselves, and we heard Senator Henderson talk about women being bashed to get access to social security payments. I'm very concerned about some of the discussion where the minister has been proposing that they'll put a PIN on social security cards. Isn't having a PIN for their card just the same problem as forcing people to hand over the password to their card? I don't see that solving the problem at all.

So I join Senator Canavan in his congratulations of the government for listening. They took so many poorly thought through, paternalistic, idealistic statements to the last election which they are, one by one, having to reverse. At the last lot of sittings we saw them having to re-establish the northern Australia committee. On day one of the new parliament they abolished the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia, and by the end of the following week we had re-established the Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia. That abolishing the cashless debit card would be the right thing to do is another example of this thought bubble.

I do congratulate Labor on actually listening: on listening to the speeches, on listening to the examples that are being given, on listening to Noel Pearson and other leaders talk about why this is such an appalling decision. By overturning the alcohol restrictions in the Northern Territory and removing the CDC, they are actually driving families into terrible, terrible situations.

I know the stories that I hear in the north are of young people who are unable to study. They are having to get up early and stay up late at night. They are looking after their younger siblings, getting them something to eat and helping them to get dressed and get to school, and it's at the price of their own education. They end up dropping out of school, dropping out of higher education and missing out on the opportunities that this great country has available to us all if we have the sort of supported childhood that most of us here were fortunate enough to have.

So I embrace this embarrassing backflip from Labor where they suddenly work out what the reality of the world is. They get out of Sydney, Melbourne and whatever other protected areas they've been in, and they understand that in regional parts of Australia, and no doubt in outer-city places, people need the support that the CDC extended, because it was a superior welfare card. It had access to a million different sites to spend your money in, as opposed to the BasicsCard, which is exactly that. It is a second-rate, poorly considered alternative to what the CDC is, which is a much-enhanced card that allows people to focus, as Senator Canavan said, their hard-earned dollars from the Australian taxpayer so that, when we provide assistance, we provide assistance for the safety net and for welfare to be spent on housing, on food and on supporting the children to be educated—the important goals of social security—and not on alcohol—on grog—and those other expenditures. That's what the CDC was protecting.

So I support Labor's new amendments to extend the CDC back to allow the Cape York communities, the CDC trial sites and those people in the Northern Territory who voluntarily transitioned from the BasicsCard onto the CDC to remain on it. This is a very good starting point, and it is just the first admission that they have messed up with this ill-conceived election commitment. The amendments put forward by the government confirm that even they admit that abolishing the cashless debit card will have serious consequences for vulnerable communities.

What we saw last night when Senator Chisholm attacked the cashless debit card rollout in Hinkler was an example of the lack of informed debate and understanding that has happened. Senator Henderson has already read into the record the huge amount of consultation that happened in the electorate of Hinkler, in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. Between May 2011 and 2017, the Department of Social Services conducted over 188 meetings with federal government agencies, community members, local government representatives and service providers. Senator Henderson has laid all of this out—the huge amount of consultation. So it is truly appalling to have a government senator somehow represent that there was no consultation with that community at all. It is not the case, and in actual fact there is overwhelming support. When ReachTEL, an independent survey organisation, surveyed that community, they found overwhelming support for the CDC. Anecdotally they're talking about participants having money left over at the end of the fortnight. Some now have savings. Children are going to school with lunch, and they have had breakfast. Requests for emergency food hampers have plummeted. These are good outcomes. These are great outcomes that we want to see more of, in all of the federally funded services—over 70 existing across the region, including drug and alcohol services, financial capability, employment and family and children's programs, just to name a few.

I also want to acknowledge the extraordinary work of the local member, Keith Pitt. He has been attacked by these kinds of senseless, ill-informed, ignorant accusations that were again directed at him yesterday, when he has fought diligently for his community—for the disadvantaged in his community and for the voiceless in his community, particularly the children and the elderly who are now able to feed themselves and have more money left over and not be abused by family members who were trying to access their cash.

So I welcome Labor's backflip and amendments to this CDC legislation, but you now have to wonder: what is the purpose of this legislation at all? What is the purpose of us being here if Labor is just going to slowly and very quietly continue rolling the advantages of the CDC right across Australia? This is a card that the communities say works and that has seen more families in better situations and more appropriately spending the hard-earned taxpayers' dollars that we are using when we fund social welfare.

We know that in communities right across Australia there are poor outcomes. In northern Australia, juvenile crime levels are bordering on the ridiculous, because one of the results of alcohol and drug fuelled home environments is that children feel safer on the streets than they do with their parents. Cairns and Townville will smash previous records for stolen vehicles. In Townsville, car thefts jumped 124 per cent in 2020-21, and there was a further increase of 20 per cent in 2021-22. It's a 140 per cent increase in two years in Townsville, while Toowoomba, the Gold Coast and Brisbane topped the state's card theft dishonour board.

Tripadvisor is advising people against going to Mount Isa, my much loved nearly home town, and I know why: because when you're out in the evenings groups of young people are roaming the streets because it is not safe at home. There is no food at home. There is no protection or nurturing environment at home, and they are on the streets roaming around. They are stealing cars and creating mischief, and they are not ever going to achieve their potential. Father Mick Lowcock, who is a great man in Mount Isa, picks up young people as they come back from Cleveland Youth Detention Centre. He looks out for them, but he knows there are only a small number of children that this applies to. It is children who are not at home because they are not being provided for there. I would welcome seeing the sort of support that the cashless debit card provides to those children being rolled out to Mount Isa and other communities. People pick up these kids. They drop them at home. They watch them run through the house, down the back stairs, over the fence and onto the streets again, and they have not enough resources and places to take these kids to.

So it is clear that steps must be taken to switch off the access to alcohol and drugs as a first step to addressing a multitude of issues. The cashless debit card does exactly that. We have strong evidence over the past five years to show improved outcomes for those who use it and for their loved ones: less alcohol and drug abuse, less violence and more incentives to find employment. In effect, Labor's removal of the CDC is opening the door to more cases of children who are not being fed and nurtured at home and cannot access the advantages of education because they're going to school hungry, without breakfast or lunch, and eventually drop out of school altogether. By banning the purchase of alcohol and gambling products via the card, we are quarantining more money to be spent on fresh food, school excursions, sports gear and petrol for the car.

The cashless debit card, as we have heard, has been operating in Ceduna, South Australia since 15 March 2016; in East Kimberley, Western Australia since April 2016; in the Goldfields, Western Australia since March 2018; and in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland since January 2019. With virtually no consultation, Labor has made it easier for those at risk to spend their taxpayer funded payments on activities and substances that harm themselves, their families, their communities and society at large.

Finally, I want to touch on the community of Doomadgee, where there is an extraordinary group of elder women, the Strong Women's Group. They are the ones who are taking in kids in unofficial, loose fostering arrangements from their own children and making sure that these kids have food, are being dressed and are going to school. I had a discussion with another senator from the north the other day, and we were worried about who is going to do that job for these young people when those elders are gone. Who is going to nurture and feed these children and ensure they get to school so that they can access the potential and possibility that they have within themselves? Who is going to do that? That is why the role of the cashless debit card and other social security measures is to protect our children, to protect our vulnerable, to ensure that money is being spent where we as taxpayers are assuming it's being spent. This is not about individuals' rights to spend money wherever they want. This is about a protection, a social security safety net for communities that are disadvantaged by poverty, by lack of education, by remoteness, by other disadvantage.

In the first independent evaluation of the CDC in late 2017, the card was shown to deliver considerable positive impact in the initial trial sites. Forty-one per cent of participants surveyed drank alcohol less frequently, 48 per cent of participants surveyed who used drugs reported using them less frequently, and 48 per cent of those who were gambling before the trial reported gambling less often. Dozens of evaluations of the cashless debit card have provided consistent evidence about welfare-quarantining policies having positive impacts on communities, on the people who were previously victims of crime and, most importantly, on our children, on our vulnerable and on their future.

1:16 pm

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022. What an interesting journey this bill has had, particularly in the Senate chamber. Obviously, the opposition was certainly not in agreement with the bill as it was initially introduced. We have now seen a series of amendments, which, as my colleague Senator McDonald was saying, do seem to be quite sensible in the circumstances. There are amendments which will allow some communities currently utilising the CDC to remain on it. I think that we in this place should be seriously scrutinising and questioning why we are now in a situation where these amendments are being made. In effect, the government are admitting to themselves that abolishing the CDC in its entirety would have devastating effects on remote and vulnerable communities. And why is this the case? What is the reason for this backflip?

I think we need to look very carefully at the origins of this bill. This bill is simply a political fix to try and justify the scare campaign which the now government ran during the federal election, a scare campaign which was repeatedly found to be false and misleading but which Labor persisted with again and again to try and scare Australian pensioners around the country. This is a Labor Party that spent an election campaign talking about integrity yet was happy to run a scare campaign about pensioners being forced onto the cashless debit card. Now, to try and justify all of that misinformation that they put out in an attempt to win votes, they are trying to abolish the CDC, causing major concerns for people in the communities where it is being used successfully. And, now, apparently having a moment of circumspection, where they realise that perhaps that wasn't the most sensible tactic, that perhaps there are communities in remote Australia that benefit from having the CDC, they are trying to backward reason their position, because it was effectively coming from a place of bad intentions.

If we look back at the way that Labor conducted themselves during the recent election campaign, as I said, the answer to why this legislation has been brought forward is very evident. In the lead-up to and throughout the federal election, Labor MPs were continually uttering false claims that the coalition government at the time was planning to put pensioners onto the cashless debit card. There was no credibility to this claim. It was rejected outright by the former coalition government on repeated occasions. But that didn't stop Labor MPs and Labor senators spreading this misinformation both online and through targeted media campaigns. This isn't just my view, and it's not just the view of the opposition. An AAP Factcheck dated 22 November 2021, months before the election, explored in detail Labor's claim that the former coalition government planned to force all age-pensioners onto cashless welfare cards. To quote the AAP Factcheck:

Our verdict: False. There is no evidence the government intends to put all age pensioners on cashless welfare cards, a measure not permitted under existing legislation.

Multiple Labor politicians have claimed the Morrison government wants to put all age pensioners onto cashless welfare cards that would allow the government to control the way they spend their money.

There is no evidence to support the claims.

'False,' 'no evidence,' but that didn't matter to the Labor Party. They seem to think that they can get away with not telling the truth to the Australian people during an election campaign, or even before then. In a media release from October last year, the then Minister for Social Services, my good colleague Senator Ruston, said:

Let me make it crystal clear—the Morrison Government will not force age pensioners onto the Cashless Debit Card. We were never going to, and never will.

'Crystal clear,' Senator Ruston said. You can't get much clearer than that.

This clear rejection followed a number of other occasions in which the minister refuted outright Labor's false claim concerning the CDC, including in a letter that the former minister wrote to the Council of the Ageing, in which the minister stated that the CDC was not aimed at retirees and never would be. That was on 28 October 2021. Again, the former coalition government's position could not be much clearer than that. But there was a reason that the Labor Party remained wilfully ignorant of the truth surrounding the CDC—blatant, misleading electioneering. We've seen Labor employ these kinds of tactics before, most notably in the 2019 campaign and the 2016 campaign. We all remember 'Mediscare'. Labor remembered it so well that they decided to redeploy the tactic in the lead-up to and during the 2022 election campaign.

But the new Labor government have backed themselves into a corner. While they promised to repeal the cashless debit card, they did not think of the resulting consequences for communities that rely on the card. Despite clear findings that the scare campaign was entirely fabricated by the Labor Party—that's not me saying that; that's the AAP Factcheck—there is a very long list of Labor MPs and candidates, including the Deputy Prime Minister, who were more than happy to repeat those false claims like 'they'—referring to the Coalition government at the time—'have a plan to force 80 per cent of people's pensions onto a cashless debit card so they can control and limit how pensioners spend their money.' Or this from the member for Gellibrand:

80% of your pension payment would be put on the privatised cashless card. It's not like an ordinary bank debit card—it can only be used at shops that are approved by the government.

They can limit and control where, when and how you spend your own money.

Imagine not being able to pay cash to buy cheap food at the local market, or a meal or a beer at the RSL.

This was all totally and utterly false, and it was called out as false by the AAP Factcheck as far back as November 2021, six months before the 2022 federal election. The Labor Party persisted with these falsehoods right up until election day. In Tasmania, the Labor member for Lyons posted:

I'm proud to be leading the fight in Tasmania to scrap the Morrison Liberal-Nationals Government's plan to expand the cashless welfare card to all Australian pensioners.

Unfortunately, we know from the facts that the Liberals and Nationals want to expand the cashless welfare card to include all pensioners. This means that 80% of your pension will be put on a card and the government can then control where you spend your own pension.

The facts—that's an interesting use of words, given what the AAP Factcheck found.

Similar messages were posted to websites and social media platforms of other Labor members. These claims were nothing but blatant and deliberate misinformation. And who is going to pay the price for Labor choosing to run an election campaign based on acknowledged falsehoods? The people in communities who have actually seen the positive difference that the card has made to their lives. We've heard these voices and these concerns throughout this debate, particularly from my colleagues, and the fears of alcohol induced violence against women and children. Yet the Labor government is determined to ignore these concerns from on the ground and push through this repeal based on a scare campaign they ran in electorates thousands of kilometres from anywhere the card was actually being used and supported.

The bill shows little care for the consequences for the communities which rely on this card to tackle social harm, particularly harm associated with drug and alcohol addiction, except as relevant to the amendments which we are now having presented to us in the Senate chamber because Labor have apparently realised that there was some error in their ways.

To add insult to injury, Labor have pushed for the abolishment of the cashless debit card with virtually zero consultation with key stakeholders. Again, I think that's why we are now hearing these amendments. Labor senators are sitting here in this place and listening to the contribution of opposition senators who have been consulting with key stakeholders and who have been providing that information to the Senate. These are stakeholders that should have been consulted from day one but were ignored by this government until the very last minute.

As late as 30 August, the so-called CDC engagement team sent the Goldfields a raft of draft engagement documents, seeking feedback. These busy shires were given until 12 noon on 2 September to provide their feedback—simply days. How is this meaningful consultation? How does this allow communities and key stakeholders the opportunity to have their say on legislation that will adversely impact their communities? A couple of days. How can that possibly be long enough?

Stakeholders have made their disappointment very clear, highlighting the severe lack of consultation on this bill. The City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder stated:

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.

The Mayor of the District Council of Ceduna echoed these sentiments, stating:

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 Minderoo Foundation further highlights Labor's lack of meaningful consultation on the bill:

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.

So thank goodness that members of the government have been in this chamber and have clearly been listening very carefully to contributions from opposition senators who have done the job and have been doing the work of consulting with these communities and understanding the impact that the repeal of the CDC would have on them. I am very certain that that is why we are seeing the amendments that we will be debating here later on tonight.

The cashless debit card was introduced into communities as an important financial management tool to help improve the lives of vulnerable people in these communities, which were looking for solutions to entrenched alcohol and drug induced violence. Instead of listening to the voices of those people, particularly women and children, who are safer and more secure because of this card, Labor chose to make the CDC a source of political gain through a scare campaign based on falsehoods—a scare campaign that I have outlined here my contribution today. Labor pushed for the abolition of the cashless debit card with virtually zero consultation with key stakeholders who should been consulted from day one but were ignored by this government until the last minute. This bill must be seen for what it is: a political exercise by Labor to justify the falsehoods they used to scare the community for their own political gain.

1:29 pm

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for the Public Service) 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 terribly disappointing that I'm rising to speak on this bill which would abolish the cashless welfare arrangements under the cashless debit card program because the cashless debit card program is such an important piece of technology. It was implemented by the former government specifically to assist vulnerable Australians and the communities in which they live. It was an innovative approach and it built on income management programs that the former Labor government had operated. Most importantly, these programs delivered change—real change, meaningful change—for communities, and I know that others around the chamber have said that over and over again today.

More importantly, I worry that the government's motives for this are dismissing the fact that, when faced with difficult challenges—

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Order, Senator Hume. You will be in continuation when debate resumes on this bill. It being 1.30 pm, we move to two-minute statements.