Senate debates

Tuesday, 27 September 2022


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

5:53 pm

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for the Public Service) Share this | | Hansard source

I finished my contribution on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022 by saying that I was very worried that the government's motives for this legislation were dismissing the fact that, when faced with very difficult challenges, we need not let the perfect get in the way of the good. In fact, as one stakeholder put it, the cashless debit card is not a silver bullet, but it is something, and we can build on it. In fact, the cashless debit card is an advanced technology that's accepted now at more than one million businesses right across Australia. That's far more than the less than 16,000 merchants that accept the BasicsCard, which was operating under the former Labor government. It's a very practical tool that assists users in managing their money. It helps people to focus on what it is that they need to deliver better health outcomes for individuals and, most importantly, positive change in their communities.

The critics of the card will talk about the increased stigma of welfare recipients and say that it prevents their freedom of choice and is discriminatory or is based specifically on Indigenous communities. That's not right. So let's get the facts straight. In fact, the cashless debit card looks and operates just like a regular bankcard. It cannot be used to withdraw cash or to buy alcohol or gambling products, along with some specific gift cards that would enable these purchases. Importantly, the cashless debit card does not change the amount of money people receive from the government. Welfare payments for Ceduna, Goldfields, East Kimberley and Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region participants are allocated as 20 per cent in the regular bank account and then 80 per cent onto the cashless debit card. In the Northern Territory, participants receive the same payment split that they received under income management. And in most cases cashless debit card participants in the Northern Territory receive their welfare payment allocation with 50 per cent in the regular bank account and 50 per cent on the card. In the Cape York region in Queensland, participants receive the same payments they received on income management. Users can operate internet banking and can tap and pay with their cards.

Over 17,000 participants are now using the cashless debit card, and this isn't an insignificant number given the populations of the locations in which the card operates. The communities where the cashless debit card has been employed—Ceduna, East Kimberley, Goldfields in Western Australia, Bundaberg, Hervey Bay and Cape York—have disproportionately high incidences of drug and alcohol related issues. They also include higher than average rates of social security dependency and even intergenerational social security dependency. An independent impact evaluation by the University of Adelaide that was released in 2021 looked into the cashless debit card and found that 25 per cent of people reported drinking less since the introduction of the cashless debit card; 21 per cent of CDC participants reported gambling less with the cash that was previously used for gambling and instead spent it on essentials, such as food; and 45 per cent of cashless debit card participants reported that it improved things for themselves and for their families.

More than a dozen evaluations of income management have provided consistent evidence about welfare quarantining. Most importantly, it's a dramatic improvement on what existed before. The BasicsCard, which was operated under the former Labor government, could be used only in certain stores and was less flexible in its operation. The cashless debit card operates in communities regardless. Labor has walked away from the participants in each of these cashless debit cards and from their communities. For the coalition, this is not about ideology. It's about what works. It's about what people want. But unfortunately, despite these positive results, Labor is now abolishing the program. Even more concerning, it's clear that the decision was taken without consultation with the communities that this program mostly benefits.

Among the amendments that have been discussed today, amendments have been moved to allow the Cape York CDC trial site and those people in the NT who have voluntarily transitioned from the BasicsCard onto the CDC to remain on the CDC. While some of these amendments do go some way to walk back this unfortunate policy, the intention of the bill is to repeal the cashless debit card, which was put into communities as an important financial management tool to help improve people's lives, particularly the lives of some of Australia's most vulnerable.

In concluding my remarks, I want to reinforce just how disappointed I am that the government is seeking to extend the BasicsCard in the Northern Territory without consultation and without transparency whilst at the same time seeking to wind back the cashless debit card. Even though the government is seeking to walk back its bill with the amendments that have been moved and the provisioning of $50 million for additional drug and alcohol support services—because they themselves now realise the significant issues that will come if this critical program is watered down or repealed—the evidence clearly shows that the cashless debit card is a significant piece of welfare infrastructure in the communities in which it operates. More importantly, it is working. The idea that it would be repealed is a callous act of this government. It should not be removed, because of the importance of the effectiveness of the program, and the government should rightly be condemned for its act to do so.

5:59 pm

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's with great sadness that I speak on the repeal of the cashless debit card, which currently is used by over 4,000 Western Australians in the Goldfields and East Kimberley regions. These are unquestionably some of our state's most vulnerable people. I've gone through a wide range of emotions since the introduction of this ill-conceived and botched piece of legislation, from disbelief to great anger, and now sadness for the inevitable impacts that this will have on the lives of so many Australians.

The cashless debit card was introduced by the previous coalition government as a means of ensuring that those receiving welfare payments were spending taxpayers money on necessities such as food, household bills and clothes, and not on habits that enabled destructive lifestyles. And this is one thing that I think those opposite seem to have forgotten: it is not just about the life of the person on the card; it is also about the lives that they impact. It is about the women, the children and the elderly in their lives that have more money and are subject to far less violence than they had been.

I still cannot get my head around the pious self-righteousness of colleagues on the other side who have callously put ideology above the needs of Australia's most vulnerable. It is my opinion, and the opinion of those on this side of the chamber, that the card should be extended, not repealed. It is truly mind blowing just how incompetently the new government has managed this issue. As we kept hearing from those opposite, 'This is a policy we took to the election.' Well, they may have taken the policy to the election, but they certainly didn't take an implementation plan to the election, they certainly didn't take any consultation to the election and they certainly had none of that after the election when they introduced this legislation. In fact, there is no evidence that they consulted—properly consulted—with any of the communities who chose to have the CDC in their electorates.

How could they think that those in this place and the other place would allow them to steamroll such appalling legislation through this place, having been forced to have the quickest of all possible inquiries? Since then, as we'll hear in the committee stage of this bill, the government has been forced into embarrassing backflips time and time again. But these are concessions that they're now making because they've botched it the whole way along—again, impacting on over 14,000 Australian lives. They've botched it, and they're now about to make it worse.

Clearly they have never been up to any of these communities. What they don't realise is that saying, 'Look, we'll make it optional,' makes it worse. If you're an abused woman who is on the card, what do you think your partner is going to do? Do you think he's going to say: 'Yes, no problem. You just keep that card. Don't worry about giving me the cash.' It makes women in particular more vulnerable than less vulnerable, and shame on you. You've forced yourself into making these ill-considered and certainly not consultative amendments. It is a disgrace.

Now we're seeing the Labor government making amendments on the run, amendments that we are about to debate shortly in the committee stage, to this legislation. Again, you are better off withdrawing this legislation rather than trying to steamroll these ill-conceived amendments that will make people's lives even worse than what you were proposing to do in the first place.

Despite these new amendments, the intention of the bill still is to repeal the cashless debit card, which was put into communities as an important financial management tool. Again, it is all about helping our most vulnerable. And then those opposite were trying to say, 'Well, the Australian National Audit Office recommended that it be repealed.' Well, please bring in that report and show us exactly where the ANAO said this card be repealed, because, on our side, we can find no ANAO report that says that it needs to be repealed. That is simply a lie. That is simply a great big fib told by multiple members opposite. The reduction of taxpayer funded access to drugs, alcohol and gambling products has significantly reduced alcohol and drug abuse, assaults, rapes and murder—the evidence is there. Those opposite, during the debate, have been saying, 'Well, we haven't been able to find anyone to really tell us about this.' Well, if you don't go out and talk to the communities, of course you are not going to find anyone to comment on this. Again, with ungodly haste, the government shunted the committee inquiry through this place and did not visit one of the trial sites or talk to one member in my own home state of Western Australia, so of course they didn't find anyone in Western Australia because they didn't go and talk to them.

After all this backlash, the Albanese government has finally conceded that abolishing the cashless debit card—oh gee, golly gosh—will lead to more violence, more alcohol and drug abuse, childhood neglect and violence in vulnerable communities, including in my home state of Western Australia. The announcement of nearly $50 million for alcohol and drug treatment services is a complete admission that this will cause more harm and that more support will be required as a direct result of what the government are proposing. Shame on the Labor government for doing what they have done, leaving great uncertainty in these communities amongst Australia's most vulnerable. Now, surprise surprise, at the 11th hour, very shortly in this place they will be coming in with amendments which admit they were wrong. But these are amendments that haven't been consulted on across any of these communities, so the government have introduced this atrocious legislation without regard or consultation with those it will impact the most. So much for an Indigenous voice.

We had two amazing Indigenous senators, Senator Nampijinpa Price and Senator Liddle, speak with firsthand knowledge. If anybody who listened to Senator Nampijinpa Price tell us about her own personal experience with still thinks that this bill is good, then you have no heart and you have no shame.

This ideological opposition to the CDC will leave thousands of Australians vulnerable. Let me make it very clear: this government and this parliament have not consulted with Western Australians who have chosen to have this card in their communities. Given that the cashless debit card is only being used in six places and two of them are in Western Australia, in the East Kimberley and Goldfields regions, this Senate's inquiry conducted not a single, not one, hearing in either East Kimberley or the Goldfields. Not only that, when they were finally forced to actually consult, shamed into consulting with some of these regions, guess how many days the local councils got to deal with and provide some input? They had three days, three working days, to comment on four documents. That is not genuine consultation and that is a disgrace.

The East Kimberley as a whole was a site where the most problems were reported and recorded before the introduction of the CDC and it was also the site that reported the strongest positive change, particularly in relation to alcohol. East Kimberley was the site affected by the most severe alcohol problems but was also the site that has demonstrably recorded the greatest reduction since the introduction of the card. The CDC was very positive in preventing humbugging. The lives of those vulnerable people who are subject to humbugging by their family and friends have been improved by the cashless debit card, because no longer can their relatives put their hand out and ask for cash. They can no longer stand at the ATM waiting for that money to come out and take it away from mothers and children. That is one of the benefits of this card.

I would like to conclude with a couple of comments from leaders in my own home state of Western Australia, both from East Kimberley and the Goldfields, people who those opposite and this Senate committee obviously made no effort to talk to. The first one is from the mayor of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, John Bowler:

It almost seems that they are putting the cart before the horse.

The Shire of Laverton said:

The lack of consultation is profound on the government's part and the words and rhetoric do not go well for the future of Laverton, and as local governments do, we will pick up the pieces with other state government agencies who work under trying conditions and see the community continue.

…   …   …

The CDC has brought some sanity to the people's lives as most of the spending allocation is to purchase food—

food for women, children and the elderly—

and the other essentials of life.

…   …   …

Is this submission emotive, yes, it is because we believe and have seen firsthand the benefits of the CDC and the impact upon Laverton for which I have called home for over 65 years and the generation before me as the Shire President.

Ian Trust, the director of the fabulous Wunan Foundation, in Kununurra, who knows firsthand—the foundation deals with the health and the lives of so many in the East Kimberley. Ian has said:

It reduced the alcohol violence and the harassment of the elderly and vulnerable for cash when they used to go to the ATM.

The cashless card is not a silver bullet but it is something, and we can build on it.

But there is no plan as to what happens after the CDC is abolished, we are left in a vacuum. The government says if we want to go down that path of keeping income management that it has to be a community decision, but there's no information about how they want us to arrive at that decision or what the replacement could be.

Classic Labor policy on the run on the back of a coaster—a great idea, but with nothing behind it.

It is inconceivable to me, and to all of us on this side of the chamber, that any government or any senator would knowingly inflict more pain and suffering on vulnerable women, children and elders. But that is exactly what this piece of botched legislation that Labor are now about to seek to amend—that will make it even worse than it currently is. All I can say is: shame on every one of you. We know what will happen out in the communities if this bill passes here today: more grog, more violence, more rape, more abuse, more child neglect and more murder and death. You cannot say you were not warned. You cannot say you did not know. Yet you continue to push this based on blind ideology. Shame on you all.

6:12 pm

Photo of Ross CadellRoss Cadell (NSW, National 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. Somewhere in Australia today, a child woke up, put on fresh clothes and sat down to breakfast, because of the cashless debit card. Somewhere in Australia this afternoon, a wife or partner won't be trembling in fear of a man coming home grogged up and ready to fight, because of the cashless debit card. Somewhere in Australia tonight, some elderly people will sleep soundly knowing they are unlikely to be robbed or rolled for cash, because of the cashless debit card. Today we are being asked to vote to take that away from them. I must believe that we as a chamber are better than that, and I have to believe that I as a person am better than that.

Today I would like to talk about two things: how did we come to the point that this chamber, filled with people who care about Australia and Australians, is about to throw some vulnerable people to the wolves; and what are the realities of dealing with these displaced communities? In looking for why people do things I always look at the motive behind the actions. In this case, maybe contrary to some others, I get those opposite took this policy to the election; I understand it and I respect they are trying to meet those undertakings they made. I also get that at the time, without all the information, they may have felt the card was inequitable; I can see where that may have come from. But I also understand that whilst you can't expect people to change their minds you can ask them to make a new decision with new information. As brief as the inquiry was, it came up with some new information, and this process must, at a minimum, be paused.

I won't be going into the stats that many trotted out or the quotes from Noel Pearson that I've probably heard about 20 times in defence of the card here today. But I want those opposite to go and read some of the powerful testimonies of those directly affected—not the agencies, not the industries and not the vested interests, but the people. Imagine their faces when they are talking about the better life they've had without fear. Imagine the hope they have had for life with less crime and better health. And imagine those same faces when we are telling them we're going to take that away. I accept that this was not the intention of this legislation when it was first considered. I can see the care that all in this chamber have for the people this affects. That is why I ask: if a couple of weeks in an inquiry can point out these issues, why don't we take a couple of months to try to find a better way to fix it? Why does this have to happen this way? Why does this have to happen on this day?

I know by the proposed amendments that have been introduced that there is an acceptance that perhaps, for the other side, this is not as cut and dried as first thought. I can see by the looks on some of the faces opposite that even with them it's something that still sits uneasy because of some unexpected consequences. What happens if that child can't go to school because we pass this? What happens if those elders get robbed because we pass this? What happens if that lady gets bashed, or worse, because we pass this? We need to get this right.

I accept that there are some flaws in the cashless debit card. It is not perfect and it can be improved. But I also know that this legislation and the rushed amendments are not the way to do it. Let's take the time and do this properly. These displaced communities suffer from the double barrel of disadvantage, cultural displacement and geographical distance. It is not hard to see that if I were relocated miles from anywhere with little hope of employment or destruction then I would probably hit the cans and have a punt—to what end, I don't know. Throw on top of that an Indigenous community's displacement from culture and generational neglect, and it only gets worse. These things are not fixed by taking away something that at least had some impact. These things are not fixed by tokens or platitudes. We have said sorry. We have closed the gap. We are trying to find a voice. But all the time the problems just get worse.

Today I spoke to Mr Mark Lockyer, and I tell this story of his family with his permission. Just two months ago his niece Alena Kukla and her son Orlando were shot in an apparent murder-suicide at 16 Mile Camp near Alice Springs. The apparent perpetrator, the toddler's father, had a history of violence against women and earlier had been drinking all day with the victim. As bad as all that is, the only witness was Ms Kukla's older son, all of three years of age. After seeing that and losing his mother, he can add another couple of barrels to the challenge that will face him in his life.

But where was the national outrage for this? Where was the media coverage of this horrible crime? It was nowhere, because it is too difficult for us to face the fact that, despite all our best intentions and billions of dollars spent over decades, this problem still exists. And in the absence of answers we give silence and throw more guilt cash at the community so we can pretend we are making a difference. But let's face it, we are not.

We were asked to do that again today with another $50 million being allocated as part of an amendment that acknowledges that there will be increased crime and there will be increased alcoholism because of this bill. A coroner's report has found that 65 Aboriginal women have been killed by their partners just in the Northern Territory since 2000. And we hear nothing and do nothing. Justice Judith Kelly noted:

Everyone is willing to talk about the over-representation of Aboriginal men in prison … But, as I have said before, the stream of Aboriginal men going to prison is matched by a steady stream—a river—of Aboriginal women going to the hospital and to the morgue.

During a 2016 episode of Q+A, Professor Marcia Langton said domestic violence suffered by Aboriginal women ranged from between 34 times the national average and up to 80 at the worst. This was later checked by ABC Fact Check and found to be broadly true.

The problems facing these regional Aboriginal communities are real and monstrous. They are very different to the problems faced by similar communities in the cities. They are harder to see and harder to solve. The withdrawal of this card will be the second blow to many of these communities, after the revocation of the alcohol ban by the Northern Territory. Alena Kukla and Orlando deserve better than that. That is why I cannot support this bill, even with the amendments. And that is why I ask again: delay the bill, enlarge the inquiry and come back to this place with legislation that is designed to make a difference not tick a box.

6:21 pm

Photo of Gerard RennickGerard Rennick (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to speak on the cashless debit card. I want to touch on the scourge of addiction. I know that there's been a lot of discussion about other issues and other areas, but I think that one of the strengths of the cashless debit card is to enable or help people get off their addiction, whatever that may be, whether it's drinking, gambling or drugs.

I was talking to a pastor at Hervey Bay who works with food banks and he said that when the cashless debit card was introduced up at Hervey Bay—thanks to the hard work of the member for Hinkler, Keith Pitt—that the length of the food lines dropped dramatically, and that the feedback he was getting was that a lot of people who were previously addicted basically had no other choice but to get off whatever their addiction was, and that food was being put on the table, which was a pleasant change for many families.

This has been touched on a lot, and there's some merit in the idea of making the card voluntary, but the problem is that you try telling that to an addict and they just won't go down the path of choosing self-control. They'll always take the cash because obviously a lot of things like drugs, for example, are only traded on the black market, so they need cash.

I will point out that I've always had a big issue with the Labor party and gambling in my home state of Queensland. I grew up in the small town of Chinchilla in the 1970s and eighties. At the time it was only a small town of 3,000 people. It's now almost 8,000 people, so it's much much bigger than it was. I grew up when my hometown had a maternity ward but we didn't have poker machines. When the Goss Labor government got in in the early nineties the first thing they did was introduce poker machines into the state and then proceeded to sell all of our infrastructure. So now my hometown has basically lost its maternity ward, it's lost its councils, the roads out there continue to deteriorate, and it's basically being left behind. The Labor politicians, certainly from my home state, should reflect on the scourge of gambling and poker machines that have been introduced into the state of Queensland and if they themselves—because they're not in the state government—can't repeal those poker machines, maybe the least that they can do to try to reduce the scourge of gambling with poker machines by reflecting on whether or not this cashless debit card would help reduce the number of people who are addicted to gambling in pubs. As someone who enjoyed a pint quite a lot in my early days, I can't tell you how much I hate a pub full of poker machines. It just kills the atmosphere greatly.

I'll keep my remarks very brief but I do think there's a lot of merit in keeping the cashless debit card. I don't think it's a question of being punitive for the sake of punitive or anything like that. I think it's got the best of intentions, ultimately.

The other thing is that, when you are addicted, it is very hard if you're spending time on drugs, at the pub drinking or with the gambling machine. You're less inclined to go and look for work; whereas, if you suddenly have your cash pulled away from you, you might go: 'Well, I actually might have to get a job to get some cash so I can continue to do whatever I want to do.'

Obviously, I think that the benefits outweigh any downside with this card, and I thoroughly would urge those on the other side to reflect on the potential damage that the repeal of the cashless debit card could cause, not just in Indigenous communities but in poorer communities across Australia, especially in regional towns. I'll conclude with that, but I will foreshadow the second reading amendment on sheet 1665 in Senator Ruston's name, as circulated in the chamber.

6:25 pm

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Jacqui Lambie Network) Share this | | Hansard source

I've visited the cashless debit card trial sites many times. I can tell you that life is not easy for people in Ceduna, Bundaberg, the East Kimberley and the Goldfields. I've seen the poverty. I've seen the family violence and the alcohol abuse. I wanted the cashless debit card to fix those things. It didn't. It didn't get the results I had hoped it would. That's why the card is going. Right now, whatever happens to the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022, everyone in the trial sites is coming off the card this December.

The card will be gone. It will be gone because two years ago I didn't give Morrison the vote he needed to make it permanent. Honestly, it was one of the hardest choices I have ever had to make in this place, because I desperately wanted the card to work. I wanted to see life get better for people in those trial sites. I wanted to give people an out from addiction and welfare dependency and give them a way to manage their money and fight their worst impulses. I did that because I know what it's like to be on welfare; I know what it's like to live with an addict. I wanted the card to work because I wanted to fix things for people like me and my family.

But the truth is that the coalition government did not set the card up for success, and that is why it failed. I have always said to them: 'If you want to help people, you've got to have a carrot and a stick.' You can't just punish people; you cannot just have a stick. You need the carrot so people know that there's light at the end of the tunnel, that there's reward—it's called reward—that there's a pathway to make their lives better if they want to take it. The former coalition government were good at the stick. They were crap at the rest.

They put the card in. That was the stick; there was no carrot. They never did put in the work to help people get off welfare, get off the card and get into a decent job. They didn't set up residential rehab facilities for alcohols and ice addicts. They didn't get proper, real jobs into trial sites or help business get off the ground; they just chucked the magic card at people. They expected the card to fix everything. That was the only effort they wanted to put in. That was it—just a plastic card.

Well, that card couldn't fix anything by itself. It was never going to be successful. It was never going to work. They set it up to fail, and fail it did. And that's why the card is going—not because of anybody else in this Senate. You had seven years, and you failed miserably. That's why, back then, I voted against making this card permanent. The coalition have no-one to blame but themselves.

And here's the thing: taking the card away isn't good either. That's not going to fix it, because the problems in the trial sites won't disappear when that card goes; they'll only get worse. Those problems—the alcohol abuse, the drug abuse, the violence, the hopelessness—aren't going anywhere. That all stays, and it gets worse. That's the saddest thing for me.

The card is going somewhere: it's going in the bin. It's going in the bin because, let's be honest, the coalition has trashed it. It was seven years in the making, and you trashed it. What should have been gold you trashed. Taking the card away doesn't fix this. I will tell you how worried I am about this: if the coalition had expected the card to fix everything, Labor seems to think that ripping it out will fix everything too. It won't. You can't pull this thing out from under people and walk away like that's your job done. The kids and the families in those trial sites deserve better than that. I've met those kids and those families. I know their faces. I know what their lives look like. With or without the card, they aren't getting the opportunities in life that they deserve. We can't leave them to figure it out on their own. Every single one of us in this place has a responsibility to do better by those people.

If this bill passes tonight, that will not be our job done. It will be the start of our working day, not the time to clock off, I can assure you. I will be running around those trial sites, and I expect to be back here within six months, telling you you have done a disastrous job—that's the Labor Party. Not only will you have killed the card off, the mess that you will make on top of that will be absolutely disastrous. I've written to the Minister to ask her to work with me on four issues. Here's the first one.

Make sure services in the trial sites actually work. Public servants love paying for 'services' for poor people. I've never known a public servant who didn't think all the world's problems couldn't be fixed with more services and more cash. Like Noel Pearson said, public servants see a problem and they grab their four-wheel drive, they grab their wide-brimmed hats, they set up someone with a clipboard and a fax machine and they reckon their job is done. Seriously, that's what I saw in the trial sites, over and over again. It was devastating. That's where you did waste money. You shouldn't have bothered sending them, because they couldn't sell anything, let alone themselves. There was plenty of money for services but no thought about whether the services actually worked.

Take Ceduna as a great example. Ceduna has a number of cashed-up services that were set up as part of the cashless debit card trial. You can get a free breakfast whenever you want in Ceduna. You can hang out at the community centre and do arts and crafts, but the best you can get from the local TAFE is a short course on first aid, and that's on a good day. If you're a heavy drinker in Ceduna you can go to the sobering up centre for a safe bed to sleep that night. As a matter of fact, you can go there every night if you want, and when you wake up they'll even give you breakfast. How's that helping you? It's great, isn't it? There's no rehab if you want to get over your addiction, and there's no psychological support. There are no residential facilities for you to break out of your bad habits. If you want to go to rehab, you'll have to go five hours up the road to Port Augusta. I don't know about you people, but that doesn't work for Indigenous people; they've got to be close to family. Five hours is too far away. That was your first failure. Once you come back, more than likely you'll fall in with the same crowd and you'll be drinking again and carrying on.

The situation in Ceduna is the same for all the trial sites. That's why I've campaigned for each of them to receive better-targeted, more-meaningful support. The government has promised to put money in for services. I hope that won't mean more money for free breakfasts and crafts afternoons. What people in those sites don't need is more window dressing. What they need is a fair go to make their lives better. That's why I've called on the government to put the money for services towards organisations that will help people get their lives back on track. There should be funding for residential rehab in regional areas; money to help people get real jobs, not just time fillers like work for the dole, because that's rubbish—it was never going to work and it hasn't even worked for white people, so good luck with that. There should be funding for better mental and physical health facilities and support for Indigenous-run businesses. It's not rocket science here, people; it really isn't.

It may be the case that the government will have to take money from community organisations that aren't working—so sad, too bad—and there are plenty of those in the trial sites that have nothing to offer but dressing up. It will be hard. Apparently, we have a deficit in this country and there isn't unlimited funds. We've got to make sure that that money is spent properly so people can get on with their lives.

No. 2 for the Labor Party: show us your transition plan. I'm yet to see one. We're going to go from bad to worse. Next you'll be having interventions again—'I have kids out there being abused'—because that's where we're heading. If this bill passes, people will start coming off the card from next week. Whether you think the card worked or not, taking it away is going to be disruptive, and it is not going to be helpful. We're looking at a massive change for some very vulnerable people. The first thing I'm worried about is crime. People have told me plenty of times that crime, antisocial behaviour and alcohol abuse spike when trial sites get big cash payments, such as mining royalties, on top of people's quarantined income from Centrelink. There's your other problem. Do something about the mining royalties. It's a massive problem. If Twiggy Forrest can direct it elsewhere, why can't every other mining company in this country do so? No more royalties via cheques. No more! Letting people opt out of the card is going to have a similar effect. I want to know from Labor: what are you going to do about that? How will you protect these people?

This bill will also make a big difference to the women who rely on the compulsory nature of the card to have control of their own money. Being able to say to your sister, your brother or your husband, 'Sorry, I can't give you cash because it's all on my card; I've got nothing left,' is useful to a lot of women. It stops a lot of domestic violence. Once again, it's not rocket science.

When you go to the trial sites and you ask the women what they think of the card, I'll tell you what they say. When the blokes are around, they'll sit there and say, 'It's no good.' When you clear those blokes out, they're nearly jumping up, dancing, because they can't believe how effective this card has been for their lives, especially when it comes to humbugging and abuse—abuse! Making the card voluntary is going to take that away. My question is: what's going to happen to those women? What's the plan for them? Once again, silence from Labor. No plan.

The last thing on transition that bothers me is how we're going to make sure people get new cards on time and without hassle. I don't know if you know this, but they're trying to get them on a brand new card up there in the Northern Territory. Even though it was state of the art and would get them off a BasicsCard, even though they were selling that for three weeks around the Northern Territory, there was no way in hell they were going to buy into that. I'm not a public servant. I was dressed up like they are and I'm Indigenous. Many of these people in these small communities are uneducated. It's very difficult for them; they don't understand. You can't just go out there with a public servant and put something on the screen. It's not going to work. You people have got no idea what you're up against over here—none at all!

You can't just mail it out. Mail's not going to work. It can take two or three weeks to do all that stuff. And then, once again, you have to explain to them about this card and what's happening. You people over there are just not getting this at all. You're lost in a bubble. Plenty of people in the trial sites have no fixed address; they only have their card. You're giving them a whole new system. Once again: how are you selling it? I imagine committee time is going to be an absolute ripper in here shortly. And even if they do have an address, it could, like I said, take two weeks, at best, to deliver a letter.

Six months after this bill passes everyone who's still on the CDC will get the boot off the card. The government expects people to switch their bank accounts and bank cards over in a day. Once again: we're dealing with a heap of uneducated people, so good luck with that. I don't see how that's going to happen without blocking some people from their own money, and then they're not going to have money. It will take a lot of careful planning and preparation to make the transition off the cashless debit card work.

And I still haven't seen anything from the minister or department on how they plan to manage it. That's why I've asked the minister to release the transition plan for the trial sites. The government need to show us how they're going to handle the next six months with the people who are going to come off the card. Put it on paper. Since you think your plan's going to work so well, let's see it! Let's see what the abuse is going to look like in six months time. Let's see how many more alcoholics you've got in these communities in six months time. Let's look at child abuse go through the roof in these communities in six months time. That's what you are facing. You're accountable for what comes next, so lay your cards out on the table. Show us that you're up for the challenge. Right now all I'm getting from the Labor Party on the cashless debit card is a heap of silence and a stupid look of 'I don't know'.

One of the last government's biggest stuff-ups on the cashless debit card was that it didn't monitor its effects properly. When you do a test on whether something works of not, you have to start by looking at how things were before you made a change. Well, here you go. I hope you've been doing your travels out there, because I want to see all that paperwork. What does it look like today? Because I can tell you what: I'm going to be back here in six months asking you. I know what it looks like now; I'm going to tell you what it look like in six months time. And no doubt there will be silence on that side as well.

You have to measure your starting point; that's how you know how far you've come. We didn't do that with the cashless debit card and the trials weren't much of a trial at all. Statistics are very important. I can come in here and tell you how many times I've visited those trial sites and the differences I've seen in them, even if it was only a 20 or 30 per cent difference. I have seen ones that are more successful than others because they had more on the ground. They had limited alcohol consumption, because they had some of the strictest liquor licences in the country. Then they had the cashless debit card. Then they had dogs on patrol. Then they had magistrates—the same magistrates going through the court. It's not a one-thing fix. You need all these additives with it. The cashless debit card was never going to fix everything, but it was a starter.

Making the card voluntary is going to take that away. My question is: what's going to happen out there? I remember Labor saying that they didn't have the statistics, the data and all that. You guys are doing the same thing, so that's really unfortunate. There are also 4,000 people on the CDC in the Northern Territory in Cape York, and those people should be left alone. That system is working very well. Where it is working, leave it alone. If the communities want it, then let them have them. And leave the card there, so if anyone else has drug and alcohol problems in the future they can opt in. It's simple. I would also like to foreshadow that later I will be moving my second reading amendment, as detailed on sheet 1668.

6:41 pm

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Trade and Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank all of those who have contributed to this important debate on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022.

I appreciate that for many people this has been an emotional debate on both sides of the chamber. However, the bill delivers on our government's election commitment to abolish the cashless debit card, and is the product of ongoing and sincere community consultation. This bill not only is the first step in the transition journey away from the cashless debit card but is a significant milestone in the reform of cashless welfare in Australia.

We want to ensure that any measure we put in place as a government will help the people we are assisting. To that end, the Minister for Social Services will continue to consult with the affected communities, participants using the card and First Nations leaders to deliver a smooth and supported transition off the card. The government thanks the community leaders and the participants who so generously shared their experiences with the minister and the Assistant Minister for Social Services, the Hon. Justine Elliot MP, in Ceduna, Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, the East Kimberley, the Goldfields regions, Cape York and the Northern Territory. Some of my colleagues also contributed to those consultations with the local communities. Thanks should go to Senator Pat Dodson and Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, and to Marion Scrymgour MP, the member for Lingiari. Our government will continue to consult with local communities to implement solutions which communities want to see and ensure that they are supported in the transition off the CDC.

The bill before us will, firstly, remove the ability for any new entrants to be put on the card. Secondly, it will enable the more than 17,000 existing cashless debit card participants to be progressively transitioned off the card as soon as the bill receives royal assent. Thirdly, it enables the Family Responsibilities Commission to continue to support their community members by placing them onto income management where the need exists. Finally, it will allow for the repeal of the cashless debit card on a day to be fixed by proclamation or a maximum of six months after royal assent, allowing for the necessary time to support staged transition off the card.

I note the report delivered by the Senate community affairs committee and thank the senators and the committee secretariat staff involved for their work, particularly the work of Senator Marielle Smith who is the chair of that committee.

Other senators have referred to the report during this debate and to the evidence heard by witnesses at the public hearings in Bundaberg, Alice Springs, Darwin and Canberra. I would like to thank these witnesses for their time with the committee and all those who submitted written submissions. The report noted the strong support for the abolition of the CDC program and the concerns of many stakeholders about the lack of evidence supporting the CDC, as well as the negative impacts of the program on individual participants and communities. The hearings heard directly from participants who were forced to use the card; social policy researchers; providers of the CDC in the Traditional Credit Union; the Family Responsibility Commission in Queensland; and other stakeholders, such as organisations delivering CDC support services.

Taking into account all evidence provided in the hearings and the written submissions, the committee report made two recommendations, which the government has carefully considered in our approach to this bill. The first recommendation was:

The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government work with the Queensland Family Responsibilities Commission to address the concerns raised, including considering possible amendments to the bill, to ensure that the Commission can continue to operate effectively in accordance with its statutory responsibilities.

The second recommendation was:

Subject to recommendation 1, the committee recommends that the bill be passed.

In response to recommendation 1, the government will introduce amendments to this bill to ensure participants are supported through their transition off the card in the most safe and structured way. These amendments will, in summary, further affirm the role of the Family Responsibilities Commission in the Cape York region to allow them to continue referring people to income management, with an improved technology offering allowing access to more merchants compared to the BasicsCard and delivered by Services Australia. This same technological offering will be available to the CDC participants in the Northern Territory who will remain on income management following the repeal of the CDC. Finally, it will allow CDC participants in the remaining site of Bundaberg, Ceduna, Hervey Bay, the Goldfields and East Kimberley to also volunteer for this enhanced card, with more access to merchants and with all client interaction through Services Australia.

The government is also providing a suite of measures that will ensure CDC communities are better off. These include an updated income management technology solution with an enhanced card delivery, delivered by Services Australia; continuation of current community support services and addition of new services; delivering $14.9 million for additional alcohol and other drug treatment services and support in the cashless debit card trial sites; and, finally, providing $17 million for community led and designed initiatives to support economic and employment opportunities in selected cashless debit card sites. This is all funding the former government already had but did not deliver to the communities. We will deliver this.

We will also provide additional front-of-house staff from Services Australia and cashless debit card program sites over the transition period. Staff, including Indigenous service officers and community engagement officers, will support community engagement activities, and additional remote servicing visits will be arranged. More financial information service officers will also be available to work with individuals to improve their financial work capability, foster self-sufficiency and help them make informed decisions about their finances. Social workers will be available to work with individuals with more complex issues.

The Albanese Labor government remains committed to making income management voluntary over the long term for those 24,000 people on income management nationally. During the minister's recent community consultation in the CDC communities she's been discussing what voluntary income management could look like and whether there may be circumstances in which a community decides how they make income management voluntary for individuals. During these consultations it was clear that communities are starting to think about what voluntary income management in their community may look like and if it could be something that is decided at community level, such as the arrangements under the FRC.

The government will work closely with communities in CDC regions to continue addressing entrenched disadvantage in communities and to determine where and how support services can best be deployed. Understanding local issues for the services needed in each region is a priority for the government. The minister's consultations with First Nations leaders, CDC participants, community organisations and service providers will be the first step of a comprehensive and thorough consultation process.

I will detail our government's amendments further in consideration of this bill in the committee of the whole. With these amendments, and our commitments to communities through these additional support services, the government will have addressed the recommendations of the report. In line with the second of the committee's recommendations, I recommend that the bill be passed.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the amendment on sheet 1627 as moved by Senator Ruston be agreed to.

7:00 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I advise senators that I have a number of second reading amendments. I'm going to call Senator Rice, who foreshadowed a second reading amendment.

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

I move the second reading amendment on sheet 1611 standing in my name:

At the end of the motion, add ", but the Senate calls on the Government to:

(a) provide a clear plan for an end to all compulsory income management, which disproportionately impacts First Nations peoples; and

(b) urgently and significantly increase the funding for community and support services through a jobs and services plan, including redirecting any savings from the abolition of the cashless debit card to these services".

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by Senator Rice be agreed to.

7:09 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

At the request of Senator Rennick, I move:

At the end of the motion, add ", but the Senate calls on the Government to ensure that no recipient of the Age Pension or a Veteran or Service Pension will be placed on income management by the Commonwealth Government or any of its agencies. The current authority the Family Responsibility Commission, child protection workers, or the Alcohol Mandatory Treatment Tribunal in the Northern Territory will continue".

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion foreshadowed by Senator Rennick and moved by Senator Ruston be agreed to.

7:17 pm

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Jacqui Lambie Network) Share this | | Hansard source

I move the amendment on sheet 1668:

At the end of the motion, add ", and the Senate:

(a) agrees that it is imperative that social disruption be minimised in trial sites where the cashless debit card is being repealed; and

(b) orders that there be laid on the table by the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services, by no later than 2 pm on Friday, 30 September 2022, a transition plan which includes an outline of the following:

(i) the administrative measures that will be taken by the Commonwealth Government to ensure cashless welfare participants will continue to have access to restrictable payments, including regarding any changes relating to those participants' bank accounts or bank cards,

(ii) the social and community supports that will be available to combat alcohol abuse, drug abuse and crime in program areas,

(iii) the measures that the Commonwealth Government will take to combat coercive control and financial abuse in relation to cashless welfare participants who are using the restrictions under the cashless welfare scheme to control their own finances, and

(iv) the Commonwealth Government's economic plan for the program areas, including what measures the Commonwealth Government will take to increase access to training and jobs in program areas".

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the movement moved by Senator Lambie be agreed to.

7:26 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the bill be now read a second time.