Wednesday, 10 May 2023
Regulations and Determinations
Social Security (Administration) (Declinable Transactions and BasicsCard Bank Account) Determination 2023; Disallowance
RICE () (): I move:
That the Social Security (Administration) (Declinable Transactions and BasicsCard Bank Account) Determination 2023, made under the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, be disallowed [F2023L00189].
Labor government promises—we had some last night in the budget. The government promised that no-one was going to be left behind, and yet we have so many people that are being left trapped in poverty. On compulsory income management, we've got another huge broken promise from the Labor Party. The Labor Party have made so many promises when it comes to compulsory income management. When they were in opposition they promised to repeal the cashless debit card. They ran an aggressive scare campaign against compulsory income management that went out to pensioners, telling them that they might be subject to it in future. They had petitions. They had sign-ups. They were using compulsory income management to try and win votes. But, despite this unfounded scare campaign, those of us who knew the damage that compulsory income management was doing welcomed the fact that, finally, Labor were actually taking a stand. In their scare campaign, they were actually acknowledging that compulsory income management was a bad thing and it didn't work. It was so good to finally hear them come out like that.
In April last year, there were comments about this by the Labor social services spokesperson, Linda Burney. When she was asked what Labor would do about the BasicsCard, she confirmed it would be voluntary:
… our fundamental principle on the BasicsCard and the cashless debit card, it should be a voluntary basis. If people want to be on those sorts of income management, then that's their decision. It's not up to Labor or anyone else to tell them what to do. At the moment it's compulsion and that's not Labor's position.
Hear, hear, Linda Burney—from April last year. On the same day, it was reported on the ABC that, if federal Labor were to win the election in the following month, they would make the controversial BasicsCard optional within their first term of government, making a commitment that any broad based income management should be voluntary. We never imagined how short term and cynical the Labor government's approach to compulsory income management would prove to be. Rather than seeing an end to compulsory income management, what we've seen is a rebranding. After a long campaign led by community groups to get rid of the cashless debit card, we've had a change of government, but what else have we had? We've had a change of colour and a change of brand on the compulsory income management card. We've gone from the cashless debit card to the SmartCard. It's a different name, with different colours on the card, but what has changed in the policy?
This regulation that we are seeking to disallow is part of setting up the framework for not just the ongoing cashless debit card but legislation, currently before the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, that would actually allow the expansion of the cashless debit card, with no sunset clause, and allow the cashless debit card to be expanded into more geographic areas than it has been, without having to come back to parliament. Compared to the old cashless debit legislation, where there was a sunset clause, this will have no sunset clause. This regulation is part of setting up that framework to allow that to occur.
This regulation is a disallowable instrument that would establish the framework for the smart card by specifying the bank account, terms and conditions and blocked entities under the smart card. This instrument includes provisions that will enable the new enhanced income management regime to operate. So basically this regulation, as I've said, is part of setting up this framework for an expanded cashless debit card. It's an expanded framework. Labor have betrayed their pledge to voters at the last election.
Under the Labor government, there are more than 20,000 people still trapped under compulsory income management. We need a voluntary system that genuinely supports people, rather than setting up a framework that continues compulsory income management, that allows compulsory income management to be expanded and that allows compulsory income management to go on indeterminately into the future.
Why does this matter? It's because we know from direct accounts, academic experts, community groups and countless reports that compulsory income management is harmful. There have been many inquiries into compulsory income management over the years. One person who submitted to an inquiry explained:
… it was a struggle before to make it through fortnight to fortnight, but it's been even harder since I've been on the card. Because it's so much harder to budget not physically having the money in your hand, like being able to see I've got this much left. You've got to add bloody credit on your phone. You've got to have a phone that you can get on the internet and check the bank account each time. That's more money you've got to bloody spend just to check to see how much money I'm spending each time.
Another person said:
… I have difficulty with my eyes … I've been getting the start of cataracts and I find it hard to even see things and you've got to check your balance all the time on my phone with this stupid Indue thing and half the time I can't see it. But I'm of the old school where I can manage my money better without going through this Indue crap.
… … …
I've had so many hassles with it.
A First Nations woman reported:
Electricity and certain basics—you can't pay your bills with it. I feel like a kid not being able to pay my power bill with BasicsCard and need to call Centrelink to ask them to transfer my money for me.
A single mother forced to survive under compulsory income management outlined how compulsory income management made her life worse. She said:
I survive on cash, everything I own is from garage sales or op shops. Most of my food comes from the farmers market or roadside stalls. I cannot afford to buy new things from shops, nor can I afford a lot of store-bought items. I'm not alone it's the only way single mothers can afford to live and feed their children on what is the lowest paid yet most important job.
We have at this point a decade and a half of evidence that compulsory income management doesn't work.
Since the Howard government first launched the Northern Territory intervention in 2007, we have had community members, academics and parliamentary inquiries repeatedly telling us—over and over and over again—that the government should stop imposing compulsory income management. Associate Professor Elise Klein, OAM, said recently, 'The government and its agencies have never been able to show a credible evidence base to support compulsory income management.' Indeed the peer-reviewed evidence base has continually shown that compulsory income management causes more harm than good. Regardless of peer-reviewed research showing the harms associated with CIM, the government continues to implement CIM regimes, the current bill included, based on ideology. This body of peer-reviewed research demonstrates numerous and inbuilt issues with CIM, including the exacerbation of financial hardship, the experience of stigma and discrimination, and evidence of disproportionate targeting of Indigenous communities.
One example includes research published from the ARC centre of excellence the Life Course Centre, which examined compulsory income management in the Northern Territory. This research showed a correlation with negative impacts on children, including a reduction in birth weight and school attendance. The research implications were significant and drew attention to several possible explanations for the reduction of birth weight, including how income management increased stress on mothers, disrupted existing financial arrangements within households and created confusion as to how to access funds.
There have been independent studies, inquiries into bills, inquiries by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights and academic reports, and still the government isn't listening. We had hoped that this Labor government would listen, yet they are not listening. This regulation that we're seeking to disallow, I remind you, is setting up a framework to allow the expansion and the extension of compulsory income management. This isn't evidence based policy. It's ideology and it's not even Labor ideology. It's ideology that Labor is implementing because they're too scared of the right-wing shock jocks who will attack them if they deviate from Liberal policies.
Of course, at the same time as we've got the Labor government implementing these Liberal policies, they've been failing to act on what would genuinely make a difference. Why is it perceived that people have a problem with managing their income? It's because they haven't got enough. We need to increase income support. The people forced to endure compulsory income management are the people relying on income support payments that are way below the poverty line, so the harm of compulsory income management is compounding the government's failure to lift payment rates.
Witness what happened last night. Not only is the government expanding compulsory income management but, rather than lifting income support rates above the poverty line, we had the paltry increase of $2.85 per day. They manage hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for the ultrawealthy but they only managed to find $2.85 a day for people living below the poverty line. Here's a list of what $2.85 won't buy you. It won't buy you a carton of eggs at $4.60; a two-litre bottle of milk at $3.10; a five-pack of instant noodles at $3.95; a kilo of onions at $3.50; or a kilo of potatoes at $3.80. The increase in the budget is an order of magnitude short of what's needed, but the government has got the audacity to say that people need harsh punitive measures controlling their lives rather than a guaranteed livable income that ensures people aren't living in poverty.
As we debate this disallowance and the impact of compulsory income management on people relying on income support, it's a stark reminder that poverty is a political choice. Of course the Labor Party is desperate to talk about anything other than how they are leaving people behind in poverty. When I asked the question of the Minister for Finance today, I got no answers to my questions as to why we couldn't lift income support above the poverty line. We got lots of words about balance and targeted measures and compassion, but the reality is that this government is leaving people in poverty and is expanding punitive measures that will only help to trap them in that poverty. That's why they are arguing that somehow they need to stick with the stage 3 tax cuts that are going to give $9,000 a year to every one of us in this place—that's $25 a day compared with the $2.85 a day that's been given to people on income support.
The Labor Party are arguing, I understand, that this disallowance shouldn't proceed because it's got unintended consequences. They say that it's going to harm people who have voluntarily gone onto income management, and that, therefore, we should withdraw it. I ask the Labor Party to look at the figures. As of December 2022, there were more than 20,000 people in the Northern Territory on income management. Of those, just under 2,000 were on voluntary income management. The vast majority of people who are going to be impacted by expanding this regime of compulsory income management are those 18,000 people in the Northern Territory—the remainder of those 20,000 people that are on compulsory income management in one form or another.
Let me say very clearly to the Labor Party: if you came to this parliament with a good bill and appropriate regulations which genuinely fulfilled your promise to the people at the last election and which genuinely were implementing voluntary income management, you would find a very different reception from us, but, at this stage, all we have is promises. The Labor Party have shown that their promises aren't really worth the air time, or the paper they're written on. You need more than promises that things are going to get better. What we are told with the bill, which is going to solidify, put in place and expanded compulsory income management, is the minister has no intention of doing that. But that is what that bill allows.
I ask the Labor Party government to listen to those impacted by your policies. If you pay attention to what people with direct experience are saying, you will make better legislation. But if you keep bowling up with centre-right proposals that are clearly designed to garner Liberal support, we will not allow you to maintain the pretence that this is progressive legislation. It's harmful, it's damaging and it's against the principles that you set out in opposition. The choice to bind up voluntary income management with a program that harms 10 times as many people through compulsory income management, despite all of the evidence, is a deliberate and cynical choice by the Labor Party. Voters across the country deserve better.
I put on the record that coalition senators will not be supporting this disallowance motion as moved by Senator Rice. We do support the government's transition in respect of people having to go off the BasicsCard. We've long been saying, even in government, that the BasicsCard is old and clunky technology that is limiting for card holders. It impacts upon the ability for commerce and to engage with merchants. It's very limited in terms of the number of merchants that accept the BasicsCard compared to the cashless debit card, which was based on the Visa card platform. Essentially, it's ubiquitous, and can be used at merchants all across Australia. There are a million merchants that accept Visa in Australia, whereas the BasicsCard has something like 16,000 merchants was very limiting for individuals that were on it. So in that sense we support the individuals on income management that are on the BasicsCard to move on to improved technology.
We are, of course, disappointed with the abolition of the cashless debit card because we know it was having a profound impact upon the communities where it was in operation. For those in the Northern Territory that had already transitioned off the BasicsCard and who went voluntarily onto the cashless debit card, they were experiencing the benefits, but for those in other communities that had the cashless debit card and now no longer have that in place, those communities are different. We've heard from communities across the Northern Goldfields in my home state of Western Australia who have been calling for it to be returned because they know what the community was like before the cashless debit card came in—there was a spate of suicides, a spate of dysfunction within the community—and then the difference when the cashless debit card was put in. It was in operation for a number of years and had a solid impact within the community.
By no means was it a silver bullet—no one says that it was or that it would be—but it was having an impact in places like Wyndham in the East Kimberley. The school there, on a Monday morning, used to have to provide additional food for children for their breakfast program, because kids were going hungry. Come Monday morning, having had not much to eat over the weekend, the square meals in some of these communities was provided by the school. They would come on a Monday morning and the school would have to provide extra food on the Monday compared to Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Because of the cashless debit card, they found that they were not having to provide as much food on a Monday. These communities saw what difference it made in their community and now they're seeing a bit of a return. They're hoping it doesn't go all the back to what it used to be like, but the signs are that it will. I was in Kununurra only a week ago, and you could already see the dysfunction and you could hear from a community disappointed at its abolition. But we do support the fact that people are able to move off the BasicsCard and onto an improved technology.
I want to point out that the government likes to talk about this new SmartCard, this new technology, this new enhanced card, as if it is something new, but the reality is that it's not. It's actually just the cashless debit card, as Senator Rice correctly pointed out. It's just rebadged. It's the cashless debit card with a different colour.
Maybe it's a prettier plastic. That's right, Senator Cadell. It's no different. In fact, if you go onto the Department of Social Service's website—I'm happy to table this if required—there's a comparison between the BasicsCard and the new SmartCard, and it lists differences between the two. It also lists with it the enhanced income management and cashless debit card and SmartCard, and lumps them altogether because they are exactly the same card. They are exactly the same feature. Communities making this transition off the BasicsCard are provided with information about the benefits of the new card, such as product level blocking. That was an enhancement of the cashless debit card that we put in place when we were in government. So, while we're not supporting the disallowance and we're supportive of the government's transition in this regard, we do call on the government to put the cashless debit card back in place and respond to the needs of communities that are calling for the cashless debit card to be reinstated. Do it because it's a matter of life and urgency in these communities. If there's a backflip you can make in relation to an election commitment, granted it was an election commitment to abolish it, it's one that we'll support you to make. It is absolutely necessary. In fact, you should make it available to other communities that would like to see it as well.
Thank you for that contribution, Senator O'Sullivan, and for outlining the opposition's position in relation to this. It is correct to say that the regulation, which is the subject of this proposed disallowance, is part of the government implementing its election commitment to abolish the cashless debit card. It is a necessary step in that process and is utterly consistent with the government's approach to this. At the end of her contribution, Senator Rice finally made it clear what this is actually really about. It's about Greens party partisanship.
The government won't be supporting this motion. The determination that's the subject of the disallowance allows for the establishment and maintenance of existing BasicsCards bank accounts, which are central to the operation of enhanced income management. It allows bank accounts to be created for enhanced IM participants, restrictions to be put in place and the purchase of excluded goods and services. It allows merchants who sell excluded goods and services to be blocked and sets out how money can be transferred between enhanced IM accounts and when those accounts can be closed.
The determination names Indue and the Traditional Credit Union as the entities that can provide accounts for enhanced income management and the terms and conditions for using those accounts. The determination by enabling enhanced income management ensures participants who are previously on the cashless debit card and people who wish to volunteer in previous trial sites and new referrals from the Family Responsibilities Commission in the Cape York region are not issued a BasicsCard. The determination is made by the secretary of the Department of Social Services under section 123SU and subsection 123SV2 of the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999. The act provides that the qualified portion of payments must be paid into a BasicsCard account.
What would disallowance mean? If the Senate voted for this stunt, what would ensue? If the instrument is disallowed, BasicsCard bank accounts will cease to exist, and there will be no legislative authority for the Commonwealth government to pay the qualified portion of payments to individuals subject to enhanced income management. This means payment recipients on both the existing BasicsCard and those who volunteered and transitioned onto the SmartCard would not be able to have payments received into those accounts, some of the most vulnerable people in Australia. The result would be that people would be unable to receive between 50 to 90 per cent of their social security payments, and depending on their specific eligibility for enhanced income management, between 50 to 90 per cent of a person's payment is restricted for spending on excluded goods and excluded services that can cause harm. So, it has an impact on real people—real people.
The truth is, if this was endorsed by the Senate, where would real people be left? People can't eat Greens party memes. Social media posts don't put shoes on kids' feet. Irresponsible posturing can't help families, either. It is utterly astounding, but probably not surprising, because ordinary people are just a backdrop for Greens party stunts these days. It's been put to me that the Greens party might not understand what it is. But I think they do understand. People are just a backdrop for social media posts. People are just a backdrop for stunts and slogans—an utterly callous disregard for the interests of the people they claim to be concerned about: real people with real problems who need the government's support.
I'm happy to engage. I have engaged from time to time with Senator Rice in Senate estimates about the real challenges that exist in this policy area. I'm very happy to continue to do that. There are serious questions there that will continue to be examined year after year, and I suspect there is a lot more work that all of us have to do. But spare us the stunts, particularly when they are so harmful.
The approach on this issue matches completely the approach the Greens party have taken thus far this week on housing, making false claims, like the one that was just repeated over there, that the outcome of the Senate passing the HAFF Bill, the housing bill, would be 1,200 homes in every state. They know that's dishonest, but they continue to say it. Why? Because it looks good on the social media post. The Greens political party's job is not to deal with the substance; it's to try to denigrate the government whatever it costs, whatever it takes, no matter how dishonest the proposition.
There is an enormous gap between what they say and what they do. You only have to look at what they say nationally in here about housing and how much they care about it and what they do when they go back home. It is a complete yawning gulf, because when they go back home they are opposed to housing development. When they go back home there isn't a social housing development that these characters haven't opposed. Say it's transition housing. You'll find Greens party councillors and Mr Chandler-Mather, or whatever his name is, out there opposing those developments every single time. Show me one that's been supported.
What is the government's plan here? The housing bill will support 30,000 homes. Regarding the government's build-to-rent initiative, with tax and depreciation enhanced for build-to-rent projects, the industry says this will build 150,000 homes. And we are expanding eligibility for construction schemes—the National Housing Finance Corporation, an extended guarantee of $2 billion, which means more community housing providers building more homes. And there will be a 15 per cent increase—the biggest increase in our history—to Commonwealth rent assistance. That's what the government's bringing to the table in terms of housing: cooperation with the states, trying to drive more homes at an unprecedented level, right when what's really going on out there is enormous capacity constraints, enormous challenges for the government. And what is the choice in front of the Greens political party this week? It's not about making it better. It's: Will there be 30,000 additional homes or will there not? Are we 30,000 more homes or 30,000 less homes? And, if you are queueing for a rental, as you see so many young people have to do; if you are homeless; if you are in the queue for public housing; if you are finding rent unaffordable, if the Greens political party vote against this proposition this week then you know that the outcome of what they do this week will mean 30,000 less homes for ordinary Australians. It will never trouble you!
Ordinary people can't shelter under slogans. You can't house your kids in a Greens party meme. This is utter hypocrisy. They think all of this this week is clever politics. It's a sort of student politician, Trotskyite, clever politics. This is a manoeuvre where they feel they have to draw at least some line, and they pick a fight with the government. You can imagine the discussion in their party room about how clever this is. But, on this disallowance and on the housing bill, there are real people involved and there are real consequences of what it is that you are proposing to do.
If the Senate turned around, if the coalition didn't do what Senator O'Sullivan has said they will do, if the Senate endorsed the proposition on the disallowance that Senator Rice has moved, there would be profound negative consequences tomorrow for ordinary people who need the government's support. If, this week, the Greens political party doesn't do the right thing on the housing bill, more people will be homeless. If the Greens party doesn't do the right thing on the housing bill, there will be less housing stock, which will have an impact on prices in terms of rent and prices in terms of housing cost, and it will be directly your responsibility for getting in the way of 30,000 homes.
You might not like the government's approach. You might want to argue for more, and, honestly, go your hardest. That's a good thing. I don't mind there being some tension around the place about policy propositions and arguments for more ambition. There's plenty of that within the Labor movement and the community more broadly. But what I do think is utterly reprehensible is when there is a chance to do something for ordinary people and you knock it over and ordinary people suffer, young people suffer, all for the sake of a social media post, a bit of sponsored digital advertising and a warm inner glow for people who are always going to live in comfortable homes.
I rise to speak in very strong support of my colleague's disallowance motion this evening. I think most of us who have spent some time in this chamber will remember that, under the previous government, when Labor campaigned to abolish the cashless debit card last year in this very place we passed a bill to do exactly that. What the Labor government did not make such a fuss over was that the cashless debit card would remain in the Northern Territory and it was simply going to be rebranded and reintroduced as what essentially is the cashless debit card known by another name, and that new name is the SmartCard. The SmartCard will be reintroduced under the same guise of what the cashless debit card did. It's just a different name. It's just a different colour. It's like getting a Christmas present at Christmas time and just re-gifting it, wrapping it up in something different and giving the same gift to people, because that's exactly what this Labor government are doing to black people in the Northern Territory, as Senator Rice has already stated.
This government absolutely want you to believe that they're simply improving the technology, but this is far from the case. It's sneaky. It is downright dangerous that this framework will actually expand the minister's power to roll out compulsory income management yet again into our First Nations communities in new areas in the Territory. And it's not just in the Northern Territory but also in other areas right across this country. It is operation by stealth. It is dishonesty by this Labor government, who made promises. They pledged to voters during the election period. They campaigned to abolish the cashless debit card. Shame on you that you would do that and mislead our people to believe in that. Obviously it doesn't count as fulfilling an election promise when you're just reintroducing it under another name. It's what you call 'different' and 'upgrading of technology'.
This regulation that we are moving to disallow today seeks to establish an actual framework for the SmartCard, and it includes a bank account, terms and conditions and blocked entities. So this regulation feeds into the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management Reform) Bill 2023, which we expect to come to this place in due course. Rest assured that I and Senator Rice, the community affairs committee chair, and the other Greens who sit here in this block will be fighting this bill to make sure people understand that it was the opposition—the coalition—that dug the graves and it's these fellas who are just loading up the bodies and lowering them in. That's what's happening in this country right now to people in the Northern Territory, and it's a disaster. Last night we saw a budget handed down that left some of the most vulnerable people behind. Senator Ayres wants to talk about housing in the Northern Territory and other places and people being left behind. I don't know if he's visited any of the tin shacks in the Northern Territory and other places in northern Australia. In my home state of Western Australia, remote housing is not even up to scratch, so maybe they could start there.
Failure to end compulsory income management is another disappointing move by a so-called progressive government. We hoped for much more when this government came into power, but we were deeply disappointed. Under Labor, 20,000 people are still going to be trapped under the compulsory income management system. We need a voluntary system that genuinely supports people. How hard is it for people to understand that it is support that people need, not restriction and not compulsory management. They're all your words. The principle of self-determination is what is important here. The current Minister for Indigenous Australians stated, as Senator Rice already said, 'Our fundamental principle on the BasicsCard and the cashless debit card is to be on a voluntary basis.' What happened to that? Did it disappear into thin air all of a sudden because we got a bit of pressure? We copped a bit of media flak from the right-wing and from those sitting opposite. The minister said, 'If people want to be on those sorts of income management, it's their decision. It's not up to Labor or anyone else to tell them what to do.' At the moment it's compulsion. That's not Labor's position. That's a pretty big swing. That's a pretty big shift, Labor, that you would now change your minds and put this back in train and put it back in a regulation in a way that is going to harm people. So the opposition and the government team up and pull a swiftie.
While they were in opposition, this government also said 'voluntary basis', and it's something that we over here on the Greens, as Senator Ayres has already pointed out, absolutely support. We welcome a bill that will actually make it voluntary and provide that right across this country on a voluntary basis. We would gladly pass a bill that makes income management voluntary when it is consistent with both the rights and the needs of people on this card, especially First Nations people.
Understand how disproportionately this affects First Nations people in this country. People like Senator O'Sullivan want to talk about being in the Goldfileds and what is happening there. People will disproportionately be affected because we are the welfare recipients. It's the gift that keeps giving in this country to my people. It's the legacy of colonialism in this country that keeps giving, keeps restricting, keeps stripping away rights of First Nations people in this country.
Advocacy groups have been crying out for years. My predecessor, Rachel Siewert, former senator for Western Australia, worked on this for many years here in this chamber, particularly around the Northern Territory Intervention. We have heard all the stories swirling about how when compulsory income management comes in it will solve the crime rate. It will solve all the issues. It will solve the black problem of this nation. It will not.
I can honestly say there are many reports, many inquiries, that have talked about the impacts of compulsory income management, both in this place and in other parliaments across the country. Advocacy groups, charities and policy think tanks have all sat around having the talk-fest that people love to have about this. But when First Nations groups invite governments to sit in the dirt and tell them income management will be harmful, will disproportionately affect our people, they all of a sudden become deaf.
So I will remind the government of the 2018 report from the National Audit Office that found a five-year trial on the cashless debit trial cost the government $170 million, and there was absolutely no evidence provided in that report that the cashless debit card worked. In short, compulsory income management is a bad policy, one of the worst. It is unnecessarily restrictive. It prevents people from buying things they need. The amount of cash that can be withdrawn is still limited. People don't get enough money to get these payments in the first place.
We have heard about the dismal amount that people are getting out of last night's budget but, on top of that, they can't buy items at garage sales, they can't go to op-shops, they can't go on Facebook's marketplace and they can't go to food markets, which all generally sell cheaper products and produce that help people to manage their finances. It's what these programs are supposed to be doing. They're supposed to be helping people. We don't build a system that impacts on people's quality of life and say, 'Uh-oh, well, we're done,' and walk away but this is what is happening when we continue to pursue this pipe dream of compulsory income management, particularly in First Nations communities.
The bill continues the trend of making income management, and in particular compulsory income management, a permanent feature of social services in Australia, without adequate consultation. The legislative effect of the Bill is the opposite of the Albanese Government's pre-election statements that the income management should only occur on a voluntary basis.
This is what advocacy groups say.
Central Land Council has come into opposition, saying:
How many times do we have to say it until the government listens to our voices? Since Income Management was introduced in 2007 as part of the Commonwealth Government's Intervention in the NT we have said no. A different card, a different colour—it's all for the same purpose: to control our lives. We are not guinea pigs. The CLC calls on the government to end all forms of compulsory income management now.
I could stand here all day and read the endless quotes that I have printed out in front of me from individuals and organisations that clearly state why income management is a bad policy. But, for the sake of the chamber, I am going to leave it there and urge members of this place, on both sides of the chamber, who support compulsory income management to read the submissions that have been provided as part of this inquiry that clearly outline and articulate very well the specific harm that will come from compulsory income management and that has already occurred in some of these communities.
It really puzzles me as I stand here tonight in this chamber and begs the question that, in the year of the Voice, why this Labor government is not only walking back its election promises and has done a complete backflip on its position from opposition but also ignoring the clear voices of strong First Nations people who don't want compulsory income management in their communities. It's shameful. You cannot say you're giving the right to self-determination and a voice to parliament to people and, with your other hand, take it away from them. But that's exactly what's happening.
Compulsory income management doesn't help people manage their finances better. In fact, it punishes them for being on welfare payments, pushing them further away from financial freedom. We know that compulsory income management becomes this glossy document that gets wheeled out with social media clips about racist stereotypes, dog-whistling to the racists in this country who want to perpetuate and continue those stereotypes against First Nations people. People need support. They need support to live a dignified life in this country.
Compulsory income management fails to actually address the underlying issue of poverty. That's especially true for people who are living in remote Australia. I urge this Labor government to start listening to the voices of those key First Nations organisations that have called for an end to compulsory income management and to work with those communities to provide housing. There's a start. You want to talk about housing? Start there. Let's have education, employment and other much-needed community based and culturally appropriate programs and services that help to address the issues that are happening in First Nations communities across this country. How about looking at intergenerational poverty, because some people are not just poor in their pockets but poor in their minds? The healing of trauma and the unacceptable rate of mental health and suicide in our communities—how about you start there first instead of continuing down this line of compulsory income management?
I rise with such pride to follow amazing contributions from my colleagues Senator Janet Rice and Senator Dorinda Cox following the long years of former senator Rachel Siewert's opposition to this punitive, insulting and ineffective cashless debit card, which is what we have before us by another name.
The Greens have opposed this paternalistic and, frankly, racist policy ever since it was first introduced in this place as part of the Northern Territory intervention in 2007. As a Queensland senator, it first came to my particular attention when it was rolled out in Hervey Bay and Bundaberg as so-called trial sites and wreaked havoc on so many people's lives, people who were already on the bread line, people who, frankly, because they had so little money to live on, knew exactly how to use it to get by. People who don't have a lot of money are the best money managers that you will find. They have to be because they have no other choice.
I remember meeting with community organisations, including the Say No Seven, a really strong community based group that had formed to support each other to oppose this ridiculous and insulting cashless management approach to them and their lives. I stand in awe of their strength and determination. I'm sure they were celebrating when the pre-election commitment from the now government was made that they would get rid of compulsory income management and that it could be kept as a voluntary scheme: if people wanted to sign up to it, well, that would be up to individuals to choose to do that. I'm sure they were celebrating that. I'm sure so many communities that felt inappropriately controlled, dictated to by their government, welcomed that announcement.
I share their incredulity. But here we are with an instrument—and this is exactly why we are seeking to disallow it—that doesn't dispose of compulsory income management. It doesn't do what you said you were going to do. It actually just preserves this really bad policy and calls it a different name. Please don't do that! I'm sure you're across the evidence of how ineffective and punitive this policy was, and I've got a few really moving quotes from community members and experts that I'll share with the chamber in the course of my contribution, so perhaps if people are new to this debate they will realise that this is in fact really terrible policy.
But here we are again. I thought we'd killed this dreadful beast, and it's been thrown another lifeline by this government, who don't even have the courage to name it for what it is and instead are trying to say, 'Oh, it's just a technology improvement.' You can change the name and the colour of the card, but it's still the same policy. And that is absolutely heartbreaking. It's a betrayal of the pledge that you and your relevant minister made before the election.
Just to give a bit of a history recap, when the cashless debit card was first introduced it applied only to First Nations communities. It was effectively a racist policy. The coalition government, rather than fixing the racism underlying this terrible policy, decided to simply apply it to some white communities as well. So now it wasn't racist policy; it was just bad policy. And now many of those trial sites have been concluded, including the ones in Queensland, and I welcome that. But we still have compulsory income management in many First Nations communities, and the bill we passed earlier and this particular instrument doesn't stop that. So, we're back to just having plain old racist policy that is still bad policy.
I want to honour the words Senator Cox just shared. When we're talking about having a Voice, how dare you continue to have these policies that apply to First Nations communities and claim that it's to try to help people? You can't dictate what people can do with their meagre money and also claim that you're trying to help them. It doesn't work. The evidence is so clear. The cashless debit card doesn't give anyone a job. It doesn't give anyone financial management skills. Moreover, it fails to recognise that they already have financial management skills and, frankly, that they already have the right to decide what they can do with their own money.
That brings me to the point about poverty that Senator Rice spoke so eloquently about in her contribution. Rather than talking about controlling people and what they can do with their meagre amounts of money and where they can spend it and what this card is called and whether you've got to go to a separate special machine and hope the power hasn't gone down or that there hasn't been some other tech fault, so that you can actually pay for your meal, we should be talking about raising the rate of income support so that people aren't having to make these terrible decisions between paying the rent and buying an extra blanket for the bed. It's exactly why this cashless debit card is so ineffective—because the cash economy can be really helpful in making ends meet.
When I spoke to the community in Hervey Bay and Bundy, they said, 'Look, we go to the fruit and veggie markets, and they only take cash.' They certainly don't take what was then the Indue card, because they had to have some special machine. You had to stand in a separate line to use that special machine at some of the outlets that service it, so you already felt like a complete leper, for want of a better word. But often you couldn't use that card at second-hand clothing stores, at fruit and veggie markets, or at the uniform shop at the school to try to get a second-hand skirt or shirt for your kid at school. It was actually inhibiting people's ability to live on the meagre amount of income support that they were getting. It was making things worse. That was the evidence that we heard from the community time and time again. That's why this was such a bad policy and that's why everyone was so pleased when in opposition the Labor Party said they would get rid of this compulsory income management. And yet what we have before us is an instrument that will give the minister the power to roll out compulsory income management in new areas. It effectively allows the cashless debit card to apply nationally in a compulsory sense, despite the promises that were made before the election that that was the end of compulsory income management.
Now, if that was not your intent—good, but change the law so that future governments can't use the same instruments and that same bill that was passed to roll it out in a compulsory sense. We've got no confidence when these instruments are giving you the ability to continue to expand compulsory income management when you said you were going to get rid of it. It is a betrayal of the pledge that you made to people before the last election. I understand that there are more than 20,000 people that are still on compulsory income management. Many of those are in First Nations communities. Most of them are in the Northern Territory. I know there are people in this place that are really passionate about justice for First Nations communities in the territories, and that's what's particularly heartbreaking about this policy—it's the Labor Party thumbing its nose at those within their own ranks who care deeply about this issue.
I've talked about how this has institutionalised paternalism. I've talked about how it doesn't work, how it doesn't create jobs and how it doesn't give people skills to manage money or recognise that they already have those skills. I've talked about how it is incredibly discriminatory. Those are just the views that our party holds and that the community has shared with us, but I want to share with you some views of First Nations organisations and other academics who are also saying what we are saying. Firstly, APO NT, Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory, have said: 'APO NT reminds the government of our support for the repeal of the cashless debit card. We note that while this has allowed some participants to exit income management or voluntarily opt-in to income management, this is not the case for the majority of NT participants who remain on compulsory income management. Therefore, Aboriginal people in the NT have suffered the longest under this regime and this bill and the instrument does nothing to change this.' It continues: 'Despite the Albanese government's stated intentions of consultation or the stated long-term aim that income management is on a voluntary basis, it's important to view the practical and legislative effect. The bill'—and, of course, we're talking about the bill with which this instrument is associated—'continues the trend of making income management and, in particular, compulsory income management a permanent feature of social services in Australia without adequate consultation. The legislative effect of the bill is the opposite of the Albanese government's pre-election statement that income management should only occur on a voluntary basis.'
In a similar vein, the Central Land Council said: 'Our full council recently met at Spotted Tiger. At this meeting our council reiterated that they do not support compulsory income management and they made the statement: how many times do we have to say it until the government listens to our voices? Since income management was introduced in 2007 as part of the Commonwealth government's intervention in the Northern Territory, we have said no. A different card, a different colour. It's all for the same purpose—to control our lives. We are not guinea pigs. The CLC calls on the government to end all forms of compulsory income management now.' It's pretty powerful stuff. Unfortunately, it seems to be falling on deaf ears.
The Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation made similar remarks. They said:
That's better known as the Intervention. They continued:
When it was forced upon our communities they were subjected to the discriminatory and false assumptions that they were alcoholics, family violence offenders and problem gamblers.
As the ALPA's chairman has stated: 'The wellbeing of Indigenous Australians depends on them having self-agency, choice and control over their lives. Hence, the ALPA board believes that, regardless of what design a future income management program takes, participation in the program must always be voluntary.' I'm sensing a bit of a common theme here. We thought the government had listened, but, sadly, the bill and the instrument before us indicate otherwise.
There were some really learned academics that contributed to this policy space. Professor Matthew Gray and Dr J. Robert Bray shared this:
The evaluation data does not provide evidence of income management having improved the outcomes that it was intending to have an impact upon. Indeed, rather than promoting independence and the building of skills and capabilities, New Income Management in the Northern Territory appears to have encouraged increasing dependence upon the welfare system, and the tools which were envisaged as providing them with the skills to manage have rather become instruments which relieve them of the burden of management.
Professor Elise Klein, who Senator Rice has already quoted from, is a well-known expert in this field. She said: 'The government and its agencies have never been able to show a credible evidence base to support compulsory income management. Indeed, the peer reviewed evidence base has continually shown that compulsory income management causes more harm than good. Regardless of peer reviewed research showing the harms associated with compulsory income management, the government continues to implement compulsory income management regimes based on ideology.' Economic Justice Australia said: 'The government has made commitments to ending compulsory income management in recognition that it is not effective. The government's intentions are irrelevant if the legislation it proposes permanently entrenches compulsory income management by another name. The absence of a sunset clause enables compulsory income management to continue indefinitely without any time frame for transitioning to alternatives.'
I don't have much time left, but I do want to share what the Northern Territory Council of Social Service said. They said: 'NTCOSS maintains its position, supported by an evaluation into income management, that compulsory income management is a failed policy that unfairly targets and negatively impacts Aboriginal people, and it has not delivered the intended outcomes. NTCOSS notes the intention of the Commonwealth to undertake extensive consultation with communities, First Nations leaders and other stakeholders on the long-term future of the regimes, but, as previously stated, NTCOSS supports calls from organisations, including the Tangentyere Council, that withdrawing compulsory income management must be a considered process, designed and informed by consultations with ACCHOs and community leaders. However, with extensive feedback and evidence from Aboriginal communities, leaders and organisations clearly and compellingly articulating that compulsory income management does not work, the need for consultation has to be addressed.'
The evidence is perfectly clear. This is precisely why this instrument must be disallowed, and I'm very proud that the Greens will continue to push for that.