Cashless Debit Card

December 08, 2020

What this bill will do is make permanent the cashless debit card trial sites of Ceduna, in South Australia, an area that I've visited for this; the East Kimberley; the Goldfields, which is Kalgoorlie, Coolgardie and surrounding areas; and the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region in Queensland. It makes those trial sites permanent, irrespective of the views of locals. The bill will permanently replace the BasicsCard with the cashless debit card in the Northern Territory, and it will replace the BasicsCard with the cashless debit card in Queensland's Cape York and extend income management in Cape York until the end of next year. This legislation will also make it easier for a person to volunteer to be placed on a cashless debit card and allow a person to remain on a cashless debit card when they move outside one of the prescribed areas. It will enable the secretary to review and revoke cashless debit card exit provisions if the secretary no longer believes a person who exited the card is reasonably and responsibly managing their own affairs.

The cashless debit card trial sites in Ceduna, the East Kimberley, the Goldfields and the Bundaberg-Hervey Bay region were just that, trial sites. The reason governments have trials or pilots for some policy initiatives is to review how they work and see whether they are worth refining and rolling out further or should be pulled back because they're not working. Remember, the residents in these areas were actually conscripted guinea pigs when it comes to this government policy. But, with these trials, the Morrison government was not interested in finding out whether or not they were actually successful. It took longstanding criticisms about the lack of evidence available on the trials before the Morrison government eventually committed to an independent review. But before even receiving the review, the Morrison government announced that the trials would be made permanent. The review conducted by the University of South Australia concluded:

We have shown the CDC  to have had no substantive effect on the available measures for the targeted behaviours of gambling or intoxicant abuse.

I stress that: 'no substantive effect'. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists said in their submission to the Senate inquiry:

… we are concerned at the continued pursuit of this policy against the advice of addiction specialists.

…   …   …

More than 50 years of psychological research shows that positive reinforcement strategies are more effective than punitive strategies in bringing about behavioural change.

It's almost like society has moved on a little bit since they wrote the Old Testament a couple of thousand years ago!

There's a clear pattern with this Morrison government, and we've seen it time and time again. Almost every policy that Prime Minister Morrison tries to ram through this parliament—I think that, fundamentally, he'd rather just run things through without that nasty inconvenience of democracy—is against the recognised expert advice. Prime Minister Morrison proudly gets out his stamp and stamps it on every bill: 'Ignored my experts.' That's what he stamps on the document.

Just this week, we've seen the Family Court merger bills being rammed through the House—bills that will abolish the specialist standalone Family Court of Australia. Liberal and National Party members were the only ones who voted for it. Not Labor, not the Greens and not one crossbencher. You managed to unite Bob Katter and the member for Mayo on a unity ticket! Not one crossbencher voted for it. Do you know why? Because all of the expert evidence says it is a really bad idea—hundreds of stakeholder groups. Still, the Prime Minister got out his stamp that said: 'Ignored my experts.' He's proud of it.

Today, the House has debated a bill that effectively returns unemployment payments to the old Newstart rate after 31 March next year. Who thinks that's a good idea? Well, not the Australian Council of Social Services, not the Council on the Ageing Australia, not the Australian Human Rights Commission, nor a range of other community sector organisations, peak bodies and groups representing social security payment recipients and economists, who all made submissions to the Senate committee inquiry raising concerns. Even the Australian Retailers Association, not exactly a cabal of lefties, I would suggest, has said:

Providing a three-month extension is a Band-Aid on a social and economic wound that we need to address as a nation.

Again, the Morrison government has not listened to the experts, but has pigheadedly followed its own ideology to the detriment of all Australians. Prime Minister Morrison again pulled out his stamp that he sits up there next to his 'World's Cruellest Immigration Minister Trophy' and, bam, again puts on the stamp: 'Ignored my experts.'

This bill in front of the chamber is no different. Again, the Morrison government is actually ignoring its own independent analysis. In fact, it didn't even bother reading the report before committing to making the current trial sites permanent. Even worse than not listening to the experts is not listening to the First Nations communities who will be impacted the hardest by this legislation. Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory told a Senate inquiry into the bill:

… our perspective on the cashless debit card, from the enormous consultation we’ve had with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, is that they don’t want it, hence why we’re calling on the Senate not to support this bill.

First Nations communities, the people who have the oldest words on earth, should have words that are listened to by this parliament. They should be listened to. 'Nothing about us without us.' That's a pretty good rule of thumb when it comes to First Nations people.

This legislation will disproportionately impact First Nations people: 68 per cent of the people who will be forced onto the cashless debit card are First Nations Australians. That's 23,000 out of the 34,000 people impacted by this card who will be Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people, and 18,000 people will be in the Northern Territory. We suspected what the Morrison government's real agenda was, but this bill has finally exposed that this government's real agenda is a big, permanent rollout of the card. With all of the problems associated with it that have been detailed by previous speakers, one that I would particularly touch on was called out by the member for Makin. I think he belled the cat: if you remove people's ability to have pride when they go about living their life, you crush their souls. For a government that professes to care about mental health, that is a dangerous road to go down. Labor is opposed to income management programs that may catch and disempower the wrong people, such as this type of broad-based, compulsory income management program.

But some income management programs can be justified—programs that are targeted. In Cape York, the local community is applying income management based on individual circumstances, and it supports the families and monitors the outcomes. That type of income management is appropriate where community support continues as that rule, 'Nothing about us without us.' This rule is being applied in the Cape York area. The Cape York Welfare Reform project commenced more than 12 years ago. It arose from a partnership with four Cape York communities, the Queensland government, the Commonwealth government and the Cape York Institute. The Cape York Welfare Reform was grounded by the establishment of the Family Responsibilities Commission, the FRC, which was legislated by Premier Anna Bligh back in 2008.

The FRC is an example of Indigenous empowerment. Its structure was designed by Cape York people for Cape York families. It shifts power and responsibility from government, distant government—remember, Brisbane is as close to Cape York as it is to Melbourne—to the community itself, to respected local elders and leaders acting as local family responsibility commissioners. The FRC commissioners have the power to call people in and conference with them if they fail to send their children to school or if they've been the subject of a child safety notice, or if they've committed an offence or failed to pay their rent. Income management orders are part of a number of measures available under the conditional welfare approach in the Cape York model, but only after restorative justice conferencing from local FRC commissioners. Clients are also linked to extra support services to motivate and build capacity for change—'Nothing about us without us.'

Under the Cape York model, income management is not a blanket restriction imposed on all, and it is not permanent. It has the hope of rehabilitation and change. The order can be removed by the local FRC commissioners where a person has shown that they've taken steps to change and to fulfil their obligations—the ability to have pride and a job et cetera, all of those things that humans are built for. There is overwhelming community support for the Cape York Welfare Reform: 'Nothing about us without us.' Cape York communities do not want distant governments deciding their futures for them. When I say 'distant governments' I mean Brisbane not Canberra.

The Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory, in their submission to the Senate inquiry, said the bill:

… is expensive, paternalistic, not based on the evidence and is a top-down blanket approach that will not address the real needs, or complex systemic issues, impacting Aboriginal people living in the Northern Territory (NT).

They went on to say:

… compulsory and conditional income management is a vehicle for disempowerment and continuing the stigmatisation and trauma of Aboriginal people.

The St Vincent de Paul Society, in its submission to the committee, talked about its concern of unintended consequences and circumvention behaviours that may arise when people with serious addiction are left without adequate support. They said that cutting off access to cash may cause addicts to seek out other means to access alcohol and drugs, often bringing detrimental consequences to those around them. The National Council of Single Mothers and their Children told the Senate committee:

The distress, shame and hardship it causes to people (disproportionately, women, mothers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in all current trial sites) is based on a false assumption that stripping people of autonomy and dignity will solve serious health and social issues.

We know that this bill is just the beginning of a brutal government's plan to roll out the cashless debit card. We know some in the Morrison government have been calling for a national rollout. We know the Morrison government has established a technology working group with the big banks, the supermarkets and Australia Post, and a few other people connected with the government, to look at how this can be rolled out through the payment system. All of the actions of this government point toward a national rollout. That would allow Prime Minister Morrison to track and control what people on social security do with their money, money that they as Australian citizens are entitled to. Pensioners are already scared that they could be compulsorily put on a cashless debit card. What will the government do then? Will they roll the program out to those receiving franking credits? Just kidding.

Obviously Labor does not support this bill. There is absolutely zero evidence that the trials have been successful. This bill is punitive. This bill racially discriminates. It will detrimentally affect the most disenfranchised people in Australia. It is a backward policy that harks of the Howard government's so-called Intervention in the Northern Territory that was a whitefella failure, irrespective of whatever motivated it. This bill won't create a single job. It won't improve anyone's living conditions and it won't close the gap. Labor does not support this bill but it does support the amendment, and I support the amendment moved by the shadow minister.