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Community Affairs Legislation Committee
28/10/2021
Estimates
SOCIAL SERVICES PORTFOLIO

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SOCIAL SERVICES PORTFOLIO

In Attendance

Senator Ruston, Minister for Families and Social Services, Minister for Women's Safety

Senator Reynolds, Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Minister for Government Services

Department of Social Services

Executive

Mr Ray Griggs AO, CSC, Secretary

Mr Adrian Hudson, Chief Operating Officer

Mr Matt Flavel, Deputy Secretary, Social Security

Ms Liz Hefren-Webb, Deputy Secretary, Families and Communities

Mr Luke Mansfield, Acting Deputy Secretary, Disability and Carers

Cross Outcomes

Mr Adrian Hudson, Chief Operating Officer

Mr Matt Flavel, Deputy Secretary, Social Security

Mr Andrew Harvey, Chief Finance Officer and Group Manager, Finance

Mr Bruce Taloni, Group Manager, Portfolio Coordination

Mr Richard Baumgart, Acting Group Manager, Corporate Services

Ms Bronwyn Worswick, Chief Counsel, Legal Services

Ms Melissa Evans, Branch Manager, Communication Services

Mr Mark Le Dieu, Group Manager, Community» Grants Hub

Outcome 1 - Social Security

Mr Matt Flavel, Deputy Secretary

Mr Troy Sloan, Group Manager, Pensions, Housing and Homelessness

Ms Jo Evans, Group Manager, Participation and Family Payments

Ms Flora Carapellucci, Group Manager, Data and Evaluation

Mr Andrew Seebach, Branch Manager, Carers and Disability Payments

Ms Kath Paton, Branch Manager, Participation and Supplementary Payments

Mr Alexander Abel, Branch Manager, Study and Compliance

Ms Agnieszka Nelson, Acting Branch Manager, Families and Payment Support

Ms Caitlin Delaney, Branch Manager, Older Australians

Ms Julia Chandra, Branch Manager, Housing and Homelessness Policy

Outcome 2 - Families and Communities

Ms Liz Hefren-Webb, Deputy Secretary

Ms Mary McLarty, Group Manager, Communities

Ms Emma Kate McGuirk, Group Manager, Redress

Mr Shane Bennett, Group Manager, Women's Safety

Ms Helen McDevitt, Group Manager, Families

Ms Greta Doherty, Branch Manager, Women's Safety Policy

Mr Tim Crosier, Branch Manager, Children's Policy

Mr Patrick Boneham, Branch Manager, Cashless Welfare Policy and Technology

Outcome 3 - Disability and Carers

Mr Luke Mansfield, Acting Deputy Secretary

Mr Peter Broadhead, Group Manager, National Disability Insurance Scheme Participants and Performance

Ms Catherine Reid, Acting Group Manager, Strategic Policy, Market and Safeguards

Ms Tarja Saastamoinen, Acting Group Manager, Disability Employment and Carers

Ms Karen Pickering, Group Manager, Disability Strategy

Ms Julie Yeend, Branch Manager, National Disability Insurance Scheme Governance, Policy and Legislation

Outcome 4 - Housing

Mr Matt Flavel, Deputy Secretary, Social Security

Mr Troy Sloan, Group Manager, Pensions, Housing and Homelessness

Ms Julia Chandra, Branch Manager, Housing and Homelessness Policy

Mr Rob Stedman, Branch Manager, Housing and Homelessness Program Delivery

Services Australia

Ms Rebecca Skinner, Chief Executive Officer

Mr Grant Tidswell PSM, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Strategy and Performance [by video link]

Ms Lisa Carmody, General Manager, Enterprise Strategy and Governance

Mr Charles McHardie AM, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Transformation Projects

Ms Liz Bundy, General Manager, Enhanced myGov

Ms Sandy Mamo, Acting Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Customer Service Delivery [by video link]

Mr Alastair Glass, General Manager, Operations Management

Mr Brenton Halliday, General Manager, Child Support, Indigenous and Tailored Services

Mr Russell Egan, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Customer Service Design [by audio link]

Ms Kirsty Faichney, General Manager, Families, Children and Targeted Services Division

Mr Jarrod Howard, General Manager, Health Programs

Ms Laura Gannon, General Manager, Customer Design and Older Australians

Mr Brendan Moon, General Manager, Working Age Programs

Dr Maria Milosavljevic, General Manager, Cyber Services

Ms Michelle Lees, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Vaccination Certificate Delivery Taskforce

Mr Chris Birrer, Acting Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Payments and Integrity

Mr Robert McKellar, National Manager, Integrity Strategy and Engagement

Mr Robert Higgins, General Manager, Debt Program, Appeals and Reviews

Mr Anthony Seebach, General Manager, Fraud Control and Investigations

Ms Annette Musolino, Chief Operating Officer, Corporate Enabling

Ms Angela Diamond, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Financial Officer Division

Ms Lily Viertmann, General Manager, Corporate and Cross Government Services

Mr Michael Nelson, General Manager, People Division

Ms Kathryn Haigh, Chief Counsel, Legal Services

Mr Matt Flavel, Deputy Secretary, Social Security

National Disability Insurance Agency

Mr Martin Hoffman, Chief Executive Officer [by video link]

Dr Lisa Studdert, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Markets, Government and Engagement

Mr Scott McNaughton, Group Manager, National Delivery [by video link]

Ms Sarah Johnson, Scheme Actuary, Office of Scheme Actuary

N ational Disability Insurance Scheme Quality and Safeguards Commission

Ms Samantha Taylor PSM, Acting Commissioner [by video link]

Ms Melissa Clements, Acting Registrar

Mr Jason Stott, Chief Operating Officer

Committee met at 9:00

ACTING CHAIR ( Senator Dea n Smith ): I declare open this meeting of the Senate «Community» «Affairs» Legislation Committee. The Senate has referred to the committee the particulars of proposed expenditure for 2021-22 and related documents for the health portfolio and the social services portfolio. The committee may also examine the annual reports of the departments and agencies appearing before it. The committee would appreciate it if senators could provide any written questions on notice to the secretariat by Thursday 4 November 2021. The committee has fixed Thursday 16 December 2021 as the date for the return of answers to questions taken on notice. Under standing order 26 the committee must take all evidence in public session. This includes answers to questions on notice. Officers and senators are familiar with the rules of the Senate governing estimates hearings. If you need assistance, the secretariat is available to access a copy of the rules.

I draw the attention of witnesses to an order of the Senate of 13 May 2009 specifying the process for which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised, which will be incorporated in the Hansard.

The extract read as follows—

Public interest immunity claims

That the Senate—

(a) notes that ministers and officers have continued to refuse to provide information to Senate committees without properly raising claims of public interest immunity as required by past resolutions of the Senate;

(b) reaffirms the principles of past resolutions of the Senate by this order, to provide ministers and officers with guidance as to the proper process for raising public interest immunity claims and to consolidate those past resolutions of the Senate;

(c) orders that the following operate as an order of continuing effect:

(1) If:

(a) a Senate committee, or a senator in the course of proceedings of a committee, requests information or a document from a Commonwealth department or agency; and

(b) an officer of the department or agency to whom the request is directed believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the officer shall state to the committee the ground on which the officer believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, and specify the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(2) If, after receiving the officer's statement under paragraph (1), the committee or the senator requests the officer to refer the question of the disclosure of the information or document to a responsible minister, the officer shall refer that question to the minister.

(3) If a minister, on a reference by an officer under paragraph (2), concludes that it would not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the minister shall provide to the committee a statement of the ground for that conclusion, specifying the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(4) A minister, in a statement under paragraph (3), shall indicate whether the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee could result only from the publication of the information or document by the committee, or could result, equally or in part, from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee as in camera evidence.

(5) If, after considering a statement by a minister provided under paragraph (3), the committee concludes that the statement does not sufficiently justify the withholding of the information or document from the committee, the committee shall report the matter to the Senate.

(6) A decision by a committee not to report a matter to the Senate under paragraph (5) does not prevent a senator from raising the matter in the Senate in accordance with other procedures of the Senate.

(7) A statement that information or a document is not published, or is confidential, or consists of advice to, or internal deliberations of, government, in the absence of specification of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document, is not a statement that meets the requirements of paragraph (1) or (4).

(8) If a minister concludes that a statement under paragraph (3) should more appropriately be made by the head of an agency, by reason of the independence of that agency from ministerial direction or control, the minister shall inform the committee of that conclusion and the reason for that conclusion, and shall refer the matter to the head of the agency, who shall then be required to provide a statement in accordance with paragraph (3).

(d) requires the Procedure Committee to review the operation of this order and report to the Senate by 20 August 2009.

( 13 May 2009 J.1941)

(Extract, Senate Standing Orders)

CHAIR: Witnesses are specifically reminded that the statement that information or a document is confidential or consists of advice to government is not a statement that meets the requirements of the 2009 order. Instead, witnesses are required to provide some specific indication of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

The committee's proceedings today will examine the social services portfolio, beginning with the Department of Social Services whole-of-portfolio corporate matters. The hearing will then follow the order set out in the circulated program. The committee's scheduled break times are also listed in the program or as required.

Senators, departments and agencies have been provided with advice on the arrangements in place to ensure the budget estimates hearings are conducted in a safe manner. The committee appreciates the cooperation of all attendees in adhering to these arrangements. I now welcome the Minister for Families and Social Services and Minister for Women's Safety, Senator the Hon. Anne Ruston. I also welcome the secretary of the Department of Social Services, Mr Ray Griggs. Minister or Secretary, would you like to begin with any opening remarks?

Senator Ruston: No, thank you, Chair.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you very much. Senator Green.

Senator GREEN: Can I start by welcoming Mr Griggs. Thank you for the response to my letter—the correspondence that I sent. I assume those documents have been given to the whole committee. So that's helpful—we won't have to ask a lot of questions today. I just wanted to start with understanding ministerial responsibilities for the vaccine certificates. I just want to understand how that works. It'll help with questions later on. Services Australia is the lead agency on the domestic digital vaccine certificate, is that right—in terms of organisational rankings?

Mr Griggs : That's correct, Senator.

Senator GREEN: And how does that interact with the Digital Transformation Agency? Are they providing advice or is there a cross-portfolio working group?

Mr Griggs : I'm not sure of the exact detail. I think when Ms Skinner comes on later today she would be able to give you that detail. But the DTA obviously has a whole of government approach to digital matters. That's why it exists. As to the exact level of their involvement, I think Ms Skinner can probably articulate better.

Senator GREEN: Maybe you can assist, then, Minister, just on the responsibilities. We asked DTA in estimates on Monday night a couple of questions about the project, and I just want to confirm—the minister responsible for overseeing the vaccine certificates is Minister Robert. Is that right?

Senator Ruston: You're probably asking the wrong minister—

Senator GREEN: No, this is to assist to understand where to ask questions today.

Senator Ruston: Yes. The issue in relation to the vaccine certificates doesn't sit with me as the minister, so it's possibly Minister Reynolds. But I might ask the officials that are watching to maybe get some clarity around the questions that you're asking and get that back to us as soon as possible to make sure you do have that information so you know where to ask the questions.

Senator GREEN: Sure. I'm happy to come back to that if there is some more information that'll assist those questions. On another topic, I just wanted to ask some questions about Mr Tidswell, the deputy CEO of Services Australia. Is there anyone here who can answer those questions?

Mr Griggs : Again, I think that is very much a matter for the CEO of Services Australia when she comes on later, Senator.

Senator GREEN: Sure. This is cross-portfolio and I've got some questions about employment contracts.

Mr Griggs : The trouble is that there are two cross-portfolio sections in today. There's the Services Australia cross-portfolio and there's ours. So—

Senator GREEN: I understand.

Mr Griggs : I was a little confused—

Senator GREEN: I'm just trying to include as many—address anything that's not portfolio related in cross-portfolio. But that's alright.

Senator Ruston: I was going to say, Senator Green, if you want to ask the question and if it doesn't fit with us then clearly it'll sit in the other place.

Senator GREEN: No, I'm happy to wait for the right people to be in the room. Just on the letter that I did send you, Mr Griggs—and, again, thank you for all of that information—in addition to the Cashless Welfare Engagement and Support Services Branch, would it also be possible for you to provide the structure and cost of the Cashless Welfare Policy and Technology Branch?

Mr Griggs : Yes, of course.

Senator GREEN: Can you provide that to the committee today?

Mr Griggs : I will attempt to do that.

Senator GREEN: It's a long day. Thank you—that would be helpful. It means we've essentially got one number but not the other. What is the annual cost of the Cashless Welfare Policy and Technology Branch?

Mr Griggs : I'll get the relevant deputy secretary to come forward.

Ms Hefren-Webb : Unfortunately, I don't have the costs of that branch with me, but I can get it for you quickly, I'm sure.

Senator GREEN: Thank you. How many people are employed in the branch?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Again, I can provide that shortly. I'm sure it won't take long to compile that information.

Senator GREEN: Okay. Do you have a ballpark figure?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I think my ballpark is that it's slightly larger—the technology branch is slightly larger than the engagement branch.

Senator GREEN: Okay. I'm interested to understand, if you can provide those numbers to me, how many of those employees are APS employees and how many are contractors. I'm after the total number of staff and then the breakdown of the two.

Mr Griggs : Senator, are you seeking the same format for that? In the letter—

Senator GREEN: Yes. So we've asked you for—and you've been very helpful in providing that information about one branch—

Mr Griggs : So if we replicate that—

Senator GREEN: but we haven't extended those questions. So it's essentially the same questions around the branch.

Mr Griggs : Yes, we can do that.

Senator GREEN: Are there any other units in the department that are solely focused on the cashless debit card?

Ms Hefren-Webb : No, there aren't.

Senator GREEN: Are you able to provide the total cost of administering the Cashless Debit Card Program taking into account the two branches together and the departmental cost—corporate accommodation services, senior executives and communications?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Certainly we'll be able to provide the staffing costs for the two branches and items like travel et cetera. I'm not sure whether we would have a corporate overhead contribution, but we could have a look.

Mr Griggs : We'd need to do an apportionment, Senator. We'd have to do that. That'll take a bit of time.

Senator GREEN: Yes. It is hard to separate it, but there would be departmental costs involved?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Absolutely. There'll be an overhead, but I don't know what it would be. So I just need to work with our CFO to calculate the figure.

Senator GREEN: Okay, if we can get that figure as well. I'd like to know what the departmental costs of the Cashless Debit Card Program have been since its inception—so not just this financial year but going back since it was created or since the legislation was proposed—the regulations were proposed.

Ms Hefren-Webb : I'm not sure we'll get that to you today, but we can provide that on notice.

Senator GREEN: Understandable—thank you. Just going to—and I know we've got Senator McCarthy on the line too, Chair. I think she was keen to ask some questions as well. I'll just make sure that she's ready to go when I'm finished. I'll just make sure these are going to the right for portfolio—apologies. If Senator McCarthy's got some questions, I think they probably will lead in from those that I've just asked.

ACTING CHAIR: I'm going to go to Senator McCarthy and then I'm going to Senator Rice.

Senator McCARTHY: Good morning. Thank you for the information that you provided in relation to our requests on the cashless debit card. You have provided information that the communication and advertising expenditure on the CDC since the program commenced has been over $703,000. What does this figure include?

Ms He fren-Webb : Senator, that figure includes advertising costs—so the purchase of radio ads, newspaper ads, et cetera. I might ask, if our communications team are here, whether they want to give any more detail.

Senator McCARTHY: That would be good, thank you.

Mr Hudson : Good morning. As Ms Hefren-Webb indicated, the advertising costs include radio costs. That's both in English language and also some translated language. It also includes—

Senator McCARTHY: Do you know what that language—what the language translations are?

Mr Hudson : Yes, I can provide that detail. In terms of the radio ads, there are 15 different Indigenous languages that we translated into. I could provide the full list on notice if that would be helpful.

Senator McCARTHY: Yes, please.

Mr Hudson : So the radio advertising was 15 different «community» languages.

Senator McCARTHY: And where were they?

Mr Hudson : They were, looking at the list of languages—and I'm not familiar with all of them—predominantly Northern Territory by the looks of it.

Senator McCARTHY: So we're talking about the radio ads. Can you break down just where the radio ads took place—what stations and what states?

Mr Hudson : Yes, I could provide that specific detail on notice, Senator, if that's helpful, across all of the 15 languages and where those—which stations they were played on. We probably have indicative dates as well, I suspect, which I could provide on notice.

Senator McCARTHY: Alright. You don't have those with you now?

Mr Hudson : No, I don't have that detail, I'm afraid, Senator.

Senator McCARTHY: Okay. Keep going.

Mr Hudson : In addition to that, there would have been print advertising in newspapers. We also produced fact sheets—again, some of those in English and some translated into language. There were 14 fact sheets translated to language. They were the predominant advertising side of things that go into that $703,000 figure you mentioned.

Senator McCARTHY: Was there any television? That's print and radio.

Mr Hudson : No, so we only—we didn't have television advertising for those; just the print and radio.

Senator McCARTHY: Any social media?

Mr Hudson : Not that I can see on my list.

Senator McCARTHY: Would you like to take—

Ms Hef ren-Webb : Senator, there may have been social media activity, but I don't think it would count in the paid advertising figure, that's all.

Mr Hudson : Correct. So if there were other forms of promotion there that weren't paid for then that won't be included in that $703,000 figure, which is why that won't be on my list.

Senator McCARTHY: Okay. Could you just check there and come back to us if there is extra information around that?

Mr Hudson : Yes. So if there's—

Senator McCARTHY: Is the total—

Mr Hudson : I'm sorry, Senator—I was just going to say that if the department did organise social media I can provide that information separately, but it's just not on my list of paid departmental expenditure.

Senator McCARTHY: Okay. Is that the total in marketing, research, communications and advertising expenditure? Are there any other elements that have not been included?

Mr Hudson : Senator, the figure that we provided you was the advertising—the paid advertising expenses. That's the print and radio advertising expenditure. There would be other elements that fall outside of that. That's not paid advertising, though.

Senator McCARTHY: Okay, so could you just provide any information on those other elements that fall outside of it?

Mr Hudson : Yes. I can provide that on notice with the other information you've asked for, if that's helpful.

Senator McCARTHY: What can you provide? Is it around marketing and research?

Mr Hudson : It's fairly broad in terms of the information I have, Senator. I mentioned fact sheets earlier, which we've done as part of the process. There are information sheets and posters, for example, that we might display in a Services Australia shopfronts; and brochures and those sorts of things. They're what we would describe, I guess, as below the line communication products—not paid advertising but more information products that people have available to them, either provided directly to the individual or accessible through, for example, a Services Australia shopfront or a Services Australia agency, for example.

Senator McCARTHY: And how much would the cost be towards communicating and advertising that which falls outside of the $703,000?

Mr Hudson : In terms of, for example, the printing of fact sheets, posters and brochures, the figure I have for that is $36,363. So you're talking a substantially smaller amount of money for those sorts of information products.

Senator McCARTHY: Just going back to the social media, there are also YouTube videos. Are you aware of that?

Mr Hudson : I'm not aware of YouTube specifically, Senator. I am aware that in Services Australia shopfronts there was some video information playing on the TVs we have in Services Australia shopfronts, but I'm not aware whether or not that extended specifically to YouTube.

Senator McCARTHY: Would you please take that question on notice, because I do understand there is YouTube and I'd be interested to know if that was paid for by the department.

Mr Hudson : Yes, I'll take that on notice.

Senator McCARTHY: With the Services Australia shopfronts, where are you talking about? Are these new shopfronts or existing ones?

Mr Hudson : This would be the existing network of Services Australia offices, Senator.

Senator McCARTHY: Okay, so not specifically set up for the cashless debit card?

Mr Hudson : No, this would be the existing network of shopfronts we have in Services Australia.

Senator McCARTHY: How many of those are there again? Can you just remind me?

Mr Hudson : I don't know specifically how many Services Australia shopfronts there are nationwide. Services Australia would be able to answer that question. A rough order of magnitude there's 300 possibly plus. But my recollection of that detail is somewhat dated. Services Australia would be able to provide exact numbers of the number of shopfronts they have around the country, noting that there will also be Services Australia agency shopfronts as well, where services are provided on their behalf in other locations.

Senator McC ARTHY: How much has been spent on advertising and promotion in the Northern Territory since the cashless debit card was rolled out there?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Senator, with the advertising materials it's difficult to split between Northern Territory and—because some of the developmental work was undertaken for both Cape York and Northern Territory, so we could probably get you a figure on the purchase of radio ads and time. But some of those costs will relate to development of materials that we would need to attribute somehow.

Senator McCARTHY: Obviously, there are numerous newspaper ads up here, Ms Hefren-Webb. You have no figures with you right now as to how much that would cost?

Ms Hefren-Webb : If Mr Hudson doesn't have that bit now, no—I don't have that. But we can provide that on notice for you.

Senator McCARTHY: If you could. We'll obviously be going through this throughout the day, so it would be important for any of your staff listening to provide that information today. Could I also ask them how much it is for every one of the 1,104 people who have been transferred onto the cashless debit card?

Mr Hudson : We wouldn't break down the costs at a participant level like that. So, with something like advertising, for example, you would be advertising to reach a very broad audience in terms of the particular cohort who you are trying to communicate with, and whether that's one person or a million people, just for the sake of numbers, your advertising cost is about reaching a cohort. One of the important things with a program like this is making sure we communicate with people so they understand what the program and service is so that, where they are participating, they have as good an understanding as possible about the program.

Sen ator McCARTHY: So if you're taking out half a page in the Northern Territory news, for example, that would be around, say, $500 or $1,000?

Mr Hudson : I'm not sure what the exact cost of a single advertisement would be, Senator.

Senator McCARTHY: What other areas of the Northern Territory are you advertising in?

Mr Hudson : As I indicated earlier, both print and radio—and I've taken on notice the specific radio stations and languages for which we have translated—in the Northern Territory we translated the radio ads into 15 Indigenous languages.

Senator McCARTHY: And have you employed Indigenous people to participate in your advertising?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Senator, certainly some of the video materials employed Indigenous participants and Indigenous creative development. Again, I think we'd have to get you more detail on notice. Is that what you're asking about—whether we've used Indigenous creative—

Senator McCARTHY: Yes, I was just curious as to how you're actually doing it. So how many Indigenous people would you have employed to do that?

Ms Hefren-Webb : We'll have to take that on notice, Senator.

Senator McCARTHY: So you can't tell me right now how much you've spent in the Northern Territory on advertising and you're going to take that question on notice, although this is something I've consistently asked even previously during the Senate inquiry. This money could have been used to help the «community» more broadly, couldn't it?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Senator, this is the implementation of a decision and of the legislation as it stands. We think it's important that people in the «community» have information to help them inform their choice. As you know, the legislation that passed enabled people to volunteer to transition to the cashless debit card. So people needed information and knowledge to help inform their decision around that.

Senator McCARTHY: Going back to the newspaper ads, I would like a breakdown of how many ads have been placed. There seem to be at least two or three a week, but I could be corrected on that. I certainly am aware of radio. I would like confirmation on TV. They definitely have established a YouTube video around the cashless debit card and informing. I'd like to know where and how many times that ad has gone in terms of the advertising the cashless debit card. Are any «community» or health organisations being sponsored or is the government placing paid ads in «community» newspapers or at «community» facilities, sporting grounds or even with local Northern Territory councils?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I'm not aware of any paid activity with «community» organisations, but we will take that on notice. I have just been informed that the YouTube videos apparently are playing on the Services Australia YouTube channel. Is that what you were referring to when you were talking about the YouTube videos?

Senator McCARTHY: There's a YouTube video that shows and talks about the cashless debit card. Whether it's played on your channel or not, you still have to put it together. I am interested to know how much it cost.

Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes.

Senator McCARTHY: So you've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to persuade people in the Northern Territory in particular, because I imagine that, of the $703,000, that's a lot of money. You've tried to persuade people in the Northern Territory to go on it. You've got around or just over 1,104 people who have taken it up in the NT. Are you disappointed with the low uptake?

Mr Hudson : Senator, just to clarify those advertising figures, that's for the period 1 July 2015 through to 30 September 2021, and that covers all seven sites. That's not limited just to the Northern Territory. So, just to provide that context, those advertising figures we provided are for the entire program over its life.

Senator McCARTHY: So you can talk about $703,000 from 2015, but you can't break down from the beginning of this year to now how much of that has gone to the Northern Territory? Can I just ask why it is that you're just not contacting the 20,000 people who are on the BasicsCard directly instead of having to spend extraordinary amounts of money advertising?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Senator, there has been a mailout to people who are currently utilising the BasicsCard. There's also a process by which we've undertaken «community» visits. They've obviously had to cease during the pandemic. But before that, when there was the opportunity to provide information, hold «community» meetings, et cetera, Services Australia in their remote visits to communities would provide people with information and offer them the opportunity to transition. So we have directly engaged with the people participating in the BasicsCard as well.

Senator McCARTHY: How much have those engagements cost—

Senator Ruston: Senator McCarthy, can I just maybe seek to put some clarification here. What we were referring to with the $703,000—it is not just about ads. It's about communication. Also, we're not trying to persuade people in the Northern Territory to go onto the cashless debit card. What we want to do is to make sure that people in the Northern Territory who are on the BasicsCard have the information available to them to understand the difference in the products—the BasicsCard product and the cashless debit card product. It's merely an exercise in making sure that they are informed so that, should they choose to make that decision, they have all the information. So the government is not persuading people to do anything. The government is making sure people have all of the information, factually correct information, on which they can make their own decision.

Senator McCARTHY: Thank you, Minister. Just on that, I have noted that you seem to have spent more time advertising in language the cashless debit card but nothing in comparison to what you should be doing in relation to the COVID vaccine translation in languages. So we can see where your priorities are.

 

Senator Ruston: Senator, I reject the premise of what you've just said, absolutely. The government is absolutely focused on making sure that we support Indigenous communities through this pandemic. We understand the sensitivities and the vulnerability of Indigenous communities. Some of the great challenges that we've faced have been around a really chronic scare campaign to Indigenous communities around the vaccination. But we will continue to make sure that we work very hard and tirelessly to make sure that Indigenous Australians are protected. To suggest otherwise is particularly offensive.

Senator McCARTHY: Offensive as you might think it is, Minister, with the greatest of respect, the health department—which I'll certainly raise tomorrow—was asked back in February about translations for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Money was only received in September in order to do that. So it is an abrogation of the federal government's responsibility in terms of having been on the front foot to get this information, in particular around COVID, out there. Yet when you compare it to the work that the government wants to do on the cashless debit card—I think that is incredibly important to you. How much of the spend has been with First Nations media organisations?

Mr Hudson : I'll have to take that detail on notice, Senator.

Senator McCARTHY: Could you take that on in terms of the $703,000 since 2015 but also could you take that question on notice with regard to the Northern Territory?

Mr Hudson : Yes, Senator.

Senator McALLISTER: Good morning, Minister and officials. I want to ask a couple of questions about the women's safety summit. The agenda didn't include housing, as you know. I want to ask the rationale for that. On what basis did you decide to exclude that issue of safe and affordable homes for women and children fleeing violence?

Senator Ruston: Senator, I reject the suggestion that we excluded housing; that's certainly not what the case was. We believe that housing is an issue that permeates many of the different areas of the agenda of the summit. We absolutely acknowledge that housing is a very important factor when women make that extraordinary decision to escape a violent relationship. As you would know, working in this area, things like the safe places program that we've put in place, things like Keeping Women Safe in their Homes—obviously the escaping violence payment was very much focused on making sure that we would be able to give women the financial wherewithal to put a bond down on accommodation. So there was never any intent to exclude the issue from the summit. It was merely an issue that we believed permeated many different areas of the agenda of the summit.

Senator McALLISTER: I have to say that that wasn't how it was experienced by stakeholders. In fact 240 domestic violence and homelessness organisations signed a joint statement which highlighted their concerns about the issue and the lack of government action to provide safe homes so women and children can escape violence. Are those concerns that you share?

Senator Ruston: Certainly the overarching principle of the establishment of this next national plan to end violence against women and children has been a very complex co-design process that involves the states and the territories, the sector and, most importantly, hearing from the voices of victim-survivors around what they need. This has to be a whole-of-Australia response to all of the issues that confront us on this really confronting issue. So we seek to make sure that we work with our colleagues on the women's safety ministers task force from the states and territories around Australia.

We also seek to work with the sector to understand. I commend your home state of New South Wales for, in recent weeks, making an outstanding announcement in relation to additional funding to crisis housing for women escaping family, domestic and sexual violence. It is a very important issue and we will continue to work with all of the people that need to come together if we really are collectively going to make a difference in this area. It's not going to be one government; it's not going to be one jurisdiction. Everybody in Australia needs to understand the role they need to play, and we all need to work together in a completely non-partisan way to make sure that we actually do change the dial on this issue.

Senator McALLISTER: The same statement that was signed by these stakeholders called on the Morrison-Joyce government to address access to safe and affordable housing in the next national plan by—and they were very specific about it—investing in the supply of new social and affordable housing. Do you agree that Commonwealth investment in a new supply of social and affordable housing will help address this issue?

Senator Ruston: Senator, in relation to the domestic violence component you're referring to—in relation to a safe place for women to go when they escape a violent and abusive relationship—of course we are doing a number of things at the Commonwealth level to make sure that we address those issues specifically. I mentioned a few of them a minute ago: safe places, Keeping Women Safe in their Homes, and making sure that women have access to the financial resources—are able to get access to payment. But we also have to work with our colleagues in the states and territories in encouraging them to undertake the necessary initiatives to get increased social and affordable housing, because, as you know, the federal government provides $1.6 billion every year to the states and territories for this express purpose.

We also, as I said, acknowledge New South Wales and the money that they have recently made available for this absolute purpose. As I said, this is a whole of Australia, all levels of government response. The federal government made the largest ever commitment in the budget in 2021, the $1.1 billion as a down payment towards the next national plan, to make sure that we covered all aspects—preventing, early intervention, responding and recovery—of family and domestic violence. But we are working in partnership with states and territories, and the states and territories have a very strong role to play in relation to «community» and affordable housing.

Senator McALLISTER: I will come back to that. I am asking a very specific question about this call for the Commonwealth to invest in an adequate supply of new social and affordable housing. Is that something that we would expect to see in the national plan?

Senator Ruston: Senator, I'm not going to pre-empt what's in the national plan apart from to say that the feedback and the consultation process, which was extraordinarily thorough, is clearly going to inform this plan. The issue of social and affordable housing—it is absolutely unquestionable that this is a very important issue. How and where it is provided, as I said, is largely a matter for the states and territories. But of course the federal government wants to take a leadership role in this plan and the overarching framework to encourage that all aspects of responses are dealt with. I'm not saying that social and affordable housing is not a very important component of the national landscape; what I'm saying is that it is firmly the responsibility of the states and territories.

The federal government will continue to work particularly on the crisis end of accommodation, because we know that the first port of call when a woman makes that extraordinarily brave decision to leave a violent relationship is about accommodation. Once again, I'm talking about safe places; where it's safe to do so, keeping her safe in her home; and making sure the escaping violence payment is able to be quickly provided to someone to be able to get a bond down on rental accommodation. We will play our role, but I call on the states and territories to play their role as well, and I acknowledge New South Wales, your home state, for having done so.

Senator McALLISTER: When you made your closing remarks at the summit, you did speak to housing. You said:

That housing is vital to providing women and their children with safety and security, and housing responses must be appropriate for the diversity of groups, including Indigenous Australians and older women.

Will housing specifically be addressed in the next National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children?

Senator Ruston: As I said, I'm not going to pre-empt what's going to be in the national plan. But I can assure you it was a very strong message that came out of the consultation about the need for housing. I think I'd have to say yes, it will be. But I don't want to sit here today and dissect everything that will be, might be or might not be in the next national plan, because I don't want to pre-empt the further rounds of consultation. Obviously we have to put it through all of our advisory groups. Obviously the responses, particularly the Indigenous response, need to be put through the experts in that area, the Indigenous panel. I also need to put it through the state and territory women's safety ministers.

There are a number of processes that need to occur between now and the release of the plan in the coming days. I don't want to delve into detail but I absolutely can say that the recommendations that came out of the House of Representatives inquiry, the feedback and the statement that came out of the women's safety summit, the consultations that have been undertaken by Monash University, and particularly the consultations that they have had with victim-survivors, because we've had a separate program to make sure that we heard the voices of victim-survivors individually—all of these things, the recommendations and the consultation process, will inform what the next national plan is. Clearly the issue that you are raising around housing and housing availability is one of those issues. I can talk all day about the existing commitments and acknowledge some of the things that the states and territories have been doing. But I can't tell you exactly what's going to be in the next plan, because that would be pre-empting a process that has yet to conclude.

Senator McALLISTER: In your answer earlier you indicated that in your view, social housing and affordable housing is predominantly the responsibility of states and territories. Are you saying that, despite the calls from advocates and victim-survivors for a new supply of permanent social housing, you consider that to be a responsibility of the states and territories?

Senator Ruston: Yes, I do, Senator. Obviously we will continue to work as a collective group of governments to resolve this issue. But states and territories do have responsibility for housing. We provide $1.6 billion every year on social and «community» housing and homelessness payments to the states and territories. In addition to that, there are other housing aspects that the government funds. It's about a $9 billion a year transfer of funds from the federal government to state and territory governments in relation to housing that occurs every year in a range of areas, but specifically in our area $1.6 billion of funding is provided to states and territories for this express purpose.

Senator McALLISTER: I think you'd acknowledge that there is a gap, that there is not enough social and affordable housing, and that that gap is impacting on women and children in particular.

Senator Ruston: There is certainly evidence to suggest that housing is a significant component of the response to family and domestic violence, yes, Senator.

Senator McALLISTER : But your response is that the responsibility for filling that gap is not with the Commonwealth?

Senator Ruston: That's correct, Senator. It's been a longstanding agreement between the states and territories and the federal government—

Senator McALL ISTER: It's not longstanding. A Labor government takes a very different approach. But you're right: it's a longstanding coalition position that you don't take responsibility for this.

Senator Ruston: The National Housing and Homelessness Agreement is an agreement that is currently in play between the states and territories and the Commonwealth government in relation to the provision of funding for this express purpose. But, Senator, notwithstanding that, we made the safe places investment for six and a half thousand women every year, and their children, to be able to have a safe place to go when they're escaping violence; the investment that we made into Keeping Women Safe in their Homes; and the investment in the escaping violence payment are just a few examples where the federal government has provided additional funding in this area. I'm not going to pre-empt what is going to be in the next plan but we certainly understand the importance of this issue, particularly the importance of crisis accommodation on the night, which it often is, when a woman leaves a violent relationship.

Senator McALLISTER: We might have to agree to disagree, Minister, because the recovery process takes a very long time and housing is absolutely essential for that process.

Senator Ruston: I don't disagree with you, Senator.

Senator McALLISTER: Minister, have you had a chance to read Pru Goward's op ed in the AFR last week, which was entitled 'Why you shouldn't underestimate the underclass'?

Senator Ruston: Yes, I have.

Senator McALLISTER: Are there any aspects of Ms Goward's article that you agree with?

Senator Ruston: I can categorically state, Senator McAllister, that the views expressed in that article do not reflect my views or the views of this government.

Senator McALLISTER: So when she described poor Australians as 'damaged, lacking in trust and discipline, and highly self-interested'—you wouldn't agree with that?

Senator Ruston: Of course I don't agree with that.

Senator McALLISTER: She also says:

Since the 1950s there has been a remarkable growth in the number of proles.

You would never use the word 'proles' to describe poorer Australians, would you?

Senator Ruston: Senator, if you refer back to my opening statement—there is nothing in that article that reflects my views or the views of the government.

Senator McALLISTER: Minister, you appointed Ms Goward earlier this year to be on the advisory body for the national plan. Would you have appointed Ms Goward to the board if she'd published this op ed prior to that appointment?

Senator Ruston: That's a hypothetical question, because that case didn't exist. We are where we are. When we appoint people to boards, we don't expect them necessarily to conform to all government policy. We don't operate in an echo chamber. Obviously a contest of views is very important to make sure that—policy delivery is important. But notwithstanding those comments, Senator, the comments that were in that article have certainly offended a number of Australians, probably most Australians, and they do not reflect my views whatsoever in relation to the issue that she was addressing.

Senator McALLISTER: Have you spoken to Ms Goward about her tone and approach?

Senator Ruston: I've spoken to Ms Goward and expressed my view that the government couldn't associate itself with those comments in any way.

Senator McALLISTER: Did you discuss her future on the advisory board?

Senator Ruston: No, I didn't. However, I gave Ms Goward the opportunity to respond to me in relation to those comments, which she has yet to do.

Senator McALLISTER: Is Ms Goward's continuing participation in the national plan advisory body contingent on that response?

Senator Ruston: I will reserve my decision until I've received that response. I will make a decision at that time. As I said, the government doesn't seek to operate in an echo chamber. We don't seek to make sure that everybody that we put on a board has the same views we do; it's about a contest of ideas. But I take this issue very seriously and I will have more to say, possibly after I receive Professor Goward's response.

Senator McALLISTER: I understand. Did you write to Ms Goward in relation to this issue, or did you speak with her on the telephone?

Senator Ruston: I've done both.

Senator McALLISTER: I imagine you'll take this on notice but would it be possible for you to table the correspondence between you and Ms Goward on this question?

Senator Ruston: I will take it on notice but it's unlikely that I will be tabling that sort of correspondence. Nonetheless, I certainly won't make a statement now that I won't. I'll take it on notice and I'll get back to you, Senator.

Senator GALLAGHER: I've got some questions about a contract. It's under the health department tag but it seems to relate to the cashless debit card. I can give you the contract number: it's CN3808987. The contract's with the Department of Health for temporary personnel services. The description of the contract—it's for about $300,000—is 'cashless debit card consultation'.

Ms Hefren-Webb : I'll have to take that on notice. I'm not aware of that contract and what that's for. I'll see if someone can advise me and then I'll try to provide you an answer as quickly as possible.

Senator GALLAGHER: That would be good. It's with Fifty-Five Five. That's the company that the contract is with.

Ms Hefren-Webb : So the Department of Health has a contract for cashless debit card staff?

Senator GALLAGHER: Yes. The description is 'cashless debit card consultation'. My first question is why there would be a contract with the Department of Health. Is it whole-of-government procurement panel or something like that? That might be the explanation.

Mr Hudson : We just looked up AusTender. It's definitely a contract held by the Department of Health. It's not a contract held by Social Services, so we won't have any information available to us on that contract.

Senator GALLAGHER: Why would the Department of Health be doing cashless debit card consultation without your knowledge?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I'm as mystified as you are, Senator. I will endeavour to speak to my colleagues at Health and find out.

Senator GALLAGHER: So from your point of view you have no idea? You don't have any work being done by Fifty-Five Five on the cashless debit card?

Ms Hefren- Webb : Not to my knowledge. The only thing that just occurs to me as a possibility is that there was funding in the budget for alcohol and other drug services for cashless debit card communities. So whether there's some consultation occurring around those facilities—but it seems odd that they would have labelled it like that.

Senator GALLAGHER: Without your knowledge.

Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes. So I will speak to colleagues from Health and endeavour to get you an answer.

Senator GALLAGHER: Okay. So you think it may have something to do with the budget measure which went to the Department of Health around—

Ms Hefren-Webb : Alcohol and other drug facilities. There's a budget measure to provide alcohol and other drug facilities in the four sites.

Senator GALLAGHER: If you could clarify that and maybe come back—I had a range of questions on that but we've probably reached a dead end on that.

ACTING CHAIR: A false start.

Senator GALLAGHER: Perhaps.

Senator RICE: I want to go to the broad issue of the structure of the DSP and the need for conditions to be fully diagnosed, fully treated and fully stabilised. I table a report that was in the Guardian this morning about a person suffering cancer. The case of George, in the Guardian this morning, was stark. Basically, before George applied for the DSP he was told he had a brain tumour with a 50 per cent survivability rate over five years. Before he applied he had a convulsion related to this brain tumour:

He had been "jerking both arms, frothing at the mouth", his face had gone pale and his lips were blue, according to hospital records.

Doctors discovered a growth on the left side of his head. They operated, and managed to remove what turned out to be a grade three astrocytoma.

He has been denied the disability support pension. He is absolutely struggling to survive on JobSeeker with his medical treatment, which is ongoing. As I said, he has a 50 per cent chance of living. Minister, what are you going to do about the fact that people are hugely suffering because of the condition in the disability support pension that in order to receive the DSP people's conditions have to be fully diagnosed, fully treated and fully stabilised?

Senator Ruston: Senator, I'm not in a position to be able to speak to this particular example, as I would not speak to the circumstances of any individual's, because of course that would be totally inappropriate. But if Mr Upjohn believes that his determination at Centrelink is not appropriate, then certainly I would encourage him to seek a reassessment.

Senator RICE: But, Minister, the very way that the DSP is now structured, with the need for conditions to be fully diagnosed, fully treated and fully stabilised, means that according to those criteria he in fact isn't eligible. The guidelines in the social security guide say:

A person's non-terminal cancer that is still being treated by chemotherapy and for which prognosis is uncertain, would not normally be regarded as fully treated.

So he was rejected on those grounds. Clearly the whole basis of the need for people's conditions to be fully diagnosed, fully treated and fully stabilised means that people are suffering incredibly. Mr Upjohn says:

… the experience had dented his faith in the country. 'It's the first time I realised that people in a country that I was proud to be part of, would suffer needlessly, would have stress pressed on to them during the darkest days of their lives …

What are you going to do about changing that criterion so that people can be accessing the support they need when they are going through such devastating times in their lives?

Senator Ruston: Senator, I don't want to go to the specific question of the individual that you're referring to, because I don't have all of the information and, as I said, I don't want to talk about a specific case. There is a longstanding set of principles that sit behind the disability support pension. It is a long-term payment for people with often lifetime conditions. I don't want to in any way diminish what Mr Upjohn is experiencing, so I'm not going to go to the case. But it is a long-term feature of the disability support pension.

Senator RICE: My understanding is that in fact it was changed. We used to have sickness benefits, which was for people that had temporary conditions. We no longer have that. So this condition for the DSP requiring that conditions be fully treated and fully stabilised means that people like Mr Upjohn are missing out. You don't want to go to his individual case but it's true, isn't it, that it's virtually impossible for people who are receiving cancer treatment—unless they're told, 'Almost certainly your condition's terminal; you've got less than two years to live,' they're not eligible for the disability support pension?

Senato r Ruston: There are other provisions within our system to support people with illnesses that don't meet the requirements of the disability support pension. Sickness allowance is one of the things that are available to people.

Senator RICE: But sickness allowance doesn't exist anymore. That's the whole point, Minister. Sickness allowance doesn't exist anymore.

Senator Ruston: Sorry, yes, it's the same as JobSeeker.

Senator RICE: Yes, it's JobSeeker. And on JobSeeker Mr Upjohn's circumstances are that he can't afford to pay his rent. Due to his girlfriend's modest income he's not even getting a full amount of JobSeeker. He's had to sell off stuff and he's been told, 'Maybe you need to take out a personal loan.' These are the circumstances that we're putting people through at this most incredibly difficult time of their life. At the same time he's being told that he's never going to work again in his field as a commercial pilot, which he's trained as. And the system is meaning that he is being absolutely left to suffer and to struggle in poverty.

Senator Ruston: Senator, as I said, I'm not going to the direct circumstances of this article. We have a comprehensive support system that exists to help people, including a world-class health system, hopefully to support Mr Upjohn through this and many others. The disability support pension is for a specific purpose and specific criteria that it is required to meet. As I said, I would really prefer not to be having a discussion about an individual.

Senator RICE: But it goes to the point, Minister. It's not just an individual. That's the whole point. This is across people such as Mr Upjohn, whose condition is not classed as fully diagnosed, fully treated and stabilised. They are not eligible for the disability support pension. Even though they have got incredible health conditions such that they can't work, they are left to languish on the totally inadequate JobSeeker payment. We've heard all the stories of people trying to survive on JobSeeker. They can't afford to pay the rent. They end up being homeless and couch surfing. They can't afford food. They can't afford their medications. I have heard so many stories in the last month since I took on this portfolio. It is structural, Minister. That is why I am asking you: what are you going to do to change these structural problems with the system?

Senator Ruston: This is a very complex area. We are constantly looking at ways we are able to provide support to Australians in need. Obviously, through the pandemic, as an example, support was provided to Australians who were doing it tough—vulnerable Australians. We will continue to work to make sure that we provide the support. I will take on board what you've said.

Senator RICE: To me, it's not very complex. To me, we as a country should be providing support for people, particularly when they are going through such difficult circumstances as receiving treatment for brain cancer. Do you have any figures on how many people are in a situation like Mr Upjohn's—how many people with cancer who have applied for the DSP are now on JobSeeker?

Mr Flavel : Maybe before going to JobSeeker, and for the committee's benefit: as you know, because I think you are now the chair, let me say that this committee is looking into general issues around the DSP. The department made a submission and has appeared in front of that committee. We did table some information as part of our submission that looks at the primary medical conditions that people have on the DSP. As at April, there were 17,369 people in receipt of the DSP who had cancer or tumour listed as their primary medical condition. Sadly, many people with cancer do, in fact, receive the DSP. As I think you know, it can also be granted manifestly if somebody has a terminal illness and less than two years to live. They can actually get the DSP without going through the further assessment process.

Senator RICE: That 17,000 was people with cancer on—

Mr Flavel : DSP, yes.

Senator RICE: On DSP. How about people with cancer who have been denied DSP and who are on JobSeeker?

Mr Flavel : Well, it's not possible to know how many people were denied. I think at the last hearing we gave statistics about people on JobSeeker payment with a partial capacity to work and what the first recorded medical condition or category is. As at 24 September, there were 7,694 people receiving JobSeeker who had cancer or tumour listed as their primary medical condition.

Senator RICE: So we've got over 7,000 people across the country who are struggling with and being treated for cancer who are languishing below the poverty line on JobSeeker. That is an indictment on our country.

Senator Ruston: Senator, I don't accept the entire premise of your comment.

Senator RICE: Well, just think of those 7,000 people who are being treated for cancer. Do you have any figures on how many of those cancer patients on JobSeeker have to undertake mutual obligations?

Mr Flavel : That's something, I think, that has actually been asked through the committee that is looking into the DSP. It's actually a matter for the Department of Education, Skills and Employment. However, my understanding is very few, if any, of those people with cancer actually have active mutual obligations requirements.

Senator RICE: Very few. But you don't know?

Mr Flavel : Well, it's a matter for DESE, but I'm informed that it's very few.

Senator RICE: I will ask the department of employment. Yes—you wouldn't expect people who are having to struggle with appointments for chemotherapy to be applying for work as well, would you?

Mr Flavel : The mutual obligations framework is not owned by this portfolio, so I don't think it's fair for me to comment.

Senator RICE: Does the department have any figures of how many people have died of cancer whilst being on JobSeeker?

Mr Flavel : No. That would be a question, I think, for Services Australia. They may wish to take it on notice.

Senator RICE: We have 7,000. In terms of the people on JobSeeker who have a temporary incapacity exemption to mutual obligations, how many of those have cancer as the reason for their exemption?

Mr Flavel : Again, I would have to take on notice more detailed questions about exemptions.

Sena tor RICE: Minister, in your answer before, you said there was sickness allowance, which is not paid anymore—

Senator Ruston: It is rolled into JobSeeker. It is paid at the same rate, yes.

Senator RICE: That's right. So the system has changed. Essentially, people who have a serious illness can't work and have lots of extra costs and lots of extra stresses. We don't have a payment at the moment unless they are fully treated, fully diagnosed and fully stabilised, do we?

Senator Ruston: In the sense of—

Senator RICE: An appropriate treatment. They are basically on JobSeeker?

Senator Ruston: When Newstart became JobSeeker, the sickness allowance and a number of payments were rolled in that were paid at the same rate. Of course, there are circumstances where somebody's medical condition prevents them from being able to undertake mutual obligations but they are unable to meet the long-term requirements of being able to go on to the DSP. Obviously, that's a matter you should ask the mutual obligations people. In effect, nothing has changed apart from the name.

Senator RICE: Well, nothing has changed except for the level of payment that they get.

Senator Ruston: No, that's not correct.

Senator RICE: So sickness allowance was at the same rate?

Mr Flavel : Correct. It was paid at the Newstart rate.

Senator RICE: So it was at the same below-the-poverty-line rate, essentially?

Senator Ruston: It was paid at the same rate as Newstart. When it became JobSeeker, the payments were all paid at the same rate.

Senator RICE: Minister, when we ask questions about how the JobSeeker payment is totally inadequate and leaves people living in poverty, the answer we get back is that people aren't designed to be on it permanently, that we've got to encourage them to get off it and that the best form of welfare is a job. But that's not the case for these people. Even if you accept that frame, which I completely reject, these people who are suffering with cancer are not able to just go off and get a job. Your government is essentially leaving them living in abject poverty. Do you accept that? Do you accept that that is an appropriate thing for a rich country like Australia to be doing?

Senator Ruston: When people in Australia find themselves with serious medical conditions, of course our medical framework, which is a universal healthcare model, is there to support people with illness. When people's illnesses are long-term such that they meet the requirements of the disability impairment tables, of course, they have the opportunity—we'll move to that—

Senator RICE: But, Minister—

Senator Ruston: Senator, are you going to let me finish?

Senator RICE: Well, no. Minister, you talk about the very situation where there is this gaping hole in the policy framework, where people do not meet the criteria set out under the DSP. These people haven't got a condition that is fully treated, stabilised and diagnosed. They've got only a 50 per cent chance of dying of brain cancer.

ACTING CHAIR: This is your last one.

Senator RICE: What are we going to do about these people? Are you going to leave them languishing in poverty?

Senator Ruston: Senator, I reject the premise of what you're saying. The social security system, in conjunction with the healthcare system in Australia, is designed to support Australians through difficult situations. Of course, it's there when people find themselves eminently in need of support. I reject the premise of what you're saying.

Senator RICE: It's not there. It's heartless. It's absolutely heartless. Thanks, Chair.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you very much, Senator Rice.

Senator GREEN: I have a couple more questions. I want to make sure that I'm not missing out on any corporate officials. Chair, we will probably be in a position to move to outcome 1 shortly. I am trying to make sure that I tick off any questions involving corporate officials. We will be in a position to move to outcome 1, if that is helpful for other senators.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you.

Senator GREEN: I have some questions about a contract that the NDIA entered into with Serco to deliver the NDIA contract centre. Are there people who can assist?

Mr Grig gs : NDIA is coming on later. I know Mr Hoffman is ready to talk about that issue.

Senator GREEN: The department officials responsible for that contract as well? The people who would also have coverage of it?

Mr Griggs : Yes. Officials will be here from outcome 3 as well.

Senator GREEN: If that's the case, Chair, we might move straight to outcome 1. I have questions on that.

ACTING CHAIR: My apologies, Senator Green. I didn't hear what you said. It won't happen again, I promise.

Senator GREEN: I have questions on outcome 1 to start.

ACTING CHAIR: If there are no more questions for whole-of-portfolio on corporate matters, we'll bring that to a close. We'll now move to outcome 1. I did give Senator Rice some latitude. I understand that Senator Rice has to attend another committee.

Senator RICE: Yes. In 15 minutes.

ACTING CHAIR: So we're now dealing with outcome 1 matters.

Senator GREEN: Thank you very much. My first questions are about the working age payments. I am keen to understand what level of responsibility DSS has to ensure appropriate levels of funding to Centrelink for payments to recipients made under the social security legislation? What is the role and responsibility that the department has?

Mr Flavel : Obviously, it's payments made to people or the funding of Centrelink.

Senator GREEN: Well, you would need to have some understanding of the level of payments required under the working age payments. Where do you see it—

Mr Flavel : To recipients?

Senator GREEN: In the process.

Mr Flavel : Under the Social Security Act, the secretary of the department is generally the nominated official. His or her powers are delegated to Centrelink, Services Australia, to implement and ensure that payments are made in accordance with the Social Security Act provisions, including for working age payments.

Senator GREEN: In terms of the funding that goes from the department to Services Australia?

Mr Flavel : Funding is made under a standing or special appropriation—the Social Security Act 1991—not only for working age payments but also other payments, such as family assistance et cetera.

Senator GREEN: What visibility does DSS have about the levels of funding for each different type of payment for recipients?

Mr Flavel : If you're talking in aggregate, there's constant information being provided about amounts being spent. Obviously, we produce estimates for those payments for the purposes of the budget and the mid-year update.

Senator GREEN: The estimates of the modelling comes from Treasury but are provided to the department—is that right?

Mr Flavel : I'm not quite sure what you mean by 'estimates of the modelling'.

Senator GREEN: An estimate about how much funding will be needed.

Mr Flavel : If you take a payment such as the age pension, for instance—in fact, that's a tricky one because it is indexed by the higher of three possible factors—those parameters come from Treasury or the Department of Finance. They are then run through models and the department has to give estimates of each payment that the secretary is responsible for. Those numbers are then included in the budget.

Senator GREEN: Once the payments are made, there would be a reconciliation at the end of that?

Mr Flavel : It's important to remember that these are demand driven programs. In fact, if there are more people who qualify for the age pension or for JobSeeker payment then those amounts are paid directly as a result of the special appropriation itself.

Senator GREEN: In terms of what appears in the budget, your department doesn't conduct the modelling but has visibility on the numbers in the forward estimates?

Mr Flavel : We are responsible for constructing the estimates for those payments based on the parameters provided and any other assumptions that go in that underpin them.

Senator GREEN: Can you confirm for me how the reconciliation works between actual funding and the estimates on the number of recipients estimated and the number of recipients who actually get a payment? I think you might have touched on that already.

Mr Flavel : Could you just repeat that last bit?

Senator GREEN: There's obviously a calculation of the number of recipients who will be estimated for each payment. At the end of that, there are a number of recipients who actually receive the payment. What visibility does your department have on that?

Mr Flavel : There is regular reporting of those numbers as they occur through the year.

Senator GREEN: You said there is regular reporting. How regular is it? Every quarter? Every week? Every year?

Mr Flavel : It's tracked monthly.

Senator GREEN: Is the department projecting an adjustment between the estimated funding and the reconciled funding? Is the department projecting an adjustment this mid-year? Is it going to go up from what was estimated, or is it going to go down?

Mr Flavel : I obviously can't comment on the way in which numbers might go up or down. They're numbers that are aggregated and then published by the government in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

Senator GREEN: But you said you get monthly reporting on it.

Mr Flavel : Sure, yes.

Senator GREEN: Based on the monthly reporting, what are you expecting to happen in the mid-year? Is it going up or is it going down?

Mr Flavel : Well, the monthly reporting will inform the current year projected outcome. It will also obviously have base effects for the forward years as well. So that process will be published in MYEFO.

Senator GREEN: But you don't have any sense of whether the payments are going down from what was estimated?

Mr Flavel : I don't have anything to add to my previous answer, which is that those numbers get aggregated and then published by the government in either the budget or the mid-year update.

Senator GREEN: In terms of the estimated projections of numbers of recipients of JobSeeker and youth allowance for the budget and forward estimates, what are they for the next financial year and the financial years leading up to 2024-25?

Mr Flavel : The number of recipients themselves is not published. It informs our models, which produce forward estimates of payments for JobSeeker, youth allowance and those other payments you've mentioned.

Senator GREEN: But you do have that figure?

Mr Flavel : It is given to us along with a range of other information.

Senator GREEN: That is how you work out the amount—to know the number of recipients, right?

Mr Flavel : Well, it's a bit more complicated than that. But it is an input into the construction of those estimates.

Senator GREEN: What is it?

Mr Flavel : What is what?

Senator GREEN: What is the number?

Mr Flavel : Well, I just said that it is not a number that the government has published previously.

Senator GREEN: I'm not asking you to publish it on a website. I'm asking you to give it to a Senate committee in a Senate estimates hearing.

Mr Flavel : I will take that on notice.

Senator GREEN: On what basis?

Mr Flavel : On the basis that I think I need to consult the minister about whether that information, having never previously been released by the government, is appropriate.

Senator GREEN: On what basis?

ACTING CHAIR: It is available to the minister to take a question on notice.

Senator Ruston: Senator, obviously—

Senator GREEN: To possibly make a PII claim? I'm not following why, if you have the information, you are not able to give it.

Senator Ruston: Senator, you are asking a very linear question that actually doesn't have a linear answer. The information that you are asking for doesn't fall entirely within the domain of this agency. Treasury and Finance also have input into this. We're happy to take your request on notice and we'll come back to you. We are not making a PII claim. We're just asking to take it on notice to be able to get advice from other agencies that may well be impacted on the particular issue you are asking about.

Senator GREEN: Okay. How many years do the forward estimates projections extend?

Mr Flavel : You mean in general or for these payments?

Senator GREEN: For the payments? Not in general. I'm obviously asking about payments.

Mr Flavel : Three years of forward estimates.

Senator GALLAGHER: Any review or update on what you are planning for the budget. Are they every year? Every year you pull in another year?

Mr Flavel : That's correct. The budget and Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

Senator GREEN: In understanding those numbers, can we ask for the three years and each yearly estimate?

Mr Flavel : If you are asking about the recipient numbers, we've taken that on notice.

Senator GREEN: I know. To be clear, what I am asking for of what you have taken on notice is the three years of numbers.

Mr Flavel : The forward estimates, correct.

Senator GREEN: That's why I have asked that. I have some further questions about carer payments and carer allowances. What triggers a review of an individual's carer payment or carer allowance?

Mr Fla vel : Mr Sloan might be able to assist with some of those questions, Senator.

Mr Sloan : Senator, I think the main review point in the carers payment and the carers allowance is when a child turns 16 years old. That is a review point for the carer allowance and the carer payment.

Senator GREEN: Is that the only trigger for review?

Mr Sloan : Certainly there can be times where information is given to Services Australia that people are not providing the care that is necessary. There might be tip-offs that Services Australia will look at that. Certainly the pension and the carer allowance payment are ongoing apart from that point I talked about in general.

Senator GREEN: How many times was a review triggered in the current financial year?

Mr Sloan : That I would have to take on notice and talk to Services Australia.

Senator GREEN: The current financial year is what we're after. How many individuals lost either the carer payment or the carer allowance because of the review?

Mr Sloan : Again, from total reviews, I would have to take that on notice. From the point of view of those being reviewed at age 16, I can certainly give you that number. I don't have that number here. I will take it on notice. I have a different number. My apologies.

Senator GREEN: Can you provide a breakdown of people who have moved across to another income payment if they were taken off?

Mr Sloan : It won't be for reviews, but I can give you the outflows from the carer payment, if you wish, and where they go to. That is a general thing. It's not obviously due to reviews. If you would like that, I can give you that, but it is up to you, Senator.

Senator GREEN: That would be helpful. Can you break it down in terms of reviews?

Mr Sloan : I would have to take it on notice. Between September 2020 and September 2021, the outflow from carer payment was 10,315, or just over 30 per cent. The highest number was 16,108, or 47.6 per cent, who flowed into no income support. They moved off income support. Thirty per cent, or just over 10,300, moved into the working age payment. A bit over 200, or just under 0.1 per cent, went on to the student payment. A bit over 7,000, or just over 21 per cent, went on to the pension. A very small number went on to other payments. A total of just under 34,000 people during September 2020 to September 2021 went off carers payment. Again, those on review I would have to take on notice.

Senator GREEN: Minister, does the department know the vaccine rates of carers across Australia by state and nationally?

Mr Griggs : We don't collect that data, Senator.

Senator Ruston: We don't necessarily have it. It is like asking how many people on JobSeeker have been vaccinated. It would be the process of the information around the—

Senator GREEN : Well, it's a little different, isn't it? Carers are on that payment because they provide a caring role. If a carer were to not be vaccinated, we know that there is the potential for people to get very sick if they contract COVID-19. There is an impact on the person they care for.

Senator Ruston: Sure.

Senator GREEN: Has the department sought to understand that information and asked the states and territories to consider asking questions about whether someone is a carer when they are being vaccinated?

Senator Ruston: One thing I would say that we do on a really regular basis is work with the peak carers body, Carers Australia, to understand particular needs. During COVID, that was a very regular occurrence. You were speaking to Mr Sloan about making sure that we have the most seamless transition when people turn 16 around the reassessment on carers allowance. We work very closely with Carers Australia about these sorts of things. We are very cognisant, particularly through the disability sector, to make sure that people who are caring for people with disability are vaccinated, as we are with the aged care sector and the care sector more generally. This is a—

Senator GREEN: But you don't have visibility on the numbers?

Senator Ruston: Well, not visibility on the numbers across the entirety. What we've sought to do through our vaccine rollout is to get everybody vaccinated and to make sure that every Australian has access to the vaccine. Obviously, people have been categorised through the process. I think that is not the case any more. Every Australian has access to the vaccines. It is making sure that through the networks that exist within Australia, we understand the particular issues that sometimes come up with particular cohorts to make sure that we respond in the way that their advocacy bodies—in this case, Carers Australia—believe is the most appropriate way. We will continue to make sure that we work with those bodies. That is their purpose. We absolutely acknowledge and thank them for the advocacy and support they give to the carers and the support they give to us in terms of policy development.

Senator GREEN: What percentage of carers have had their second dose of vaccine?

Senator Ruston: Certainly a significant number of carers would be vaccinated on the basis of—

Senator GREEN: You don't know that.

Senator Ruston: Senator, there are other mechanisms by which we work with carers to make sure that we are addressing the specific issues they face. We are not going to spend all our time getting bound up in red tape trying to come up with a number. We absolutely focused on getting the needles into people's arms—

Senator GREEN: It's not red tape.

Senator Ruston: to make sure that we protect Australians, the most vulnerable Australians particularly, and those who care for them.

Senator GREEN: It's not red tape to try to find out how many people who are in vulnerable situations are vaccinated. It is a regrettable comment, Minister.

Senator Ruston: Excuse me, Chair. If the senator wishes to make a comment like that, I think I have the right to respond. I believe that the focus of this government has been absolutely around making sure that we get vulnerable people vaccinated. In the process of doing so—

Senator GREEN: Well, they're still not vaccinated.

Senator Ruston: we are making sure that the people who look after them are equally able to get access to the vaccine. We did so early on. The most important thing is that every Australian at the moment has access to a vaccine and that we work with the appropriate organisations to make sure we understand how best to address the issue of protecting from COVID vulnerable Australians and the people who look after vulnerable Australians.

Senator GREEN: What additional support, if any, has been provided to carers during lockdowns?

Senator Ruston: Well, many different things have been provided to Australians.

Senator GREEN: To carers?

Senator Ruston: There have been a number of additional payments made to carers, as they were to people on the disability support pension. There were the two $500 payments we made last year and then two lots of $250.

Senator GREEN: It's a little hard to hear you when you are speaking across the table, Minister.

Senator Ruston: There were a number of payments made to people who were on the carers pension, as they were to those on the disability support pension. Two $500 payments were made early on in the pandemic. Another two $750 and two $250 payments, totalling $2,000 were paid to carers to support them in their work during the pandemic. In addition, we established the carers gateway to provide services and support to people who are caring. We provide them with up-to-date information and a single point of information so that they can get information about issues that relate to COVID and other issues for carers. We certainly thank Carers Australia for the extraordinary amount of work that they and their subsidiary organisations in the states and territories have put into making sure that this gateway is absolutely fit for purpose for people who undertake caring roles.

Senator GREEN: Was the gateway an existing resource, or was it being developed before lockdowns?

Senator Ruston: The gateway is a resource that has been developed over the last few years. Because the resource was available, even though it is quite new, it gave us an immediate platform on which we were able to provide that advice to carers and an interactive opportunity for carers to be able to ring in.

Senator GREEN: It was there and it was utilised?

Senator Ruston: It was in the process of development, yes.

Senator GREEN: Developed in response to the lockdowns. Is the gateway going to be evaluated at some stage since it has been up and running?

Mr Griggs : I'll try and get you an answer on that.

Senator GREEN: Thanks. I have some more direct questions on the carer payment and carer allowance. Are autism and dementia included under the general category of psychological and psychiatric in the DSS payment demographic table for medical conditions of care recipients? I'm sure you've got lots of charts there, Mr Sloan.

Mr Sloan : I'll check on that.

Senator GREEN: Thank you.

Mr Sloan : I'll have to take that on notice. Certainly for the carer allowance, for children, the main condition is autism. Sixty per cent of the children on care allowances are due to autism. That is a bit over 110,000. For carer adult, autism spectrum disorder is 28½ thousand, which is a bit over five per cent of that population. As for dementia, I don't have that information on me at the moment. My apologies. Certainly autism is listed there as a separate category, yes, and is available on data.gov.au

Senator GREEN: As a separate category. That is for autism. Dementia is a separate category as well?

Mr Sloan : As I said, I would have to take that one on notice. I have with me the top six. It's not listed in the top six categories.

Senator GREEN: If it's not listed in the top six, what does that mean?

Mr Sloan : Dementia is separately recorded by Services Australia. These are the numbers getting carers allowance because of dementia. In respect of the number of people claiming, it is not in the top five conditions that people claim for.

Senator GREEN: How many people have applied for the carers payment and the carer allowance who are carers looking after family members with autism and dementia as a separate category in the last financial year? How many people have been rejected?

Mr Sloan : For the 2021 financial year, for carer payment, I can tell you there were a bit over 80,000 claims. Nearly 48,000 were granted and just under 33,000 were rejected for a grant rate of just under 60 per cent—59.3 per cent.

Senator GREEN: That's a lot.

Mr S loan : That is on carer payment.

Senator GREEN: So 40 per cent of people who have applied for carers payment in the last financial year because they're taking care of someone with autism have had their application rejected?

Mr Sloan : No. That is the overall number.

Senator GREEN: That is a very big number.

Mr Sloan : I have a number here. Up to September 2021, for autism, I believe just under 23,000 for carer payment were granted.

Senator GREEN: Do you have the figure for how many applications were made?

Mr Sloan : No. I don't have that on me at the moment.

Senator GREEN: And how many were rejected? So you have the overall figures for that statistic but not broken down by category?

Mr Sloan : I should make that clear. That number is children who were getting cared for. I don't have a number for autism for adults.

Senator GREEN: So the 23,000 is for children with autism?

Mr Sloan : Yes.

Senator GREEN: There may be additional people in a separate cohort for adults?

Mr Sloan : Adults who are being cared for, yes.

Mr Flavel : You asked a specific question about autism. I think Mr Sloan is giving figures for applications and grant rates for the total number of carer allowance and carer payment questions.

Senator GREEN: Yes. I am following along, Mr Flavel. That is why I am asking which is the universal figure and which is the broken down figure.

Mr Sloan : I'm going to have to correct the record. My apologies.

Senator GREEN: It's fine. We're going all over the place. I am interested in that cohort of people who are receiving the carer payment because they are caring for someone with autism.

Mr Sloan : That is the number. As at September 2021, 22,898 children were being cared for by people on carers payment. That is the actual stock. It's not the flow. I haven't got the flow. I apologise for that. I misread my table.

Senator GREEN: I'm sorry for my ignorance. I don't know a lot about the payment system with regard to that condition. When would the adult payment kick in?

Mr Sloan : Sixteen. That is the review point.

Senator GREEN: If you are caring for a 16-year-old with autism, you would not be in that group?

Mr Sloan : Correct.

Senator GREEN: Do you have the figure for how many people are caring for someone who is an adult with autism?

Mr Sloan : I don't believe I do. Are we talking carer payment or carer allowance? That last number was carer allowance. Are we talking carer payment or carer allowance?

Senator GREEN: I would like the figures for both, really.

Mr Sloan : I will take that on notice. I don't think I have it with me.

Senator GREEN: Is that because it is a smaller number?

Mr Sloan : Certainly there is a reduction, as you would expect. As people become more mature, they can look after themselves as they age. We expect that, and we do see that number come off, yes.

Senator GREEN: The figure I am very interested in is how many people have applied in the last financial year and then how many people have been rejected from those applications.

Mr Sloan : We'll take that on notice, yes.

Senator GREEN: Thanks, Chair.

Senator GALLAGHER: Mr Flavel, I will go back to Senator Green's request around the forward projections for the numbers of recipients. I note that Senator Green did write to you, Mr Griggs—congratulations on the appointment—advising that we would be seeking this information and asking whether coordination with the Department of Finance or others is required in order to get approval for that number. Did you see that letter?

Mr Flavel : Yes. We saw that letter. The consultation that we referred to earlier would be with Treasury and Finance in seeking to get their authority to release those figures.

Senator GALL AGHER: But knowing that the committee was going to be interested in this and advising that we understood it required further consultation with the central agencies, that didn't happen?

Mr Flavel : Treasury was on at estimates yesterday. It was actually quite hard, given the timeframe in which the letter was given to us and with Treasury's appearance, to actually do that beforehand.

Senator GALLAGHER: But did you try? You did reach out to Treasury?

Mr Flavel : I will check with my staff as to whether they did.

Senator GALLAGHER: So you didn't personally? But you don't know? When did you get the letter? It's not dated.

Mr Flavel : I think it was the day before yesterday.

Senator GALLAGHER: So we don't know if you or your area did reach out?

Mr Flavel : No. As I said, I will check whether any staff did.

Senator GALLAGHER: Was there a discussion around what you would come prepared with and what you wouldn't? Obviously you have a view about forward projections being not available to be released. So you must have—

Mr Flavel : That is based on similar questions to the last time we were here.

Senator GALLAGHER: What were the reasons? That you have never published before so it's not going to be published now? Is that it?

Mr Flavel : Well, it's more. What gets published in the budget is the projections, forecasts and projections of total payments. The trend involved there gives a pretty accurate indication, if you want to call it that, of the direction that JobSeeker or any payment is heading in. The numbers—

Senator GALLAGHER: So you are saying, basically, that you can extrapolate from that what the numbers are?

Mr Flavel : Not so much an extrapolation. The government, through Treasury, publishes forecasts and projections of the unemployment rate. We'll update that in MYEFO. That will give the best indication of the government's view, based on Treasury's assessment of the economy, about what is likely to happen to the unemployment rate over the budget and three forward years. We take an input on unemployment benefit recipients. There are a number of other factors that get taken into account across payments. For instance, in the age pension, where you have an assets test, movement in the value of assets is a relevant factor to consider regarding whether any age pensioners might fall off full rates on to part rate or off part rate altogether. So it is not as simple as saying you take the number of unemployment benefit recipients and somehow that is the figure to focus on. I think it is far more instructive to look at the total forward estimates in dollar terms for JobSeeker payment or any payment combined with the global forecasts included by Treasury in the budget papers. As I said, in MYEFO that will include an updated forecast and projection for the unemployment rate.

Senator GALLAGHER: I can understand with the age pension and the example you give. What about just straight JobSeeker or youth allowance other? What are the other factors that would influence payment on that payment?

Mr Flavel : It's not so much the influences. It is when the payment dollars are constructed. It will include things like indexation, say, for JobSeeker payment, by CPI. All payments have some form of asset test attached to them. The value of assets and general factors like that would also be taken into account.

Senator GALLAGHER: I'm trying to understand why you would not be prepared to give that information or why the government is reluctant to give recipient numbers. If you are saying you can essentially read what is going to happen with the payment type based on the funding that is allocated across the forward estimates, you can pick up what is happening. Obviously, if you had big fluctuations in the out years against each payment, you would see that you were expecting something different to be happening. But if they're relatively stable, with indexation going across the forward estimates, what would be the problem with providing that information? I'm genuinely trying to understand, given the amount of reporting you do, the funding allocated. We know what the value of the payment is each week. We know that there are different tests, such as the assets test and things that would come into that. Why is it information that you would protect?

Mr Flavel : It's more that it is an input to the construction of budget estimates. So the issue, of course, is taking something out of context. There is a whole range of inputs used across the full gamut of payments. I think releasing it without the appropriate context, including other factors that are taken into consideration when establishing those statements, does run the risk of being misleading.

Senator GALLAGHER: Okay. I'm not sure I understand the logic. To the COVID committee, for example, you're reporting every fortnight the number of people receiving certain payments now. We can see the number of people on the payments plus the funding that is allocated in the budget year. So it's not a secret or it's not information that is withheld when we're in the current financial year. Your argument is that it can be misconstrued in the out years?

Mr Flavel : Well, in that particular example, I think there is a difference with actuals, which represent the total number of people who have been paid in that fortnight. That is an absolute factor. Once you step beyond that and you are talking about forecasts and projections, they are just one factor that is taken into account.

Senator GALLAGHER: But it is a major factor, isn't it, the recipient numbers?

Mr Flavel : Yes. It is a major factor, of course.

Senator GALLAGHER: I'm not sure I agree with you. The budget is a set of numbers that are actual. You are reporting actuals. You have the current financial year and then a series of forecasts and estimates for the out years. I understand that. It is across all departments and all agencies and all programs. These are people receiving income support. There are numbers of people receiving various payments. Maybe I'm missing the bit that becomes really difficult to be upfront about. Minister, why wouldn't you tell us what the government is expecting in terms of the number of unemployed people to be receiving JobSeeker next year? I just don't know why it would be—

Senat or Ruston: As I responded to the previous question, not all of this information resides with us.

Senator GALLAGHER: Fair enough. It is not that. I am trying to understand why. Mr Flavel said it has been asked for before and not released. I presume when you go back and have your consultations the answer will be—I'm not a fortune teller—'No, we're not going to release that information.' So it's not the first time it has been asked for and not provided. I'm not trying to pre-empt.

Senator Ruston: I'll get back to you.

Senator GREEN: Another thing that is weird, Mr Flavel, is that often we ask for data from various departments and we receive that information but there is context provided. If the concern is that the context is needed to understand the numbers, that is not a reason not to provide the information. It is a reason to provide the information in a table perhaps with data and make sure that the answer to the question we are asking today has the context attached to it. But that is not an appropriate reason to not provide information. Is there another—

Senator Ruston: Senator, I haven't said that we are not going to provide the information. What I have said is that I have taken it on notice.

Senator GREEN: Mr Flavel said that one of the reasons for not publishing it or providing it is that there is context to that information. But we get that information—

Senator Ruston: The basis for a lot of this information resides in Treasury.

Senator GREEN: The basis. You do have the information.

Senator Ruston: Clearly, I have taken on notice that I will speak with Treasury and come back to you with a response. That time, perhaps, is the point in time where you can prosecute these alternative arguments, if they are necessary.

Senator GREEN: We asked for it at the last estimates. We wrote before this estimates again. The conversations still haven't happened.

Senator GALLAGHER: You'll have another look at it for us, Minister Ruston?

Senator Ruston: Yes.

Senator GREEN: I want to get an update, Minister, on the changes to paid parental leave with regard to the work test. I know there were some recent changes. The changes, as I understand it, exempt someone from the work test if they are escaping family violence. Where is that up to in terms of implementation? I think the legislation was introduced in May.

Senator Ruston: Yes.

Mr Flavel : Yes. The rules were actually registered yesterday.

Senator GREEN: Hence my questions.

Senator GALLAGHER: Are the rules available?

Mr Fla vel : I assume so, yes.

Senator GALLAGHER: So they were approved yesterday?

Mr Flavel : No. Not approved. Registered yesterday. The legislation passed, I think, on 4 September. The rules that support the amendment to the PPL legislation were registered yesterday.

Mr Griggs : It is retrospective, so it is back to 4 September.

Senator GALLAGHER: But they are available publicly, you reckon? Okay.

Senator GREEN: You are jumping ahead of me, Mr Griggs. Now that the rules have been made, does that mean that that exemption can be accessed and it can be accessed retrospectively?

Mr Griggs : Back to 4 September.

Senator GREEN: This year?

Mr Griggs : Yes.

Senator GREEN: So it doesn't go back any further than that?

Senator Ruston: Because of changes related to enabling the COVID disaster payment to qualify for the work test, it went back to prior to the COVID disaster payment being available.

Senator GREEN: But the exemption isn't tied to COVID-19 going forward? It is an exemption that will exist for the payment aside from COVID-19?

Senator Ruston: Can you explain to me what you are asking for?

Senator GREEN: In general, if someone is suffering from family and domestic violence.

Senator Ruston: Family and domestic violence, sorry.

Senator GREEN: The exemption for family and domestic violence is in place now. It's not reliant on COVID payments or anything like that. It will be there now. But it only goes back to September?

Mr Flavel : That was the date the legislation was passed.

Senator GREEN: That means that if you were receiving PPL in September, you can apply for a work test?

Mr Flavel : I think that is the point. You are being exempt from a work test for qualification for PPL. If you are already receiving PPL, by definition you've already met a work test.

Senator GREEN: Okay. So you have to apply for paid parental leave from 4 September for that exemption to then be available to you?

Mr Flavel : Correct. The ordinary work test is for somebody to have worked for 10 out of the previous 13 months prior to the birth of their child. I think the minister was referring to additional flexibility both last year with the concessional work test and, more recently, with crediting anybody who was on the COVID disaster payment as being qualified for work for that period. But in relation to the special circumstances, these will apply from 4 September for people applying. Of course, if they are granted, by definition, they will have been taken to meet the work test.

Senator GRE EN: There are other special circumstances, aren't they? What are they?

Mr Flavel : Natural disaster and severe medical condition; they are the two.

Senator GREEN: Not to labour the point, if someone didn't meet the work test because of a natural disaster before September, it's only anything that happens after September that would be trapped by this exemption?

Mr Flavel : Correct.

Senator GREEN: If you failed the work test because of the bushfires over the last summer, that's not going to count?

Mr Flavel : No. It wouldn't. There is no retrospective application of the law.

Senator GREEN: Minister, the Labor MP Jason Clare raised this matter in parliament in 2018 several times because of a constituent of his who was denied PPL based on the fact that she didn't meet the work test. She was a victim of family violence. In February, I think, Mr Clare wrote to you about it again because you were the new minister, highlighting the flaws in the legislation. Why did it take so long for the government to establish an exemption for women who are fleeing family and domestic violence?

Senator Ruston: Obviously, as a government, we have worked on a number of fronts to make sure that we support women who are fleeing family and domestic violence. Clearly, this was one of the anomalies in the system. Last year, we worked particularly hard, changing the work test, to make sure that women who were impacted by COVID-19 and were unable to meet the work test because of changes to their work circumstances were not denied the ability to get access to paid parental leave. Subsequently, we've made these additional changes at the same time as we made changes in the provisions around lockdowns. That is to make sure that women in lockdown areas unable to meet the work test because they were technically not employed could use the COVID disaster payment to count towards it. We will work to make sure that we are continuously improving these and many other areas of social policy. We are pleased to have been able to make this change.

Senator GREEN: But it's pretty late for those women who didn't have access to PPL or those parents, sorry.

Senator Ruston: As I said, Senator, the last 18 months to two years have been an extraordinary time. We have continued to work and listen to people, particularly expectant families, around the things that are important. That includes improving flexibility measures within superannuation as well as addressing particular issues that face women through natural disasters, bushfires and the challenges of COVID. We'll continue to do so.

Senator GREEN: I might get cut off by the break. Is that right?

ACTING CHAIR: You have one minute.

Senator GREEN: I don't have any other questions on that topic.

ACTING CHAIR: It is almost the break time. We will break and return at 11.15 am. We are still in outcome 1. Thank you very much.

Proceedings suspended from 11:0 0 to 11:17

ACTING CHAIR: We will resume this Senate estimates hearing. I'll turn to Senator Rice.

Senator RICE: I think I've been kept up to date with what was covered off when I wasn't in the room, so, hopefully, I'm not going over stuff.

Senator Ruston: We'll tell you if you are!

Senator RICE: You will, that's right! I want to start with the letter I wrote requesting data. I am wondering whether that data can be provided.

Mr Griggs : Can you refresh me? Was it child support?

Senator RICE: It was a whole range of issues.

Senator Ruston: The estimates letter?

Senator RICE: Yes, the estimates letter. It was requesting a range of data about a range of different programs. Let's move on. If I can get the answers to those questions, that would be very helpful.

Mr Griggs : We'll have a look.

Senator RICE: I want to start with the removal of disaster payments. As we've got to the 80 per cent and 90 per cent vaccination rate, those disaster payments are being removed. While New South Wales and Victoria were still declared hotspots, how many people were receiving disaster payments?

Mr Flavel : They are questions that are best handled when Services Australia arrives this afternoon.

Senator Ruston: Could you repeat the question, Senator Rice?

Senator RICE: It is about the COVID disaster payments. Has the hotspot designation officially been removed now?

Mr Fl avel : It is more than under those arrangements, as I understand. They are now moving to the phased approach once they've got beyond the 70 per cent and 80 per cent. Those payments are actually the policy responsibility of Minister McKenzie and the National Recovery and Resilience Agency. We don't hold policy responsibility. Services Australia is administering those payments. It is best for you to ask Services Australia this afternoon when they are here questions about how many and what locations.

Senator RICE: Are there any figures on how many people who were receiving the disaster payments are now not getting them and applying for JobSeeker?

Mr Flavel : I might take that on notice simply because in New South Wales many people are still receiving the stepdown rate of CDP, the COVID disaster payment. We've actually not seen increases to the trend rates of people coming on to JobSeeker.

Senator Ruston: We wouldn't necessarily catch the data that would say somebody had been on a CDP payment. You may.

Senator RICE: I'm interested to know whether you would capture that data. One of the issues, as I've discovered about this whole area, is just what data is and isn't being captured that is useful and valuable.

Senator Ruston: If somebody were unable to return to their place of work—obviously the CDP is about maintaining connection to their workplace by providing them directly with that payment—and they were transitioning, they would report this week's CDP payment as their income, because you obviously have to report earnings when you are on payment. We don't ask people where they earned their money. We ask them only what their earnings are. You could get an estimation, I suppose, if it were an exact amount that they were reporting as earnings. When people apply for payment, we only ask them for earnings. We don't ask them where they got those earnings from.

Senator RICE: Is there going to be a way of tracking that, then, to know how many people who were on those disaster payments end up then not returning to work and then applying for JobSeeker?

Mr Flavel : Again, it is a question best for Services Australia as the administrator simply because it's not our policy responsibility. We as a department don't own the data in relation to the COVID disaster payment. We do for JobSeeker. In terms of how many might transition, I think it is best to ask Services Australia this afternoon.

Senator RICE: Can you tell me what data you have about income support recipients who have a partial capacity to work? How is that broken down? What is the granular detail that you can provide me about people with a partial capacity to work?

Mr Flavel : I have some data. Do you have particular questions?

Senator RICE: The request has been made. There is different medical capacity, so different categories of what type of illness they've got.

Mr Flavel : I have a list.

Senator RICE: Maybe you could table it, then. The following categories are psychological, psychiatric, musculoskeletal, connective tissue, circulatory, endocrine, nervous system, intellectual, respiratory system, cancer or tumour, and sense organs.

Mr Flavel : I provided those at the last hearings. I had figures. They are part of something else. I'm not in a position to table it right now, but I am happy to arrange to get you that information.

Senator RICE: Yes. Following the data provided in March. You can get me that information. Is that information available over the last five years as well to show the changes?

Mr Flavel : I have the data as at 24 September 2021. I would have to take on notice and get a data run to produce that over a five-year period, if you are happy to nominate the data points or the dates upon which you are seeking it.

Senator RICE: If you have a particular point that is easy to provide that data for at various times in each year, I am happy to go with the data you have as long as it does give us that time series over that five years.

Mr Flavel : It just needs to be at a point in time, so we just need to choose a date within each of those five years.

Senator RICE: Having just taken on this portfolio, I am catching up on some of these things.

Mr Flavel : That's okay.

Senator RICE: The information was provided in March. What was the date it was at?

Mr Flavel : I am not quite sure. I have just indicated that I have data for 24 September 2021. That is the most up-to-date picture of the breakdown of those medical categories.

Senator RICE: Why don't we go for that September date, then, for the last five years. Thank you. Did the March data give the demographic breakdown of people according to payment type, Indigenous status, gender, CALD status, age et cetera?

Mr Flavel : It didn't. I'm happy to take that on notice, if you are after that information.

Senator RICE: Yes, please. What data have you got about housing status?

Mr Flavel : Somebody might correct me. I am not sure we have housing status for that subcategory of JobSeeker recipients.

Senator Ruston: As to whether they are renting?

Senator RICE: Whether they are home owners, paying a mortgage, in government housing, renting.

Mr Flavel : We may well have. I just haven't seen that data. Some of the other categories you've mentioned we collect and have been asked for previously. I'm just not sure about the housing indicator one. It may well be that we have it. I just need to go away and check that.

Senator RICE: What information have you got about the vulnerability indicators of income recipients with a partial capacity to work?

Mr Flavel : That might be something we need to liaise with our colleagues at Services Australia on in terms of specific indicators that might be attached to somebody's record.

Senator RICE: I have quite a lot of detail about the various categories. I will put those categories in rather than go through our time now. If you can endeavour to get the data to us, that would be very useful for people. I want to go to single parents, particularly single women and mothers. I am trying to understand the complexity of this. Basically, it is where people are getting maintenance from the father of the child and the father of the child isn't lodging their tax return. They put in provisional income. When they lodge their tax return and show that they've earned a lot more money. Then the mother gets a family tax debt. The presumption is that they are going to get that money back from the father, but that often doesn't happen. What I am interested in is the number of social security claimants who have a family payment debt due to the maintenance income test.

Mr Flavel : I'm not sure we've got debt indicators. Maybe for clarity, as I think you would know, under the child support arrangement, about half of parents use what is known as agency collects. That is where Services Australia, having determined the formula, acts as the collection agent between the two parents. Roughly 50 per cent use what is known as private collect arrangements. In other words, there's an assessment done but the payment arrangements are made from the first parent to the second parent. In those cases, I think what you are referring to is that, for family tax benefit purposes, the maintenance test assumes that the person has received the full complement. In some circumstances, where there is an adjustment to the person's income, they might have more. We'd have to go away and look at what data we have in terms of the debts. I would note, though, that there are provisions in the law to allow people to be exempt from the maintenance income test. For instance, where there are indicators of family and domestic violence, they can apply and actually be exempted. In that case, effectively, they would get the full rate of family tax benefit payment.

Senator RICE: Take on notice what information you have about those debts and what that has looked like over the last five years as well—whether it is an increasing issue. Can you tell me about debt recovery? Is this a question to ask Services Australia, or can you talk me through it? What are the processes of debt recovery employed by Services Australia when women are faced with these debts?

Mr Flavel : I think that question is really about the administrative arrangements that Services Australia applies.

Senator RICE: I will ask them later today. Have you got data on children? How many children have a parent receiving a working-age payment by individual payments?

Mr Flavel : We will have that, but it is quite a bit of data because I think you are asking for all working-age payment?

Sena tor RICE: Yes, by individual payments.

Mr Flavel : I think it's best to take that on notice. It is quite a detailed request.

Senator RICE: Take that on notice. I think the carer payments were covered by Labor before morning tea, so I'll presume that the questions I had have been covered off. That's me for outcome 1.

ACTING CHAIR: Great. Thank you very much. Does Senator Green have any other questions in outcome 1?

Senator GREEN: We have questions on outcome 2.

[11:30]

ACTING CHAIR: That concludes outcome 1. We will move now to outcome 2, families and communities. Senator Waters, Senator O'Sullivan, Senator Rice and Labor senators have indicated that they will have questions. I will start with Senator O'Sullivan. I will check to see whether Senator Waters is on the line. Not just yet. We'll send her a message.

Senator GREEN: Can I see if there is an answer to that question I asked this morning? I asked a question this morning and they were going to come back with a number.

ACTIN G CHAIR: Yes. That's right. They still might do that. Shall we inquire at 1.00 pm?

Senator GREEN: While Senator O'Sullivan gets ready. I can ask it in 15 minutes.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: My questions are going to be about the cashless debit card. I think, Ms Hefren-Webb, you can probably answer these questions. Can you please explain the type of company that Indue is and what their role is in relation to the cashless debit card?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes. Indue is an approved deposit-taking institution, so essentially a financial institution. Their role is to provide participants with the cashless debit card with access to banking services, essentially. There is the provision of a card and online support for that card and telephone support. In some locations, they subcontract local organisations to provide face-to-face advice as well. So they effectively operate similar to a financial institution for the purposes of the cashless debit card.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Are other banks, such as the Commonwealth Bank, Westpac and ANZ, to name a few, also authorised deposit-taking institutions?

Ms Hefren-Webb : That's correct, yes.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Indue is acting in the same way they are?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes. That's right.

Senator O'S ULLIVAN: Has the Australian government ever been an authorised deposit-taking institution?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Not since the sale of the Commonwealth Bank, I think, is the answer to that. No. We're certainly not now. I was reminded by one of my staff the other day about a conversation that the Commonwealth used to own the Commonwealth Bank. I can't recall when it was sold.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Neither can I. I think it was decades ago. How long has the government had contracts with Indue for? What were they for?

Ms Hefren-Webb : The government has had contracts with Indue, to my knowledge, since about 2008. Indue is the provider of the BasicsCard. Services Australia actually has the contract agreement for the BasicsCard. This department holds the contract for the cashless debit card. Indue provides both cards.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: So the relationship with Indue and the contract with Indue predate the cashless debit card because the BasicsCard is also provided by Indue?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Correct. When the BasicsCard commenced, there was an approach to market undertaken at the time to determine who would be able to provide a card service. Indue were successful in that procurement process.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Does Indue, as an authorised deposit-taking institution, in the same way that the Commonwealth Bank, ANZ or others do, have any say over what merchants or products are blocked?

Ms Hefren-Webb : No. They are decisions of the department operating under the framework of the legislation.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: So it's the department that makes the decision. You would then instruct Indue to put into their settings in their systems to enable or disable a particular payment and transaction to go through?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Correct.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: How are those decisions made by the department?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Obviously, there are some prima facie decisions, where a merchant is selling predominantly goods that are excluded under the cashless debit card—bottle shops et cetera. The question of mixed merchants is one where we examine closely the types of products that they are selling and the pattern of transactions. We might make a decision about blocking access to a merchant if there's a pattern of unusual transactions that arises with that merchant and discussions with that merchant haven't enabled us to satisfactorily determine that they are putting in place the proper measures to not sell restricted items. So it is case by case.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: So if someone wants to make a purchase at a blocked merchant and they are prevented from doing so because they are blocked by the system, who do they contact? What is the process? Do they contact Indue for that?

Ms Hefren-Webb : They can contact Services Australia on the call hotline.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: So they wouldn't contact Indue for that?

Ms Hefren-Webb : No.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: They would contact Services Australia?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes. They can be assisted.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: So it's not Indue that is making the decision as to whether or not a transaction can be allowed?

Ms Hefren-Webb : No.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Thank you. We're seeing reports, many online, peddled through Facebook, and other media, saying that the cost of the CDC is about $5,200 per participant. Is that correct? If it is not, can you clarify for us what the cost per participant is.

Ms Hefren-Webb : Obviously, the cost per participant varies according to how many participants we have. At the moment, we're in a transition phase and we're getting new participants in the Northern Territory. The cost per participant is approximately $1,100.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: So there were some initial sunk costs, I suppose. Is that how they are coming up with this $5,200?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I'm not 100 per cent sure.

Senator RICE: Is that data available, the analysis of what the costs are, with these disputed figures?

Ms Hefren-Webb : We can certainly provide you on notice more information about the costs. As I think we've talked about before, there are some sunk costs. So there are some costs that we have to incur regardless of whether we have one participant or 20 participants in a location. Then we have additional costs per participant. But we can provide some more detail about that on notice, if that would be helpful, Senator Rice.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Thank you. Is it correct that last year the government introduced legislation into this parliament that would have given the minister the power to put all age pensioners on to the CDC?

Ms Hefren-Webb : No.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: That's incorrect?

Ms Hefren-Webb : That's incorrect.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: We're also seeing this online. People are saying that the minister has the power. Minister, you don't have the power to be able to do that?

Senator Ruston: No. Just for the record, because there has been a huge amount of misinformation around this card, last year when that legislation was actually before the parliament, I believe Senator Patrick and possibly Senator Lambie were signatories to an amendment that explicitly required that the Commonwealth could not force an age pensioner on to the cashless debit card. If you recall, Senator, you and I sat on the side of the chamber in support of that amendment, which actually explicitly required in legislation—

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Yes. I do recall it.

Senator Ruston: us to do it. The Labor Party sat on the other side along with the Greens and actually voted against it. I find it horribly disingenuous that the Labor Party would be out there scaring pensioners, which is basically what they are doing; they are out there running a scare campaign that is terrifying age pensioners. It is absolutely based on a lie. They know it is based on a lie. I think it is absolutely disgusting that this kind of stuff is going on. As a government, we will always defend our policies. It is pretty difficult to defend a policy against people who are just lying.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: So there was an opportunity for Labor to actually side with the government in categorically ruling out the opportunity for you as minister to apply to put age pensioners on to the cashless debit card and Labor, for the record, voted against that?

Senator Ruston: That's correct. They voted against the Senate amendment.

Senator GREEN: The whole thing—

Senator Ruston: The particular amendment.

Senator GREEN: is rubbish.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I think the chair has given me the call.

Senator Ruston: Senator O'Sullivan, there is another thing that I would really like to put on the record today. The bill that we are referring to sought to continue the cashless debit card operation in four sites around Australia where the communities had actually asked for this card—the Kimberly region, the Goldfields region, Ceduna on the west-coast of South Australia and Bundaberg in the Wide Bay area. That was one provision. The second provision was seeking for people who are currently on the BasicsCard to be able to transition across to the CDC. I can speak for the next three-quarters of an hour about the difference between the BasicsCard and the CDC. The bill did not go to the substance of income management or no income management. What we have seen subsequently is a conflation. I would be really keen to understand the official position of the opposition in relation—

Senator GREEN: I don't think that is a matter for estimates.

Senator Ruston: the CDC. We saw a private member's bill introduced into the lower house this week. I am keen to understand why the shadow minister for social services, Ms Burney, who has responsibility and carriage for this policy in the opposition, hasn't said anything. I'm really interested in the actual argument and what we're talking about here. It seems to me that a whole heap of issues have been conflated. There are lies and there is misinformation that is all adding to a completely dishonest and disingenuous presentation to the Australian public that seems to be nothing more than political scaremongering. The victims of this are older Australians.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I have a couple more questions. I want to go back to the age pensioners. Under the legislation, under what circumstances can an age pensioner be put on to the cashless debit card?

Senator Ruston: Currently, an age pensioner could be required to go on to the cashless debit card in one of two ways. I will get Ms Hefren-Webb to clarify this. One is if they voluntarily request to do so. Currently, we have over 700 Australians who are on the age pension who have actually requested to go on the card. In the transition in Cape York, where we offered the opportunity to people in Cape York who are on the BasicsCard to go on to the cashless debit card, I am pleased to say that every single one of them chose to move across. We also now have more people in Cape York who are voluntarily on the card than those who have been required through the Family Responsibilities Commission to go on it. The only other circumstance in which an age pensioner can be required to go on to the card is under the state and territory vulnerability provisions, which, for instance, may be someone under a child protection order and the like. So the federal government, in and of itself, has no power whatsoever to force any age pensioner on to the cashless debit card. They are the only two circumstances under which this can happen.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Thank you. To the department: has the government ever considered requiring age pensioners to be placed on the cashless debit card?

Ms Hefren-Webb : From the department's perspective, we have provided no advice to my knowledge.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: You have never been asked for advice?

Ms Hefren-Webb : No. Not while I've been in this role, no.

Senator Ruston: I will qualify. I said 700 people have voluntarily gone on to the cashless debit card. They are not age pensioners necessarily. Some will be age pensioners. Seven hundred Australians have voluntarily gone on the cashless debit card.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Thanks for that clarification. Minister, with regard to age pensioners, in a similar vein: was there any consideration given, even into the future, for age pensioners to be put on the cashless debit card?

Senator Ruston: I can categorically say there never has, there isn't and there never will be under this government any intention to require age pensioners to go on to the cashless debit card. I can repeat that all day if you would like me to.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Thank you.

Senator McCARTHY: I want to go to product-level blocking and multiple issues. How many CDC product-level blocking sites are currently in operation?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I have to see if one of my colleagues can come to the table and answer specifically for you.

Senator McCARTHY: While we're waiting for them to come to the table, Ms Hefren-Webb, I might check with the minister on her latest response of 700 Australians who have gone on to it. How many age pensioners are on the BasicsCard?

Mr Boneham : There are two types of merchants involved in product-level blocking. The first is the larger corporates. That includes Woolworths, Australia Post, Coles and a number of other corporates. They have their own product-level blocking software. That is available in around 5,800 stores at the moment. In relation to smaller merchants, we currently have around 30 or 31.

Senator McCARTHY: How many merchants does product-level blocking work at? That is 5,800?

Mr Boneham : It is 5,800. That includes 3,000 from Australia Post, 180 for Big W, 800 for Coles, 550 Euro Garages, 200 Kmart, 280 Target and 1,000 Woolworths. Aldi also has eight stores.

Ms Hefren-Webb : Product-level blocking only comes into play when we're talking about a mixed merchant that sells both restricted and unrestricted items. The vast majority of merchants in Australia don't sell restricted items. The cashless debit card is able to be utilised at over a million EFTPOS machines. It already works at all stores such as clothing stores and food stores et cetera that don't sell alcohol, which is the vast majority. Product-level blocking really only comes into play in mixed merchant cases. The figure that Mr Boneham has given relates to how many mixed merchants. I want to be clear that that doesn't mean that it is not used at a whole lot of other stores.

Senator McC ARTHY: So the big supermarkets are Woolies, Coles and Aldi?

Mr Boneham : Aldi has eight at the moment. That is mainly in the CDC sites. They will be looking to roll it out to much broader areas. Coles and Woolworths have a much more national approach.

Senator McCARTHY: Where are they with Coles and Woolies now across the states?

Mr Boneham : My understanding is that all Coles and Woolworths have the capacity to run product-level blocking.

Senator McCARTHY: Now, or is there a particular time frame?

Mr Boneham : My understanding is now.

Senator McCARTHY: So that's across Australia?

Mr Boneham : Yes. If that is not correct, I will—

Senator McCARTHY: All Coles and Woolies. Is that the state—

Mr Boneham : If that is not correct, I will let you know.

Ms Hefren-Webb : Coles and Woolies essentially run their own EFTPOS technology. They don't procure it separately. Because of that, they've been able to make the relevant upgrades themselves to their EFTPOS machines to enforce product-level blocking.

Senator McCARTHY: You said with Australia Post that there are 3,000?

Mr Boneham : Yes.

Senator McCARTHY: How many Australia Post offices are there? Would you be expecting more Australia Post offices to take it on board?

Mr Boneham : Once again, I'm happy to check. Three thousand is quite a large number. That could potentially be all of them already.

Senator McCARTHY: Are we talking about remote «community» Australia Post services?

Mr Boneham : I would have to confirm that as well. I would assume at 3,000—

Senator McCARTHY: Could you please?

Mr Boneham : Yes. We can confirm that.

Senator McCARTHY: Could you please identify the locations? In particular, here in the Northern Territory, in our remote regions, how many of those post offices actually are doing this?

Mr Boneham : I'll have to take that on notice.

Senator McCARTHY: In what geographic locations can product-level blocking currently be used?

Mr Boneham : On a nationwide basis?

Senator McCARTHY: Is that right across the country?

Mr Boneham : In relation to smaller merchants, they would be already in the CDC sites. I'm not aware of product-level blocking being rolled out in smaller merchants outside those sites. If it is nationwide, obviously that would be nationwide.

Senator McCARTHY: So it is rolled out nationwide?

Mr Boneham : Coles and Woolworths would just do an update in their software for all of their point-of-sale systems. That would just be part of that software.

Senator McCARTHY: That is national. What about the large organisations that you have mentioned?

Mr Boneham : The smaller merchants? Is that what you are after?

Senator McCARTHY: No. We are talking about the larger merchants such as Australia Post and the Euro Garages. You've said that Woolies and Coles are doing it. Is Aldi national?

Mr Boneham : My understanding is that that is a national rollout. If not, I will confirm that. I will have that confirmed.

Senator McCARTHY: So product-level blocking is being rolled out across the country?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Senator, product-level blocking, as I said, only comes into play where it is a mixed merchant. It essentially makes it a more seamless transaction for the person buying. It is being rolled out at mixed merchants across the country. There are a large number of merchants where it doesn't need to be rolled out, because it doesn't come into play.

Senator McCARTHY: It is very generous of you to roll it out across the country.

Mr Boneham : In this case, it is cheaper for Coles, Big W and Woolworths et cetera to do it on a national basis than to try to target the particular CDC sites. If you have to do it once, it would be cheaper just to roll it out across the network across Australia.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: The systems are universal.

Senator McCARTHY: And that would be because you are starting to roll the CDC out across Australia?

Senator Ruston: Not at all. The reason we are doing this is that we want people who are on the CDC to be able to use their card when they travel around Australia. Their ability to use their card when they travel off country is really important. We are making sure that they have a seamless experience and their card operates the same way as any other key card that happens to be in their wallet. That is the purpose of what we are doing.

Senator McCARTH Y: That is very generous of you, Minister, given so many problems around the CDC for people using it in terms of paying their rents and surviving each day. I will go back to the CDC technology working group agenda for the meeting held on level 27 of the Westpac Banking Corporation tower in Barangaroo in Sydney on 19 February 2020. What a beautiful view that must be. How many banks are able to support product-level blocking through their systems?

Mr Boneham : We are in trials with all big four banks. No bank that I am aware of yet has fully rolled out product-level blocking. There are a number of other people who also provide POS systems or PIN pads. That would include Suncorp and Tyro. I will have to find in my notes what the other one is. There are another two providers. Most of them are working on an ability for product-level blocking to be included in their PIN pads. The time of rollout will be different for all of those providers.

Senator McCARTHY: Could you repeat the names? You dropped out a bit due to the technology.

Mr Boneham : I will have to find it.

Ms Hefren-Webb : Senator, while Mr Boneham is looking, you asked earlier, I think, how many age pensioners are on the BasicsCard. I have been informed by my team that there are 747 age pensioners currently with a BasicsCard.

Senator Ruston: Put on the BasicsCard under a previous government.

Senator McCARTHY: How many on the CDC?

Ms Hefren-Webb : How many age pensioners on the CDC? I believe there are 25.

Senator McCARTHY: Twenty-five age pensioners on the CDC. Where are they largely based, Ms Hefren-Webb?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Largely in Cape York. As the minister said, it was a request from the leaders and the Family Responsibilities Commission that we continue to provide that opportunity. The five elsewhere would be volunteers.

Senator Ruston: The only place that anybody is on the cashless debit card is at the direction of the Family Responsibilities Commission in the Cape. Many of the age pensioners are voluntary up there as well. The ones that Ms Hefren-Webb referred to in the Northern Territory would only be voluntary. As I said, and I will repeat it: the federal government does not and will not force any age pensioners on to the cashless debit card. Just to be very clear, the age pensioners on the BasicsCard were put on the BasicsCard under legislation put into place by the previous Labor government.

Mr Boneham : With respect to your question, Senator, I don't have the names of the PIN pad providers with me. I will get someone to see if they can forward that to me so that I can answer that question as soon as possible.

Senator McCARTHY: This is the banks, though?

Mr Boneham : They are the banks.

Senator McCARTHY: You mentioned them.

Mr Boneham : You would have the ANZ, Commonwealth, Westpac and NAB. I understand that Suncorp also has a stake in that PIN pad market. There is another independent group called Tyro. There are one or two which aren't coming to mind. One is Winsheer or something like that. I would like to get information that I can put to you later.

Senator Ruston: Another thing that is probably worth adding to this conversation, Senator McCarthy, not specifically about what Mr Boneham is talking about, is the partnership in relation to the Traditional Credit Union, which will be an issuer of the cashless debit card. Up in your home territory of the Northern Territory, that Indigenous organisation will be also a provider of the cashless debit card.

Senator McCARTHY: They are not included in these meetings currently? I'm just trying to understand the meeting that took place at Barangaroo.

Senator Ruston: I was just raising it because you were referring to banks. I want to let you know that they are an issuer. They've actually moved first in relation to having this card available to their clients.

Senator McCARTHY: Will they be a part of this technology working group?

Senator Ruston: They've already moved on the issuing.

Mr Boneham : TCU are not currently part of the TWG. I'm not aware of any potential to include them on it.

Senator McCARTHY: You don't expect that any First Nations banking organisations will be involved with this?

Senator Ruston: We have had significant consultation with the Traditional Credit Union on an ongoing basis. I have met with them and spoken to them on a number of occasions, including in person when I was in Darwin. We have a very close and direct working relationship with TCU. I can assure you that the level of consultation that has been undertaken about this is significantly in excess of the consultation that appears to have been undertaken by the private member's bill that has been put into the other place. There doesn't seem to have been any consultation with anyone.

Senator McCARTHY: You have a technology working group that is engaging with banks that are impacting a large proportion of First Nations people. You can't seem to include the First Nations banking organisation in it. That is all my question is, Minister.

Senator Ruston: I'm more than happy to extend the invitation to the Traditional Credit Union to participate in that group. As I said, we've been working separately with them. They are in a much more advanced stage in relation to what they are doing with the cashless debit card in the Northern Territory. I am more than happy to extend that invitation for them to participate.

Senator McCARTHY: Does the national payments system support product level blocking?

Ms Hefren-Webb : It does. That is why Coles and Woolworths et cetera have been able to roll it out. The piece of work that we're doing in the technology working group is essentially trying to bring additional providers on board—providers of EFTPOS systems and merchant acquirers, essentially, with product level blocking. I want to clarify that part of the reason why the TCU hasn't been part of that is the focus is not on frontline banking; it's on actually the back end system's architecture. Yes, the payment system does support it. That is how we have been able to implement it.

Senator McCARTHY: Thank you, Ms Hefren-Webb. Is the RBA involved in product level blocking at all?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I have had no conversations with the RBA. Treasury are, of course, aware of the project and are kept informed about it. Not to my knowledge have we had engagement with the RBA.

Senator McCARTHY: Has anyone in the government had any contact with the RBA about product level blocking?

Senator Ruston: I'm at a loss to understand, Senator McCarthy, the basis of your question.

Senator McCARTHY: Just a simple yes or no.

Senator Ruston: Why would the RBA have anything to do with product level blocking? They don't have EFTPOS machines.

Senator McCARTHY: You tell me, Minister. It's just a question. Yes or no.

Senator Ruston: There would be no reason why we would be engaging with the RBA in relation to product level blocking.

Senator McCARTHY: Ms Hefren-Webb mentioned the Treasury. You might want to check with the relevant minister in terms of Treasury.

ACTING CHAIR: Senator McCarthy, thank you for your question. We can come back to you. We are going to turn to Senator Waters now.

Senator McCARTHY: Thank you, Chair.

Senator WATERS: I have some questions first about the national plan. I note that there was an amount of money announced in the budget that was promised to flow to frontline DV services, including legal services. When will that money get out the door, because none of those services have received a cent yet?

Senator Ruston: Are you referring to legal services? Did I hear you say legal services?

Senator WATERS: Really any of them, including any of the frontline service money. When will it actually hit those services?

Senator Ruston: Of course. We are in the final stages of putting in place the arrangements with the states and territories for the provision of the additional $260 million that was announced in the budget to provide support to the states and territories around frontline service provision, particularly in the long tail of COVID. As we know, we've seen an increase in domestic violence during the pandemic. Last year, in the pandemic, we provided $130 million to the states and territories. We've subsequently announced in the budget an additional $260 million. That was over a two-year period, so $130 million this year and next year. The first amount has been agreed through women's safety ministers that it will be delivered under the national partnership agreement on a pro rata states formula. I believe that those documents are with the states and territories at the moment for signing to come back for the release of money as soon as those contracts have been returned.

Senator WATERS: When are you expecting that to occur? It has obviously been a while since the announcement, and the services are still waiting. The demand, as you say, has increased. What is the timeframe that the money will get out the door?

Senator Ruston: We are waiting on the contracts to come back from the states and territories. The states and territories have not indicated that there are any services that had funding cut or not been able to continue on the basis of this. We are working very productively with the states and territories and making sure that we and they are focusing the resources they have to meet the demand in the areas where they have seen, unfortunately, an increase.

Senator WATERS: Demand is not being met. That's part of the reason why more money was needed. Even more money is needed than was promised. When are you expecting the money to reach those services?

Senator Ruston: As soon as we receive the contracts back from the states and territories, the national partnership agreements, the money will be provided.

Senator WATERS: I understand that. When are you expecting that to be?

Senator Ruston: That is probably a question you are best put to the states and territories. I am assuming it is imminent.

Senator WATERS: Well, I don't have them before me at estimates.

Senator Ruston: I can't answer your question on behalf of someone else.

Ms Hefren-Webb : I might add that the first draft of our national partnership multilateral schedule was provided to the states and territories in August. They've come back with a couple of rounds of comments about the scope of the services to be supported and the nature of the reporting requirements et cetera. There has been a discussion about that between the states and the Commonwealth at both officials level and ministerial level. The states are all very aware of where that agreement is up to. We have sent a final schedule for their signature. We are awaiting their signature. Obviously we are hoping they will get it back as soon as possible so that payments can start to flow in November. We need a signed multilateral schedule before we can commence payment.

Senator Ruston : There is another thing that is probably worth qualifying. I know that Senator Waters would be well and truly aware of this. The federal government does not in almost every instance fund frontline services. We fund them via these national partnership agreements with the states and territories. The states and territories are the ones that have the relationship with their frontline services.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. I understand that. Thank you to the officer for that greater detail about your hope being that it is November. I also hope that is the case. Can we expect any further funding announcements in this space?

Senator Ruston: I think the Prime Minister's comment, when we announced the $1.1 billion in the 2021 budget, was that it was a downpayment on the next national plan to end violence against women and their children. We are in the very final stages of the preparation of the draft plan, which has to go through a process, obviously, of consultation with the necessary bodies that we have in place to support us in developing the plan. Of course, it also needs to go to the women's safety ministers taskforce. Of course, this is a partnership between the federal government and the states and territories as well. There is a very strong commitment from this government. It is the largest ever commitment with the $1.1 billion. As I said, the Prime Minister referred to it as a downpayment on the next national plan to end violence against women and their children.

Senator WATERS: Thanks, Minister. I want to pick up on a comment that an officer made. I am sorry I can't see your name tag, so apologies for not referencing you.

Senator Ruston: Ms Hefren-Webb.

Senator WATERS: Ms Hefren-Webb, I think you said in those discussions about finalising some of that money to get it out the door that there was a discussion about the scope of services being funded. How was that resolved? What was the outcome of that?

Senator Ruston: We were seeking to resolve a couple of issues as part of this ongoing arrangement with the funding for the next two years with the national partnership agreement. One is trying to get clarity from the states and territories about the areas of demand so that we, as the Commonwealth, have a broader understanding of the services in demand and where they were being sought et cetera. That was part of it. The other thing we were very keen to do as part of this agreement was to make sure that the money was actually going to frontline services—that it goes to people absolutely at the coalface. We didn't want it increasing the number of public servants operating in departments in the states and territories. We were very keen to make sure that it is used on frontline services. I think that's possibly what Ms Hefren-Webb was referring to. Hopefully I haven't verballed her.

Ms Hefren-Webb : That's right. We were agreeing on the type of services. Every state and territory has a slightly different architecture and structure for their domestic violence service system. We were making sure that how we defined it in the multilateral schedule would accommodate, I guess, all those variations. To do that, we needed their advice about how we had nominated various services.

Senator WATERS: Are there any services that haven't previously received funding that would get it? Concomitantly, are there any services that have been receiving funding that now might not get it as a result of that scope examination?

Senator Ruston: Senator, that is a matter for the states and territories. Obviously, they are the ones who are best placed to understand where they want to make the investment to address the issues in their states and territories. We will not be dictating to the states and territories because we think they're best placed to be making the decisions about how best to use the funding that we make available to them to provide the services that they see are needed in their states and territories.

Ms Hefren-Webb : I want to make one point of elaboration on that. In the COVID agreement, which was developed in a very rapid timeframe, we didn't preclude states and territories using it for public servants essentially, as the minister has said. If you are asking whether there were some types of matters that were in scope and are now out of scope, that is the only one that springs to mind. It is that one.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. How many submissions have you received on the national plan consultation?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I might ask Mr Bennett to answer that.

Mr Bennett : In terms of the number of submissions we received, can I clarify? We have done two lots of public consultations. One was early in the process associated with the release of the plan. One was after or around the time we had the national summit. I can give you both, if you like. I want to point out that there is—

Senator WATERS: Yes, please.

Mr Bennett : In the first round of consultations, we had over 1,000 submissions. In the second round, we had approximately 200.

Senator WATERS: Was the second round an invite only?

Mr Bennett : Obviously, this was a consultation process that was on top of what occurred through the parliamentary inquiry. The consultation process was open to anyone to participate. It was done through the two that I am referring to. It was done through a web based service as part of the development of the national plan. We've also engaged Monash University, which has been running a series of other consultation events, including roundtables on different themes, plus interviews with different participants, including victim survivors.

Senator Ruston: Senator Waters, it is also worth mentioning that every Australian had the ability to make a submission to the House of Representatives inquiry. I understand, Mr Bennett, that over 10,000 people made a submission to that inquiry.

Mr Bennett : Unfortunately, I don't have that figure with me.

Senator Ruston: We'll clarify that, Senator Waters, and get back to you.

Mr Bennett : We'll clarify that.

Senator WATERS: I'm more interested in the plan itself. We have had lots of inquiries in the Senate on this issue, too. It's great when you get some engagement on them. Obviously, it is a document that is particularly apposite in this situation.

Senator Ruston: Can I qualify that. The purpose of the request by Senator Payne and me for that inquiry was to inform an additional layer or level of consultation more broadly in relation to the development of the plan. It wasn't just another inquiry. It had a specific purpose.

Senator WATERS: You have had a House of Representatives inquiry to supplement the consultation on the national plan?

Senator Ruston: We wanted to make sure that we had the widest possible scope in relation to allowing people to be able to provide their views on issues that related to this topic. Of course, we had the specific consultation. Particularly in a year with COVID, it provided us with an additional opportunity to engage when we couldn't actually go out and engage.

Senator WATERS: Were you concerned that the web based consultation on the plan directly was inadequate?

Senator Ruston: No. Not at all. Of course, there can never be too much consultation, as I am sure you would agree. Anything that is—

Senator WATERS: Only when one listens to the comments and doesn't use it as a delay tactic, as in the ICAC. That's another matter.

Senator Ruston: I want to take you to task a bit about this. I would like to pay due credit to former Prime Minister Gillard and then minister for women Tanya Plibersek, who were around when the national plan to reduce violence against women and their children was first put forward. As a result of our work in the last 11 years, this is not a partisan issue. Not one woman in Australia is going to be made safer by us doing political point scoring like you just did. I am committed in a completely non-partisan way to work with all people in this parliament and all people in Australia and all levels of government to make sure that we can make Australian women safer. I draw your attention, as I would to anybody else, that party political point scoring does not make Australian women safer.

Senator WATERS: It is not point scoring to suggest that the funding of the services needs to be quadrupled to meet existing demand.

Senator Ruston: That is not what you just said.

Senator WATERS: That is where you could start. My question is whether this is the first time a House of Representatives inquiry has been used to stifle consultation on a national document. I have never heard of that process being used in this way before. I will be corrected. Has this happened before?

Senator Ruston: When putting together something as comprehensive and broad-reaching as this plan, we will seek wherever we can to give people an opportunity to engage in the process. Of course, there were a myriad different ways that we engaged with people—the sector, the public and the states and territories—to make sure we had the very broadest opportunity for people to be able to participate in this process. I don't think there's anything unusual about that.

Senator WATERS: Perhaps you could take that question on notice, then, to answer it. I will move on. What type of consultation is planned on the national plan?

Senator Ruston: I didn't hear a word of that, Senator Waters.

Senator WATERS: What further consultation is planned on the national plan?

Ms Hefren-Web b : The national plan draft is being developed now. We are still finalising some consultation that is occurring with victim survivors. Monash is doing that consultation. We are waiting for that before we get to a draft plan. We will be engaging with our National Plan Advisory Group and our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council and with Women's Safety Ministers on that draft. There will be decisions about what further consultation is required post those processes.

Senator WATERS: Are you expecting a further round once the draft is compiled, or is that still completing it?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I think it depends a bit on the feedback we get through those processes. No decision has been made.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. Your timeframes are getting a bit squished. If there were to be a further round of consultation, when would you have that finished by in order to have the plan ready on time?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes, 'squished' is a good word for it. You are aware that the current national plan runs through to June 2022. We have spoken about having the next national plan finalised by the end of this year. Obviously, it's a balance between achieving that timeframe and undertaking due consultation. They are the sort of parameters we're working in.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. You mentioned that Monash is doing some further consultation with victim survivors. Certainly I welcome that, as I'm sure victim survivors would. The women's summit statement emphasised the importance of centreing victim survivor lived experiences. Will the government establish a victims survivor advisory group to participate in both the development and then implementation of the next plan?

Senator Ruston: Senator Waters, I want to make one clarification. Just to be really clear, the next national plan will be in place in time for the expiry of the existing national plan on 1 July 2022. Whilst because of COVID we've had some time pressures put on to us, we absolutely will have the plan ready to go so that there is no lapse in the time between this one concluding and the next one starting. In relation to your comment—

Senator WATERS: I hadn't envisaged that you might not do that. Thank you for reassuring me. You said it will be on tomorrow.

Senator Ruston: One of my priority focuses is to make sure that that happens. I know that everybody that sits around this table at the moment on this project is equally committed, as are the states and territories, the sector and, hopefully, Australia more broadly. To your point around centring the voices of victim survivors at the very core of the next national plan, that is absolutely the case. Ms Hefren-Webb explained the Monash engagement and consultation to make sure that is the case. We are also working with a number of victim survivors, including a fantastic group of women I spent some time with recently, to make sure that we have a mechanism whereby the voices of victim survivors not only inform the development of this plan but also continue to be a voice as the plan is rolled out over the next 10 years and is implemented. It is absolutely a fundamental and core element of the plan.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. Will those groupings of women that you mentioned before be formallised into an advisory group as such?

ACTING CHAIR: Excuse me, Senator Waters. Your time has expired.

Senator Ruston: Can I quickly answer that, because I want to get it on the record?

ACTING CHAIR: We can come back to it most definitely. I want to go to Senator Green.

Senator WATERS: Thanks, Chair. I'm keen to have another go.

ACTING CHAIR: Most definitely. I'm trying to keep the time as best we can.

Senator GREEN: I'm happy to—

ACTING CHAIR: We can come back to it. I'm the chair.

Senator GREEN: I'm in the chair's hands. I apologise.

ACTING CHAIR: If I don't keep the time—

Senator GALLAGHER: It will all come unstuck if we don't respect the chair.

ACTING CHAIR: It would come unstuck. Thank you, Senator Gallagher. Senator Waters will definitely have the call again.

Senator Ruston: It gives me plenty of time to get a great answer sorted, doesn't it?

ACTING CHAIR: Exactly right, yes.

Senator G REEN: It will be very rehearsed. I refer to a couple of departmental file lists relating to the cashless debit card cost-benefit analysis. We've got the list here. There are two particular documents. One is EF20/44652. It is the social welfare services planning routine operational cashless debit card program monitoring cost-benefit analysis. The second document is EF21/3982, which is the social welfare services reporting routine operational cashless debit card monitoring cost-benefit analysis 2020-21. What cost-benefit analysis has been undertaken?

Ms Hefren-Webb : This arose out of a recommendation from an ANAO report provided in 2018. There was a recommendation that the department commission a cost-benefit analysis of the cashless debit card. There was a company engaged to undertake a cost-benefit analysis. We ran into issues with a lack of data to inform that piece of analysis. That work will be progressed. We are currently building a data repository, essentially. The cashless debit card data is not just Commonwealth data we need to be looking at; it is state and territory data. We are pulling together a data repository. The cost-benefit project will be progressed.

Senator GREEN: There was a company engaged?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Correct.

Senator GREEN: Do you have the contract number for that engagement? I'm sure someone can find it.

Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes.

Senator GREEN: Are they still engaged?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I don't believe we're still engaged with them. We may go back to them once we have the data.

Senator GREEN: Sure. What was the cost of that contract?

Ms McLarty : I don't have the cost of that contract here. Ms Hefren-Webb is right; the contract has been finalised.

Ms Hefren-Webb : I think I might have it, actually.

Senator GREEN: When was it finalised?

Ms Hefren-Webb : On 17 March 2021. I have the cost; I have just found it. It is $127,390.90. It was CN3709745. The provider is the Centre for International Economics.

Senator GREEN: Did the Centre for International Economics undertake any analysis?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes. They took some analysis, but they ran into the issue that the data wasn't sufficient to really provide a cost-benefit figure. We've agreed that we will do more work compiling data, including from the states and territories, and then recommence the project.

Senator G REEN: Who made the decision that there wasn't enough data to undertake the analysis? Was it the Centre for International Economics?

Ms Hefren-Webb : No. The department.

Senator GREEN: So the department made that decision?

Ms Hefren-Webb : The department made that decision.

Senator GREEN: What analysis and findings did the Centre for International Economics make before that decision was made?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I would have to take on notice what their specific findings were.

Senator GREEN: What the specific findings were?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I don't have—

Senator GREEN: You don't remember the general findings?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Essentially, the findings were that there's insufficient data to do an accurate cost-benefit analysis. Beyond that, I would need to take that on notice.

Senator Ruston: Senator Green, when I came into this job, that was one of the things I was most disappointed about—the lack of quantitative data on which to base this. That is why we are seeking to get better data.

Senator GREEN: Why is there a lack of quantitative data, Minister?

Senator Ruston: Much of the data that we would be seeking to get is held within the states and territories. It's also collected by the states and territories in a format that doesn't necessarily provide us with the information in the format or in the geographical location that would necessarily make any sense. I'm sure Ms Hefren-Webb would have probably a more detailed response to that. That has certainly been my concern.

Senat or GREEN: The recommendation from the audit office was made in 2018. That's right?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes.

Senator GREEN: So you've known since then to fulfil that recommendation you would need data. You would need information to be able to develop a cost-benefit analysis. Why isn't there enough data?

Senator Ruston: The data we are looking for, most of it—

Senator GREEN: You're quite capable, Minister, I'm sure of working with the states and territories to make sure that they are collecting the data that you need and that it is in a format you need to be able to make sure that this program you are running has a cost-benefit analysis associated with it.

Ms Hefren-Webb : I might note that there was a large multistage evaluation undertaken over the course of 2018, 2019 and 2020 by the University of South Australia. We were hopeful that the process of that evaluation, where the researchers were engaging directly with state and territory jurisdictions to obtain administrative data, would provide essentially the data sources to then undertake the cost-benefit analysis. That is why we didn't commence the cost-benefit analysis straight away. Essentially the issue they raise in that evaluation, which is the issue the minister alluded to, is that police data, alcohol and other drugs data and hospitalisation data is often collected on a different regional or geographical basis. It's not always easy to track it back to a particular «community» . People might have an alcohol related issue in Ceduna, but they may be treated in another regional hospital. They essentially struggled to find relevant administrative data beyond the Commonwealth data.

Senator GREEN: I remember the evaluation and what it said. The findings were not very conclusive, actually, about the benefit.

Senator Ruston: Senator Green, to your point about getting data from the states and territories: they are often reluctant to provide this data.

Senator GREEN: Have they been reluctant to provide this data to you? Is that what you are saying, Minister?

Senator Ruston: I think states are often reluctant to provide data more generally.

Senator GREEN: That is a very general statement. I am asking specifically about this.

Senator Ruston: Let me have the opportunity to explain. An instance is housing data. Senator McAllister asked at the last estimates why the federal government didn't have information around housing data. It's simply a matter that the states and territories guard this data very closely and are very reluctant to provide it. I don't think that's an issue of a particular government. I think that's generally what happens with information provision between the states and territories and the federal government.

Senator GREEN: Have you made a request for data and there has been reluctance? We are trying to equate two different situations, I think.

Senator Ruston: We obviously have sought to get this data. We're working on the issue as we speak. It has not been the simple process that you may think it is.

Senator GREEN: I will go to the Senate order for the production of documents. Last week, Senators Chisholm and McCarthy sponsored the OPD, which the minister supported, asking for certain cashless debit card documents. The only documents provided in relation to the technology working group were agendas. There are other documents relating to the technology working group in the department's possession. That's right, isn't it?

Senator Ruston: Are you referring to the minutes of the meetings?

Senator GREEN: The only documents provided under the OPD in relation to the technology working group were the agendas of those meetings. But there are other documents available.

Senator Ruston: Senator, I think you are referring to the minutes of the meetings. In the case of those meetings, there are third parties that attend. We would clearly be consulting with them about the release of information that relates to them. There could also be information in those documents needs to be redacted because it actually names individuals. To be fair, you provided us with two days to come back. I am more than happy to work with you on the provision of this kind of information. To be perfectly honest, when you give somebody two days to provide a huge body of information, it does suggest that you are not being particularly genuine.

Senator GREEN: I am referring to the order for the production of documents.

Senator Ruston: Two days.

Senator GREEN: I am sure you have been asked for similar information before.

Senator Ruston: If you or your party were genuine about getting these documents, you would give us a reasonable time. We have to read through every one of those documents to make sure that we are not disclosing information that may impact on a third party. It could be a commercial-in-confidence piece of information. It is to make sure that we are meeting our requirements in terms of the release of documents. I have no issue whatsoever in releasing documents, but there is a process that has to be gone through.

Senator GREEN: You haven't provided any emails, letters and minutes. You are checking with third parties whether you are able to provide those documents?

Senator Ruston: We are going through a process at the moment, yes.

Sen ator GREEN: And for any other documents related to the technology working group, you're requesting that permission from third parties—is that right?

Senator Ruston: I've just said that.

Senator GREEN: It appears that there were no documents provided in relation to the product level that were not already public. Is that correct?

Senator Ruston: I'm sorry?

Senator GREEN: The information that you provided under the order of production of documents in relation to product level banning—

Senator Ruston: Blocking.

Senator GREEN: The information that you provided was already public. Is that right?

Senator Ruston: I will have to check.

Ms Hefren-Webb : I believe that is correct.

Senator GREEN: They were already provided under questions on notice and fact sheets to providers.

Senator Ruston: The really strange thing is that you often request OPDs on things that are publicly available. There are a number of times that we have had requests for information that you could have just gone online and got.

Senator GREEN: The documents we requested, if you had read the OPD, says documents relating to product level blocking using the cashless debit card or other payments, including in relation to product level blocking trials. There are no other documents relating to product level blocking that are in the possession of the department?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I guess—

Senator GREEN: Of course there are.

Ms Hefren-Webb : As the minister said in her answer to the order of production, the other documents include commercial-in-confidence material.

Senator GREEN: Yes. That's why we asked for those documents. You haven't provided them under the OPD. What is the reason for that?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Due to the commercial-in-confidence nature of the material in the documents.

Senator GREEN: When there's a document that is commercial-in-confidence, there are ways to provide that document without hampering commercial-in-confidence. Are you taking those steps so you can comply with the order of production of documents?

Senator Ruston: You asked for something in two days. To read through all these documents, to seek third-party—

Senator GREEN: This isn't my question.

Senator Ruston: And to redact—

Senator GREEN: Minister, you are trying to deflect from the question I am asking. Are you doing the work to make sure that you can comply with the order to ensure that all the documents relating to product-level testing or the information in those documents that can be released is provided to the Senate? Is that work being undertaken? It's a pretty simple question.

Senator Ruston: We think we complied.

Senator GREEN: I know you are sensitive about this information.

Senator Ruston: No, not at all.

Senato r GREEN: I just want to know what work is being done to make sure that we can get the information we've asked so that we don't have to go through the Senate chamber again and ask for these documents again.

Senator Ruston: Senator, we think we complied with the OPD. I made two points. You gave us two days, which was an impossible time frame, to undertake some of the things that you're requesting. If you would like to put another OPD, or you would like to request other information, I'm more than happy to consider that. I am absolutely not hiding anything.

Senator GREEN: You haven't complied with the OPD.

Senator Ruston: Well, I think I have.

Senator GREEN: My question is pretty fair. Are there additional documents required under the OPD that need to be assessed for commercial-in-confidence? Is that work being done?

Senator Ruston: If you wish to ask, I believe we complied with your OPD. If you wish to ask for additional documents, you are more than welcome to do so.

Senator GREEN: Can you answer my question, please?

Senator Ruston: I did. I just answered; I believe I complied.

Senator GREEN: So we're not going to get any further documents with regard to product-level blocking?

Senator Ruston: Ask me what you actually want. It was just a blanket spray.

Senator GREEN: I will ask Ms Hefren-Webb.

An honourable senator interjecting—

Senator GREEN: I don't need interjections from people who are invested. Ms Hefren-Webb, you seem to be a little more across what documents are available. The commercial-in-confidence documents haven't been provided under the order of production of documents that are in possession of the department. Are you taking steps to assess those documents individually?

Ms Hefren-Webb : The process, as I understood it, is we identified the documents. We identified the sensitivity related to those documents. We provided them to the minister. The minister has made a decision about the production of documents.

Senator GREEN: So it's the minister's decision?

Ms Hefren-Webb : As always, the order of production relates to the minister, not the department, as I understand it. We went through the process of identifying documents as best we could in the time frame and the sensitivities associated with those documents and provided them to the minister, who made a decision what could best be provided in the time frame.

Senator Ruston: You're welcome to ask me for some more.

Senator GREEN: You could have asked for an extension, Minister, as well.

Senator Ruston: You could have also given me a reasonable time frame.

Senator GREEN: Did you ask for an extension in the chamber?

Senator Ruston: Did you give me a reasonable time frame?

Senator GREEN: I don't think you raised it.

ACTING CHAIR: Senator Green, we have one more lot available before we hit lunch.

Senator GREEN: I just have one last question on this topic. I have two, but I will try to make it into one because I think that will help. In your letter to the President of the Senate, you outlined that you wouldn't be providing the contracts for delivery of the cashless debit card for commercial reasons. Is this the only contract that DSS holds that is currently secret?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I'm not aware. I would have to ask our legal area whether there are other documents that have commercial-in-confidence.

Senator Ruston: I'm sure it's not.

Senator GREEN: When there are other contracts that have sensitive material in them, that material is often redacted. Why hasn't that decision been made in this instance? Is the contract a matter of national security that we can't see the parts of the contract that aren't sensitive?

Ms McLarty : There are actually six, I understand, reported as having confidentiality arrangements.

Senator GREEN: But the whole contract? We can't see part of it? The Senate has asked for the contracts.

Ms McLarty : I would have to ask corporate to see whether they could provide additional information. There are certainly six in the department that are reported as having confidentiality clauses.

Senator GREEN: Were all six of those contracts related to the cashless debit card?

Ms McLarty : No.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Green.

Senator GREEN: Can I finish that?

ACTING CHAIR : I think we've finished that.

Senator GREEN: I have one last question. I will have to come back.

ACTING CHAIR: You had your last question a moment ago. Just one last question.

Senator GREEN: Minister, will the cashless debit card be proof of voter identification under the voter suppression laws you've just introduced into the House of Representatives?

Senator Ruston: I will have to take that on notice.

Senator GREEN: You don't know? You didn't think to find it out before you put a law into the House of Representatives that will stop a lot of participants actually voting?

Senator Ruston: You've just asked me a question that is not within my portfolio. I am more than happy to take it on notice for you.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you very much, Senator Green. Senator Gallagher, do you have some questions?

Senator GALLAGHER: I have, but I'm happy to—

ACTING CHAIR: To defer to Senator Rice.

Senator RICE: Thank you. I want to continue the questioning about the cashless debit card. We had a conclusion of the contract for the cost-benefit analysis in March because of insufficient data. What is the time? We currently haven't got a contract underway that is looking at putting the data together that is needed for the cashless debit card? How is that being done?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes, we do. We have a contract with Deloitte, I believe, to help us assist with building the data capability.

Senator RICE: What is the timing of that contract?

Ms McLarty : Deloitte is helping to build the data asset. So it is a combination of administered data and data from the states and territories. I will see if I can find the contract period for that.

Senator RICE: And the contract number too, please.

Ms McLarty : It doesn't look like I've got that information. I can get that for you.

Senator RICE: If you can get that back to me as soon as you can, that would be good. We've got this unknown period that we're going to have this data collection analysis done by Deloitte. That includes actually collecting that data as well, or is it just planning what data needs to be collected?

Ms McLarty : It will be doing the technical work to put the data into a usable format and assisting us with identifying data gaps. We've also been engaging as a department with the states and territories to get state and territory data to support that work.

Senator RICE: So it is actually collecting that data and putting it in a usable form for you?

Ms McLarty : They won't be collecting data for us. We will source the data and they will support us in putting it in a usable form.

Senator RICE: You say you haven't got the time period. Is it six months or 12 months? Somebody must know approximately what your expectation is as to how long sorting out your data period is going to be.

Ms McLarty : My recollection is that it's about March, but I want to confirm that. The contract number is CN37883966. The maximum contract value is $674,830. It actually goes through until December 2021.

Senat or RICE: So the end of the year?

Ms McLarty : Yes.

Senator RICE: Once you've done that work on the data, is there another contract that is expected to be issued for somebody to actually do the cost-benefit analysis?

Ms Hefren-Webb : As I indicated, there's no final decision on that. One option may be to return to the provider that commenced the work with the additional data and ask them to include that data in their analysis.

Senator RICE: So it might be a continuation of that previous contract or a variation to the previous contract?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I'm technically not sure whether you would do a new contract. I think you might need to do a new one.

Ms McLarty : We would do a new one.

Senator RICE: You haven't decided whether to necessarily go back to that previous provider or, in fact, put it out to tender for a new provider as such?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Correct.

Senator RICE: I want to go back to the data. What data is being collected?

Ms McLarty : From the states and territories?

Senator RICE: Yes. Or wherever. What is the data that Deloitte is now working on putting together into that data repository?

Ms McLarty : Currently, Deloitte is working on administered data, such as income support data. In parallel, the department is working with the states and territories to source data from them. As Ms Hefren-Webb said earlier, it is data such as drug and alcohol, hospital attendance, police and those sorts of—

Senator RICE: Can you give me the comprehensive list of the data that is being sourced?

Ms McLarty : I can take it on notice.

Senator RICE: Thank you. How complete would you say the data collection is going to be by the time the contract is finished at the end of the year?

Ms McLarty : In terms of the administered data, obviously the income support data, it will be quite complete. In terms of the state and territory data, as the minister and Ms Hefren-Webb said, it's a negotiation with the states and territories to get that data. We don't have a definitive timeframe from them yet. We're working with them. It's a collaborative process.

Senator RICE: I presume you will delay beginning the cost-benefit analysis, though, until you have resolved getting all of the data that you need to do that cost-benefit analysis?

Ms McLarty : Yes. We would need that data to do the cost-benefit analysis.

Senator RICE: Is data about people's experience of being on the cards collected as well?

Ms McLarty : The second impact evaluation collected survey data on how people felt about being on the card. That was released, I think, in February this year, publicly.

Senator RICE: Over what period of time was that?

Ms Hefren-Webb : We can get you that on notice. There was an extensive participant survey as well as detailed participant interviews with quite a number of participants on the card.

Senator RICE: Is there further surveying going to be done as part of the cost-benefit analysis of people's experience of being on the card?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Not as part of the cost-benefit analysis, no.

Senator RICE: Will that data of people's experience of being on the card feed into the cost-benefit analysis, though?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Correct.

Senator RICE: But you're not planning on doing anything further?

Ms Hefren-We bb : Not at this stage, no. It was a fairly extensive set of participant interviews and surveys. There was a significant number collected.

Senator RICE: That is it in terms of incorporating people's lived experience data into the cost-benefit analysis?

Ms Hefren-Webb : At this point, yes, that's right.

Senator RICE: Are you going to wait on the cost-benefit analysis before any further rollout of the card, Minister?

Senator Ruston: There is no plan to do any further rollout of the card. We're currently in the process of providing the opportunity for people who are on the BasicsCard to move across to this improved technology.

Senator RICE: There are no current plans, but potentially there could be further plans?

Senator Rus ton: I can only tell you currently what is on the table.

Senator RICE: We've got this data collection period. We've got the cost-benefit analysis that presumably will begin next year. When is the cost-benefit analysis expected?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Ms McLarty said that we obviously will have completed our analysis of the administrative data we get from Services Australia by the end of this year. But with the state and territory data it is a negotiation. It is a bit difficult to put a timeframe on it. I am hopeful that we would get a solid piece of data analysis we could provide to someone for a further cost-benefit analysis in potentially March next year. That piece of work would occur.

Senator RICE: What is your expectation, then, of how long that piece of work would take?

Ms Hefren-Webb : These things are usually four to five months, in my experience.

Senator RICE: So some time in mid-2022 we would be looking at having a cost-benefit analysis?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Correct.

Senator RICE: Rounding that off, could you provide me, please, with the relevant approach to market and the contract documents for the data collection contract?

Ms McLarty : I could take that on notice and provide it on notice.

Senator RICE: Thank you. I want to go to the issue where the card doesn't work for people and your risk management strategies and plans. I have had people contact me. They have been left basically desperate because their card hasn't worked during power outages and where merchants simply just don't accept their card. It's particularly people travelling out of their regions. They are in different regions, the people don't know the card and it's just not accepted.

Ms Hefren-Webb : The cashless debit card is accepted anywhere EFTPOS is accepted unless you are a merchant that sells restricted items. So that should not be occurring. If there are any specific instances you want to bring to our attention, we are more than happy to investigate them, Senator Rice.

Senator RICE: I have heard of people where basically their card hasn't been accepted and they had incredible difficulty getting on to people to actually work out what to do. Basically, getting resolution promptly has not been possible. People have been waiting hours, days or even weeks for resolution of why their card isn't being accepted by a merchant.

Senator Ruston: If you have a particular example where this has happened, we would be more than happy to investigate it. Turning up here and anecdotally saying, 'I have heard' doesn't provide us with any idea to—

Senator RICE: I am pretty sure that the people who have provided this to me have already provided it to government.

Senator Ruston: You come in and here make these statements. I have no way of being able to do anything about it. You're just saying, 'I have heard.'

Senator RICE: My question is about the risk management plans. Clearly we have instances where the card doesn't work. I have had people telling me that they have had their card not working. They've tried to resolve it and they have had to wait some time—days or weeks.

Senator Ruston: We've had no awareness of that, Senator Rice. We have no evidence of what you have just said—some suggestion that places don't accept the card. If you actually have an example or examples of this, I would respectfully suggest that you provide us with that information and we will investigate the situation you are referring to. It makes it very difficult for us to be able to do anything when you just come in here and say, 'I have heard' and, 'People have told me'. I would like to investigate it. If this is the case, I want to fix it.

Senator RICE: I'm very happy to provide you with the information. My question is a broader one. Given that there are instances where the card doesn't work—

Senator Ruston: Well, we don't know. We don't know this.

Senator RICE: C'mon! The department must be able to say. Are there instances where people have had their card not work—for example, during power outages or where their card has been rejected by a merchant?

Senator Ruston: Nobody's card works in a power outage. It doesn't matter what card it is. Your bank card won't work.

Senator RICE: But this is the whole issue. You have people who are basically living in poverty with not enough to live on. They are desperate. They've got no food. They are limited to use their card at that store. This is the whole issue with the implementation of the card.

Senator Ruston: Senator Rice, you're not making any sense at all. You say they are limited to use their card at that store. If you have a power outage—

Senator RICE: If you are in a remote «community» , for example—

Senator Ruston: In a remote «community» , the «community» will probably know exactly who you are. There is often somebody in that «community» who is able to support you and provide advances and the like. Senator Rice, you probably need to dig a bit deeper into what you are saying, because what you are saying is not making any sense.

Senator RICE: I think that the people who have informed me of this will be outraged at the response I've just received. These are real examples that I'm very happy to get to you. I want to get to the high-level issue of the risk management strategies when cards aren't working.

Ms McLarty : Income management contingency arrangements apply where a card isn't able to be used in a store. I think if the EFTPOS has been down for four hours, people can get effectively a store credit of $50 per day per person and dependant. Services Australia assists with recouping that money once it is up and running. There's also the ability to have your money transferred into your regular account through Services Australia if there's a problem, for example.

Senator RICE: And how long? What's the timing of that?

Ms McLarty : You will have to ask Services Australia.

Ms Hefren-Webb : It's a phone call. If people ring, that can be arranged immediately on the phone call. We do not have significant wait times on that call line. We can get you details, though, about the wait times. The average wait time is very, very small. If people are saying that they can't get through, it would be great to have details so that we can investigate that.

Senator RICE: If the power is down and there's an EFTPOS outage, is it automatic that after four hours they would be eligible for a store credit?

Ms McLarty : The store makes the arrangement with Services Australia.

Senator RICE: Is it automatic?

Ms Hefren-Webb : It's provided where it's needed.

Senator RICE: There's a power outage and somebody has their card. They can't use their card for four hours. Automatically, that store would be able to give them a credit, or would there have to be some approval process to go through?

Ms Hefren-Webb : There would be an internal process in Services Australia. It would be managed locally on the ground, where Services Australia would have a process to receive a request from a store. They would say, 'Yes, go ahead.' It's not approved at my level or ministerial level or anything like that. It's managed locally, so it can be responded to quickly.

Senator RICE: I have two quick questions, which you may or may not have an answer to. Is the government considering allowing other companies to operate the cashless debit card, apart from Indue?

Senator Ruston: I have already put on the record today that the Traditional Credit Union will be an issuer of the cashless debit card as of this morning.

Senator RICE: That is the only other one?

Senator Ruston: At the moment, yes.

Senator RICE: And how many people have been moved off the cashless debit card since it was introduced because they found work?

Ms Hefren-Webb : We would have to take that on notice. I think we can provide you with details of people who have come off payment. Whether they've come off payment because of employment or they've gone off payment for another reason, we would need to disaggregate that. We can provide that on notice, if that's alright, Senator Rice.

Senator RICE: Yes. Thank you. Thanks, Chair.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you very much, Senator Rice. It being one o'clock, we're going to suspend for an hour and return at 2.00 pm. We are going to have a private meeting to discuss and reconfirm the arrangements for the remainder of the day and the evening. Thank you.

Pro ceedings suspended from 13:00 to 14:00

ACTING CHAIR: Welcome. We'll resume this hearing of the Senate estimates committee process. For the interests of witnesses and senators, I will update people with regard to how we'll proceed for the remainder of the afternoon and this evening. We will now continue with outcome 2. I'm advised that there are questions from Senators McAllister, Waters and Thorpe. At approximately 2.45 pm to 3 pm, we will move to Services Australia. Senator Reynolds, the appropriate minister, will attend. We'll deal with whole-of-portfolio corporate matters and proceed with outcome 1 in Services Australia. We'll proceed with that until the dinner break. At 8 pm, which is immediately following the dinner break, we will proceed with any remaining questions in outcome 2 and then proceed to outcome 3 and outcome 4. If there are questions still remaining for Services Australia at the point where Senator Reynolds departs, those questions can still be asked after 8 pm. We can continue with Services Australia if those questions haven't been completed by senators. I will continue to update people as we proceed. For the next 45 minutes to an hour, we are continuing with outcome 2. I will invite Senator McAllister to begin.

Senator McALLISTER: Minister, I have quite a number of questions around the escaping violence payment, so I will try and get through them as quickly as I can. Any assistance you can provide, I would appreciate.

Senator Ruston: We can give short answers.

Senator McALLISTER: Obviously. How long will a woman have to wait after making an application to receive the payment?

Senator Ruston: Ms Hefren-Webb or Mr Bennett might be able to answer some of these more detailed questions, just to make sure we're absolutely correct.

Ms Hefren-Webb : I will pass to Mr Bennett.

Mr Bennett : Good afternoon, Senator. It will depend on the situation associated with when they contact UnitingCare. In circumstances where they need immediate assistance, UnitingCare has the ability to provide up to $500. Part of the process with the escaping violence payment is that the period of time that the support is available is up to 12 weeks. The way that the payment has been set up is that UnitingCare will work with the recipient associated with what their needs are, taking into account the potential to provide support over a 12-week period. Depending on the circumstances associated with the need, it's difficult to say immediately when someone might receive something. If they are in urgent need, UnitingCare has the ability to provide up to $500.

Senator McALLISTER: Are there any goals in terms of responsiveness to applications embedded within the service contracts?

Mr Bennett : As I said, if there is an immediate need, someone will be supported, depending on the nature of the inquiry, taking into account that UnitingCare will need to triage. It will be somewhere between immediate and up to two days.

Senator McALLISTER: The reason I ask is that I have had a disturbing case brought to me. I am conscious that we are in the early stage of the program. On Saturday, four days after the program opened, a woman in Western Australia applied for payment. I am withholding her identifying details at her request. She didn't hear anything from the service provider until Tuesday. They allegedly told her they were inundated so they couldn't tell her when an emergency payment would be approved. I am concerned that the arrangements don't appear to be adequately resourced to deliver against that service standard.

Senator Ruston: Senator McAllister, what you've just said is quite concerning to me. I understand why you are not going to publicly name the person who has contacted you. I would be particularly keen to work with you to actually deal with the detail of what you have just put forward, to get to the bottom of it. This is a trial. One of the most important things in the trial and the evaluation is to get to understand what the issues are to make sure that this program is meeting and supporting the needs of victim survivors. Whilst I obviously understand that you are not going to discuss it here, I would be very keen to discuss it with you to make sure that this person that you are referring to and the issues you are raising are resolved as quickly as possible, not just for her but for anyone else.

Senator McALLISTER: Thank you, Minister. The payment is structured to be paid out over as many as 12 weeks, on the evidence provided by Mr Bennett. Your media release, Minister, said that the payments will assist people who need financial support to leave. That crisis point, that emergency point, is important, isn't it—having support at that moment of departure, when, as you say, a person may put themselves, their children and maybe their dog into the car? I think they are the words you've used publicly. That is a moment in time when resources are desperately needed, is it not?

Senator Ruston: Absolutely, Senator McAllister. One thing that we are seeking to do by this program is to make sure that it is another tool available to women. Some of the feedback was that that additional money for putting down a bond on a place to stay and all of the other services that are provided—the wraparound services and those immediate crisis services provided by those fantastic frontline service providers around the country—still remain in place. Clearly, as you would know, not having money to set up a safe place to stay once you've gone through that immediate crisis and left is often the reason women go back or maybe don't leave in the first place. We were trying to fill in a gap that was perhaps the reason why women return to violent relationships.

Senator McALLISTER: So the expectation is based on the advice from Mr Bennett that in most circumstances an application will be resolved, one way or the other, within two days?

Mr Bennett : I come back to the point associated with triage. I don't want to say in most circumstances because, depending on how people present themselves, they can get immediate support. So I'm reflecting that you have situations where people who need the support will immediately get it. Depending on their circumstances, it could be associated with that triaging process of up to two days.

Senator McALLISTER: I think that has made it less clear for me, Mr Bennett. You are expecting that every applicant will be assessed under a triaging process within two days so that all people who are in an emergency situation will receive a payment within two days. Is that what you are saying?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I might try to add. As Minister Ruston said, it might be that someone applies for the funding because they've left and they've gone to a shelter, for example, but they wish to rent a property. They need the money for a bond. They are not applying for the emergency $500. In that case, I think what Mr Bennett was trying to say is that that group is not necessarily a two-day turnaround. For people who are applying for that immediate cash of $500, there is a two-day KPI around it.

Senator McALLISTER: Will they self-identify? Is determining which category they fall into—whether they are to be determined within two days or whether they may be left for a longer period—something that the provider will do or the applicant will do?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Obviously, the applicant will come forward with their situation and the provider will ask them what they need—whether they need something immediately or whether they are looking for longer term support. That would be determined in a conversation between the applicant and the provider.

Senator McALLISTER: So to meet this goal, all applicants are going to need to have such a conversation within two days?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes. It would need to be obvious to the provider who needs to be supported in that way, correct.

Senator McALLISTER: So some kind of assessment needs to be undertaken by the provider within two days of an application in all cases to ensure that people who require emergency support may be assisted within that timeframe. Is that a fair statement of the requirement?

Mr Bennett : Yes.

Senator McALLISTER: That is built into the service delivery contract with UnitingCare?

Mr Bennett : Without having the exact clause in front of me, that is my recollection.

Senator McALLISTER: I am interested in understanding how you came to the figure of $5,000 for the payment. Was there any analysis undertaken about the average expenses incurred by a person leaving violence?

Senator Ruston: My understanding is that, at the advice of a number of people in the sector, this additional support is the kind of quantum. The decision around the break-up between the $1,500 in cash as opposed to the $3½thousand in kind was to make sure that the payments could be made directly on behalf of the woman, in most instances, who is getting this. This is so there wasn't another course of potential financial abuse through this process. The reason we've set it up as a trial is obviously we want to assess this and work out whether this really is meeting the needs in the way it has been designed. We are working through an evaluation process that will run concurrently with the trial so that we can make any changes as we go forward.

Senator McALLISTER: I want to ask about the cash component. Your media release, Minister, says that women will receive financial assistance of up to $1,500 cash. The application page from the service provider says up to $1,500 in financial assistance such as vouchers. Is it cash or vouchers or both? How does that component work?

Mr Bennett : It will depend on the circumstances. It will be a mixture. It can be vouchers. It can be cash. It can be an electronic funds transfer. It will depend on the circumstances. 'Financial assistance' is used in the broad. I think a better expression is cash equivalent.

Senator McALLISTER: So a cash equivalent of up to $1,500. What is the balance of the $5,000 allowance imagined to be available for?

Mr Bennett : In terms of the other aspects, it would be if they needed to, for example, have support with bonds or school fees. It's still financial support. For example, UnitingCare would make arrangements to pay for the bond et cetera rather than pay the person who pays for the bond.

Senator Ruston: Senator McAllister, just to be clear, there is no defined list as to what the particular person could use the $3½ thousand for. That is why we've got UnitingCare. They will work with the person to determine the things they believe will provide them with the best pathway to establish a new safe place for them and, in many instances, their children. The things that we are using as examples are just that—examples. We will rely very heavily on UnitingCare's extraordinary experience in this field to work with the person escaping violence on what their needs are.

Senator McALLISTER: That is an interesting explanation. I am a little confused as to why the program is described as having a cap of $1,500 on financial assistance. How is that distinguished from the broader $5,000 allowance?

Mr Bennett : Without knowing exactly the reference to financial assistance—

Senator McALLISTER: Let me step you through it. The media release says that women will receive financial assistance of up to $1,500 in cash. The service provider says women will receive up to $1,500 in financial assistance, such as vouchers. So we have a tension between the minister's position, which says cash, and the web page, which says vouchers. The minister, I think, has explained that it's going to be up to $1,500 in either cash or vouchers.

Ms Hefren-Webb : Cash or cash equivalent.

Senator McALLISTER: Catch or cash equivalent. Why only $1,500? Why not the full $5,000? What was the rationale for putting that $1,500 cap within the allowance?

Senator Ruston: I think I just answered that a minute ago. Something we often see, and that we wanted to avoid, is financial abuse. In some instances, when women really are in a very dangerous situation, we don't even want them to use their bank accounts in case they are tracked and traced. The cash or cash equivalent component is about being able to maybe buy the kids school lunchboxes or new toothbrushes—that really upfront stuff. UnitingCare, on behalf of the individual, will actually pay up to $3 ½ thousand. It is about, firstly, not allowing an opportunity where the abusive partner could continue the financial abuse by trying to get their hands on that money. It clearly removes the traceability of the expenditure. Of course, if we're putting money into the person's account, there is a possibility that they could be traced by it. There were a number of reasons why that division was put in place. As I said, we certainly will be monitoring the whole way through to make sure that we've got the settings right.

Senator McALLISTER: Does the service provider have discretion to spend as much as $5,000 on every applicant, or are there some constraints that you've placed on the service provider in terms of how much of that allocation they might utilise for each person?

Mr Bennett : We've placed no constraints on the service provider.

Senator McALLISTER: Great. Can the funding be used to cross-subsidise a service that would otherwise be provided?

Mr Bennett : Could you expand that for me?

Senator McALLISTER: The UnitingCare application website says you could be eligible for up to $1,500 in financial assistance, such as vouchers, goods and services such as removalists, bonds and basics for a new home. Their third dot point is wraparound support, including case work, from the EVP provider. Is the case work to be funded from within the $5,000 allocation?

Mr Bennett : The way the system works, taking into account that people would need support, as I said, during the 12-week period, is that there will be links to other services et cetera. If the question you have asked is whether those other services are deducted from the $5,000, the answer is no; it is a referral. It is a connection to rather than a deduction from.

Senator Ruston: Senator McAllister, it's always worth pointing out that it is not taxable and it's not reportable.

Senator McALLISTER: Yes, right. Understood. Are there any directives to service providers to use vouchers where possible? Have you provided any guidance about a preference for cash or vouchers?

Ms Hefren-Webb : No.

Senator Ruston: No.

Senator McALLISTER: Is there any circumstance where something like a cashless debit card would be given to an applicant?

Senator Ruston: ]No.

Mr Bennett : No.

Senator McALLISTER: Can you guarantee that the government will not be attempting to put domestic violence victims on to a cashless debit card?

Senator Ruston: Yes.

Senator McALLISTER: If a person who is on the cashless debit card were to apply, would they be treated any differently to another applicant?

Ms Hefren-Webb : No.

Senator McALLISTER: So they would be eligible to receive a cash payment?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes.

Senator McALLISTER: The media release described this as a one-off payment. The service provider's website says that the payment is available to anyone who hasn't accessed it in the previous 12 months. Which is it? Is it available more than once for an applicant?

Senator Ruston: It's available once a year.

Ms Hefren-Webb : At this stage, it's a two-year pilot. Potentially people will qualify twice.

Senator Ruston: Senator McAllister, clearly we're hoping that that is not the case.

Senator McALLISTER: Of course. I understand. I am trying to understand the parameters of the program. Are there any circumstances where the provider might seek to recover a payment from an applicant?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I'm not aware of any such circumstances.

Mr Bennett : I'm not aware of any.

Ms Hefren-Webb : Unless there was a fraudulent situation.

Senator Ruston: Somebody who clearly wasn't; they just lied.

Ms Hefren-Webb : But if someone subsequently changes their plan about what they are going to do, there will be no recovery of the payment.

Senator McALLISTER: I understand. Thank you. That is, in fact, the answer to my question. Are men eligible for this payment?

Senator Ruston: Yes.

Mr Bennett : Sorry, was it answered?

Senator Ruston: Yes.

Senator McALLISTER: So any person may apply?

Mr Bennett : Correct.

Senator Ruston: But, as you would understand, Senator McAllister, the overwhelming number of people in this situation are women.

Senator McALLISTER: I do understand. We have talked about the program being demand driven. You have confirmed that, Minister. You have budgeted around $73 million this year and the following year. You assess, I think, that you are going to be able to assist 12,000 women a year roughly on that basis. How did you arrive at that assessment? What is the basis for assessing that there will be around 12,000 people a year seeking support?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Mr Bennett might be able to provide more detail. Essentially, we looked at the total number of applications for crisis payment. We note that you can get that multiple times a year. We also looked at data from the ABS around people who reported that they had to leave home due to violence. We used a couple of data sources. Obviously, it's an estimate. Part of the trial will be finding out whether that estimate was right or not.

Senator Ruston: Senator McAllister, as you rightly pointed out, it is demand driven.

Senator McALLISTER: So, if double the demand emerges, you will meet the demand? Ms Hefren-Webb, is it possible for you to table the analysis that you undertook to make that estimate, appreciating that it is an estimate?

Ms Hefren-Webb : We certainly should be able to refer you to the data sources we utilised. I don't know that there is formal modelling. We looked at a couple of data sources. We will furnish you with the detail of that.

Senator McALLISTER: I will ask it in this way. Can the department please table documentation that was developed to support the estimate of 12,000 women a year? Can the department please provide information about the data sources that were utilised to develop the estimate?

Ms Hefren-Webb : We'll take it on notice.

Senator McALLISTER: I want to go back to this decision in the program design, Minister, to rely reasonably heavily on vouchers. I have had some feedback from service providers that it creates a situation where a person may not feel in control of their own circumstances. You have explained to me—and I appreciate the explanation—that the basis for building vouchers into the system in the way that you have is to mitigate any risks of financial abuse, or to create options to mitigate risks for financial abuse. Can I just confirm that you did receive advice about the risk of financial abuse being present in these circumstances and from whom?

Senator Ruston: Obviously, financial abuse is one of the new and emerging areas that we have been doing quite a lot of work on, as you would be aware, obviously from your involvement with the plan. We don't have, and have not impressed on UnitingCare that we have, a preference for vouchers as opposed to cash. We are seeking to use the expertise of UnitingCare to assess the situation and work with the individual in relation to what best fits their circumstance. We have no view about a preference for vouchers. I will certainly follow that up, or Mr Bennett will follow up, with UnitingCare. That is not the position of the government in relation to this payment. It is not the design element of it. It may just be something that UnitingCare, as a matter of course, because they do deal with domestic and family violence victims regularly, have sought for the reasons that you pointed out around financial abuse. I'll follow that up and get back to you offline.

Senator McALLISTER: Essentially, it's a recommendation from the provider about the structure of the program?

Senator Ruston: Well, I want to check that because of what you've just said. It is certainly not my understanding that we have indicated any preference for vouchers.

Senator McALLISTER: Okay. I have a final couple of questions, I hope, around the selection of UnitingCare. Did this go to tender?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes. It went to a restricted tender.

Senator McALLISTER: It is a restricted tender. I note on what is routinely called the Harradine file list that there is a document entitled EF21 Social welfare development reporting: Routine operational transitional measures team: Escaping violence program grant management. It talks about grant opportunity guidelines. Is there a grant process associated aside from the tender?

Ms Hefren-Webb : It was a grant. It wasn't technically a tender, so it wasn't a procurement. It was a grant process, but it was a competitive, restricted grant process. We approached a select number of providers who have a national footprint that is involved with our emergency relief program and invited them to apply under grant opportunity guidelines. That is what that is referring to.

Senator McALLISTE R: My team may have just missed this. Were the guidelines published at any point? We couldn't find anything on the «Community» Grants Hub.

Ms Hefren-Webb : I believe it may have been an ad hoc process because of the timeframe and because it's just a trial. Under the grant guidelines, where you're doing a short-term and a trial project, you can do an ad hoc grant. I believe that may be why the grant guidelines aren't published.

Senator McALLISTER: Can they be tabled?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I'll take that on notice.

Senator McALLISTER: Is there any public documentation you can point me to about how the program would work other than the material that is on the provider's website and the budget material?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I'm not aware of other material.

S enator McALLISTER: I would be interested in understanding the number of service providers that were invited to compete for the grant.

Ms Hefren-Webb : I'm just checking. Mr Bennett might have that.

Mr Bennett : Seven organisations were contacted.

Se nator McALLISTER: And how many responded? How many submitted an application?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Can we take that on notice? I'm just not sure whether we're allowed to disclose that and whether the organisations would want us to disclose how many. I could be wrong.

Senator McALLISTER: I can see where this is going. Take things on notice. To save everybody the time and keep the chair happy, I ask the department to please provide the following: the documentation provided to eligible applicants for this grant; the documentation provided to confirm the grant with the successful applicant; and, in particular, the performance standards and KPIs, whichever terminology you presently use, that have been put around the grant to secure performance.

Ms Hefren-Webb : We'll get you as much as we possibly can.

Senator McALLISTER: Thank you very much. Thanks, Chair. I appreciate it.

Senator LINES: I have some follow-up questions. Minister, I understood—I am sorry I missed this—that Senator McAllister started with a constituent issue.

Senator Ruston: Yes. In Western Australia.

Senator LINES: I want to understand that you or someone is following that up.

Senator Ruston: Yes. I asked Senator McAllister, understanding that obviously she won't disclose who it is. I don't know whether it's you or whether it's you from Western Australia. I would be very keen to get to the bottom of this situation. Clearly, I don't want it to happen again.

Senator LINES: Does that mean that someone from your office will follow it up?

Senator McALLISTER: I think it's probably on me to get it.

Senator LINES: I wanted to be very clear on the status.

Senator McALLISTER: And in whose court the ball lies.

Senator Ruston: I will leave it to you. You contact me directly. You've got my number.

Senator LINES: Yes, sure. Thanks.

ACTING CHAIR: We'll now turn to Senator Waters.

Senator WATERS: Thanks, everyone. I want to stick with the escaping violence grants. Of the seven that you said were invited to apply for the grant, how many of them were religious organisations?

Mr Bennett : I will probably take that on notice. The seven approached were in the operation of emergency relief. I would need to go back and have a look at what would be classified as religious.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. If you are able to do that while we are in session today, that would be really great. Before when we were speaking, I was asking the minister about the victim-survivor consultation process under the national plan. The minister was consulting with a group of victim-survivors in the development of the national plan and intends to continue after its implementation and operation. Will the minister be finalising that such that there is, in fact, an advisory group for victim-survivors?

Senator Ruston: Thanks very much, Senator Waters. In response to that specific issue, I was telling you about the group of victim-survivors that I met with recently. It is an amazing group of over 20 women who have extraordinary stories. We've subsequently invited the spokesperson for that group to join the NPAG so that we have a specific and dedicated spot on the NPAG for that group. It is my intention, through Women's Safety Ministers, to put forward a proposal for a formalised consultation and reference to victim-survivors as part of the ongoing operation and implementation of the plan. As this is a co-designed process, I will be taking it through the formal channels and taking it back through Women's Safety Ministers. I intend to put a proposal forward for a formalised ongoing consultative and informative role for victim-survivors, using, amongst other things, this group of amazing women who came forward and put their stories on the record for us.

Senator WATERS: Thanks, Minister. When do you intend to put that proposal to the Women's Safety Ministers?

Senator Ruston: I'm not sure whether we have a confirmation of the date for the next meeting. My understanding is it is in November.

Ms Hefren-Webb : Late November.

Senator WATERS: That was one of my questions. When is the next meeting of the Women's Safety Ministers taskforce? Is that the same grouping? Yes. Did you say November?

Senator Ruston: Yes, November.

Senator WATERS: Is there an agenda for that meeting yet?

Senator Ruston: Not at this stage. Clearly, one of the most important things that will be addressed at that meeting will be the draft of the next national plan to end violence against women and their children.

Senator WATERS: Yes. Thank you. And hopefully getting the money out the door to the frontline service providers, also harkening to our earlier discussion.

Senator Ruston: Either that or it will already be done.

Senator WATERS: Indeed. I return to the Women's Safety Summit. What feedback was requested or received from participants about the way the summit was designed and delivered?

Ms Hefre n-Webb : We consulted with the National Plan Advisory Group and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council on the summit program, the sessions and the suggestions for topics for panels and roundtables. We also consulted women's safety ministers for key themes. Obviously, when we were required to move it from a face-to-face to an online summit, we had further check-ins with members of our advisory bodies as well as a range of other stakeholders to ensure that we could make that work effectively, that it could be accessible and that we had all the right infrastructure in place.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. Now that the summit is done, as opposed to the preparation for it, what feedback have you received about it? Have you asked for any? Has it been proffered?

Senator Ruston: I will let the agency answer from their perspective. Overwhelmingly, Senator Waters, we've had a very positive response from people. Obviously, there's a very strong expectation around the embedding of many of the recommendations from the summit statement, forming a strong structure and framework around the next national plan. Overwhelmingly, people have, I think, felt that it was an extremely useful tool in the consultation process. Obviously we're all bitterly disappointed that we weren't able to hold it in person. As you know, when you do these kind of things, half of it is around the fantastic presentations that are done formally. The other half of it is the opportunity to network behind the scenes, which unfortunately is missed in a virtual situation. It is very positive. Clearly, we need to make sure that the plan reflects the outcomes that have come from all of the various consultation methods that we've put in place to develop this plan. Very comprehensive consultation has gone into it under some pretty difficult circumstances, as you would be well aware.

Senator WATERS: I'll just put on the record that I have received the opposite feedback.

Senator Ruston: Please provide that feedback to us, Senator Waters. I'm not somebody who only wants to hear good news. I am more than happy to receive your feedback as to things that—

Senator WATERS: 'Farcical' was the word used most often. I will follow up with you separately about that.

Senator Ruston: Thank you.

Senator WATERS: This is my last question on this line of questioning. I have a handful of others, which I will try to get through as quickly as possible. On Monday, the Minister for Women indicated that a stocktake or a gap analysis of women's economic security initiatives was tabled at the August meeting of the women's taskforce. The process was then national cabinet-in-confidence. Obviously, the position of the AAT is that there is no such thing. Will those women's taskforce documents be provided, or will they be upheld?

Senator Ruston: I'm the Minister for Women's Safety, not the Minister for Women's Economic Security. These questions are probably best directed to Senator Hume.

Senator WATERS: Okay. I'll do that. Let's hope she is wanting to put that in the public domain. Our Watch on respectful relationships was offline for nearly a year. If my search is anything to go by, it seems now back online. If that is correct, when did the government sign off on that? Were there any stipulations made about content or ongoing government oversight?

Senator Ruston: I'll let the agency give you some detail around the process that we went through with Our Watch. I acknowledge what a positive process it was. Obviously, we are always very concerned and very focused on making sure that any material of this nature that is directed is age appropriate. The formal mechanism that was put in place through the consultation process around that material was very thorough. I'm happy if Mr Bennett or Ms Hefren-Webb would like to give you some specific details around how that process was put in place to ensure the age appropriateness of the material contained on the site.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. I'm particularly interested in any sort of ongoing oversight or government parameters that have been placed that one can use.

Mr Bennett : Senator, sometimes you are coming through and there has been an odd word missed. I will try to answer what I thought you asked. In terms of the process that was undertaken, we worked with Our Watch. Our Watch went through a process where it had the University of Melbourne's youth research centre consider the content for different age groups and different points of developmental stages. They also worked with Quantum research to inform the future direction of the brand and understand the direction the content should go as it goes forward. As you mentioned, Our Watch was reinstated from 9 September. As part of that process, the content is oriented towards an age group that is 14 years plus. As part of that process as you go into the website, there are various points reflecting the target age for the content.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. Is there any ongoing oversight of that content by the government?

Mr Bennett : Our work with Our Watch is constantly associated with the development of the website as we go forward. As part of that process, we would have ongoing contact with Our Watch.

Senator WATERS: Okay. Are you telling them what they can and can't post, or do they make that decision, given that they are the expert?

Mr Bennett : I wouldn't use the expression that we tell them what they can and cannot post. Our Watch has line funding from government. We work with them. This was part of the process we have associated with the materials being developed.

Senator WATERS: Do you check and clear the posts before they are made?

Senator Ruston: Senator Waters, if you are suggesting that the department or I are making decisions about what goes up and what doesn't go up, that is not the process. However, I remain very engaged. If I thought something on the website didn't seem to be age appropriate, I certainly would raise my concerns with Our Watch, as I expect the department would. But the process that has been undertaken over the period that the line was down, I think, was a very thorough and rigorous process It enabled, I suppose, everybody a rethink and a bit of clarity around what was age appropriate on this website. It is a valuable tool for young people. We wanted to make sure that the tool meets expectations, be it providing the kind of information that children and young people want to engage with; making sure it is age appropriate; that, obviously, families are happy with the information contained; and that the experts in the field had run their eye over it. The process that has occurred has been a very rigorous one. We look forward to the line being an ongoing tool for young people to get information about this really important issue.

Senator WATERS: Thanks, Minister, and thanks to the officers there. If you could provide me with as much detail as you can about the process, that would be very helpful. I've noted that you have said it is 14 years plus now. We talked at the last estimates about the process for educating and informing younger people about respectful relationships and what is vital to keep them safe. You advised at that stage that the department was in the process of commissioning research to inform new programs for young people; I presume that means under 14 years on consent. Has that been commissioned research? If so, from whom?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes. There has been a piece of developmental research undertaken. I might see if our communication colleagues are here. I don't know the name of the company that undertook the research. It would have been one of the panellists we use for developmental research for communications. Mr Hudson is coming to the table.

Mr Hudson : In terms of the progress of that particular piece of work, as Ms Hefren-Webb indicated, initial desktop research was conducted between June and July 2021. In September 2021, we conducted initial developmental research. We are now reviewing that information we've been provided in order to make recommendations about next steps to government.

Senator WATERS: Do you have a timeframe on developing material that would be useful for under-14s about respectful relationships and consent?

Mr Hudson : Obviously pending the review of the information we've been provided and pending decisions of government, we estimate that we will undertake that work during 2022. I don't have a more specific date than that, I'm afraid. It's still in the early stages of understanding the issues to inform the sorts of communication approaches we should take and recommend to government. We anticipate that the outcome of that work will be delivered in 2022.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. Has any work been done as part of the ACARA review and the Australian training curriculum?

Ms Hefren-Webb : We haven't been involved in work with ACARA. The department of education may have.

Senator WATERS: So you're not into any of that curriculum based respectful relationship education?

Ms Hefren-Webb : That is a measure that sits in the department of education for implementation.

Senator WATERS: The implementation. Is there consultation on the design of the content and updating it?

Senator Ruston: I can confirm that I work very closely with Minister Tudge on this particular issue as well as, obviously, broadly consulting with the sector around this issue. As you rightly point out, there is a very close connection between respect and issues that drive domestic, family and sexual violence. This is a particularly important early intervention prevention measure—making sure that young people understand what respectful relationships are. Certainly over various iterations of the Stop It at the Start campaign we have sought to focus and target our messaging to make sure that address this issue with young people. We also acknowledge that consent and respectful relationships being taught through schools is another very important means by which we can hopefully stop domestic, family and sexual violence from happening in the first place.

Senator WATERS: Thanks, Minister. I will get further details from the department of education. I have two other things I will whip through very quickly. There is funding for the trial of coordinated enforcement and support to eliminate DV. You allocated $2 million to gather data on perpetrators' use of violence and focused on deterrence. In response to a QON, you said that four sites would be selected in consultation with the states and territories. Have they been chosen yet? Is the trial still expected to commence this year?

Ms Hefren-Webb : The sites haven't been chosen yet. We've entered into an agreement with ANROWS, which is implementing the project in consultation with the AIC. I understand that there have been discussions with various states and territories. Site selection hasn't occurred yet. I guess it depends when the sites are selected as to when the trial will commence.

Senator WATERS: I have a message from the chair. I have about only two more minutes, if it would be okay for me to knock them off. Then I'm done.

ACTING CHAIR: Is that two more minutes or two more questions? If it is two more minutes, that's correct, yes.

Senator WATERS: Two more minutes.

ACTING CHAIR: Yes, correct.

Senator WATERS: I'm not too sure whether the trials will still commence this year. Could you take on notice, please, whether there will be interim reports? The $18.9 million allocated—

Senator Ruston: Senator Waters, as a piece of side advice in relation to the CESE program, we've had strong interest from the South Australian police. We'll certainly get back to you, because we would very much like to have the program commenced this year. It has been so tremendously successful in another jurisdiction, so we're very keen to see whether it will work here in Australia.

Senator WATERS: Great. Thank you. An amount of $18.9 million has been allocated to the Institute of Health and Welfare to create a nationally consistent dataset of sexual, family and domestic violence. Obviously, it was allocated in the budget. I asked the institute last time and they are still in contract negotiations with DSS. Can you confirm whether there is any timeframe to finalising that so that the institute can start that work?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I believe that we have provided a letter of offer to the institute. I will confirm with Mr Bennett. That is my memory.

Mr Bennett : I'm not quite sure whether there has been a letter of offer. Certainly there has been constant contact associated with working up the proposal with the AIHW. It is taking into account what activity is proposed. It is running on track. No issues have been identified. We expect that those arrangements will be finalised in the ordinary course of events.

Senator WATERS: They seem to be labouring under a different impression. Thank you very much, Chair, for the length of the call. I'm finished now.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you very much, Senator Waters. We'll go to Senator Thorpe and then Senator Lines. I then expect us to suspend outcome 2 until later in the day and move to Services Australia. Senator Thorpe, are you available? I might go to Senator Lines, if she is ready.

Senator LINES: Yes. I will be super quick. Minister or the department, how will the findings of the Wiyi Yani U Thangani Report be incorporated into the Women's Safety Summit? That is my first question. My second question I'm happy for you to take on notice. What is the planning for the First Nations group and their very strong call for their own standalone domestic violence strategy?

Senator Ruston: As you would be aware, June Oscar participated in the summit. The findings and the voices of the women who made up that report, including the commissioner, were certainly very loudly heard. We will be working through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Council that has been established, which is chaired by Sandra Creamer but also involves people such as June Oscar and Marcia Langton, who is absolutely recognised as an expert in academia in this space, to make sure that the voices of Indigenous women and Indigenous people are embedded in the action plan that is specifically designed to respond to domestic, family and sexual violence in Indigenous communities and for Indigenous people. I am meeting with June Oscar next week along with Marise Payne. I understand that the council has already met and is undertaking a workshop around how they would like to proceed to design this action plan that is particularly targeted at them. I don't know whether Mr Hefren-Webb or Mr Bennett have any—

Senator LINES: I guess I was after a specific response about how the Wiyi Yani U Thangani Report is incorporated into the Women's Safety Summit.

Senator Ruston: The Women's Safety Summit has now concluded. We are now working on the development of the next part.

Senator LINES: Yes. In the development part.

Senator Ruston: Following the consultation, a decision has been made to have a separate action plan that has real and tangible outcomes on the ground to address issues that face Indigenous people in Australia around this issue. We will be seeking to work with not only the council but also people such as June Oscar, who is at the forefront of this and, as you rightly point out through her book—I won't insult the Indigenous language by trying to pronounce it—Their Voices. It is the women's voices that she spoke to. Obviously, it will be up to that council and the consultation process that operates around that council about how they wish to proceed. We certainly expect that that will be a strong linkage for those voices in the development of that plan.

Senator LINES: Correct me if I am wrong. This was done through Commissioner Oscar's role. It is a formal report to government. I understand that there has not been a response to that report.

Ms Hefren-Webb : The report obviously encompasses a range of issues beyond safety. The NIAA has carriage of advising government about responding to that report. We have been working closely with them, obviously, to progress the findings of that report in the women's safety domain across the work of the national plan. There's material in there about women's economic security. NIAA is working with other agencies on those elements. No, there hasn't been a formal government response, but we are taking the outcome and the findings of that report into consideration in the policy work we're doing.

Senator LINES: Thank you.

Senator Ruston: Certainly Minister Wyatt will also be attending the meeting that Minister Payne and I are having with June Oscar next week so that we have a proper co-designed process for ensuring that the appropriate people are there.

Senator LINES: Thanks.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Lines. We'll turn to Senator Thorpe and then we'll move to Services Australia.

Senator THORPE: Thank you, Chair. Thank you, Minister. My questions relate to the First Nations national safety plan. For a First Nations national safety plan to be self-determined, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, «community» controlled organisations, the Family Violence Prevention Legal Services and their elected peak bodies must lead its development. Minister, will the government facilitate a self-determined process as per the principles outlined in the Closing the Gap process?

Senator Ruston: Thank you, Senator. Certainly one of the very key principles that operates across everything that we do is embedded in the Closing the Gap statements. Of course, we will be making sure that what we do is consistent with other decisions that have been made in conjunction with the leadership group. We will be working, obviously, as I said, with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Council and «community leaders to make sure that this safety plan, as you refer to it, or the specific Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander action plan, is reflective of what Australia's Indigenous people are desiring to deal with in this very important issue.

Senator THORPE: Thank you, Minister. I am a survivor of family violence who has a daughter trapped in a family violence situation as we speak. Many other sisters, cousins and Aboriginal women that I know are trapped in family violence situations right now while I ask you these questions. A handpicked advisory council is not self-determination, Minister. A government determined process is not self-determination, Minister. How does the government propose to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victim-survivors of family violence and the Family Violence Prevention Legal Services delivering frontline services are represented? I also remind you that Djirra, the Family Violence Prevention Service in Victoria, helped me escape family violence. I wouldn't be able to even ask you this question today, Minister, without these services on the ground that are struggling for funding and a seat at the table. They are not even included in the handpicked advisory council that you are mentioning and speaking very highly of. How is your government, based on what I've just said—real life reality—going to support these frontline services, particularly Family Violence Prevention Legal Services, to deliver more services across the country to help and support people like me do what we want to do as free black women?

Senator Ruston: Thank you very much, Senator. Something that I think came out really loud and clear through the consultation, particularly through the summit, was a desire for the capability and the capacity building within the Aboriginal controlled sector. So a move towards, as you rightly point out, the self-determination part of it is so tremendously important. A fantastic group of people have agreed to work on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Council. They participated in the summit. They are people such as June Oscar and Marcia Langton, who have engaged through the whole consultation process. There are people such as Emily Carter, who is with the family violence legal service. So many fantastic people have come forward to put their ideas on the table. Of course, not everybody can be on an advisory council. But that is not to say that the advisory council and the consultation process that sits around the development of this specific Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander plan can't be informed by input from the people and fantastic service providers that you have rightly mentioned. We are absolutely committed to stand side by side to make sure that we make this process a process that Australia's First Nations people want and that it delivers the outcomes they are asking for.

Senator THORPE: Thanks, Minister. I kind of believe you, but not entirely, because you haven't got the National Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services Forum on your advisory group. To be honest, I'm not taking away anything from the people that you have hand-picked to put on your advisory council. Tell me why you have excluded the National Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services Forum? You can't exclude people from this, particularly those who are fighting on the ground every day and who have told you personally and throughout the summit that they want to be on your advisory group. I just don't understand why you wouldn't include this very important frontline service group. Could you please tell me why you've excluded them?

Senator Ruston: Senator, we haven't excluded them. Emily Carter is a frontline service provider from family violence legal services. She is a member of that organisation. She is also a member of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Council. They are represented on the council.

Senator THORPE: Thank you, Minister. I appreciate that. Maybe we need to get some clarification from those groups about who is representing whom. I am hearing differently. I would really like to work with you on how we can ensure that this is grassroots and has all the right people around the table. In saying this, will the government commit to resourcing a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women's gathering or summit to bring women services together to set the agenda for the national plan? We get overshadowed by mainstream processes and summits. We'd like to have our own given everyone is screaming out that family violence is such a problem in all of our communities that we want to address. Minister, can you please tell me if you would either commit or consider bringing together Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women from around the country to inform you and set the agenda for the national plan going forward? You can't speak about us without us.

Senator Ruston: Certainly. That is the purpose of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander council. That is exactly your last sentiment. I would be delighted to meet with you to discuss your views on this issue. Equally, I'm sure that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander council would be more than happy to hear your views around this issue, as one of their representatives in this place. If you are willing, I will arrange a meeting where we can sit down and work through how we can best facilitate the outcome that clearly we both want going forward.

Senator THORPE: Fantastic. Minister, I'm really pleased to hear that. I won't ask any further questions, because I would rather take those questions to that meeting. I don't have any further questions. I appreciate your response.

Senator Ruston: Thanks, Senator Thorpe.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you very much, Senator Thorpe. That suspends our consideration of outcome 2. We will return to outcome 2 later in the day or in the evening. We will now turn to Services Australia. We will attend to whole-of-portfolio and corporate matters and outcome 1 in Services Australia.