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Tuesday, 2 April 2019
Page: 14517


Ms BURNEY (Barton) (18:40): I rise to speak to the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management and Cashless Welfare) Bill 2019. Labor have serious concerns about the cashless welfare card, and we oppose its rollout nationally. We have always opposed a national rollout of the card. Labor have always said that we will support evidence based approaches to addressing the challenges that these local communities face, and we will do it in consultation and partnership with these local communities.

This bill extends funding of the cashless debit card trials in Ceduna, the East Kimberley and the Goldfields until 30 June 2020. The trials in these areas are currently scheduled to end on 1 July 2019. There is also a trial in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay; however, the end date for that trial is already 30 June 2020.

This bill also extends the funding for the Cape York Welfare Reform initiative until 1 July 2020. That funding currently expires on 1 July 2019.

We believe that, if a community want to try something new to tackle social issues, it's not for this parliament to stand in their way. For this reason, Labor supported the introduction of the trials in the first two trial sites, Ceduna, in South Australia, and the East Kimberley, in Western Australia. However, Labor have not been able to satisfy ourselves through our own consultations that this same community desire was present in the other trial sites—that is, the Goldfields and Bundaberg-Hervey Bay. For this reason, Labor did not support the introduction of the cashless debit card to the other trial sites.

With the Prime Minister reported to have confirmed today that the election could be as late as 25 May, the timing of this bill puts the parliament in a really difficult position. I want to stress that the timing puts us in an incredibly difficult position. That is because, regardless of the people's position on the cashless debit card, funding for communities is likely to run out in a matter of weeks. Without any prospect of sorting out a transition to alternative arrangements, this could be very disruptive to those locals.

The government has included in this bill the extension of the Cape York Welfare Reform initiative, an approach which does have a level of community support and which cannot be simply left unfunded in a matter of weeks.

Since the introduction of the cashless debit card trials, the government has continually failed to be up-front about the full costs of implementing the cashless debit card. In addition, Labor has become increasingly concerned about the Liberals' persistent clinging to the deeply flawed ORIMA evaluation. The Prime Minister and his conservative government have continued to use this report to sing the praises of the cashless debit card and mislead Australians about the extent of its success. Leading academics have referred to the comments made by the government as 'extremely misleading' and 'perplexing'. The Auditor-General found deep inconsistencies with the ORIMA evaluation.

The government must stop relying on this report to justify its increasingly outlandish claims about the success of the cashless debit card trials. At a recent Senate inquiry into this bill, the committee heard evidence that in some trial sites the way the cashless debit card has been rolled out and the period it has been in operation preclude a proper piece of evaluation of its impact. We are no longer talking about trials in some sites but a government that is looking to entrench a policy without proving that it works.

There have now been a number of inquiries into the cashless debit card scheme and the committee has continued to hear mixed evidence about the card. Some think it has been beneficial to their communities. Others think it has made existing problems worse. Indigenous leader and Foundation Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne Professor Marcia Langton has said the cashless debit card is a failure. She said because the local community was not involved in the policy, the policy failed. One of the community leaders in Kununurra who initially supported the introduction of the trial, Mr Desmond Hill, has since withdrawn his support. Mr Hill told the committee that one of the conditions community leaders had, when agreeing to the East Kimberley becoming the trial site, was that people should be able to apply to leave the trial. Another Indigenous leader in the East Kimberley, Ian Trust, who remains a supporter of the cashless debit card, told the committee that he was not opposed to people being able to come off the card in some circumstances.

The government has failed to properly provide this option. People who do the right thing have been unfairly stigmatised by being forced to take part in the cashless debit card trial, which is targeting behaviours that they themselves don't engage with in the first place. Labor will move an amendment in the Senate to allow people to get off the cashless debit card in certain circumstances. The amendment will allow people to come off the card if they can demonstrate reasonable and responsible management of their financial affairs, taking into account these points: the interests of any children for whom they are responsible; lawful behaviour; risk of homelessness; health and safety of the individual and the community; the responsibilities and circumstances of the participant; and engagement in community, job search and work.

Local community panels will be responsible for approving applications for people to leave the trial, but, where a panel is not in place, the Department of Social Services will make the decision. At its recent inquiry, the committee heard from a number of witnesses about the lack of evidence supporting broad based, compulsory income management. It has been revealed that the government itself, or at least the Public Service, certainly acknowledges this. Late last year, in a document presented to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Australian government wrote: 'There are more positive results associated with people who volunteer, as they have made a choice to change their behaviour and receiver assistance. Positive results have been found by a social worker or a child protection officer.'

Anti-Poverty Network SA told the Senate committee about a woman they had met in Ceduna who used to be able to purchase things online. Because of the cashless debit card, she is no longer able to do so. The network told the committee that this woman was never drunk and never had drugs or anything like that. It's just an inhibitive way of life for her now. Why should someone who has never engaged in binge drinking or taking illicit drugs be forced onto a cashless debit card that was introduced to address these behaviours? The answer is simple: they should not.

We call on the government to vote with us in the Senate so that people who do not need to be on the cashless debit card no longer have to be. Labor has never supported the rollout of the cashless debit card nationally. We will not proceed with the government's plan to roll out the card and its harsh policies, including across the Northern Territory.

Labor will not support the expansion of the cashless debit card and this form of income management to new communities unless the community wants the card and there is informed community consent. I want to really emphasise that just for a moment. Labor does not believe that parliaments or governments should stand in the way of communities who are properly consulted and give informed community consent if they want the card. That is not our role.

In Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, where the rollout of the cashless debit card is only partially implemented, Labor will stop the rollout and take a case management approach to putting in place alternative support for people already on the card and invest in support services and programs that work, if we are afforded government. In Ceduna, the East Kimberley and the Goldfields, where the rollout of the cashless debit card is complete, Labor will work with local communities to establish whether there is ongoing community consent. Where necessary, Labor will work with communities on alternative supports and programs, acknowledging that there are serious and complex social issues that will require commitment, time and resources to address. At all times Labor will consult properly with the local community, and we acknowledge that this will take some time. Labor will take an evidence based approach to policy and to income management. We will not demonise social security recipients, like this government.

I re-emphasise that we will seek to move an amendment in the other place that will give the capacity for people to come off the card in certain circumstances that I have outlined. If those circumstances are met, there will be a local community panel in place that can facilitate a person coming off the card. Where there is not a panel in place, it will be done through the department of social security. That is, in essence, the amendment that we will move in the upper house. I do hope it is successful.

We very much recognise that in Ceduna, the East Kimberley and the Goldfields, where the rollout of the cashless debit card is complete, it would be extremely disruptive to cease those trials now. Given the timing of the coming election and the uncertainty around that, we believe that we are taking the responsible approach in continuing those trials for a set period of time and, hopefully, if the Senate amendment is successful, giving people who do not need to be on the card the capacity to come off the card. I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1) notes the conservative Government's continued, false assertion that the widely discredited Orima Evaluation provides proof that the cashless debit card is effective, which experts have labelled 'extremely misleading' and 'perplexing';

(2) notes the conservative Government's ongoing failure to provide details about the costs of extending the cashless debit card trials; and

(3) criticises the Government for its irresponsible and unproven approach to policy making and its obsession with demonising income support recipients".

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Vasta ): Is the amendment seconded?

Ms Collins: I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Barton has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the amendment be agreed to.