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Tuesday, 30 July 2019
Page: 1202

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (20:15): I rise tonight to speak on the lived experiences of the people currently subjected to the cashless debit card trials in the East Kimberley, Ceduna, Goldfields and Hinkler regions. While the government continues to try and argue that the trial is having a positive impact on these communities, I have heard countless experiences from individuals on the card and the negative effect it is having on their daily lives. Tonight I will share with you some of these experiences. These experiences document the raw on-the-ground effects of a program that unfairly stigmatises, isolates and controls people on income support.

Firstly, for many there is a sense of shame with being on the card. Many are embarrassed at being part of the program that is unfairly linked with alcohol and drug dependency. One constituent told me:

I have never done drugs in my life, I don't gamble and I don't drink alcohol. Within the first few times of using this card, I faced my first real problem, public shaming, where one of the old EFTPOS machines was not working properly and two tradies behind me said, 'Look, it's one of those junkie cards.' Immediately I broke down and started to cry and ran out of the store. I have never been subject to such public humiliation in my life which sent me into a spiral where I didn't want to use my card again. Anxiety attacks got so bad I was vomiting and I lost 3.5 kilos in a week.

One father of two sons told me of his experience:

I'm an adult that managed perfectly fine before the card was introduced. I don't drink. I don't do drugs of any kind, and I certainly make sure my sons are catered for.

After being a father for 15 years my boys have never gone without anything until now. My eldest son has been bullied and ridiculed at school because another student saw me using the card. He is now known as 'the son of a crackhead'. His pocket money that he works his backside off for is now cashless because the 20 per cent I'm 'allowed' is for second-hand items, such as uniforms, emergencies or just a good bargain that would benefit my children.

I now can't take my youngest son to the bowling alley on the weekend. It's something he really enjoys and looks forward to as I only get him on weekends due to school. Now I can't use the card there as they sell alcohol.

I didn't sign up for this card or its discriminatory policies. It was forced on me and my children against my will and now me and my children have to go without and completely rearrange a schedule that worked for many years. It is an absolute joke.

Many participants have shared with me how their mental health has suffered whilst being on the card. We must not underestimate how shameful it is to have something or someone take control of your finances the way the card does, to have a constant fear that your card will be declined at a store or rent won't be paid on time. One correspondent told me:

Being placed on the card has destroyed my mental health. The terror of not having control over when my bills will be paid, or the assurance of my bank being a reliable institution, means that even when I fall asleep despite my pain, it's often interrupted by nightmares.

The restrictive nature of the card strips participants of their financial freedom, causing undue additional stress. These are people who are already finding it tough and are now being forced to jump through the hoops of Indue in order to manage their own budgets. One trial participant articulated this to me:

The card is making life more difficult. If I want to pay bills early I need to ask permission. If I want to pay extra rent I need to ask permission. When I can't pay bills early I can't even move the money into a separate savings account to make sure I don't spend it. I have to pay my rent, then watch the account closely for days because payments get bounced back.

Recently, I went to my rego 3 months early but MainRoads wouldn't take my money. I asked Indue to put the money into a different safe account until I'm allowed to pay the bill, but nope they told me just don't spend the money.

The loss of financial freedom is very devastating for many. This card is patronising and paternalistic, and punishes some of the most vulnerable members of our community. When you're on income support, you live from payment to payment. Many feel they are unable to effectively save for the future or provide the support they need for the children on this card.

Another participant shared this experience:

Being the sole parent of my two children without child support due to being victim of domestic abuse the card was an additional kick in the guts for me and added further to my anxiety and depression.

I also suffer (and will continue to suffer) from early stage bowel cancer (severe FAP with cancerous tumours) and will spend the rest of my life maintaining my health including multiple surgeries and living with life altering issues including incontinence and a stoma.

I'm only 27.

On top of that I have a child with suspected Autism and is diagnosed severely developmentally delayed and attends early intervention programs and specialists.

With the card I cannot save or provide my children with any future support (trust or inheritance) if in the likely event something will happen to me.

There is also great anxiety in the community for those who are yet to be placed on the card because of the impact it will have on their ability to manage their already tight budgets. Somebody also articulated this to me:

I fear it. I've managed to keep my family afloat by haggling, price shopping and using every trick I know.

Every financial advisor has asked me how I'm doing it on the funds I have available, but now the government wants to tell me how to budget. A government that gets more in debt every year wants to limit my bag of tricks.

It's hard enough to survive, if we get this, I don't think we'll be able to anymore.

These are just some of the accounts that I have received in relation to the cashless debit card. Tomorrow we will be dealing with legislation around the wellbeing exemption and the opt-out provisions. I doubt I'll have time even in my 20 minutes available tomorrow to express the absolute failures of this card and to express all of what I've heard from the many people who have been forced onto this card in those four regions around this country. These are the people that the government never talk to when they go into communities. When they go into communities to see how the card's working, they talk to businesses.

Today the Senate did not support my motion to try to find out who are on the community reference groups in these communities. These are the committees that the government go to to get their advice about what's going on in the community and how good the card is. Businesses are on them. The people the government hand-picks are on them. Social service organisations are on them. Are there participants on the card? Who knows? The government is refusing to let the community know who are on those committees. The same goes for the community panels. These panels are deciding people's futures and whether they'll be 80 per cent quarantined. If you're really good and nice, you may get it reduced to, say, 50 per cent by people who you may know who are walking down the street—or who you may in fact be having an argument with. But, again, nobody in the community knows and no-one outside the community knows, because the government's keeping that secret as well.

This is an ideological experiment against people who have done nothing wrong, other than being wrong, in the government's eyes, because they can't find a job. The government blames people for not being able to find a job and then, as I've just articulated, links them to drugs, alcohol and gambling. I've also heard accounts from people who have been spat on in the street and regularly told they're on the "druggie card". They try to hide it when they go to use the EFTPOS. By using your hand, you can mostly cover up the grey of the card. Everybody knows what an Indue card looks like in those four communities. Everybody knows that it means that you're on income support.

It's an appalling way to treat people who are already trying to survive on payments that keep them below the poverty line. We know Newstart is below the poverty line. Let's rub it in a little bit more by forcing people to be subject to denigration and stigmatisation by being on this card! This card needs to be abandoned. Newstart needs to be increased. Let's start treating people with dignity.