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Wednesday, 29 March 2017
Page: 2674


Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE (South Australia) (18:40): The Nick Xenophon Team will not be supporting this disallowance. The cashless debit card trials in Ceduna and the East Kimberley have attracted their fair share of critics. However, what is frequently overlooked is the level of support for these trials, especially from Indigenous leaders in these communities.

The independent Wave 1 interim evaluation report produced by ORIMA Research concluded that overall the cashless debit card trial has been effective to date in terms of its performance against the key performance indicators established in the evaluation framework. The report says:

In particular, the Trial has been effective in reducing alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling - establishing a clear 'proof-of-concept' and meeting the necessary preconditions for the planned medium-term outcomes in relation to reduced levels of harm related to these behaviours.

The report claims that the findings:

… indicate that the reductions in these behaviours have been largely driven by the impact of the debit card quarantining mechanism and not by the additional services provided via the CDCT package or factors external to—

the debit card. The report acknowledges:

At this interim stage there is only limited evidence of early impacts on crime, violence, injuries and perceptions of safety … these medium-term outcomes were not expected to be seen in this timeframe and will be the focus of Wave 2 of the evaluation.

I will briefly speak to these conclusions.

Firstly though, I want to note that while the evaluation appears to be comprehensive in terms of consideration of KPIs and did include a survey of the local population in the trial communities, there is no substitute for direct engagement with community members and leaders and on-the-ground experience. I have visited Ceduna twice since I was elected, for a total period of three days, meeting a number of organisations and services and chatting to residents on the street. That is because it was important to me to hear directly from the local community about their experiences, rather than forming an opinion based on what I thought residents might think or what was being reported in the media. To anyone in this place who has views about the card, especially strong views about this card, I encourage you to visit these communities. I encourage you to speak with those who are living the experience. To not hear directly from those who are participating in the trial and those who are living around them is, in my view, an abrogation of our duties as parliamentarians.

If I had to summarise the views of the individuals, businesses, community groups, health workers and NGOs I have spoken to I would say this: the trial seems to be working, but it is still too early to tell. When I first went over at the end of September last year, the general feeling was that the card was working, but there was a lack of data and information in the community to support that perception. But it was also noted that the services that essentially support the trial were vital to any change. For example, the Mobile Assistance Patrol, which provides transport for individuals affected by alcohol or other drugs who are at risk of harm to themselves or others. The bus also results in an increase of admissions to other health services, such as the sobering up unit, by providing transport to this facility instead of those people spending their night on the streets. This highlights the difficulty in interpreting data without the full picture.

Issues that were raised with the card usage were being resolved relatively quickly with services such as the Ceduna Aboriginal Corporation helping cardholders with financial management and issues such as lost cards. The inability to obtain a balance at an ATM had been a common complaint, which was also worked through. Some services noted they could operate better if the positions which were created under the CDC package were able to be filled by qualified staff before the CDC trial started and if there was better retention of staff in general—a challenge faced by many services in rural and remote communities.

I spoke with some local Indigenous people who were walking by me on the street: one said the card was not working because he did not have 'enough cash for booze'; a young woman shrugged in response and said she thought it was ok. The people I spoke to who opposed the card seemed to do so because they fundamentally believed it was wrong to impose the card on welfare recipients, but many of these people were not on the card themselves.

I could go on and on about the feedback I have received, but I will now quickly turn to the data. The findings which were released last year by DSS and the latest by ORIMA can be difficult to interpret because, for example, with respect to crime statistics for Ceduna, the entire local service area is covered, which is a significant portion of the west coast of South Australia. Poker machine use also covers other towns, not just Ceduna. Alcohol stats in the ORIMA report are based on self-reporting. The local supermarket in Ceduna has apparently had a significant increase in trade, particularly of fruit and vegetables. The data shows that the purchases at the supermarket using the card have increased, but there are no stats for before the card was implemented.

As for findings in the ORIMA report, the survey found that on average in the two trial sites 25 per cent of trial participants reported drinking less frequently. Indicators relating to illegal drug use showed some improvement, with participants reporting less usage of illegal drugs since becoming CDCT participants. Gambling had reduced overall, and in Ceduna poker machine revenue was 12 per cent lower compared to January 2016. The report acknowledges that there remain issues such as the lack of awareness or understanding about card usage, and other criticisms such as community panels not being established in a timely manner.

Other issues have been faced by the community, such as grog running—on which I have engaged with the South Australian government, calling for legislative reform—and predatory payday lenders signing up debit card holders. Again, that is an issue that I have taken up with the federal government.

But, as I said earlier, at this time it is too early to draw definitive conclusions. Although feedback on whether the card is in fact working or not is mixed, in my experience the strongest and most desperate views came from the community leaders advocating for it to continue. Simply pulling the plug on the trial is not an option. The consequences of flooding an almost cashless community with cash would be dire. Multiple groups told me that, when money came into the community during the trial by way of inheritances, tax refunds or insurance payouts, alcohol consumption, violence and gambling spiked, and this is also reflected in the data.

If, in the future, community leaders decide that they no longer wish for the debit card to apply to their community, then a withdrawal plan would need to be in place. But it is the Nick Xenophon Team's position that, having engaged with the Ceduna community in particular and considering positive statistics in the independent evaluation with respect to gambling and alcohol consumption in particular as well, we should listen to the community leaders who have asked for the trial to continue.