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Thursday, 13 September 2018
Page: 6356

Welfare Reform


Senator GICHUHI (South Australia) (14:25): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator Fifield. Will the minister update the Senate on the cashless debit card trial? How is this government supporting communities with this initiative, including in my state of South Australia?


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Minister for Communications and the Arts) (14:26): The government, as colleagues would be aware, is committed to reducing the social harm caused by welfare-fuelled alcohol and drug abuse, and gambling, in areas with high levels of welfare dependency.

The cashless debit card program we commenced in Ceduna in South Australia on 15 March 2016, and legislation permits the continuation of the CDC in this site until 30 June 2019. The trial was co-designed with community leaders in Ceduna to best meet local needs. The local member, I should acknowledge—the member for Grey—was vital in getting this card rolled out in Ceduna. Less money being spent on alcohol, drugs and gambling means there is more available to help families pay for the essentials—for food, for clothing and for bills. The effects of alcohol and drug misuse are long-lasting and extensive. Individuals living in families where substance misuse occurs are more likely to come into contact with the criminal justice system, be diagnosed with a mental illness and experience poverty.

Since the introduction of the CDC in Ceduna, there has been a decrease in alcohol related hospital presentations, including a 37 per cent reduction in the first quarter of 2017 compared with the first quarter of 2016. Monthly apprehensions under the Public Intoxication Act of South Australia were 54 per cent lower between March 2016 and June 2016 compared with the same period in 2015. The number of people supported by specialist homelessness services in the Ceduna region decreased by 42 per cent in the quarter since implementation of the CDC, and I'm sure these are things that all colleagues would welcome.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Gichuhi, a supplementary question.



Senator GICHUHI (South Australia) (14:28): Can the minister advise the Senate of the status of the other cashless debit card trials and where they are in Australia?


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Minister for Communications and the Arts) (14:28): In addition to Ceduna, the CDC has also been operating in the East Kimberley region of WA since 26 April 2016 and the Goldfields region since 26 March 2018. In the current three sites, all working-age welfare recipients are on the CDC program. As at 21 August 2018 there are approximately 5,200 active CDC participants across Australia.

I'm pleased to report that earlier this week the government passed, with the support of crossbench colleagues, legislation to expand the CDC trial to Hinkler. I again want to thank crossbench colleagues for their support for this measure and their willingness to listen and respond to the Hinkler community. The Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region was selected as the fourth site for the CDC trial following calls for the card from key stakeholders in the region.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Gichuhi, a final supplementary question.



Senator GICHUHI (South Australia) (14:29): Can the minister advise the Senate as to how this measure is being received in communities around Australia?

Senator McAllister: They don't want it!

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left, before I call the minister. Order!




Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Minister for Communications and the Arts) (14:29): Across all three existing sites, and indeed in the fourth site, there is overwhelming community support. In the Ceduna region, in the senator's state of South Australia, the local mayor, Allan Suter, has said:

It is the best initiative I have seen in this field and it has made our community safer, particularly for families and drinkers.

With the recent expansion of the CDC, it's fair to say that those opposite have given in to inner-city Green-Left perspectives, and they have withdrawn support for further expansions. This is despite communities in the Goldfields and the Hinkler region calling for the introduction of the CDC as a circuit-breaker to the significant social issues that they're experiencing. This government will continue to listen to local communities. This government will continue to do everything it can to improve the outcomes of people who live in those regions.