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Community Affairs Legislation Committee
14/10/2019

BIELEFELD, Dr Shelley, Private capacity

BRAY, Dr Jonathan Robbie (Rob), Private capacity

GRAY, Prof. Matthew, Private capacity

HUNT, Dr Janet, Private capacity

PETERIE, Dr Michelle, Research Fellow, School of Social Science, University of Queensland

Committee met at 18:30

CHAIR ( Senator Askew ): I declare open this hearing of the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee's inquiry into the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019. These are public proceedings, and a Hansard transcript is being made. The hearing is also being broadcast via the internet. I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee, and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee.

The committee prefers all evidence to be given in public, although the committee may determine or agree to a request to have evidence heard in private session. If a witness objects to answering a question, the witness should state the ground upon which the objection is taken and the committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer, having regard to the ground which is claimed. If the committee determines to insist on an answer, a witness may request that the answer be given in camera. Such a request may also be made at any other time. The committee understands that all witnesses appearing today have been provided with information regarding parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses. Additional copies of this information can be obtained from the secretariat.

I now welcome representatives from the Centre for Social Research and Methods, the School of Social Science, the University of Queensland, the Australian National University and Griffith University. Thank you for appearing before the committee today. Do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Dr Bray : I am a research fellow at the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods.

Prof. Gray : I am the director of the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods.

Dr Hunt : I am an associate professor at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the ANU.

Dr Bielefeld : I'm a DECRA research fellow at Griffith Law School and the Law Futures Centre at Griffith University.

CHAIR: I now invite each of you to make a brief opening statement, should you wish to do so. After that, the committee members will ask you a few questions. Does everybody want to make an individual opening statement? Is that the plan?

Dr Bray : Matthew and I will make a joint statement, and Matthew will give it.

Prof. Gray : Thank you for the opportunity to appear tonight. As Dr Bray has just indicated, my opening statement is on behalf of both of us. By way of background, we're academics at the Australian National University and we've both worked on a major evaluation of new income management in the Northern Territory, undertaken between 2010 and 2014, and have continued to monitor policy developments and the evaluation of income management policies. We have a background in economics and have worked extensively across a range of social policy fields and in quantitative data analysis and evaluation.

We have a strong commitment to evidence based policy. We consider that the evidence to support the proposals in the bill is lacking. In the explanatory statement, two sources are drawn upon to justify the policy—the ORIMA evaluation and the Goldfields baseline study. It is important to assess the value of these when forming decisions on this policy. On the ORIMA study: while we can discuss in more detail the many problems with this, it is sufficient in our view to simply note the conclusion of the Auditor-General:

… its approach to monitoring and evaluation was inadequate. As a consequence, it is difficult to conclude whether there had been a reduction in social harm and whether the card was a lower cost welfare quarantining approach.

The second point is that the Goldfields study is at this stage nothing more than a summary of some qualitative interviews undertaken, in the words of the report, 'at a time when the card had only been implemented for a few months'. It is a study which contains no substantive evidence of outcomes, but, rather, variously reports views, opinions and perspectives of selected stakeholders and a small number of participants nominated by some of these stakeholders. This is scarcely an evidence base which justifies a proposal.

In our submission, we draw not just upon our evaluation of new income management in the Northern Territory but also the work of others, including Deloitte's evaluation of place based income management. These studies have consistently found that broadly imposed income management has not resulted in improvements, including in terms of reduced substance abuse, more effective financial management and reduced gambling, or in outcomes for children. These studies have not rejected the concept of income management as such, but, rather, have found that these policies, when applied broadly, not only fail to achieve improved outcomes but also impose costs on individuals and risk increasing dependency rather than boosting individual capacity in independence. In contrast, along with other research, such as the Cape York trial, they suggest there is some evidence to support a role for tightly and individually targeted use of income management, along with other supports for some individuals who have demonstrated inability to manage, as an option for individuals to choose to use if they are looking for an additional tool to assist them to manage. This differentiation is critical.

Our submission has two attachments. One focuses on some of the issues with the two evaluations of the cashless debit card, and the other extends on the analysis presented in our evaluation of new income management to look at contemporary community-level outcomes for the Indigenous population in the NT and the impacts of income management. The second paper finds that, despite the fact that around one-third of Indigenous people aged 15 and over have been subject to income management for a decade, there have been no significant gains in child wellbeing, education, excessive alcohol consumption or crime. This is further evidence, we believe, of the failure of the mass implementation of this type of program.

Finally, looking at this data, we are aware that some of the statistics we used have been presented to the committee already, including the evidence presented by Professor Silburn on low birth weight. We note that Senator Hughes speculated:

… we also don't know if perhaps that low birth weight risk has been mitigated through better nutrition, as young children, perhaps through securing a better diet with more fruits and vegetables, have more basic needs met through the provision of essential services as part of that income managed quarantined welfare payment.

In fact, we know much of the answer to this speculation. Unfortunately, it is not positive. The question of changes in consumption associated with the Northern Territory emergency response to income management was looked at by Brimblecombe and others in an article published in The Medical Journal of Australia, which reports, 'As with tobacco sales, income management had no apparent effect on fruit and vegetable sales.'

We looked at this question again over the latter period of new income management, and reported in our evaluation that, firstly, fruit and vegetable sales were very low—in particular to white people on the basics card—and, secondly, detailed analysis of sales in communities found that there was no positive association in terms of overall income management and fruit and vegetable sales. We believe that, again, this highlights the importance of taking an evidence based approach to this policy.

In conclusion, we reiterate our view that decisions on this bill should be based upon evidence—not upon anecdotes, discredited study or speculation. More so, we consider that the evidence we have presented on outcomes in the Northern Territory calls for real policy response, not the continued implementation of failed programs.

Dr Peterie : Thank you for the opportunity to give evidence this evening. My testimony is based on in-depth interviews conducted between May and September this year with individuals on the cashless debit card at the Hinkler trial site. There are four main research findings I would like to bring to the committee's attention. In the interests of brevity I will simply state these now, but I'd welcome any questions that might allow me to expand on these points.

First, our findings indicate that the cashless debit card is making it considerably harder for many individuals to pay their bills and provide for their families. I'd particularly flag the issue of reduced housing security here, which we just published a peer-reviewed article about in the Australian Journal of Social Issues.

Second, these payment issues have negative impacts on individuals' health and wellbeing, which in turn adversely affect their families. For example, participants in our study reported mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks and OCD, surrounding their inability to make bill payments on time. Strikingly, several individuals who had been in domestic violence situations in the past experienced the card as another form of violation and financial control.

Third, significant stigma surrounds the card, and this compounds these harms. Numerous interviewees had received disparaging comments from members of the public who had seen their cards. These were stories of ordinary Australians who had no history of substance abuse, who were being called 'junkies' as they were just shopping for groceries to feed their children.

Finally, this combination of issues—that is, the combination of reduced access to funds, emotional distress and social stigma—is causing some individuals to withdraw from participation in their communities, which is concerning for a whole range of reasons. It's particularly concerning because we have a lot of research that tells us that informal social networks are a key avenue through which unemployed people are actually able to find job opportunities.

The overwhelming finding here is that the cashless debit card is having a disabling rather than a motivating impact in many welfare recipients' lives, and this raises grave concerns regarding the proposed extension of these trials and the expansion of this policy across the Northern Territory. I think we're all in this room because we do believe in evidence based policy. The evidence from our study suggests that the cashless debit card is not only failing to achieve some of its core objectives but actually making things a lot harder for some people. Thank you for your time. As I mentioned, I'd really welcome the chance to speak more on any of these points.

CHAIR: Thank you very much.

Dr Hunt : Thank you for the opportunity to appear. I have provided a written submission already, and my submission focuses on three things. The first is the need for a genuine partnership approach to solving the issues that the cashless debit card is meant to be addressing. This is what the Prime Minister agreed is necessary to closing the gap, so why is it not the right approach to use in the Northern Territory and in the three other sites in Western Australia and South Australia? Such an approach would start with the views of the affected people on what might work. It would not automatically start with a cashless debit card.

Second, as previous witnesses have articulated, there isn't any robust evidence to support this extension of compulsory income management in existing sites and the transition from the BasicsCard in the Northern Territory. In fact, notwithstanding its limitations, the Goldfields so-called baseline report makes quite clear that the cashless debit card is not suitable for certain people who are still covered by this bill—that is, those with mental health issues and those on disability pensions and their carers—as well as those whose behaviours do not need to change, because they're fine. Essentially, that report clearly indicated a case for much tighter targeting to those few people who have really problematic behaviours. That evidence, from within the program itself, has not been taken on board in this bill. On top of this, the evidence from over 10 years—I think it's nearly 12 now—of the BasicsCard shows income management has made no discernible difference in the Northern Territory. So in my opinion—and it's informed opinion—a lot of public money has been wasted when it could have been spent on programs that actually work.

The Prime Minister also said in his Closing the Gap speech this year:

Governments fail … when investment is poorly targeted … and when we don't learn from evidence.

Well, I think both of those things are the case with what's proposed in the current bill: it's poorly targeted, and we haven't learnt from evidence.

Finally, I've provided a range of alternative suggestions about what might work to make changes to these deep-seated social problems that we all want to see resolved. I've pointed to a range of research that has shown evidence of reducing harms such as violence and drug or alcohol abuse. The Maranguka Justice Reinvestment project in Bourke, for example, recorded a 23 per cent drop in police reported incidents of domestic violence and a 31 per cent increase in year 12 student retention rates in just one year, 2016-17. So outcomes like this are possible with the right approach, and that is doing things with people not to them.

I've also made clear some principles for tackling drug and alcohol issues in Indigenous communities from expert sources: an intergovernmental committee that prepared an agreed government strategy and the Edith Cowan University's review of all the evidence. I'm sorry to say it, but the cashless debit card does not conform to these principles. It's for that reason that I really oppose this bill, because I think it's a waste of public money.

CHAIR: Thanks, Dr Hunt. Dr Bielefeld?

Dr Bielefeld : I thank the committee for the invitation to appear here today. I'm part of a research project with Dr Michelle Peterie on compulsory income management programs in Australia and New Zealand, which has multiple fieldwork sites. Our data analysis is still underway, and what Michelle and I present today are our preliminary findings relating to the Hinkler region, where in-depth interviews were conducted with people who were put on the cashless debit card this year.

Data from these interviews indicates that many people on the card have been experiencing a range of serious problems. People forced onto the CDC in Hinkler have experienced a range of consumer problems, including failed CDC transaction experiences in various stores, failed BPAY attempts through the Indue system, delayed payments through the Indue system and exclusion from purchases in cash-only settings. Many interviewees indicated that they had encountered consumer problems related to the purchase of everyday items that were not meant to be prohibited by the scheme. These include problems paying for needs such as groceries, prescription medicine from chemists, rent, petrol, transport, second-hand goods and insurance payments.

Many parents also indicated that there was insufficient cash with the 20 per cent to pay for necessary items for children such as tuckshop money, school uniforms, school photos, school holiday activities and tutoring for children. Some people experienced declined card transactions after eating a meal in a restaurant when they went to pay for meals, even when these meals had not included any alcohol purchases.

Importantly, these problems show that the card does not operate with restrictions only on the cardholder's ability to use a proportion of their payment to purchase harmful goods, as claimed by the government. The restrictions are far more extensive than that. The card creates a class of consumers who experience problems with day-to-day purchases that should be simple in a civilised society. Some people have had their limited incomes further reduced due to fees imposed with the CDC and Indue system. Some of these fees have been $10 each. These were fees that would not have been incurred if they had not been forced onto the card. These fees make a big difference to people on the lowest incomes.

Many people interviewed wanted to get off the card, and had tried to get off the card, but found the exemption process too difficult. There was also some confusion about what evidence would satisfy the government for the purposes of obtaining an exemption, and these problems indicate that a broad-based compulsory approach to the cashless debit card with an exemption system is going to be inadequate to meet the needs of Australia's lowest income people.

I'm happy to take any further questions on these issues.

CHAIR: Thanks, everyone, for those introductory comments.

Senator SIEWERT: I've got some questions. I heard you say 'fees', and I will go to the issue of fees first. Can you explain the circumstances where fees have been charged? I've heard of it, but I haven't heard of the—

Dr Bielefeld : Specific circumstances?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes.

Dr Bielefeld : Sure. Some of these relate to emergency transfer fees of $10. Some relate to late payment fees incurred because of Indue's system that led to delayed payments. Some related to direct debits, where something went wrong and then a $10 fee was imposed. There were other fees that people mentioned too, such as surcharge fees. One person, for example, mentioned several failed transaction attempts with their CDC at a petrol station, and then, when they checked their Indue statement online, they'd been charged 39c for each declined transaction. Some people also mentioned other smaller fees such as $1.03, $4 or $6. So there were a range of different fees and charges that people had not anticipated, but the consequences of these for some people were quite serious. One person encountered multiple $10 fees within a fortnight, and then that threw out their car payment, for example. Their car payment was affected, and then their credit rating is consequently affected. So this issue of fee charges is a significant one for people on the card.

Senator McCARTHY: Dr Bielefeld, can I just clarify: are you quoting from a report that you provided to the committee?

Dr Bielefeld : No, we'll be doing a submission to the committee on behalf of the group. We'll be putting that in to the committee by the end of the week.

Senator McCARTHY: It's just that the statistics that you're raising are quite critical, so would they be included in that?

Dr Bielefeld : Yes, I will include those, and I'll also try to include a few quotes from some of our transcript data so you can see a bit more about that.

Senator SIEWERT: That would be useful. Do you have copies? I've heard of late charges before, when you ask the government about whether payments happen when they say they're going to happen. Yes, Indue's got a process, but I hear about late payments across the board. So do you have more evidence of that, and do you have screenshots and things like that in terms of the fees as well? People talk about fees. If we can get screenshots or bank statements that show it, that would be extremely helpful. Again, I've heard about it a lot, but actually getting some hardcore evidence would be useful, because obviously I keep getting told it's only anecdotal evidence. As I'm critical of anecdotal evidence, particularly from the ORIMA report, it would be good to have some documentation.

Dr Bielefeld : I have actually seen some of these screenshots myself personally.

Senator SIEWERT: You have?

Dr Bielefeld : I have. There is an issue with confidentiality and protecting the anonymity of our research participants, which was promised with our study.

Senator SIEWERT: Fair enough.

Dr Bielefeld : So I would need to go back to those interviewees and ask for their permission—

Senator SIEWERT: To take their names off or blank them out totally?

Dr Bielefeld : I'll go back to those interview participants and ask. That may mean that some of that data can't be provided by Friday, but I will try to ask those participants whether they would be willing to forward on further documentary evidence of that to the committee. But I can say to the committee that I have personally seen a lot of these screenshots with these problems over the period of time in the Hinkler region since the trial's been going.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. I know we're going to run out of time, so I'm going to try and move around for some of the key things. Thank you very much your submissions and the submissions that are coming. Dr Peterie, can you talk us through the issue around the housing, because again this is an issue that I've heard come up repeatedly, in terms of difficulty in paying rent and things like that. So could you just expand on that a bit further.

Dr Peterie : Yes, of course. There are probably three things to mention about housing. The first is that the existing research, including government commissioned evaluations, indicates that these policies have failed to reduce homelessness, so there's no evidence that it's been effective in that space.

Secondly, both our own research and research conducted by other scholars highlights serious issues regarding people's ability to make rental payments. Some of that is around what Shelley was just saying about difficulties making payment transfers—so people being unable to pay their rent on time, because they were trying to do that and the payment was just bouncing back and not being able to go through. In other cases, there were also individuals who were losing access to cheaper accommodation options because they didn't have enough cash to pay for these and those housing options were only available if they were able to pay in cash.

The third thing to note is that these policies also fail to address, and may in fact compound, some of the underlying causes of homelessness. Within the literature around the causes of homelessness, a lot of research has been done around structural factors—for instance, the availability of enough properties. Obviously, this isn't a policy that addresses that, but equally the literature shows that there are some factors like social stigma that can make people more likely to become homeless, and there is a lot of research on the stigmatising effects of income management and the cashless debit card. So, if the research is saying that stigmatised populations and individuals are more likely to end up homeless because they are more likely to be discriminated against in both the housing market and the labour market, that's obviously a really serious concern here as well.

Senator SIEWERT: You probably saw the quizzical look on my face when you talked about the stigma and the card and as a structural factor.

Dr Peterie : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Are you saying that the stigma of being on the card may put off people who you're renting from—the property owners or the landlords? Is that what I should understand from your comment?

Dr Peterie : Yes, there is academic literature that points to that as a causal factor in homelessness and housing insecurity. But, in addition, quite a lot of the people we spoke to explicitly expressed that concern. They were worried that, because they were having these problems paying their rent on time, either they would be kicked out of their property or alternatively their lease wouldn't be renewed in the future because they were causing these problems.

Dr Bielefeld : That was related to their contractual responsibilities to pay rent on time. Under Queensland legislation, that's a serious term of the contract imposed on all leasehold arrangements in Queensland. So people who were periodically breaching their 'pay rent on time' obligation under the contract were experiencing extreme stress in relation to that, because that could lead to eviction. There was one person who talked about a party being evicted in their street—not a party in the sense that they were having a great time but a person being evicted—because they kept having problems with the rent bouncing back and rent payment issues, and the landlord decided they didn't want to deal with it. That was what one of our interviewees said. There were several others who indicated that these problems weren't teething problems either; they were quite persistent, so it's not like people were put on the card in April and then, by September, everything was all ironed out. Some of the people I interviewed still had ongoing problems in relation to rental payments, either because the rent bounces back or because, in the Indue system, the rent payment exceeded the set threshold. Every 28 days they can transfer a certain amount, but it still wasn't enough to cover their rental obligation. Some experienced the rent payment repeatedly not going through over a protracted period of time. So that was causing a significant amount of anxiety for people. Some of the payments were delayed because of Indue's delays in sending that money on to where it was being paid to. Some people talked about two- to three-day delays, which then, again, made them breach their rental contracts.

Senator McCARTHY: We've got limited time. There are a couple of questions I'd like to put to you. If I can't get them answered, maybe take them on notice. Thank you for your evidence here, Professor Gray and Dr Bray. Clearly you've been working in the Northern Territory for a considerable time. Is there evidence that broad-based compulsory income management in the Northern Territory has worked to improve outcomes, any outcomes?

Dr Bray : The response is that from all of the analysis I have done and all of the evaluations I am aware of there is no substantive evidence of there being any systematic improvements in outcomes in the Northern Territory and in particular for the Indigenous population, where around a third of that population aged 15 years and over have been on that payment.

Senator McCARTHY: What about evidence in relation to families, and women in particular, saying that it has worked for them in terms of protecting themselves and their children and families? Has anything like that come through in any of your evidence?

Dr Bray : There has been no systematic evidence on that. There is always some anecdotal evidence, but it's a balance of anecdotal evidence. For example, in the Northern Territory we had people saying, 'Yes, I was being humbugged a little bit less,' but then the same people were saying, 'But I'm having to humbug others more because of the situation that I'm in on the BasicsCard.' So there are always these little bits which can be picked up by someone and that's why I'm using the word 'systematic'. There is no evidence overall that this has had a big positive impact.

Senator McCARTHY: Is there any evidence that income management works when it is more targeted and case managed?

Dr Bray : Our understanding is yes.

Senator McCARTHY: Whereabouts? In what particular situation?

Dr Bray : There are two elements here. One is the Cape York welfare trial. Once again, one can't fully unpack whether that is just the income management element or the strong support that's actually given through the whole apparatus in that trial. But the two together appear to do something. Similarly, in the Northern Territory when the new income management was first introduced, they had a specific targeted program where the Centrelink social workers, who are fairly aware of who is really having the problems, were able to put people on the scheme if they felt they were vulnerable and if they felt there were negative outcomes. Having spoken with the social workers, all of them said it was useful. They all also said it didn't really do anything to address the key underlying problems, as many of these people had, but in combination with other services it meant at least some of these people were getting a meal each day, and that is a good positive outcome. But it is that tight targeting.

Senator McCARTHY: We've heard evidence in relation to birth weights. Can I ask about stillbirths. Have you had any evidence in relation to that with the research that you've conducted?

Dr Bray : Not in the research that I've done. In the evidence I've presented the trend in child mortality, which is within the first year and the low birth weight, but not on the stillbirth issue specifically.

Senator McCARTHY: Does the broad-based income management build capacity or strip it away? That's an open question.

Dr Bray : The evidence that we collected says it strips it away, and that was everything from anecdotal evidence right through. I can remember one of the kids in Alice Springs who responded who had just finished school and said, 'I've learnt all of these things. I thought I'd be leaving school and becoming a responsible person, and no. I've had this imposed on me.' We looked at detailed data on whether or not people spent all of their income support money immediately they received it or they actually saved up bits up of it and used it evenly across the fortnight. There was absolutely no evidence of income management changing the way in which people managed their money. We asked a lot of the people who said they wanted to stay on income management: why? And the answer was, 'I'm used to it' and 'It's easier to stay on; it makes my life easier.'

Senator McCARTHY: Easier to stay on because it's too hard to get off?

Dr Bray : A combination of easier to stay on because it's too hard to get off and: 'It takes a lot of the decisions away from me that I don't have to make.' This was something we saw as stripping away independence. We did consult in some of the communities on this, and the view was that this was not always seen as a negative. In some communities, they were saying, 'No, look, a lot of the people who are on it will remain on income support for most of their lives.' And, if it makes their life easier, that community was relaxed about that continuing, which of course it can under volunatry income management—

Senator McCARTHY: Dr Hunt, did you want to respond quickly?

Dr Hunt : I just wanted to contrast that with the community capacity that's built when you work in partnership. And I think we've seen that with the Bourke reinvestment program because that has built community capacity to analyse the whole life cycle and look at the intervention points that they needed to look at in order to address the problems that they were trying to address. I think that has built not just individual capacity but community capacity, community governance and a whole range of things which will have long-term benefits, because that capacity has been built. Whereas what Dr Bray is saying—and I know, reading his new income management report earlier, it's creating more dependence rather than creating people's ability to solve their own problems and resolve community problems in the process.

Senator McCARTHY: I know Senator Lambie has to ask questions too. Just finally: is income management in the Northern Territory racially discriminatory?

Dr Bielefeld : I would say yes, as someone who does human rights law. Yes, it is because there is indirect racial discrimination occurring because the program disproportionately impacts on Australia's First Peoples more so than any other people in the country, and so there are still ongoing human rights violations with the cashless debit card. Should the cashless debit card be rolled out further in the Northern Territory, that is just going to continue to have a grossly disproportionate impact on Indigenous people, who make up—at the last publicly released data on income management, the income management summary data—close to 80 per cent of the cohort who are income managed in the Northern Territory. There is a body of scholarship that suggests engaging in racial discrimination against people has adverse health impacts. That is again something that's inconsistent with the government's other policy objectives—the closing the gap objectives, for example—and things that they're trying to do to improve health outcomes for First Peoples.

Senator McCARTHY: Thank you.

Senator LAMBIE: I was just wondering: how many of you have actually lived on welfare?

Dr Bielefeld : Me.

Senator LAMBIE: Do you mind if I ask how long you were on welfare for?

Dr Bielefeld : As a teenager, I was on government income support due to it being unsafe to live at home. That was for a period of years until I finished high school, and then approximately a year after I finished high school as well. And then again I had some government income support when I was in my first year of university.

Senator LAMBIE: How many participants have you got signed up? How many participants are actually feeding back into your questions?

Dr Bielefeld : Sorry, can you repeat the question. Someone was coughing.

Senator LAMBIE: You all said, 'We've had participants. We're hearing from them.' So how many participants do you have that you are actually hearing from between the lot of you? How many participants? You're obviously getting feedback from somewhere. So how many participants are there?

Dr Bielefeld : Michelle, have you done the final data crunch on how many interviewees from each trial site?

We have got a number of trial sites across two countries, so we're still analysing the broader data set. That is something where perhaps we could get back to the committee on that. For the Hinkler data set we interviewed between us 30 people who were on social security payments who were affected by the card. These were in-depth interviews—many of them went for an hour or more—where we were able to ask a lot of probing questions in terms of people's experiences and what consequences flowed to them as a result of the things they were experiencing, the difficulties they were experiencing.

Senator LAMBIE: And where did you get the participants from? Did you send out a call for participants? How did you line those participants up?

Dr Bielefeld : We did. We had a call for participants that went out through media. We did TV media, newspaper media and social media up there. We also contacted various NGOs in the area. Have I left any out, Michelle?

Dr Peterie : Local job service providers.

Dr Bielefeld : Yes, those as well. So there were a range of different organisations that we were contacting in terms of making sure that we got a representative sample for our Hinkler field work to make sure that the project was inclusive of a diverse range of experiences.

Senator LAMBIE: And so how many people are on the Hinkler card at the moment? Sorry, did you do Hervey Bay or the whole of Hinkler? Is that Bundaberg—

Dr Bielefeld : We did the whole Hinkler region.

Senator LAMBIE: So you've done Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. You did big media up there and whatever else. And, you had, what, 30 participants out of nearly 4,000 or 7,000 of them? How many are on that card up there in Hinkler? It is 7,000, I think, and you had 30 people that were interested in talking to you?

Dr Bielefeld : No, it wasn't that 30 people were interested in talking to us. It was until we reached saturation point with our data. Qualitative methods involve making sure that you interview a range of people and you reach saturation data point when you keep hearing the same kind of experience over and over and over. Michelle might be able to explain that really well.

Senator LAMBIE: So there were 30 participants, you saturated and we've got 7,000 on there. I'm just trying to ask about the other 6,000 or 6½ thousand people that this might be working for? If you've saturated the area and told them to come forward—it's a little bit easier for me because I can stand out on the street and they all know who I am, so I can ask the same question and see all that. For me, I can hit a heap of people at once over a two- or three-day period.

Dr Peterie : We should also mention that the study is ongoing. We have a large survey which is open at the moment. We're hoping that we'll also have some of that more statistical data that will sort of feed into the study and—

Dr Bielefeld : in terms of quantitative research.

Dr Peterie : Yes.

Senator LAMBIE: Where would I find a copy of that study?

Dr Bielefeld : It's ongoing. We're still undertaking the data collection for the quantitative component of our research study.

Senator LAMBIE: How long has the roll-out of the card been in Hinkler now?

Dr Bielefeld : It was rolled out at the start of this year.

Senator LAMBIE: So it was rolled out at the start of this year, you're six months in and you're doing a study on it. Have you done any studies on Ceduna, on the Goldfields, up the top, at Kununurra? Have you done any of the studies up there as well and spread it out?

Dr Bielefeld : There are a number of field work sites. Ceduna is one of the field work sites, but we have other fieldwork sites as well. In the submission that we make to the committee I can provide a little bit more detail as to what the other field work sites are, but it's important to stress that the data collection is still underway in relation to the quantitative research and the data analysis for the qualitative research is still underway. So the points that Michelle and I are making today are in relation to the Hinkler region.

Senator LAMBIE: Oh, okay. So you haven't visited all the trial sites, then? Have you physically visited them?

Dr Bielefeld : Members of the research team have been in a range of trial sites, including Ceduna and, yes, some other places.

Senator LAMBIE: Do you know how many times they've been to Ceduna?

Dr Bielefeld : I'd have to get back to you about that because I didn't conduct those interviews.

Senator LAMBIE: That would be great. And could you please provide me with exactly what communities around Ceduna that are involved with that card they went out to? Would you be able to do that? There are different Indigenous communities out there, obviously. I've done three or four trips back there in four years and I'm seeing a significant difference and not hearing what you people are hearing. That's very minimal. That's about 10 per cent and that's what I'm hearing. I'll be going to Kununurra and the Goldfields again shortly. I'm not sure what data you're gathering, but for me to stand out on the street and for me to go and see the not-for-profits and then go out to the communities, I'm having a good reaction and not the reaction you're having. I've got to work out why that is. Quite frankly, I'm talking to all walks of life out there. You were saying there's a housing issue. Where have you picked that up? Has the card affected the housing? I think that was you, Dr Peterie.

Dr Peterie : Yes, I think that was what Dr Bielefeld was describing before with respect to people encountering difficulties making their rental payment. So that was introducing a degree of insecurity into the housing arrangements. They were concerned their leases would be terminated or not renewed because they weren't able to pay their rent on time because of those payment problems.

Senator LAMBIE: Did they inform you in Hervey Bay that there is a problem because they have some naughty people there who do not want to declare to the tax man? There's a shortage up there. I don't know if you know that. I've made it clear to the government that there is a housing shortage in the Hinkler area for people who are on the welfare card, because they can't pay the money. Going to all these trial sites, that's the only thing that I've heard about, and that was brought to me fairly quickly about what's going on in that area. The coalition, I believe, are looking at that and saying, 'Actually, we do have a problem with that.' I guess the tax man will be knocking on their door eventually.

You have the 50/50 in Cape York and you also have that in the Northern Territory?

Dr Bray : Cape York is at the discretion, I think, of the family relations commission. That proportion can be adjusted.

Senator LAMBIE: Okay. Thank you for that.

Dr Bray : I will also mention briefly that in relation to the Northern Territory study, the surveys were about 1,500 people out of a population on income management of about 14,000. When I talk about the data—on the patterns of spending, the spending in stores—that was every transaction made in the Northern Territory on BasicsCard. We had the records of every person's spending on BasicsCard. While sometimes with the qualitative surveys you are looking at quite small groups, the Northern Territory was largely a quantitative one. That's a big survey in the Northern Territory, getting 1,400 respondents across communities and in urban areas.

Senator LAMBIE: Where do I get a copy of that survey?

Dr Bray : We'll give you the links to the evaluation reports.

Senator LAMBIE: Thank you.

Senator McCARTHY: Just a question on notice. This bill will provide possibly for the minister to have 100 per cent opportunity of quarantining. What is your response to that? Also, if it is done with community consultation, what form will that community consultation look like in your academic view?

CHAIR: Senator Hughes has a question as well.

Senator HUGHES: Coming back to the fee issue. I'm a little confused about that because the Indue card is completely fee free. You might have to take this on notice. Were the fees these people were being charged being charged by the providers as opposed Indue and the cashless debit card? The debit card is actually fee free.

Dr Bielefeld : Well in theory.

Senator HUGHES: If it was the providers, they would have been charged on any card.

Dr Bielefeld : I've had some correspondence with the Department of Social Services on this issue and I was told this by the Department of Social Services, but I've seen a number of the screenshots.

Senator HUGHES: Maybe you could include them in the submission. That would be helpful.

Dr Bielefeld : I can't without violating the confidentiality of the people whose screenshots they belong to because their account names are on them.

Senator HUGHES: You can delete the account names and include just the data?

Dr Bielefeld : As I said earlier, I would have to go back and ask interview participants whether they would be willing to do that.

Senator HUGHES: It's really important for us because the card is actually fee free. It is important for us to know that if fees are being charged as opposed to being charged by the provider.

Dr Bielefeld : As I explained earlier, there's a range of different issues with the fees. I mentioned direct debit. One example, which I talked to someone from the Department of Social Services about, is where someone's set up a direct debit and there are delays processing the payment with the Indue and CDC system. The direct debit entity tries to take the money out. The money's not there. The person then gets a fee. You might say, 'The card's fee free,' but because someone's been forced on the card and they're put in a situation where they then end up incurring a fee they wouldn't otherwise have ended up with.

I've actually asked some of the participants who've experienced this: 'Hey, have you brought this to the attention of the Department of Social Services?' Because I think personally the government should be reimbursing people for all of these out-of-pocket-costs. The government says, 'This scheme isn't taking money away from people; it's really fantastic;' however, the interview data suggest it actually is leaving some people with less money than they had to pay their bills previously.

Senator HUGHES: We need to clarify that the account had the money there when the direct debit was scheduled and that the fees were provided by—

Dr Bielefeld : But people didn't—

Senator LAMBIE: Are they passing you evidence to show that, if my car payments were late in on the Indue card then I was penalised from the people that I got the loan from? I guess that's what we need to see. It's no good just putting it on Facebook, because I've seen some of the complaints that are going on Facebook and some of them are absolute nonsense. What we need to see is not just the words; we need to see the evidence. You need to say, 'We got overcharged here because it didn't go through on my Indue card. It didn't do the right thing..

Dr Bielefeld : I've said I have seen evidence of some charges, and I'll have to go back to—

Senator HUGHES: I guess the important thing, Dr Bielefeld, is that we need to see them too.

Senator LAMBIE: Yes, we need to see them.

Dr Hunt : Can I just say, as a researcher, that there are some quite strong ethical requirements on researchers. I don't think Dr Bielefeld is being difficult; she genuinely has to be very careful about the confidentiality agreements that she's entered into in undertaking the research.

Senator LAMBIE: Surely you can redact?

Dr Hunt : She can find a way but—

Senator HUGHES: She can either redact, or these people can come and talk to either Senator Lambie or me with direct complaints.

Senator LAMBIE: If business is doing the wrong thing, they need to be pulled up on it.

Senator HUGHES: And you're more than welcome to refer the people to Senator Lambie or me, or anyone on the committee, to look into this directly.

Dr Bielefeld : I think that might be a better way to be honest because then it's up to them to pass on the information; it's not me trying to get something that we never said we would be getting from them in the project. I'm seeing some ethical issues here.

Senator HUGHES: It's just concerning because, if we're getting it here as evidence then we need to see the evidence. We can't just take it on hearsay. If the evidence is there, it needs to be brought to us either by you or by them.

CHAIR: Okay. Thank you very much for that. I'm very conscious of time.

Senator SIEWERT: Can I just flag that I will have some written questions on notice, so I'll make sure we get them through to you ASAP.

Dr Bielefeld : That would be great. If I could just respond to Senator McCarthy's points that were made earlier: if there was the discretion to put the quarantine portion up to 100 per cent, I think that would be really problematic based on the types of consumer problems that I've mentioned that arise for people. Because then they don't even have a small component of cash to be paying for legitimate expenses in a not quite cashless society that we are living in.

In terms of what type of consultation should be in existence, I was very concerned to read an explanatory memorandum where it talks about the government giving people a say over how it was going to be implemented but not whether it would be implemented. Consultation, at least human rights compliant consultation, involves free, prior and informed consent. It doesn't involve telling people that they're going to be forced onto a program that they don't consent to. That was something that came up in some of our interviews: people talking about the duress involved with this program, that they had been forced to activate their cards. They had no choice if they were going to try to pay their bills, but activating was coerced consent; that is not actually valid, legitimate consent. In terms of consultation, I think it would need to be full, free, prior and informed consent that is human rights compliant under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

CHAIR: Thank you. We've gone well and truly over time, but thank you very much. I've allowed it to go over because we've had a few extra people. Thank you very much for your evidence today. The committee will report to the Senate on Thursday 7 November and requests that answers to questions taken on notice, some of which will be provided to you in the next few days, are provided to the committee secretariat by close of business Monday 28 October, including your submission, which we're looking forward to receiving. Thank you very much.