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Community Affairs Legislation Committee

BLEWITT, Ms Teena, Group Manager, Communities, Department of Social Services

GALLIE, Mr Ben, Director, Welfare Quarantining and Program Management Team, Services Australia

GODDARD, Ms Rachel, Acting General Manager, Older Australians Division, Services Australia

HEFREN-WEBB, Ms Liz, Deputy Secretary, Families and Communities, Department of Social Services

PATTRICK, Ms Selena, Branch Manager, Welfare Quarantining, Department of Social Services

THORNE, Ms Sherree, Acting National Manager, Deduction and Confirmation Branch, Services Australia


CHAIR: I welcome representatives from the Department of Social Services and the Department of Human Services, Services Australia. Thank you for appearing before the committee today. I remind witnesses that the Senate has resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth or of a state shall not be asked to give opinions on matter of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted.

Do you want to make an opening statement?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes. Thanks for the opportunity to appear before this hearing. The Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019 provides for the transition of income management participants in the Northern Territory and Cape York region in Queensland to the cashless debit card. The bill will also extend the current cashless debit card trial sites of Ceduna, East Kimberley, Goldfields and the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay regions until 30 June 2021, allow voluntary participants in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region, and improve data-sharing arrangements and the workability of the evaluation process. The cashless debit card is a debit card that allows for the purchase of all goods and services except for alcohol, gambling and some gift cards. It cannot be used to withdraw cash.

The replacement of income management and the BasicsCard with the cashless debit card will offer individuals a superior product, while ensuring the continuation of a measure to help address welfare fuelled drug and alcohol misuse and problem gambling. Examples of the improved technology of the cashless debit card include the ability to access online shopping and the ability to transfer funds between cashless debit card participants. The cashless debit card operates like a standard debit card and is accepted at all merchants that do not sell restricted items. This is in contrast to arrangements under income management where the BasicsCard is only accepted at merchants that sell priority goods and enter agreements with Services Australia. The cashless debit card is accepted at more than 900,000 EFTPOS terminals nationwide, whereas the BasicsCard is accepted at fewer than 17,000.

We recognise the importance of supporting participants through this change, and the department is committed to working with participants, communities and stakeholders to provide a smooth transition. The legislation has been designed to continue the policies, support income management participants and ensure individuals and communities will experience minimum disruption through the change. Prior to the announcement of this measure in the 2019-20 budget, the department engaged with some stakeholders and communities, and it is committed to continuing the engagement in the lead-up and through the rollout in 2020. In our engagement to date, the department has heard that the cashless debit card is a superior product that provides greater consumer choice and that it is important that the percentage of payment placed onto the card should remain the same as under income management.

The bill provides that participants will transition at their existing rate. This is different to all other cashless debit card sites, where 80 per cent of a participant's payment is placed onto the card. The government has also allocated $17.5 million to support participants through the transition and fund support services across the regions. Should the bill pass, the department's focus will be working closely with Services Australia to ensure an effective rollout of the cashless debit card that minimises any disruption of participants. There will be a staggered rollout which will occur over a nine-month period from April 2020. We will work with participants and stakeholders in communities and we are engaging now to hear feedback about how the process should work.

The Department of Social Services, together with Services Australia, will hold community information sessions with participants across the regions prior to the introduction of the cashless debit card in their community. This will provide participants information about how the card works and answer any questions or concerns participants and stakeholders may have. Thank you again for the opportunity to appear tonight. We're happy to answer your questions.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. Did you wish to make a statement as well?

Ms Goddard : No, thank you.

CHAIR: Okay. Senator Siewert, we'll start with you.

Senator SIEWERT: I've got a lot of questions, some of which are a bit technical, so, if you say, 'That's too technical,' I'll just put it on notice. First off, you know how you usually provide to estimates the breakdown of income management? Ms Pattrick is nodding at me. These are the ones that have how many are on for all of the trial sites and for the Northern Territory. Do you have that available tonight, or should I just leave that till next week?

Ms Pattrick : We don't have it; sorry.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. I'm very keen to get the latest data on all the trial sites, but I'm also particularly keen to get an update on where we're up to with the exemption process. You could perhaps provide us with some of that preliminary information now, and there may be some that you might want to do an enhanced report on for next week.

Ms Hefren-Webb : You're talking about the exit process that was recently legislated?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes. Well, it's exemption, exit and wellbeing, actually—the people who have come off due to wellbeing.

Ms Hefren-Webb : I might talk about the exit process first if that's alright, and then I might pass to Miss Pattrick or Ms Blewitt to talk about the exemption process, which has been in place longer. With the exit process, as you're aware, the legislation that was originally passed was reworked a bit to make it—

Senator SIEWERT: workable.

Ms Hefren-Webb : workable. After that legislation passed, we contacted all people who had rung and expressed interest.

Senator SIEWERT: Has everybody been contacted?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Not everybody has responded. We've done up to three outbound phone calls with everyone who rang and said they were interested in pursuing an exit.

Senator SIEWERT: And how many was that?

Ms Pattrick : That was 1,415 people.

Senator SIEWERT: Thanks. Sorry; I beg your pardon. I just wanted to make sure I got that figure. I knew it was over a thousand. So they've all been contacted and some haven't responded?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Some haven't answered the three phone calls, and so, for those who haven't responded, I think we're in the process of sending emails as well to try and get in touch with them. So we have spoken to people about the need to fill out the application form. We've received around 250 completed application forms. Services Australia is now undertaking the process of working through those application forms and conducting interviews. They're undertaking the interviews. So all the applications are in different stages of completion, I suppose.

Senator SIEWERT: Has anybody come through the process, either with an approval for an exit or a rejection?

Ms Hefren-Webb : We haven't got anyone to that stage yet, but we anticipate that shortly we will.

Senator SIEWERT: If you do by next week, could you give us a breakdown of First Nations peoples— actually, overall, can you give us a breakdown of the 250 that you've received to date? How many are First Nations and how many are not?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes. Of the 250—actually it looks like there are 276. Twenty-six of the applications were incomplete. There are 250 we can act on. But of that 276 figure, 66 were Indigenous and 210 non-indigenous.

Senator SIEWERT: That is what I strongly suspected would be the case, because the form is so complex. Has anybody looked at that yet? It's a vastly disproportionate number of First Nations people compared to the number of First Nations people on the card.

Ms Hefren-Webb : I don't think that ratio is any different from the phone calls we got about the exits, before people had even seen the application form.

Ms Pattrick : Of the 1,415 people who had expressed an interest in exiting, 576 of those people indicated Indigenous status.

Senator SIEWERT: Do they have to indicate?

Ms Pattrick : No.

Senator SIEWERT: Could you provide the breakdown for those against the four trial sites? I won't do it now, because we've got limited time.

Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes. And did you want to talk about the wellbeing exemption quickly?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, please.

Senator LAMBIE: What trial site are you talking about with those figures?

Ms Hefren-Webb : That's all four cashless debit card sites.

Senator SIEWERT: Have you had new applications since then? Those were the initial phone calls. Have you had more since the process is now clearer?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I'm not sure.

Ms Pattrick : I'm not sure that we've had a look at whether everyone who has submitted a complete application had also indicated through the phone call process. That's something that I'd have to check.

Senator SIEWERT: Have you had more than the 1,415?

Ms Pattrick : I'd have to check.

Senator SIEWERT: If you could take it on notice and provide the figures against each of the trial sites, that would be appreciated. The wellbeing exemption?

Ms Pattrick : You're after an update on the numbers?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, please.

Ms Pattrick : In Ceduna, the number of participants who have been exempted through wellbeing is 31. In the East Kimberley, it's 33. In the Goldfields, 95. In Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, it's seven, which brings us to a total of 166.

Senator SIEWERT: How many have applied?

Ms Pattrick : To be exempted under the wellbeing?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes.

Ms Pattrick : I would have to take that on notice. I don't have that in front of me.

Senator SIEWERT: If you could take that on notice, that would be appreciated—how many had applied. I'll follow that up again next week for the more detailed data. One of the issues that came up and I have been getting emails about is how the age pension is being treated through the amendments. Can you please provide us with what the process is and whether it's in or out?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Basically what we're aiming for is consistency with current policy settings in the BasicsCard locations. Currently, in the Northern Territory and Cape York people in receipt of the age pension can participate.

Senator SIEWERT: They can opt in.

Ms Hefren-Webb : With the BasicsCard they can volunteer, but also if they have the care of dependent children, say, and they were referred by a child protection authority or through some other referral mechanism.

Senator SIEWERT: Or if they're vulnerable—do they come under that class when the changes were made, of vulnerable people? Do they come under that?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I think it's only where a relevant state authority has referred them. I'm just checking. Essentially we're mirroring those provisions. Age pensioners will participate in the cashless debit card to the extent they wish to volunteer or they're referred by the Family Responsibilities Commission or an NT authority.

Senator SIEWERT: That's in Cape York. But what about in the NT?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Referred by an NT state authority.

Senator SIEWERT: Could you take on notice how many people have been referred overall by an NT state authority and, secondly, how many on an age pension? And thirdly, have people been referred if they're on an age pension when they don't have children within their responsibility—they're not caring for children?

Ms Hefren-Webb : It could be through the banned drinker register.

Ms Pattrick : So through voluntary vulnerable welfare payment recipients, child protection and supporting people at risk measures.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes. That's the other area. So, it's just those—it's not extending the reach of the card?

Ms Pattrick : No.

Senator SIEWERT: Can I ask for overall costs, in terms of how much has been spent?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I might ask Ms Blewitt to give you the costs of the budget announcement.

Ms Blewitt : In the 2019-20 budget the government announced $128.8 million over the four years. That's for this current piece of legislation, so moving income management participants onto the cashless debit card and also extending the existing sites for another year.

Ms Hefren-Webb : It also covered some product enhancements for the cashless debit card.

Senator SIEWERT: I'm interested in over the whole time that the cashless debit card has been operating. Have you got a global figure?

Ms Blewitt : I've got in front of me here, since 2015-16 over the four years to 2018-19 it's been a total of $50.367 million.

Senator SIEWERT: And that covers everything?

Ms Blewitt : That's card provider, evaluation, communications, departmental expenses as well.

Senator SIEWERT: Then you add the $128. 8 million. If I added those two together, I would get the cost?

Ms Blewitt : That's right. The $128.8 million, that's over four years.

Senator SIEWERT: Upwards of $180 million, or around $180 million?

Ms Blewitt : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: And how many participants—

Ms Blewitt : Just to correct that, the $128.8 is from the forward years going forward. So we haven't expensed that yet.

Senator SIEWERT: I take your point.

Ms Blewitt : It's a commitment.

Senator McCARTHY: That's the total amount going forward.

Senator SIEWERT: That's what I'm trying to get to, yes. Up until the $50-odd million, how many participants were actually covered? Because you should be able to give me—

Ms Blewitt : Yes, we'll have that somewhere.

Ms Pattrick : The current participant numbers—

Ms Hefren-Webb : 11,547.

Senator SIEWERT: I realise you can only give me the projected figures over the four years. How many people—

Ms Hefren-Webb : We're projecting about another 23,000.

Senator McCARTHY: Is that 23,000 the Northern Territory BasicsCard recipients?

Ms Hefren-Webb : And the Cape York participants.

CHAIR: Last question?

Senator SIEWERT: I've got a whole lot of technical questions about what various bits of the legislation mean. Can you come back to me?

CHAIR: Yes, we certainly can, if we have time.

Senator McCARTHY: Can people use the cashless debit card in the BPAY system?

Ms Pattrick : Yes, they can.

Senator McCARTHY: For instance, paying rates or a power bill?

Ms Pattrick : Yes.

Senator McCARTHY: Does the cashless debit card work for all BPAY merchants?

Ms Pattrick : As long as the merchant doesn't sell restricted items then they would be able to use BPAY.

Senator McCARTHY: Restricted items such as?

Ms Pattrick : Gambling, alcohol or cashlike products.

Senator McCARTHY: Do you have a list of those? You've obviously got a list of other things, or are you just saying it's items in those three specific areas?

Ms Pattrick : Just those areas, yes.

Senator McCARTHY: Are any billers with BPAY excluded from the cashless debit card system? If so, which ones?

Ms Pattrick : I'm not sure. I'd have to take that on notice.

Senator McCARTHY: Can people use BPAY to make a payment to a financial organisation like a bank?

Ms Pattrick : Yes.

Senator McCARTHY: Does this include making payments on a credit card?

Ms Pattrick : I believe so, but I would have to confirm that.

Senator McCARTHY: There are no restrictions on where credit cards issued by banks work, are there?

Ms Pattrick : No.

Senator McCARTHY: Does this mean that a person could wash their spending through a credit card if needed? I'll go through this again—

Senator LAMBIE: I guess what you're trying to say is that if you put alcohol on your credit card then you pay that off on your credit card, how does that work? That's a good question.

Ms Pattrick : The department does investigate where we think there are potential loopholes or circumventions of the card. I'm not able to comment directly on if anyone has done that via a credit card.

Senator McCARTHY: You have no experience of that at the moment, or have you just got no answer or solution to that kind of question?

Ms Blewitt : I don't think we've come across it, have we?

Ms Hefren-Webb : What we're saying is that where there's a pattern of unusual transactions, we do investigate; we're just not aware that that particular instance has arisen. But other instances of unusual transactions have been investigated in the past.

Senator McCARTHY: Like what, for example?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Like consistently higher rates of expenditure at a particular store—for example, if there were six newsagents in a town and one was attracting 90 per cent of the cashless debit card traffic or something like that.

Senator McCARTHY: What was the answer to that? What's wrong with it?

Ms Pattrick : We would work with the merchant to make sure that they understood that if they were selling a good such as a cashlike product, they would need to enter into a mixed merchant agreement whereby they would agree not to sell those products.

Senator LAMBIE: So I can go and get eight bottles of wine on my Visa card and you guys have got no idea, and I can just pay it off with my other card. That's a new one. That's a beauty! Everyone will be getting Visa cards tomorrow, watch.

Senator McCARTHY: I'm going to give some examples. The Westpac low rate credit card, along with other cards, is advertised as having a low minimum income requirement of $15,000. This would allow people on DSP or parenting payment and many people on Newstart to apply for the card, and many people also had cards before they were on Newstart. In this context, how do you know how many people are using credit cards to make purchases?

Ms Blewitt : Do you mean a regular credit card?

Senator McCARTHY: You don't know?

Ms Blewitt : No.

Ms Pattrick : If you wanted to make transfers out of your cashless debit card to pay for something that we could see was a credit card payment, we would ask for some evidence if it looked like there were large amounts of someone's welfare payment going directly to a credit card.

Senator McCARTHY: In the Northern Territory at the moment it's the BasicsCard. Is the Indue card in the Northern Territory at the moment?

Ms Hefren-Webb : They're both Indue cards—

Senator McCARTHY: Sorry, what was that?

Ms Hefren-Webb : The BasicsCard is also provided by Indue, so they're both Indue cards. The cashless debit card can be used anywhere nationally provided the merchant doesn't sell restricted items. Yes, people can use the card.

Senator McCARTHY: In the Northern Territory currently?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes.

Ms Pattrick : Some people may have moved outside of the trial sites—outside of the city in the East Kimberley, the Goldfields region, Bundaberg or Hervey Bay—into the Northern Territory, and they would be able to use their card in the Northern Territory.

Senator McCARTHY: How are you monitoring that use of the card now or are you not?

Ms Pattrick : The use of the card in the Northern Territory? We're not doing any active monitoring on whether people are using their cards.

Ms Hefren-Webb : But we can run reports at any time.

Senator McCARTHY: If someone from, say, Ceduna is in Alice Springs with their cashless debit card, you can see that that's occurring?

Ms Pattrick : We'd see that there were purchases made with the cashless debit card.

Senator McCARTHY: I asked you earlier about what some of the restrictions are. You mentioned two or three things there. The BasicsCard does not allow the purchase of pornography, does it?

Ms Hefren-Webb : No, it doesn't.

Senator McCARTHY: But the cashless debit card does?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Correct.

Senator McCARTHY: So what is the policy rationale for this?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Essentially, that's been a policy decision of government informed by discussions that have been had with community representatives.

Senator McCARTHY: Given that the intervention came into the Northern Territory 12 years ago based on many things, including the use of pornography or access to it, do you see that there is a conflict with that policy?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I think, since 2007, pornography has changed a lot in the sense that, as I understand it, there's a lot more accessibility to pornography without spending money than there perhaps was 12 years ago. So purchases of pornography are perhaps less of a relevant factor.

Senator McCARTHY: Is that based on evidence data?

Ms Hefren-Webb : No, that's based on my observations.

Senator McCARTHY: So based on your observations, there's a—

Ms Hefren-Webb : People don't pay. The trend data, as I understand it, is that people don't necessarily have to pay for pornography.

Senator McCARTHY: I'm just trying to understand this policy because it is a critical one in terms of the Northern Territory. What evidence is there that the ban was ineffective in the Northern Territory?

Ms Hefren-Webb : We don't have any specific evidence that the ban was ineffective. It's just community views around access to pornography and the relevance of using a restricted card to prevent access to pornography have changed, and the government's taken on board those changes in community views and perspectives.

Senator McCARTHY: And has that come through in conversations with the people of the Northern Territory, given that the issue of pornography was such a major issue in 2007, hence the BasicsCard and the intervention? Has that come through in discussions?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I'll just ask Ms Blewitt. She was involved in some discussions last week.

Ms Blewitt : In discussions that I was involved in the Northern Territory last week—and I've also been up to Cairns to talk to people in relation to the Cape York sites—pornography has not come up at all. Tobacco is the issue that's come up.

Senator McCARTHY: It's not come up, but have you raised it?

Ms Blewitt : We've been very upfront about what the cashless debit card can do.

Senator McCARTHY: So you've asked about pornography as an issue, have you?

Ms Blewitt : No, I haven't asked about it as an issue. When we've talked about the fact that we'll be swapping one card for another and the difference between two cards, we've had an information sheet that we've handed out. The sheet tells you information about how the BasicsCard works and what will be different under the cashless debit card. On that information sheet, it actually lists that on the BasicsCard pornography and tobacco are restricted items, and on the cashless debit card they will no longer be restricted items.

Senator McCARTHY: So people are aware of that?

Ms Blewitt : Yes. That's part of the flyer information we've been handing out as well.

Ms Hefren-Webb : But we're continuing to consult, and it's a useful point for us to highlight.

Senator McCARTHY: So what communities and representatives were consulted about this, Ms Blewitt, last week in the Northern Territory?

Ms Blewitt : I've got a list here somewhere. Last week I was in Darwin, Groote Eylandt and Alice. Off the top of my head, we met with members of the Tiwi Land Council. We've got a list that we can actually table.

Ms Hefren-Webb : The consultation schedule we can table for you.

Senator McCARTHY: That would be great, if you could table that. That would be very helpful.

Ms Blewitt : It's quite an extensive list, and we're continuing to engage with communities and representative groups—we've already started—and we'll continue up until April and through the actual rollout.

Senator McCARTHY: The consultations will continue in the Northern Territory until April?

Ms Blewitt : Yes.

Senator McCARTHY: I know, Ms Hefren-Webb, you said it was your observation that pornography was not being used as much but what expert advice was sought on that decision?

Ms Hefren-Webb : None to my knowledge.

Senator McCARTHY: Were any communities consulted prior to last week?

Senator LAMBIE: Can I put something on notice, because this division is going to go off and I'm not paired. Is there any way I could have a cost on the BasicsCard and the Indue card; how much we've paid in the last 12 years? Can I get that please; that'd be great.

Ms Hefren-Webb : The costs of the Indue card?

Senator LAMBIE: It's the same people running the BasicsCard. They've been doing it for 12 years, so I'd like just a full amount of what it's cost us so far if that's okay. Thank you so much for coming, guys. Sorry, I have to do a runner. Thanks for coming. I have to do a runner.

CHAIR: We have a quorum. We can keep going.

Senator McCARTHY: Ms Blewitt, you met in the Northern Territory last week. You met at Groote Eylandt and Darwin—the Tiwi Land Council and the Anindilyakwa Land Council, I imagine, if you were on Groote Eylandt.

Ms Blewitt : I just can't remember. There was a number of them.

Senator McCARTHY: You raised the access issue with the people you met. No-one has raised any questions around that issue of pornography?

Ms Blewitt : No. It's come up in the sense of us talking about what we are proposing to do. We were trying to do a bit of myth-busting, where people had said to us, 'I understand you're rolling this out in other particular areas.' We were trying to get in with key leaders and community organisations and some of the access points to let them know what we are proposing to do, when it's starting and some of the key features of the card. So when it came up, it was with that that we then had to explain through the information sheet.

Senator McCARTHY: Can the cashless debit card be used to purchase online pornography?

Ms Blewitt : I suppose, technically, it probably could. If it is not a restricted provider, and it's a legal provider, then you can do online shopping.

Senator McCARTHY: A legal product?

Ms Blewitt : A legal product, yes. Just to confirm, there's been no policy rationale for that change?

Ms Blewitt : Just to help, the BasicsCard and the cashless debit card have two different policy drivers. That's why the cashless debit card, as you would be aware, has actually been set up to test around the reduction in social harm that could be caused as a result of alcohol, gambling and the purchase of drugs. The BasicsCard was set up for a different purpose. They've got two different policy intents.

Senator McCARTHY: I hear what you're saying, but for people who have been under a particular regime for 12 years and were told that it was all evidence based, and now a decision has been made without any evidence to change it, it's just very peculiar, that's all. On the cashless debit card consultations that you've had, and I have asked this of previous witnesses, the bill gives the minister the potential to quarantine to 100 per cent. What would that process involve if the minister were to go down that path?

Ms Pattrick : The minister will only vary the portion of payment that is placed onto the card in response to a request from the community. It would be at the request of a community to increase from the 50 per cent that most people in the Northern Territory are on to a larger quarantining amount.

Senator McCARTHY: What kind of form with that request take?

Ms Pattrick : We haven't yet gone through the process of how that would need to be worked through with the minister. That's something that we would look at developing in the future once some legislation had passed.

Senator McCARTHY: You've just met with people in the Northern Territory. Have you discussed it with them?

Ms Blewitt : No, not in any of the engagements that I've had. We haven't spoken about that.

Senator McCARTHY: Is there any reason for that?

Ms Blewitt : No. I suppose it's just been early engagement and it hasn't come up. As I say, we've talked to quite a lot of people and we've got ongoing engagements. While I note this legislation provides that for the minister, under the current legislation the secretary already has a similar power and that hasn't been exercised to date.

Senator McCARTHY: I'm just trying to understand. People currently have 50 per cent of their income quarantined. In the conversations that you are having, are you talking about how much people's income will be quarantined? I'm trying to understand because people are currently on 50 per cent of their income being quarantined. In the conversations that you are having, are you talking about how much people's income will be quarantined?

Ms Blewitt : Yes, we have. Basically, because we're swapping one card for another, the early conversations have been about how the percentage of payment that's placed on your card will be the percentage that's placed on your card when we swap the cards over.

Senator McCARTHY: So you're confirming to everyone who's turning up that it's 50 per cent?

Ms Blewitt : If it's currently 50 per cent on 8 April or thereafter, depending on when they transition over, that's what will be actually put on the card.

Senator McCARTHY: And what happens after that date?

Ms Blewitt : After that date, as I think Ms Pattrick said, if a community did happen to write to the minister or write to the department, saying that they wanted a change, we'd have to consider it at the time and advise the minister accordingly.

Senator McCARTHY: If they wanted more than 50 per cent quarantined?

Ms Blewitt : Yes, if a community sought that.

Senator McCARTHY: That is right up to 100 per cent quarantined?

Ms Blewitt : If a community sought that.

Senator McCARTHY: So you haven't explained to them that it could actually go up to 100 per cent?

Ms Blewitt : No, I haven't.

Senator McCARTHY: Why is that? Don't you think that's important information to know?

Ms Blewitt : Well, the meetings with some of them have been an hour or so, and it's about working through. The approach that I've tried to take is that—I know it's a complex issue and I'm not underplaying this—it is actually about trying to keep things simple, trying to explain to people the first principles of what we're proposing to do and recognising that we're coming back and doing a much more detailed conversation. Mine were just early engagements and looking for key leaders in community groups that we could access to actually go and talk to people in more detail. So it's just been initial consultations and engagements.

CHAIR: Can I just clarify one of the comments before? With regard to the secretary currently having an option, is that on the BasicsCard or the CDC? On the cashless debit cards in the trial site—is it just the CDC?

Ms Blewitt : Yes.

CHAIR: So there's nothing like that currently in—

Ms Blewitt : Yes.

Senator McCARTHY: So you're saying the ones moving from BasicsCard to CDC?

CHAIR: I'm just trying to clarify, because it was explained that the secretary currently already had the option to vary the amount. I just wanted to understand which card it was on.

Senator McCARTHY: And then after—what was the date you gave? Was it 8 April?

Ms Goddard : So 8 April is on the legislation. In Cape York, participants will transition over, and then they will in the Northern Territory. Because we've got a greater number of them—22½ thousand participants—we will start transitioning them over by particular regions, which we're still working out. We'll determine that by engagement of communities. They'll transition from 8 April right through to December.

Ms Hefren-Webb : It's not dissimilar to the process by which communities sought to participate in cashless debit card. As you know, various community leaders in the current trial sites wrote to government and sought access to government to ask that this be introduced, so we would envisage a similar process. We haven't nailed down what that process is. If in the course of consultation leading up to early next year a community says, 'A higher rate is something we want to pursue,' we'll of course register that and consider how they might do that. But those are the circumstances in which that would come into play if a community sought to increase the rate.

Senator McCARTHY: So can I just confirm that after 8 April participants can be quarantined from 50 per cent to 80 per cent to 100 per cent?

Ms Hefren-Webb : That is only if their community agrees and seeks that the rate be increased and that is agreed then by the minister.

Senator McCARTHY: Can they then go back down from 80 per cent or 100 per cent?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes.

Senator McCARTHY: And would they have to do that same process which you are yet to work out?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes.

CHAIR: So that would be the community writing to the minister for one specific person. It's not for the whole community?

Ms Hefren-Webb : No, it's for the community.

Ms Blewitt : It's for the whole community.

Senator McCARTHY: What about an NT resident who signs on to Newstart after 8 April? What happens to them?

Ms Blewitt : In the Northern Territory, where, apart from the place based, it's 50 per cent, they would go on 50 per cent.

Senator McCARTHY: Automatically?

Ms Blewitt : Yes. It is whatever the policy is in Northern Territory.

Ms Hefren-Webb : I think there might be a transition period depending on which community they're in. Say, for example, we roll out south to north—and I'm not saying that's decided. It might be that we haven't rolled out in their community. The plan would be to not put any new participants on to income management from 1 January next year. So when the cashless debit card is rolled out in their community, they would then be placed on the cashless debit card.

Senator McCARTHY: Has a provider for the cashless debit card rollout in the Northern Territory been selected?

Ms Hefren-Webb : No.

Senator McCARTHY: When will the selection occur?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Post the passage of legislation we'll commence the procurement process.

Senator McCARTHY: Can you give us a time frame? You've given us a time frame of 8 April for when the income quarantining will occur?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Obviously we'll be aiming to do it quickly once legislation has passed, to be ready for April.

Senator McCARTHY: Will it be an open tender?

Ms Hefren-Webb : The minister may not have made a decision about that yet. I don't think we have. We haven't briefed on that yet.

Senator McCARTHY: Can you take the question on notice?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Sure.

Senator McCARTHY: Will it be going to open tender or going straight to the existing provider?

Ms Hefren-Webb : I'll take that on notice.

Senator McCARTHY: In terms of the existing provider, how does the government know that Indue is value for money?

Ms Hefren-Webb : The procurement of the card provider has occurred a number of times over recent years. There have been proper processes put in place, with due probity advice, to ensure that the best possible value for money is being obtained for the Commonwealth. I might ask Ms Pattrick to talk through those processes in a bit more detail.

Ms Pattrick : The department follows the Commonwealth Procurement Rules and all internal rules for procurements. Before entering into any CDC contracts, the department has consulted broadly, contracted relevant experts and conducted robust value-for-money assessments. This has included independent probity advice as well as market research.

Senator McCARTHY: Where is the Indue call centre based?

Ms Pattrick : In Brisbane.

Senator McCARTHY: Given the cost per participant is $2,000 per year in the four trial sites, what will it be across the Northern Territory?

Ms Pattrick : We don't have a cost for that procurement yet, as we haven't undertaken that activity. We are able to provide the cost of Bundaberg and Hervey Bay—the costs for the card provider based on the maximum contract value for the year. That is based on the maximum contract value, and that is $820 per participant for Bundaberg and Hervey Bay.

Senator McCARTHY: But you haven't got the Northern Territory estimates yet?

Ms Pattrick : No, we haven't yet done that procurement.

Senator McCARTHY: In terms of cashless debit cards, have any been delivered to communities in the Northern Territory ahead of the scheduled rollout next year?

Ms Pattrick : No, they have not.

Senator McCARTHY: And when is that expected to occur, if the legislation goes through?

Ms Hefren-Webb : From April, over a nine-month period.

Senator McCARTHY: Has the minister met with Indue in the last 12 months?

Ms Hefren-Webb : Minister Ruston has only been the minister since early June. So we'd have to go back and check. My recollection is that she hasn't, but I would have to go back and check whether Minister Fletcher met with Indue, which I could do.

Senator McCARTHY: If you could check for Minister Fletcher and Minister Ruston—if the government has met with Indue in the last 12 months.

Ms Hefren-Webb : Sure.

Senator HUGHES: I apologise if any of this has been covered while we were in that division. We've heard testimony from a couple of witnesses about concerns around lack of consultation. I was wondering if you could update us on how many consultations the department did in the different sites, and who conducted those consultancies, and give us a bit of an update on those?

Ms Hefren-Webb : We've done extensive consultations in the four trial sites to date.

Ms Pattrick : I do have the numbers. I just need a moment to find them.

Senator HUGHES: Just out of interest, more than 30 people?

Ms Pattrick : Yes.

Senator HUGHES: That's good to know.

Ms Pattrick : Many more. There were approximately 300 consultations held in the Ceduna region and 110 consultations held in East Kimberley. In the Goldfields region between May and December 2017, there were 170 meetings with more than 300 people involving over 86 different organisations. In addition, more than 200 people attended 10 public community information sessions between 21 August and 2 October 2017 in Kalgoorlie, Leonora, Laverton, Coolgardie, Kambalda and Norseman.

Ms Hefren-Webb : And in Bundaberg.

Ms Pattrick : I'm just madly searching for Bundaberg, which seems to be missing. Let me check.

Senator HUGHES: Do you have an overview of views that were expressed at those meetings?

Ms Pattrick : I don't have that with me.

Senator HUGHES: If you could take that on notice, that would be good.

Ms Hefren-Webb : Okay. It's fair to say that there are always a range of views expressed, but there has been consistent community support for the introduction of the cashless debit card through those consultation mechanisms.

Senator HUGHES: I think Senator Lambie expressed similar questions previously. Unfortunately, she's still stuck in the chamber. I'm very conscious of the time. You mentioned the $17½ million support package. Could you outline for us what that encompasses?

Ms Hefren-Webb : We are still working through exactly how that will be allocated. Part of this consultation process is seeking views from the community about what would be the most effective and useful support services for them, whether it's financial management services or whether it's access to services for brokerage, alcohol, other drugs et cetera. We're really keen to hear what people in the Northern Territory and Cape York want to see, and we'll then provide some advice to the minister about the suggested allocation of those funds.

Senator HUGHES: Thank you.

CHAIR: I have one question for DHS as well, since they've sat there so quietly! Going forward, if this bill goes through and everything's all in place, how will somebody in the future be placed onto income management or the cashless debit card, say, in the Northern Territory? What would the process be?

Ms Goddard : Income management and the cashless debit card are different processes. In the future, when there's the cashless debit card throughout the Northern Territory and Cape York, it'll be a process where someone's identified as going onto the program. At the moment for income management, we do an entry interview with someone and we talk them through what that means, what that covers, how they access their funds and how they access their balances online—those sorts of things. We envisage a similar sort of process for people under the cashless debit card.

I'll just refer to my notes. As I explained, it really is around how the card operates, how you activate your card and the role of the card provider versus the role of the department. Service delivery will be transitioning through to DHS, or Services Australia, from January next year. So we'll play an active role with the customers around that and, certainly in the transition point, we'll be talking to them around the navigation of the card provider online portal as well. It's similar to where we are in terms of that entry onto income management and the BasicsCard. We are working with DSS at the moment, and we will be working with the card provider as well, of course, on exactly what that process looks like both through transition and post-transition.

CHAIR: So it will be a similar process to what currently happens with the BasicsCard, from the sound of that. Will there be differences?

Ms Goddard : I expect that there will be some differences, but I'm not in a position to give the detail of that at the moment, because we are in the planning processes.

CHAIR: Not a problem. Thank you very much for coming along today and for providing your evidence. There have been quite a few questions on notice, and I expect that we may have further questions on notice that will come from our senators that have had to leave. The committee will report to the Senate on Thursday 7 November and request that answers to questions taken on notice are provided to the secretariat by the close of business on Monday 28 October. Obviously, in the meantime, we will have estimates, so you may find that a lot of the questions are asked again then.

That concludes today's hearing. On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank all those who have made submissions to the inquiry and made representatives have available today. I would also like to thank the Hansard, broadcasting and secretariat staff for their assistance today.

Committee adjourned a t 20 : 15