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Community Affairs Legislation Committee

FRANKS, Mr Gregory John, Chief Executive Officer, Yalata Community Inc.

HAYNES, Mr Michael Thomas, Chief Executive Officer, Ceduna Aboriginal Corporation

McLENNAN, Mr Corey, Chief Executive Officer, Koonibba Community Aboriginal Corporation

MILLER, Mr Peter Phillip, Chairperson, Ceduna Aboriginal Corporation

MILLER, Mr Wayne Maurice, Community Engagement and Governance Officer, Ceduna Aboriginal Corporation

Evidence was taken via videoconference and teleconference—

CHAIR: Welcome back. Would you please confirm you have received information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence.

Mr Franks : Yes, I can.

Mr W Miller : Yes, I have.

Mr P Miller : Yes, I have.

Mr Haynes : Yes, I have.

Mr McLennan : Same here.

CHAIR: Thank you. I now invite you to make a short opening statement and then we will move to questions.

Mr Haynes : I would like to read a statement on behalf of the Community Heads Group.

CHAIR: Absolutely. Go ahead.

Mr Haynes : I have three apologies. Peter Clark, General Manager of Maralinga, Oak Valley has had to return to Cairns because of a family crisis; Mima Smart, Chairperson of Yalata Community Council, is attending a funeral at Pinjarra in Western Australia; and Robert Larkin, CEO of Scotdesco Aboriginal Community. I deliver this statement as the nominated spokesperson for the Far West Community Heads Group to support a cashless debit card trial in Ceduna. The proposed trial is also endorsed by our chairpersons and respective boards governing each community. This statement is in response to the current inquiry into the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Debit Card Trial) Bill 2015.

Over the last few months we have met, consulted and negotiated with all key and relevant stakeholders in relation to Ceduna becoming a trial site for the government's cashless Visa debit card. The signing of a memorandum of understanding on Wednesday, 5 August 2015 to introduce the cashless debit card trial in Ceduna and surrounding areas marks a significant step in addressing a number of key issues in each of the respective communities we represent. Across our region, we have lost far too many of our people due to the low life expectancy rates for Indigenous peoples in our communities. We want to build a future for our younger generation to aspire to and we believe we cannot do this if our families and youth are caught up in the destructive cycle of alcohol or drugs that destroys not only our culture but also our lands and the communities that we live in.

As community leaders, we have hoped that the introduction of the cashless debit card will move towards restoring individuals' self-esteem and family values, building stronger communities, restoring our culture as well as improving educational and employment outcomes for our children and youth. This trial will involve everyone who is of working age receiving a Centrelink payment. We are unanimously confident that this trial will bring many benefits not only to the people we serve but also to the wider community in general. We are pleased to have been given the opportunity to work with local, state and federal governments to help shape what we believe are adequate measures to ensure our peoples' entitlements are not misused in manners that continue to be detrimental to themselves and their families.

As local leaders, we also want to champion the cause for the betterment of our people and believe that this will benefit the region as a whole. It is also through our intensive negotiations with government that we wish to advise that all targeted recipients under this trial will still receive their existing entitlements but with implemented changes on their spending habits to assist in reducing expenditure on alcohol, substance abuse issues and gambling products. At the heart of this reform is a change that is being shaped specifically to meet our local needs. It has been a true collaboration to ensure that we can give our people and our communities every chance to create real and genuine change in their lives. We have worked and will continue to work with all levels of government to ensure the needs of our people and communities are fairly represented on key issues which have plagued our communities for well over 40 years.

We understand the introduction of this trial is not the silver bullet to solve all of our issues, but we strongly believe that it provides part of an overall plan aimed at reducing easy access to alcohol, drugs and gambling addiction. As community leaders, we are very much aware of the social consequences of sitting back and not doing anything. We are at the forefront of alcohol and drug related violence. Families are going without food and children are not attending school, and there are other social issues which impact on the general health and social wellbeing of our people.

In the past, measures to reduce alcohol fuelled violence and chronic alcohol misuse—contributing to the premature deaths of our people—have been tried and tested and have failed. It is our belief that as a first trial site, amongst a possible three across Australia, we now have an opportunity to make positive change in the lives of our people. We also look forward to a fulsome analysis and review of the trial's impact to inform further community based consultations and strategies to reduce the impact of alcohol, substance abuse and gambling on our communities.

Collectively, we seek the support of this inquiry to understand the pain and grief many families have had to endure over many years at the loss of loved ones who have struggled with alcohol addiction, alcohol related violence, premature death attributed to sleeping rough or health related disease caused by excessive drinking.

As leaders, we do not want our people to continue down this path but a path to reform, improving the overall health and wellbeing of our people, providing opportunities in real and meaningful employment as well as improving early school attendance rates amongst our young people to enable them to move on to higher educational achievement. We have grasped this initiative. We have helped shape this initiative. We are confident that this initiative is for the betterment of all people living in our region.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for that opening statement. I will start with a couple of questions. I am interested in the consultation processes. Could you comment on what kind of consultation there has been with your organisations? How much of a say have you been able to have in the design of this trial or in any other matters as this has been considered?

Mr W Miller : I was instructed by the community heads group, working for them as a reference [inaudible] carry out some consultation in partnership with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. We worked firstly with all community heads to ensure that they were comfortable with the idea of a trial and then we progressed into conversations with the community chairpersons. From that, the community chairpersons and chief executive officers liaised with their respective boards and sought endorsement in principle for the trial. Then we sought advice from the boards on the best way to consult with individual communities in a respectful manner.

We have done a number of things. We have gone out to each community on several occasions, met with different people and provided a number of opportunities for people to give evidence and feedback, for the trial or against the trial. We have really tried to grasp the best in-depth version for communities. We tried to break it down so that each person was able to provide evidence at their own level.

CHAIR: What have you been hearing as you have conducted those consultations?

Mr W Miller : We have spoken to people from Prime Minister and Cabinet. Communities have generally been very supportive of this initiative. It is very hard when we go into communities because people are so used to the BasicsCard and how [inaudible] to that. The key thing we are doing is going to communities to explain the difference between the debit card and the BasicsCard. Once we have done that, we have broken down the room and quietened down some noise. A lot of people are more receptive to the idea because less restrictions [inaudible]—

CHAIR: You were just cutting out a little bit at the end. The last point you were making, if I heard correctly, was that people were receptive to the idea and particularly that they saw the debit card as less restrictive than the BasicsCard. Was that the last point you were making?

Mr W Miller : Yes, that is what I was saying. That comes from the technology integrated in this card in comparison to the BaiscsCard [inaudible] to adopt the technology.

CHAIR: I am interested to hear about issues in relation to gambling, either from you or other witnesses. How much is gambling an issue? We hear a lot about alcohol, but obviously the other thing that is restricted is gambling products. How much is gambling a problem in your area?

Sorry. We have just lost you there for a moment. We are having a couple of technical difficulties. I will get you to speak again and we will see if it will correct itself.

Mr P Miller : Gambling is a very big problem here in Ceduna and also up in Yalata and Oak Valley. I have heard some people talk about the game of kum. The card games here in Ceduna are on pension days. Yesterday we had a members-elders' meeting and, when we asked for those members to come to the meeting, a lady went around and got them out of a game, a gambling session, and brought them down to CAC where we then continued with the meeting. It focused on what they want to do to better themselves here in Ceduna. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you. Sorry, you were cutting out there a little bit but I think we got the gist of it. In terms of some of the critics of the trial, I would be interested in any of the witnesses' responses. There are critics who say it is paternalistic and that it will not work. I think one of our last witnesses, Professor Cox, was suggesting that the government had suggested that this was a good idea and in a sense the community has been misled or hoodwinked. I am interested in your responses to any of those criticisms that have been levelled at the trial.

Mr McLennan : In relation to some of those responses I would like to provide the following. We, as community leaders, have been in our roles for a number of years now. We have seen the issues that have affected our people for a lot of years. This has not has been a problem that has just come across lately. We are a small community at Koonibba where I serve of approximately 200 people. We do have alcohol and [inaudible] problems. We see the rollout of this particular initiative as good, not only for the region but for [inaudible] because lot of people are on welfare. There are probably 75 per cent of my community that are on welfare recipient funds, and approximately 75 per cent live on premises that are not healthy for their families. Across the region the same trend applies. Because we are small as a region we [inaudible] on a daily basis how people are doing in relation to [inaudible] income. We see the rollout of what we are trying to do at the moment with the current restrictions [inaudible] we have assisted with [inaudible] to be not only beneficial to our people and their families but to also help alleviate some of the problems that we are currently facing on a daily basis.

CHAIR: Would you say that this is something that is driven by your community, or driven by the government, or a combination of both? One of the criticisms of the last witness was effectively that the government has come in and said that this is a good thing and that you have accepted that. That witness, Professor Cox, thinks that it is not a good thing. Your evidence seemed to be suggesting—and I do not want to verbal you—that you have formed the judgement over a number of years that this kind of measure will be good for your community.

Mr McLennan : We have taken the stance to lead the government in this particular initiative. The government has not come to us and said that this is the ideal way for us to be moving forward. They came to us with some options. We, as a community collective leadership group, who meet once a week about all issues surrounding our people, thought this was an opportunity that we helped build the parameters around so that it can be of benefit for our community.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for that. Senator Siewert.

Senator SIEWERT: Mr Haynes, what were the options the government put to you? And have you looked at the evaluation of the new income management trial in the Northern Territory and the final analysis that indicates that income management has not been successful and has not met any of its key objectives?

Mr Haynes : In response to your question, this is not about income management. This is a cashless debit visa card. We see it as totally different, and we helped shape this—

Senator SIEWERT: What is the difference?

Mr Haynes : With our cashless debit card, there is going to be an 80 per cent restriction of benefit, and the other 20 per cent is available as cash. That particular card can be used anywhere in Australia. People can access cash to enable families to go off to the footy or whatever, but 80 per cent of the money is going to be quarantined for the basic living expenses of families and individuals.

Senator SIEWERT: You are saying the difference is that the income management did 50 per cent, although it some areas it is 70 per cent—for vulnerable people, it is 70 per cent. The difference is the 50 to 80 per cent, so that 30 per cent difference is going to make the difference.

Mr Haynes : It is an 80 per cent restricted amount, and 20 per cent available as cash.

Mr McLennan : What we are basically trying to do here, trying to achieve, is to reduce the amount of disposable income that any of our people currently misuse on alcohol, drugs and gambling products. The current situation sees the majority of our people utilising more than 20 per cent of their current income, sometimes up to 100 per cent of their current income, on these products. We as community leaders are left to deal with these, on Mondays, or Tuesdays, or Wednesdays, within our communities with no food.

Senator SIEWERT: I understand that, and I have been following this issue for a very long time, and I understand the issues. My concern is that the evidence on income management which quarantines 50 per cent, not 80 per cent, is that it has not worked. That is my concern here. In fact, it has had some negative consequences, and the report talks about—and I absolutely agree—building dependency rather than getting people to not be dependent on income support and on other people making decisions for them. I understand that. But the evidence shows that in fact it has not been working. That is what I am trying to get to. What is the difference between this and income management that has convinced you that it will work when so far the evidence shows that the process has not been working in other places?

Mr Franks : People in the community are fed up with alcohol harm, family violence, kids not attending school. There is so much harm within our communities that we have to do something.

Senator SIEWERT: I totally understand that—

Mr Franks : Let me continue, please. The difference between this card is that it has a 70/30 minimum split, a standard split of 80/20 and potentially 90/10, so it has the variable. It has very strong Aboriginal leadership commitment to it. It has very strong community support. It is a standard visa-type card that you can use anywhere in the country. It is a catch-all for everybody, black or white—anybody who is receiving benefits. But the big aspect of whether this will work or not will be around the fact that the trial will have a range of support packages provided with it, things like financial counselling, alcohol and other drugs counselling, and grief and loss counselling, as well as support for employment programs, support for economic development activity and support for diversionary activity. That is where this card will succeed or fail. It is not the mechanics of the card or the card itself. I know that I, and probably you, do not use more than 20 per cent of my own cash when I do most of my transactions. It is a normalising behaviour and it facilitates that normalising behaviour. It has very strong community support and very strong Aboriginal leadership support, but it is the support packages that we are still negotiating that will determine whether the card does or does not work.

As soon as someone stops drinking, if they have nothing else to do and they are bored, they will return to drinking. They will find ways around it and the harm will continue. It is about how we get somebody while they are dry and shift them. If you look to the end of the 12 months and suggest that we will have no drinkers in Ceduna, that is not going to happen. People who are heavy alcoholics will continue to be able to drink and will find ways to do it.

The card is not a prohibition. People will still have 20 per cent of their income to gamble and socialise with. It is not about restricting people's lives; it is about providing an opportunity for people to reshape their lives and to find a healthy life; and it is about putting the support measures in to help them maintain that healthy life. Returning to community, finding cultural activities to do and helping families rebuild—they are the sorts of things that will make this card work.

Senator SIEWERT: It is my understanding from what you have said and from what Councillor Suter said earlier this morning that you are still negotiating the support package. I totally agree with all of the things that you have just articulated. That is what communities need to help people in rehabilitation and to stop drinking and stop abusing substances, but the evidence, again, shows that a high level of intense support is needed. What level of funding are you negotiating with the government to be able to individualise the supports for people? Again, what came out of the NT process is that you need individualised intensive supports.

Mr Franks : This is the hardest part of the process for the leaders of the Aboriginal communities to negotiate in detail. It is still very early. The introduction of the card does require that the individual—everybody who is transitioning—to have, prior to the introduction of the card, the one-on-one engagement to readjust all their own financial commitments. People are going to end up with two cards. The first card people will get their cash off—their ordinary bank account. The second card is only available as a debit card, so people are now paying, off their ordinary card, their rent, fines and Centrepay. All those payments and other payments like Chrisco and all sorts of commercial transactions need to be moved across. There is a one-on-one engagement which can not only just deal with the financial but also start to address some of the social issues that every individual has in their own lives.

Senator SIEWERT: Who would be doing that? Is that when you first deal with Human Services for that transfer over that you were just talking about?

Mr Franks : This is the deficiency that we have in our information and negotiations currently. We have not been able to put that package together with government. There is an urgency growing. We have put some time lines in there around when we need to have these things in place for the trial to proceed; otherwise our whole nervousness about whether it is going to succeed or not from day one will just continue to increase.

Senator SIEWERT: The microphone was distorting a little bit then. I apologise, but I missed the last bit.

Mr Franks : We had to consider our time line, as Aboriginal community leaders, to make certain that these things are agreed and in place. Our support is contingent on having that full package in place.

Senator SIEWERT: We will ask the department some more questions about that. If I understand correctly, you have just said the debit card will not be introduced until those things are in place.

Mr Franks : It will not have the support of our community.

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the consultation process: you said people were generally supportive. Did each member of the community get to vote, or was there a process of consensus through communities? How did that happen?

Mr Franks : Yalata has had four community meetings. It has also had a selective leader engagement meeting with Parliamentary Secretary Alan Tudge. Yalata has a structure around six family groups. There have been separate meetings for each of those family groups, so they were able to talk about it in small groups. The youth had a separate meeting, so they could talk about it from their perspective. It has been addressed at four community meetings, and there is another one scheduled for next Thursday. Details of progress on the changes that are being resolved through those MOU negotiations have been provided openly to the community. The MOU itself has also been discussed and presented to the community council.

Senator SIEWERT: Has the community seen it?

Mr Franks : The MOU agreement?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes.

Mr Franks : No, it has not been distributed across the community.

Senator SIEWERT: Did you say that the majority agreed at those meetings?

Mr Franks : It has been interesting. In the very early meetings people started from the position of resistance. From that negative base, we were able to say, 'Hang on! This might work better than what we've got. We accept there is a very clear, very strong desire to stop all the harm, particularly around alcohol, and that this actually might do something.' By the end of every one of those meetings there was a general level of, 'Okay. It's a trial. Let's give it a go.'

Senator SIEWERT: What about the other communities? We heard this morning that there was not a meeting, at least not advertised, in Ceduna itself. We heard from four Ceduna residents who said that they had not heard of any community meetings. They were not invited to any community meetings. They were not informed by Centrelink or Human Services of a meeting. There was no ad in the paper.

Mr W Miller : In each community there were different ways that we tackled things. Consultation has been adapted to each community. There have been different levels of consultation. We have taken advice from the Ceduna Aboriginal Corporation. My brief is to engage all of the Aboriginal community, and that is the consultation we focused on. Our focus group was the Aboriginal constituents within the community. As I said, different methods were carried out in partnership with the community. In Ceduna, the Ceduna Aboriginal Corporation handed out flyers to all of its members out in the community and the homeland groups. The opportunity was given to these members to provide feedback and evidence.

Senator SIEWERT: What was the consultation process for non-Aboriginal community members?

Mr W Miller : We are the Aboriginal community heads, so our focus was our constituents. The council therefore make decisions for the non-Aboriginal members.

Senator SIEWERT: Is it your understanding that the district Ceduna Council did that?

Mr W Miller : It is my understanding that it was our brief to inform all of our constituents and our Aboriginal community, and that is the level of negotiations we did. They are the people we represent.

Senator SIEWERT: Fair enough. In the legislation there is reference to a community body. We heard this morning about the families commission. There is some confusion now, because we understood that that commission had not been appointed for Ceduna yet. We took evidence this morning that it might be the current community heads. Do you have any further information on that?

Mr W Miller : The panel itself has been established to work on different things around the card and certain levels of support that need to be brought in before the card. This is completely different to the family framework you are talking about. The community heads at the moment are working together with a number of key relevant stakeholders like DSS and Ceduna Service Reform. That panel is working on some of the things that need to be brought in and that we need to look prior to the trial starting and also the reporting throughout the trial to ensure that it is effective. As you say, there will be a mechanism for people to go to to have their circumstances changed. That has not been decided. That working group is now working towards what that would look like, whether it is a panel like the family safety framework, or whether it sits with an agency that could provide that support as well.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you for clearing that up. Has the mechanism for establishing that body been determined?

Mr W Miller : Yes. The membership has been established.

Senator SIEWERT: Obviously your working group has been determined. Has the membership been determined for the other family body?

Mr W Miller : The panel itself has been established as well. The membership of that panel has been worked on in a working group. The other community heads will be able to go into that in more depth. All I am saying is that the membership of that is being worked towards now, but their actual duties are still being worked on as well. So we are unsure if that will be the model that will be used to make these changes that you are talking about—that is, whether it is an agency et cetera.

Senator SIEWERT: Basically the bottom line is that you are working on it, but those issues about the terms of reference and the body are still being determined.

Mr W Miller : Yes. That is being determined. There are fortnightly meetings with the working group.

Senator MOORE: I have been reading the MOU. The area I want to cover is the other supports that are going to be available as well as this change to the way people get their payments. The way the MOU reads is that the Commonwealth will work with the South Australian government and community signatories. But the South Australian government has not signed the MOU. What is the understanding of the community about the role and the commitment of the South Australian government?

Mr Haynes : Throughout the duration of our consultations with community heads and through Prime Minister and Cabinet we have been involved in discussions about a number of support services. A proposal has been submitted to community heads, to have input into whether these services are adequate. Could I just run through some of those areas that we are looking at?

Senator MOORE: Yes, that would be really good.

Mr Haynes : There are proposed additional alcohol and drug support services—this is to undertake intensive AOD case management and outreach services. There is a new alcohol and drug brokerage fund, to support the provision of rapid assistance to people affected by drugs and alcohol and their families. And there is a safe transition to the new welfare card for people with substance abuse problems. We will also be looking at supporting Indigenous early childhood services, improved community safety, economic development, employment and training opportunities and financial counselling.

Senator MOORE: So they are the kinds of areas you are looking at, and they are mentioned in the MOU. From your understanding of the development of the whole program, do you have any ideas about the costings of those, who would be responsible for it and whether that is going to be guaranteed to support this trial?

Mr Haynes : We do not have any exact costings on the overall delivery of these services. We are still in negotiations with the Commonwealth on this.

Senator MOORE: Is it your understanding, as a leadership group, that this is going to be part of the support for the community? I spoke with the mayor earlier, and he believed that it would happen. That was his commitment. I want to know how strongly you feel that this stuff will happen, that it will not just be left at signing-up to the card. You have all explained your choices and why you think that would work, but my view—and I think it has been spelt out quite clearly—is that it is only one part of the whole thing. There has to be whole-community response and support. Are you confident that the MOU that you have signed will give a guarantee that you will get these extra services that you have identified?

Mr Haynes : Through Prime Minister and Cabinet we have been advised that they are in full consultation with the state government to determine the level of services required prior to the rollout of the card and during the actual trial period.

Senator MOORE: You have signed the MOU and you have committed that you will go down this way as leaders of the community: if on 1 January 2016 the services that you expect will happen are not there, where will that leave you?

Mr W Miller : I would just like to add that when you roll-out any new initiative there is a series of supports, as you know, that need to be wrapped around the initiative.

Senator MOORE: Yes.

Mr W Miller : For something like this to come in, we would be completely dumbfounded if we thought there would be no issues from just rolling the card out. These additional services that are being talked about with community and government at the moment are to support the trial and to give this trial every right on its merit. We do not want to roll something out and then be stuck with all the criticism if this card fails because we failed to address some of the key issues that we know we will occur.

Mr Franks : To be absolutely frank about how we would respond: whilst we are currently very strongly in favour of the introduction of this trial, if it was to proceed without the support measures that we think are absolutely necessary, then we—certainly from the Yalata's perspective—would become severe critics of this trial. So it is fundamental to proceedings that the support packages are put in place.

Senator MOORE: And these are support packages that you identify and you agree to before 1 January?

Mr Franks : Correct.

Senator MOORE: Thank you.

CHAIR: All right. Thank you very much to all of our witnesses, we really appreciate you making yourselves available. We are now going to move on to our next witnesses. Thank you very much.

Proceed ings suspended from 13:50 to 14 : 32