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Wednesday, 11 September 2019
Page: 2460


Mr ROBERT (FaddenMinister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Minister for Government Services) (10:24): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Today I rise to speak on a bill that continues our commitment to improve our welfare system and deliver a real difference to the lives of all Australians.

This bill, the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019, provides for the transition of income management participants across the Northern Territory and Cape York region to the cashless debit card.

The bill also allows for the extension of the cashless debit card across all four current trial sites for an additional year until 30 June 2021.

The cashless debit card program is delivering significant benefits for the communities where it currently operates. The program has the objective of reducing immediate hardship and deprivation, reducing violence and harm, encouraging socially responsible behaviour, and reducing the likelihood that welfare recipients will remain on welfare and out of the workforce for extended periods.

The program is showing positive results.

Most recently, the baseline report into the Goldfields trial site found decreases in drug and alcohol issues, decreases in crime and antisocial behaviour, improvements in child health and wellbeing, improved financial management and ongoing—and even strengthened—community support.

The bill will see approximately 23,000 welfare recipients in the Northern Territory and Cape York region transition from income management to the cashless debit card. Currently, these participants hold a BasicsCard, a card which directs welfare expenditure towards priority needs.

The government recognises that the BasicsCard, while effective, can restrict an individual's ability of choice. Currently, the BasicsCard only works in stores that have signed a merchant agreement with my department, the Department of Human Services.

In comparison, the cashless debit card works everywhere except when individuals try to purchase alcohol, gambling products and some gift cards, and to withdraw cash. The cashless debit card provides income management participants with greater consumer choice and autonomy while reducing red tape for businesses.

The government has trialled both income management, through the BasicsCard, and the cashless debit card in different communities to improve financial management and reduce social harm. While the government recognises the effectiveness the BasicsCard has had on the communities in which it has operated, it is time to provide income management participants in the Northern Territory and Cape York region with the opportunities that the cashless debit card brings.

The government recognises that we must continue to work in partnership with communities, stakeholders and most importantly participants to support the transition to the cashless debit card.

Therefore, this bill outlines that the transition will occur slowly over a nine-month period, from 1 April 2020. This will allow the transition to occur community by community, and the Department of Social Services, together with the Department of Human Services, will work with communities and individuals to provide support for the transition every step of the way.

We will work with communities to ensure each and every participant transitions from the BasicsCard to the cashless debit card as smoothly as possible. And we have allocated almost $18 million to support participants in the transition.

The government also recognises that this transition will affect a large number of Indigenous Australians across both the Northern Territory and the Cape York region. We will work with these Indigenous communities and individuals to ensure that resources will be available in a range of local Indigenous languages and there will be access to interpreters as required.

The government has brought forward this bill to continue the cashless debit card trials and transition income management participants onto this technology because we believe in the positive effect the card is having in the communities.

The extension of the card across these four communities will allow time for further evaluation activities of the card to be completed.

These evaluation activities will build on the findings of the first evaluation report and will inform future decisions about the program.

The cashless debit card is a community driven, bottom-up approach to tackling long-term welfare dependency, social harm and welfare-funded drug and alcohol abuse.

We must continue to support communities that put their hand up and drive positive change and improved outcomes for vulnerable individuals within those communities.

This bill does exactly that.

The government remains committed to the continuation of the cashless debit card to provide a strong social welfare safety net through reducing social harm in areas with high levels of welfare dependency and supporting vulnerable people, families and communities.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.