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Thursday, 26 October 2017
Page: 12177


Mr RICK WILSON (O'Connor) (13:11): I rise today in support of the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017. The passage of this bill will provide the legislative authority to allow the Goldfields region of my electorate to be the third and, to date, largest site for the cashless debit card. On 29 May 2017, I spoke in this place in support of the need in my Goldfields community for the cashless debit card as one tool in a suite of strategies to tackle some of the social and health issues fuelled by alcohol and other drugs in this part of my electorate.

Today, I stand here to give voice to my community and the leaders who have so bravely stood up and fought for the introduction of this card. They are people like Leonora Indigenous leader Nana Gaye Harris, who started the ball rolling when she first sought me out in Leonora in late 2015; people like Laverton Indigenous elders Bruce Smith and Janice Scott, who moved an entire room to tears with their powerful account of children living on the streets of Laverton, abandoned by parents on the grog; and people like Coolgardie community leader Betty Logan and her niece, Amanda Bennell, who in the presence of the Prime Minister challenged naysayers to look into the eyes of a child suffering the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome and not feel compassion. I give voice to people like Leonora police officer in charge Isaac Rinaudo, who has described children as young as five years of age breaking into houses just to steal food. And I give voices to civic leaders like Laverton's Patrick Hill; Leonora's Jim Epis and Peter Craig; Jill Dwyer and Ian Tucker from the Shire of Menzies; Mal Cullen and Betty Logan from the Coolgardie shire; and Mayor John Bowler of the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder. They are fighting for what's best for the communities that they know and love and have been committed to for all their lives. Today, I'm their voice in the Australian parliament.

On 1 September this year, the Prime Minister came to the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder and announced that, based on demonstrable need and a willingness reflected through extensive community consultations, the Goldfields would be the next site to roll out the cashless debit card. The Prime Minister's announcement was the culmination of over 18 months of community consultations and followed promising outcomes seen in the cashless debit card trials in Ceduna and east Kimberley. The second independent evaluation of these two trials, conducted by ORIMA Research, was released the same day. This evaluation concluded that, across these two trial sites, which involved a total of 2,141 participants, alcohol consumption and gambling had markedly reduced and alcohol related violence and harm had also diminished significantly. It found in particular that, of people who drank alcohol, 42 per cent reported drinking less frequently and 30 per cent of binge drinkers reported they were doing so less often. There was a 37 per cent reduction in alcohol related hospital presentations in Ceduna in the first quarter of 2017 when compared to the same period before the card was introduced. Other key findings included that 48 per cent of drug takers were using fewer drugs and 48 per cent of gamblers were gambling less. But, most importantly, the trend showed improving outcomes over time.

Many ask: why do we need this card in the Goldfields? The Goldfields is an area of tremendous mineral wealth, but also considerable social disadvantage. It has a population of around 36,000, of which approximately 10 per cent receive working-age income support payments. Tragically, a considerable amount of this money is being squandered on gambling, alcohol and other drug habits instead of the necessities of life: food, clothing, shelter and transport.

In the main street of Kalgoorlie, newsagent Kerry Holman reports that on a daily basis that she sells scratchies to parents on welfare while children plead for food. Other vendors report shoplifting of food and daily essentials as a constant. Meanwhile, government and non-government agencies report providing emergency food and clothing vouchers, even on the days after payments are made into their bank accounts. In Laverton, shire president Patrick Hill reported open gambling in public places, with anything from $2,000 to $5,000 in the ring, yet the kids are running around with no food and no clothes. Pat believes, 'If you restrict the cash, you restrict the things that are happening at the moment.'

This is supported by findings of the independent evaluation in Ceduna, which showed a marked decrease in requests for emergency food relief and financial assistance, while local merchants reported increased purchases of baby items, food, clothing, shoes, toys and other goods for children. Overall, the independent evaluation also found 40 per cent of cashless debit card participants across both Ceduna and the East Kimberley trial sites reported they were better able to care for their children.

The consequential harm from alcohol and other drug abuse is another massive issue for the Goldfields. WA police data indicates that domestic and non-domestic assaults in the Goldfields are more than twice the state average, with alcohol being a factor in two-thirds of all domestic assaults and half of all non-domestic assaults. In the Goldfields, alcohol related hospitalisations and deaths is 25 per cent higher than the state average. As mentioned, the independent evaluation of trials in Ceduna and East Kimberley confirmed a decrease in the alcohol related hospital presentations.

I'm not alone in looking forward to our hospital and emergency service workers having some respite. Mal Cullen, president of the shire of Coolgardie, reported, 'Our police are under increasing pressure, and ambulance service people are being abused.' In the northern Goldfields, I've been told there are sometimes three Royal Flying Doctor Service medical transfers per day, mostly for alcohol related issues.

Publicans in the City of Kalgoorlie, Boulder, Laverton and Leonora, together with the Australian Hotels Association, support the introduction of the cashless debit card, even though these liquor outlets stand to lose income with its introduction. They state the overall impact of less alcohol driven social disorder on the streets will be well worth it.

Last Friday's front page of the Kalgoorlie Miner quoted the Kalgoorlie police as saying that ice related crime was spiralling out of control, with offenders often between 10 and 18 years of age. Meanwhile, police in Leonora reported that between January and June this year there were more assaults than all other crimes put together. In Laverton, there were three times more assaults than any other crime, with Senior Sergeant Justin Tarasinki citing domestic and non-domestic violence, often as a direct result of alcohol consumption. He added, 'We're also concerned about kids who are confronted with the damage alcohol is causing adults, including their own parents, and how they're often exposed to alcohol from an early age.' These testimonies come from respected members of our community who agree there is a real and urgent need for the introduction of the card.

I'd like to take a minute now to define what the card actually is and how it will work in practice. This card is a cashless debit Visa card, and for those who say there's a stigma attached, just take a look. It's the same as the Visa card I use for my everyday purchases. No-one on this card will be financially worse off. They'll receive the same welfare benefit they've always been entitled to. Twenty per cent will be available for withdrawal as cash, and the remaining 80 per cent will be deposited onto the cashless debit card, which can be used for the purchase of goods and services, but not to purchase alcohol or to gamble. As an example: a single parent with three children receives just under $1,500 per fortnight in benefit; $1,175 of that will be credited to their Visa debit card, with the remaining $294 deposited into an account, which can be withdrawn as cash when required.

I plan to request a cashless Visa debit card myself and to use it when I'm in the Goldfields. With this Visa debit card I can pay for my hotel accommodation, I can buy groceries and I can buy a meal in a licensed premises; however, I can't buy beer and I can't use it to have a punt on the ponies. For those on the card, their benefit will continue to be deposited at the same regular intervals and can be linked to their mobile phone for real-time account balances. Large purchases such as whitegoods or motor vehicles can be catered for. Direct debit payments can be scheduled, and there is financial counselling and practical assistance available. I might add that that has been taken up on a voluntary basis by 40 per cent of people on the card so far.

I aim to ensure that every shire in the rollout area has its own local support officer to assist with the practicalities of managing or replacing the card. In addition, there will be case managers assigned to coordinate wraparound and support services. This card will apply to all working-age benefit recipients; however, in the case of disability support pension recipients, a wellbeing exemption can be applied for.

There are those who state that this card is discriminatory, but I'm confident that the cashless debit card trial sites to date have been selected based on a demonstrable need, combined with the support of local leaders. To date, in the two trial sites, which have included 2,241 participants, 78 per cent have identified as Indigenous. In Kalgoorlie-Boulder, over 60 per cent of welfare recipients are non-Indigenous. Across the entire Goldfields, there is a fifty-fifty split between Indigenous and non-Indigenous welfare recipients. The Goldfields definitely have a proven need.

I have worked hard to secure the support of these dispersed but united communities, that extend from the Shire of Coolgardie in the west to the WA, South Australia and Northern Territory border. I was first exposed to the dire situation in the northern Goldfields in late 2015 when approached to support more place based services to the town of Leonora, which was suffering a spate of youth suicides. I also met a remarkable woman, Nana Gaye Harris, who implored me to help her come up with a way to address the alcohol related harm her community was experiencing. We discussed the potential benefits of the cashless debit card, and her community has been working towards this trial ever since.

Since late 2015, I've had countless conversations with community members, Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders, business owners, health and other service providers, local government authorities and the police towards consideration of the Goldfields as the next site for the rollout of the cashless debit card. At my invitation, Minister Tudge came to Kalgoorlie in November 2015 to meet with community leaders and service providers. Following my meeting with Gaye Harris, he returned on 22 December 2015, travelling to Leonora to meet with a cross-section of the northern Goldfields community. Shire representatives, service providers, local police, Indigenous leaders and community members from Leonora, Laverton and the Ngaanyatjarra Lands discussed with Minister Tudge the possible rollout of the cashless debit card in dealing with serious social and health issues. The minister made it clear that communities would need to consult widely with their members and would need to commit to being involved in any design, were they to become a cashless debit card site.

Since this time, I've committed to consulting widely with adjacent communities and securing the support of residents, business and local governments of the shires of Laverton, Leonora, Coolgardie and Menzies and the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder. There's been considerable interest expressed by the Shire of Dundas, and I'm working with Minister Tudge for their inclusion in the rollout trial.

Prior to announcing the Goldfields as a site for the next cashless debit card rollout, the Department of Social Services conducted more than 285 consultations, including attendance at over 125 meetings across the Goldfields. This incorporated more than 30 consultations with local governments across six Goldfields shires; over 45 consultations with representatives, local service providers and peak bodies working with disadvantaged families; and in excess of 50 consultations with frontline state government officials delivering health and education and public safety services. And the Department of Social Services hosted 10 community information sessions in the greater Goldfields region, attended by more than 180 people.

The minister himself attended further stakeholder meetings. In May 2017, he received strong feedback from the shires of Laverton and Leonora that the time for consultation was over and it was time to get on with it. Minister Tudge listened to an extraordinary plea from a respected elder and grandcarer, Janice Scott of Laverton. She said: 'Our children have no rights. They have no future. Our people are dying. We need this card, and we need to try something now.' At the recent Kalgoorlie hearing of the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, witnesses were asked if there had been enough consultation on the cashless debit card. Jim Epis, who has been the CEO of the Shire of Leonora for over 20 years, said:

You can only consult so much, and the people in Leonora … have had a gutful. Stop talking about it and just … do it.

He said:

Aboriginal people are the same; they don't want to sit down and meet, meet, meet all the time … Surely we've consulted enough.

I firmly believe the time is right to introduce this card into the Goldfields. I want to state for the record that I do not believe that this card is the silver bullet that will fix all the social issues of the greater Goldfields, but, if we can take some of the cash out of these communities, it will address gambling and illicit drug problems. And if this card can be a tool to help reduce the amount of alcohol-related domestic and other violence, if this card can redirect welfare dollars to where they are best spent, on the necessities of life, and if federal, state and local government agencies together are committed to providing the ancillary services to support those on the card, for those wanting to beat an addiction and for those wanting to manage their finances for the benefit of themselves and their dependants, I see no downside in giving this a go. If our communities are behind it, which I firmly believe they are, then we should just pass this bill and get on with it.

I note that the shadow minister has indicated that the Labor Party will support this bill through the House, and I sincerely thank her for that. And I welcome the shadow minister's willingness to visit the Goldfields and meet with the leaders of my community. I'm confident that she'll hear the same message that I've received from my communities: that the time for talk is over and it's time to get on with it. I will close with the words of Laverton elder Janice Scott when she implored: 'Please give our children a chance.'