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Thursday, 17 August 2017
Page: 8838


Mr TUDGE (AstonMinister for Human Services) (10:24): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill provides the underpinning legislative authority to enable the expansion of the cashless debit card into new regions.

The government is committed to addressing the serious harm which is caused by alcohol, gambling and drug abuse paid for by welfare payments.

Welfare payments are provided to people in need to help with essential living costs, in particular food, clothing, shelter, and transportation. They are not provided to fuel significant drug, alcohol and gambling problems.

Alcohol is a contributing factor to an estimated 65 per cent of all domestic violence incidents and 47 per cent of child abuse cases in some jurisdictions. Alcohol related harm and illicit drug use costs the Australian economy over $22 billion each year.

The cashless debit card aims to reduce the devastating effects of welfare fuelled alcohol, drug and gambling abuse. The card operates like an ordinary debit card, with the primary difference being that it does not work at liquor stores or gambling houses and cash cannot be withdrawn from it. Consequently, illicit products cannot be purchased with it. The welfare payments are placed into an individual's account which is only accessible by this card.

The card has been in operation since March of 2016 when the first of two 12-month trials began. The first trial was in Ceduna in South Australia. The second trial, in Kununurra and Wyndham in the East Kimberley, began soon afterwards. In each of these trial locations, 80 per cent of an individual's welfare payments are placed into their cashless debit card account, with the remaining 20 per cent being placed into their ordinary savings account.

The results of the trials are encouraging. There is less public drunkenness, less gambling, fewer alcohol related hospital admissions, and people are engaging with the support services and working to improve their lives.

The wave 1 report of the independent evaluation being undertaken by ORIMA Research concluded that the trial:

Overall … has been effective to date … In particular, the Trial has been effective in reducing alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling—establishing a clear 'proof-of-concept'

The evaluation found that about a third of surveyed participants reported a reduction in alcohol consumption, gambling or illegal drug use. In addition, over 30 per cent of people reported being able to look after their children better, and being able to save more money.

The draft of the final evaluation indicates that these results have improved even further.

The bill itself amends the existing legislation to enable the cashless debit card to operate in further locations. It removes section 124PF of the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, which limits the number of locations, participants and end date of the cashless debit card trial.

Removing this section will support the extension of arrangements in current sites, and enable the expansion of the cashless debit card to further sites, which were announced as part of the 2017 budget.

Many communities have expressed interest in having the card introduced into their regions, and we have been communicating and consulting with them.

Under the legislation, the locations, cohorts covered and timing of the operation of the cashless debit card will still be determined by a disallowable instrument. These instruments can also specify other parameters, including sunset dates and participant criteria. What this means is that the government can work with individual communities to co-design the particular parameters, and tailor the program to suit that particular community's needs. It also ensures that the parliament itself retains the right to consider each proposed new cashless debit card site on a case-by-case basis.

The cashless debit card is a world first in how it operates. The trials have been completed, an evaluation has been conducted, and it's been shown to work and now there's an opportunity to expand the cashless debit card to new locations. This bill will allow this to occur.

Debate adjourned.