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Tuesday, 26 June 2018
Page: 4050


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (19:23): I rise tonight to talk about residents of Kalgoorlie's experiences with the cashless welfare card. I visited Kalgoorlie over the weekend, specifically to hold a public meeting, to talk to people who are on the card and to hear from them firsthand of their experiences. In fact, I held a public meeting that the government didn't hold. I held a public meeting with the people who are affected by the card.

The government, during the debate on the cashless welfare card going into Kalgoorlie and extending the trials into Kununurra and Ceduna, said that they'd held lots of public consultations in Kalgoorlie. They talked about over 100 and at one stage saying there were 171, and there were other claims made as well. When I asked at the public meeting whether anybody had been to any of the consultations, one person said they had been invited to one through an organisation. It was not a public meeting, it was a consultation, and they were told what would happen when the card came in. They weren't asked for their opinion about the card; they weren't asked what their conditions were like when they were trying to exist on low-level payments and what they thought would happen when the card was brought in and their income was quarantined. It is a farce when the government claim that they have consulted in Kalgoorlie when the people who were on the card were not invited to a public meeting.

People spoke to me during the public meeting about how dehumanising the card was, how it has impacted on their mental health and how much stress they had suffered. In fact, while they described how stressful it was, you could actually hear in their voices, from the way they were talking, the stress that it had caused. This is affecting people on income support. Some of the most deeply concerned people who were affected were carers, who have been put on the card because they are caring for loved ones. They talked about their concerns about having to have two cards, about dealing with Indue and about having to get permission from Indue to pay bills.

When this was first proposed, I remember the proponents standing up and saying, 'This will just be like any other debit card.' Well, it is not. If you want to use PayPal, you can't. If you want to pay bills that are a bit out of the ordinary, you can't. If you want to buy medical equipment that you cannot get here in Australia, if you want to buy it from overseas, you have to go into the Indue office in Kalgoorlie and ask, and you will get permission. So much for, 'This will just be like any other card.' It is not. People talk about having to queue to get permission to use the card. People are being charged late fees because the bills that they have asked to be paid have not been paid. They are now getting very concerned about their credit rating, because that impacts on their credit rating. This is not normally how you would use a debit card or, in fact, a credit card.

Did you know that people in Kalgoorlie got the card before they got the letter explaining what the card was? The first they knew that they would be subject to income management, where 80 per cent of their payment would be quarantined—that's what it is; it's income management—was when they got the card in the mail. That is not good enough. That is outrageous. It adds to people's sense of frustration and alienation, and it is dehumanising.

People told me of going in to try and use the card and being told, 'That's one of them cards the druggies have.' People are very, very concerned about the stigma that is attached to the card, and that is what they are suffering from. A number of different people, in fact, told me of their concerns about being called 'druggies', because that's, apparently, 'the card that the druggies have'. This card is causing distress, and it is not going to help if people's mental health is affected and if people are not able to pay bills. It is making the lives of people who are already struggling to get by on income support worse. That is what I heard in Kalgoorlie. (Time expired)