Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Page: 7944


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (18:16): I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

In particular, I wish to take note of the particular area of recommendations on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017. The human rights committee has reported on previous bills that relate to the cashless debit card or, as other people call it, the cashless welfare card. I will go to the committee's response first, and then I'll go over some of the issues that they raise.

First off, the committee thank the minister for the response and say that they have concluded the examination of the proposed legislation. What they say in their response is:

2.276 The preceding analysis indicates that concerns remain as to whether the trial is effective to achieve its stated objectives.

2.277 The analysis further indicates that, based on the information provided, the measures may not be a reasonable and proportionate limitation on human rights.

2.278 Accordingly, noting concerns raised by previous human rights assessments of the trial and related concerns regarding income management identified in the committee's 2016 Review of Stronger Future measures, the measures may not be compatible with the right to social security …

I really emphasise 'the right to social security'. At the hearing we had into this bill in Kalgoorlie last week, some of our committee members—or, I should say, people who were participating in that inquiry; they were not members of the committee itself but they were members of this chamber—didn't even understand that there is a right to social services. It goes on to say:

… the right to privacy and family and the right to equality and non-discrimination. If the bill is passed, the committee will consider the human rights implications of the legislative instruments once they are received.

Of course, I hope that that bill does not pass this chamber, because I agree with the committee. In fact, I go further than the committee, but I agree that the bill is not a reasonable and proportionate limitation on people's human rights. This bill is draconian. It is top-down. It has negatively impacted on people who are affected by the card. The committee's report outlines the concerns that the committee has with this bill and also its previous assessments. It says:

The previous human rights assessments of the cashless welfare trial measures raised concerns in relation to the compulsory quarantining of a person's welfare payments and the restriction of a person's agency and ability to spend their welfare payments at businesses including supermarkets. These concerns related to the right to social security, the right to privacy and family and the right to equality and non-discrimination.

It says these bills 'engage' and 'limits these rights'. It also says:

While the committee previously accepted that the cashless welfare trial measures may pursue a legitimate objective, it raised concerns as to whether the measures are rationally connected to (that is, effective to achieve) and proportionate to their objective.

They then go on to their previous reports to look at the wave 1 interim evaluation of the card. They then look at what this bill proposes to do, which is, of course, to extend the cashless welfare card so-called trials in Kununurra and Ceduna to basically be limitless—so you can stop calling them trials, folks. This is the government implementing the cashless welfare card.

They are also proposing it for two other sites. One is Kalgoorlie and one is Hinkler. What they propose to do, of course, is to put people on income management. The human rights committee bells the cat and says it's income quarantining. The government keeps denying that it's income quarantining, but it is income quarantining. The government has other trials proposed for drug testing of people that are applying for income support. Given that this relates to our human rights committee, it's very interesting to note that the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights just today denounced Australia's plans to drug-test benefit claimants as a 'cheap shot at our most vulnerable'. Of course, what the government wants to do with drug testing is apply, as they first said, the cashless welfare card, but now they're being more general and saying the BasicsCard or income management. But this is what we're talking about here, folks. We are talking about income management, which the human rights committee is saying may not be compatible with the right to social security, the right to privacy and family and the right to equality and nondiscrimination. Here we have the special rapporteur saying:

If the real goal is to reduce the use of illegal drugs, why start with the poorest members of society?

As I said, it basically condemns this as a cheap shot at our most vulnerable.

It also comes at a time when our government has just got itself a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. At a time when we are also being assessed about whether we are being discriminatory against our first nations, here we have our human rights committee—the parliament's joint human rights committee—having a go at the cashless welfare card, which is a blatant go at our first nations peoples. That's where the card was rolled out in my home state—our home state, I should say, Acting Deputy President Sterle—of Western Australia in the East Kimberly and then, of course, in South Australia in Ceduna.

The government keeps saying they have proof of concept of this particular card. They wave around the wave 2 analysis of the cashless welfare card, or the debit card as it's also named. That report has so many holes you could drive a truck through it. For a start, the survey that they took to do this so-called analysis is push polling at its worst. Even the report itself acknowledges that the data in it is skewed. They conveniently leave out information on impacts on crime and impact on family violence and domestic violence. It's been unavailable.

Quite frankly, you need to be an expert on statistics to be able to look at the way they have manipulated some of the statistical data to try to prove their concept. If you look for the domestic violence figures, they're not there. Some of the people who had been trying to do the analysis of the ORIMA report had to resort to FOI to try to get access to those figures. They still haven't got them. Last week the superintendent of the police in the Kimberley, who was giving us evidence, talked about those figures, so we asked him for them. He said that he would provide them. If, in fact, they are provided, that will allow us to do some further analysis.

Yet here we have government saying: 'Here is proof of concept. We want to expand this trial.' They basically want an open ticket here, folks. Make no mistake about it. This legislation is an open ticket, quite frankly, to continue the program ad infinitum in Kununurra, the Kimberley, Ceduna and in the new areas the government wants to roll out the cashless welfare card to. Here we have government waving around this report—a report that is flawed and uses push polling, and where they managed to manipulate the numbers.

Minderoo Foundation gets those numbers and then gives them to members in this place, who blithely repeat them, ad infinitum again, doing exactly what the government wants them to do—on flawed data that does not show a drop in alcohol used across the trial areas. I think the government is trying to say there has been a 41 per cent drop in alcohol use. I think that's the latest figure that they're quoting. Quite frankly, that is absolute complete nonsense—to say that that's how much people have stopped drinking in the Kimberley and in Ceduna. That data is absolutely flawed, and the government know it. The government know they have a cooked-up analysis to try to encourage people to vote for their discriminatory, paternalistic, flawed legislation. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Sterle ): Before I go to Senator Rice, I wish to go back to Senator Fawcett. You are on your feet, Senator Fawcett, but do you wish to incorporate the tabling statement?