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Community Affairs Legislation Committee

WHIFFIN, Ms Faye, Private capacity


Evidence was taken via teleconference—

CHAIR: I welcome via teleconference Ms Faye Whiffin. Can you please confirm that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you.

Ms Whiffin : It has.

CHAIR: Great. Please make a short opening statement, and then we'll ask you some questions.

Ms Whiffin : I want to thank everybody for allowing me again to have the opportunity to participate in the inquiry. I don't live in Sydney or Melbourne. I live in Howard, which is right in the middle of the Hinkler electorate, where the card hopefully will be rolled out. My strong belief in the benefits to individuals, families and particularly children to be gained from the introduction of the cashless debit card has been formed by what I have personally seen. I have also had many conversations with residents of the Hinkler electorate who wholeheartedly support the card.

I have been a volunteer at a community centre which runs a number of activities including markets, youth groups and a lot of other things for the past seven years. There have been numerous public consultation meetings, surveys and mail-outs in the electorate of Hinkler in the past 15 months which show that 75 per cent of residents are in favour of the introduction of this card in Hinkler. I have also had media coverage, and I'm well known in this area as being a supporter of the card. A large majority of people who have contacted me say that they support what I have stated publicly.

I've had a few dissenters. They've used Facebook to attack me personally, but when I checked these people out I found that almost all of them either don't live in the Hinkler electorate or are using phoney identities on Facebook. Some individuals that I've spoken to who are local have been quoting so-called facts which are nothing more than misleading lies. These are people who have said, 'This isn't going to work, this card.' Their opinion of the card changes dramatically when they do learn what the real facts are.

The problem of welfare dependency and neglected children will not go away. Something has to be done, and done quickly. The introduction of this card should not have been delayed this long, and I urge the Senate to stop wasting precious time and let the trial in Hinkler begin without any more delay. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Whiffin, for keeping that very brief. I'll kick off. We have only got a few minutes; we've contracted this segment slightly, because the witness who was meant to be appearing with you actually appeared earlier in the day. We will try to keep this to about 15 minutes. Just in terms of some of the social problems that you finished up with there, could you talk us through some of the issues that are present in Hinkler and that you believe could be addressed by the cashless debit card?

Ms Whiffin : One of the main things that stays in my mind is a family that used to live here, and their young girl. That young girl, a lovely little girl, very regularly used to come into the community centre where I volunteer saying that she hadn't had anything to eat. I live in a very small town, so everything's right in your face. That little girl was grey. I don't know if you've ever seen a grey 11-year-old, but that little girl was grey. Her mother would be over at the hotel, and I would see the little girl hanging around outside the hotel trying to get something to eat. Then she'd come over here; she'd ask for money, and I'd often give her money to get something or give her some food. Where she lived was known locally as 'party central'. It was booze and drugs. There were 11 kids in the family. I tried and tried to get the appropriate children services to intervene, and I didn't get anywhere. So that's one thing. There are a lot of stories here. You see it all the time. You see the effects the drugs and booze are having on the kids. We also see people here who have no ambition in life at all. Their whole career choice is welfare. It's just so sad; they have no idea what they're missing out on.

Senator PRATT: When you talk about people having no ambition whatsoever, do you think that when community members describe people in that way it can actually deflate people of any potential ambition because it creates an 'us and them' attitude inside the community?

Ms Whiffin : We certainly do not practice that at the community centre where I'm involved. We do get Work for the Dole people. We never ever refer to them as Work for the Dole people; we refer to them as volunteers. We try to encourage them. We try to say to them, 'Here are some opportunities that you can have.' We don't put really onerous tasks on them, but we suggest to them they might like to have a bath and that they might like to wear some deodorant, and that there are opportunities and that we are quite happy to give them a reference at the end of their term. So we do try to encourage them to look for work, to better their lives. We certainly don't discriminate against them.

Senator PRATT: Tell me, please, in terms of the services that you provide, do you provide financial counselling at all through the neighbourhood centre?

Ms Whiffin : No, we do not, because we're not qualified to do that. But we do have a good relationship with UnitingCare in Hervey Bay, and they are more than happy to come out here to provide budgeting and financial advice.

Senator SIEWERT: Ms Whiffin, have you read or had a look at the ANAO report, the Auditor-General's report, on the cashless welfare card?

Ms Whiffin : I've seen some of it. I can't say I've read it in depth, but I have seen some of it, yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Can I ask for your opinion on the comments around the lack of evidence to show that it works?

Ms Whiffin : Okay. Well, look, I have had conversations with other people who have been in those areas where the card has been introduced, and they have said to me that they have found the effect of the card to be incredibly positive.

Senator SIEWERT: Have you read the final analysis of the Northern Territory intervention?

Ms Whiffin : No, I haven't.

Senator SIEWERT: Part of what it showed was that it met none of its objectives, but that people's perceptions that things were better were not borne out by the evidence when the situations in those centres were compared to like situations elsewhere. In other words, just relying on the anecdotal evidence doesn't necessarily mean that it's actually working.

Ms Whiffin : No, but I do believe that we have to have something that stops the drugs being able to be purchased and the booze being able to be purchased. Even though I am a smoker, I would like to see it extended to cigarettes as well. We have to do something. I see kids suffering all the time because the parents are allowed to buy booze and drugs.

Senator SIEWERT: I'm entirely on board with the fact that we need to be addressing it—I'm not pretending that there aren't issues that we need to address—but what I'm looking for is what works, rather than wasting money again on things that don't work.

Ms Whiffin : What we currently have really isn't working. From memory, the Auditor-General's report was released fairly recently. I believe that further investigation is needed, because all of the other statistics that I have seen from people who live in and have been in those communities is that the system is working, particularly for families with the reduction of domestic violence and improvement in children's welfare and family involvement.

Senator LINES: Ms Whiffin, you talked about people having alcohol and drug issues. What are the services in your community to help people who choose to get off drugs and alcohol? Have you got services there?

Ms Whiffin : We do have a local Alcoholics Anonymous, and we do have some visiting health professionals that come into our area. As I said, it's only a very small town. Here at our community centre, we're actually looking at partnering with another community group in Hervey Bay to get even more services out here.

Senator LINES: So if people want to really tackle alcohol and drug issues and they need rehab services, where would they have to travel to and how far away is that?

Ms Whiffin : Hervey Bay, 30 kilometres.

Senator LINES: And what sorts of services have they got?

Ms Whiffin : Just about everything. Hang on; I've got a little card here called 'Fraser Coast Community Contacts'. It's for 'women, men, youth, families and children, Indigenous, multicultural, counselling, mental health, community, alcohol, drugs, gambling, legal services, housing and online'. It's a little card that people can keep in their wallet that's got all of those numbers on it.

Senator LINES: But people would have to travel 30 minutes to get there?

Ms Whiffin : Yes, but this is what we're trying to bring out here as well—that is, more access to those services locally without people having to travel.

Senator LINES: But the government hasn't committed that; it's rolling out the card but hasn't committed additional services.

Ms Whiffin : It has committed additional funding to provide those services—that is my understanding of it. Yes, they have. If the card comes here, the services will come here faster than they would without the card.

Senator LINES: What guarantees have you got that that will happen?

Ms Whiffin : I have been told by the federal member that that will happen.

Senator LINES: So you've been told, but you don't have anything in writing?

Ms Whiffin : Not to hand, no, but I'm sure I could get it if I asked for it.

Senator LINES: Well, let's see if you can, Ms Whiffin—

Ms Whiffin : All right—

Senator LINES: because it's been the experience of other communities that the wraparound services are not there.

Ms Whiffin : In most of the small towns around here, if you talk to anybody they'll tell you that there are not a lot of services—and not for aged people, either. There are a lot of aged people in this community who don't have a lot of services.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for your time, Ms Whiffin. We will have to move on to our next witness, but thank you very much.

Ms Whiffin : I do appreciate you hearing me, and I can only plead with you, as to this trial: how can it hurt to try it?

CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Whiffin. We will have to move on.