Cashless Debit CardSpeech
I rise to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill. I will always respect this House, but my message on this proposed legislation is plain and simple: it is trash.
More than a decade ago, former Prime Minister John Howard launched his intervention into the Northern Territory. This policy was retrograde. It took away First Nations people's freedoms, it was discriminatory and it did nothing to help. Sadly, nothing much has changed. We still see leaders of the Liberal Party pretending to be concerned for our country's First Nations people. Despite the rhetoric of partnership and respect, this legislation is not about self-determination. It is the opposite. It entrenches a sense of powerlessness and ignores the wisdom of the Uluru statement. The draft legislation before us will make the cashless debit card permanent in existing trial sites of Ceduna, East Kimberley, the Goldfields, Bundaberg-Hervey Bay. It also seeks to permanently replace the BasicsCard with the cashless debit card across the Northern Territory even if recipients move to other locations. In short, this bill would enact a widespread rollout of the government's compulsory income management program—a program that doesn't respect people's rights to make choices about how they spend their money.
The bill is proposed despite the fact that First Nations people have wholly rejected it. The Morrison government has conducted trials, evidence has been gathered and the answer is simple—the program doesn't work. But brazen disregard for evidence based policy continues to be an operational imperative for this government. My constituents have been absolutely stunned to learn that the minister responsible for this program did not even read the independent review conducted by the University of Adelaide before making the decision to roll out this horribly flawed program. What is the point of a trial if the government is determined to be led by racial prejudice regarding the trial results? I proudly stand with the shadow minister for families and social services, who is calling on the government to bin this rubbish bill. The Labor Party opposes this program because it is yet another example of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government reaching into the lives of Australians without reason. The Labor Party opposes this program because it is based on prejudice rather than evidence. And the Labor Party opposes this program because it will not help our First Nations people achieve self-determination.
This bill has also brought to light the gravest fears of many Australians. This government has an agenda to roll out the cashless card regardless of its impact. We've watched on as this government feigned an interest in testing the card. But now we know with certainty that the government does not care and never cared about getting the program right. This was laid bare for all to see when the minister admitted that she had not consulted, considered, or read the much awaited independent review by the University of Adelaide. On 6 October, the government announced its intention to make the cashless debit card a permanent restrictive feature in the lives of so many. Then, on 8 October, the government introduced enacting legislation to this parliament. And then, on 29 October, the senator representing the Northern Territory Malarndirri McCarthy asked the minister a very simple question: 'Minister, have you read the report?' The minister's reply: 'No.' The minister had not even bothered to read the relevant report. This fact says it all. This flagrant disrespect of the evidence is mind-boggling. And, what's worse, this government is playing with the lives of so many. The senator and minister for social services takes home about $400,000 Australian tax dollars a year, plus allowances, and can't find the time to read the report. It's not good enough, plain and simple.
What is more, this bill is racist. It's discriminatory. The rollout of the cashless debit card, as proposed by the Morrison government, will impact First Nations people disproportionately. About 70 per cent of the people this government is forcing onto the card are First Nations people. Of the 34,000 people directly impacted, 23,000 are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people. Eighteen thousand live in the Northern Territory. This government said it was attentive to the review. This government said it was listening to the feedback. Then this government didn't even read the report. Such actions reveal this government believes in action without consultation and the government believes in driving our communities apart.
But that is not what Labor believes. We believe that Australia is made up of powerful, capable communities that are better united than divided. We also believe that income management will sometimes be necessary—just not this income management, because this income management is a sledgehammer. Instead, Labor believes in the careful, thoughtful use of income management as a targeted tool in specific cases. One example of this, as some of my colleagues have already mentioned, is child protection. We acknowledge that there will be times when government intervention is required. When the circumstances of individuals receiving the payments are taken into account, we can support families and improve outcomes. That's a very good thing. This bill is not.
This bill isn't a good thing, because this compulsory income-management program doesn't drive better results. That's what we should all want in this House: to drive better results. The program entrenches both dependency on the state and a sense of hopelessness, with little opportunity for a path to employment. We know the government knows this, because it wrote it in a report to the UN. This government wrote of income management:
While there are more positive results associated with people who volunteer, as they have made a choice to change their behaviour and receive assistance, positive findings have been found for people who have been referred for Income Management by a social worker or a child protection officer.
The evidence provided by submissions to this bill carry the same overwhelming position: the program doesn't work. The Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory submitted:
The continuation of compulsory income management through the transfer to the CDC is being rushed forward despite the lack of any strong or positive evidence drawn from either the 2014 Social Policy Research Centre evaluation of New Income Management in the NT, the 2017 Orima Research evaluation of the Cashless Debit Card Trials.
The submission went on to say:
Income management cannot provide a transition to employment in locations where few employment opportunities exist and those that exist are largely done by outsiders. Instead, for many Aboriginal residents of the NT, particularly those living remotely, compulsory income management is long term and, regardless of a person ' s lifestyle and financial management capacity, almost impossible to get off.
Compulsory income management is not enabling. It is not a path to self-determination. Instead, it locks them into a life of dependency. The 2014 independent Evaluating new income management in the Northern Territory, conducted by the Social Policy Research Centre, found that 90 per cent of those on income management were Indigenous and 77 per cent of those were on compulsory income management. More than 60 per cent of this group were on income management for more than six years. Of those Indigenous people on compulsory income management, a mere five per cent gained an exemption, compared to 36 per cent of non-Indigenous people. Even when First Nations people apply to remove themselves from compulsory income management because they seek self-determination, only one in 20 have been granted an exemption, compared to more than one in three for non-Indigenous people. This is discriminatory and it is racist. This government has undertaken a process showing clear contempt for the coalitions of peaks and makes a mockery of the government's new Closing the Gap Partnership Agreement.
I don't support this bill. Labor doesn't support this bill. This bill is trash. It is time the Morrison government listened to its people: to all First Nations people, to all Australians who believe in fairness, democracy and in people being able to make choices about their own lives—to self-determination. Let's bin this bill. May it never see the light of day again.Share Tweet