HON JACQUI BOYDELL (Mining and Pastoral — Deputy Leader of the Nationals WA) [1.09 pm]: I move — That this house —
(a) notes the operation of the cashless debit card—CDC—in the East Kimberley and goldfields regions of Western Australia;
(b) recognises the positive social, health and financial impacts of the trial;
(c) notes the strong community support for continuation of the trial; and
(d) supports further expansion of the trial in Western Australia and calls on the current and future federal governments to maintain support for the cashless debit card.
Comments and speeches from various members
Amendment to Motion
HON STEPHEN DAWSON: I move —
To delete paragraphs (b), (c) and (d) and substitute —
(b) notes there are varying claims on the success of the trial and that evaluation on the social, health and financial impacts of the trial is continuing; and
(c) supports further expansion of the trial only where the community wants it and there is proper consultation and informed community consent.
Our amendments will ensure more community buy-in of any trial of the cashless debit card. Consultation will ensure that everyone in the community has the opportunity to have their voices heard, not just those with the strongest voices. It will also allow those whose incomes will be managed through the trial to have their voice heard. I commend the amendment to the house.
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [1.44 pm]: I am yet to give my broader contribution on the motion. Although I will be tentatively supporting the amendment as proposed, it is not because I think the amendment is particularly good. As a whole, I do not agree with the amendment either, but I acknowledge that it at least mitigates what I think is a pretty awful substantive motion in front of us. Assumptions are made within the primary motion that I fundamentally dispute. At least what is being proposed by the minister is not quite so problematic. Having said that, I do want my support for this particular amendment misconstrued as meaning that I support the motion as a whole should the amendment get up. I will reserve further comments for my contribution on the motion.
Comments and speeches from various members
Amendment put and a division taken with the following result —
Amendment thus negatived.
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [1.50 pm]: I rise on behalf of the Greens to indicate our strong opposition to this motion. I will give all the reasons that is the case.
As we know, the cashless debit card is a federal government initiative. Under the scheme, 80 per cent of a welfare recipient’s income is quarantined, with the other 20 per cent deposited into the participant’s bank account and able to be withdrawn as cash. So far, we have already seen it rolled out to four areas. It commenced in the Ceduna region in March 2016, in Kununurra and Wyndham in the East Kimberley region in April 2016, and a progressive rollout has commenced in the goldfields region since March 2018, as well as in Bundaberg and the Hervey Bay region in January 2019.
The Greens, led by my federal colleague, Senator Rachel Siewert, have been staunchly opposed to this card since its inception. I want to say from the outset that paragraphs (b) and (c) of this motion contain assumptions that the Greens neither support nor believe are factual. There has been no evidence to suggest that this initiative has had positive impacts. Evaluation of the card trial was undertaken by ORIMA Research. The ORIMA reports have been thoroughly discredited by academics and researchers, as well as by the Australian National Audit Office, and have been described in federal Parliament as extremely misleading. The commonwealth Auditor-General’s recent report into the implementation of the cashless welfare card found that the evaluations had been unable to show whether the card has reduced social harm. To be very clear, there is no evidence to support the introduction, let alone the extension, of the cashless debit card; however, the ORIMA evaluations are still being referred to by the federal government to justify the extension of the trial. I assume that the Nationals WA are urging the card’s extension as a result of this discredited evidence.
An evaluation of the implementation of the card in Kalgoorlie undertaken by the University of Adelaide was released last month. This was a qualitative study only. Although it was supposed to establish a baseline, it presents data that was collected after the card had been rolled out. As such, it is not able to provide a proper before and after comparison. Furthermore, the data was collected during Operation Fortitude, when an increased police presence was provided in the goldfields, separate from the rollout of the cashless debit card. How do we know that any changes identified in those evaluation interviews would have occurred without the increased police presence?
I note concerns that have been raised in the federal Parliament by Senator Siewert about this report. The report is based on interviews with only 64 of the 2 995 people using the card in the goldfields, and those people were invited through stakeholder organisations, so it is a biased sample. There were 66 stakeholders also interviewed, so we ended up with more stakeholders than card users being interviewed. As a result, unsurprisingly, the report findings have been completely skewed. We cannot claim to have seen an improvement if we have nothing to measure against. Again, no baseline data has been collected at any of the trial sites. It is not credible to say that there have been improvements when the evidence simply is not there.
I am going to quote Dr Elise Klein, an academic from the University of Melbourne, who has undertaken 13 months of research in the East Kimberley on the cashless debit card. She said —
- ... the current Cashless Card trials have not produced credible evidence to support claims of effectiveness, efficiency nor suitability.
- Conversely, there is consistent evidence showing that income management and the Cashless Debit card makes life more difficult for subjected people.
The card has been shown to have a range of adverse consequences, including stigma and shame felt by those participants, some of whom had been spending their money appropriately and felt unfairly penalised and discriminated against. It has created an inability to buy second-hand items, particularly things like clothes or furniture; an inability to send money to children who are away at boarding school; and an inability to pay for things at places where there are no EFTPOS facilities, such as school stalls, canteens or swimming pools. We have had participants missing out on participating in community life because many of the public associations such as sports clubs do not take EFTPOS, and parents on income support cannot pay for their children’s sports fees, for example. There have been difficulties using the card online, and also keeping track of payments, particularly automatic payments from the card. It needs to be noted that many of the participants do not have an email account or access to the internet and may not have a phone, all of which are essential for activating the card and other processes. People are indicating that they are embarrassed when the card is declined or simply is not working.
Not only is it cruel to make people who are already struggling to make ends meet live on small amounts of cash, but also the question has to be asked: how will this card get people into jobs, or address any issues of addiction? What if a participant’s fridge breaks down? They do not have cash to buy a second-hand fridge; they have to go and buy a new fridge, which means that there is no money left over to buy food to put into that fridge. Why is there an assumption that every single person on income support is a drug or gambling addict? Not only is this obviously not true, but also the majority of the people interviewed in the Kalgoorlie evaluation did not have drug or substance abuse issues before being put on the card.
Control of one’s personal finances is very important for their dignity and sense of control over their own life. If this control is taken away by the imposition of compulsory income management, it has very serious implications. The cashless debit card is stigmatising, it is demeaning people, and it is infringing on basic human rights. Some people on the cashless debit card were reported as having said, “That card, you might as well give us a big sticker that says ‘welfare’—it’s horrible.” Another quote was, “People’s perceptions when you present this card, their whole body language changes and you can tell that they’re making assumptions about you when you’ve done nothing wrong.”
This card—this program—is a complete waste of money. According to Hansard from federal Parliament, the cashless debit card trials have cost $34.191 million to the end of the last financial year. There have been only 6 917 participants as at 1 March 2019, so we are talking about a really expensive program. I want members to think about what sort of community investment there could be for Aboriginal-led organisations and culturally appropriate services that these regions have been screaming out for forever with the $34 million plus that has been spent so far on the rollout of this card, including almost $15 million that has gone to the private company Indue, the debit card provider. Why would we support spending money on what is just an ideological policy that has been tried and evaluated before and shown not to work? Why on earth would we be supportive of that? That money instead needs to go to wraparound services and towards support and programs for people who are struggling with drug, alcohol and gambling addictions, and tackling the underlying causes of their disadvantage. It is clear that the issues in these communities—members should know this—are complex, and that there is a serious lack of services to address them. We already know that there is a serious lack of mental health, alcohol and drug services in the regions, so if the federal government were serious—I do not think it is—about addressing problems with alcohol, drugs and gambling, it should commit to funding services in the long term in the communities that need them the most. People working in drug and alcohol services in the communities have plenty of ideas about how that money could be better spent, and we need to have a genuine conversation about how we can drive down disadvantage.
We need preventive measures that go to the root of social issues, we need job programs that actually move people into meaningful employment and we need to encourage community engagement so that people do not feel so isolated. There is also real concern about the impact of the card on people on disability support and their carers, as well as those who are living with mental health issues. The issue of the negative impact of the card on these people was raised in the Kalgoorlie evaluation interviews. Adding to these people’s challenges is not okay. It is cruel and unfair. I remind members that we are talking about an evaluation that was already biased and skewed, and even then this is what is starting to come out of it.
I am also concerned that, with the introduction of the cashless debit card, social security recipients are having their fundamental right of self-determination taken away. This form of compulsory income management is a breach of basic human rights and we know that it unfairly targets Aboriginal communities. It is clear that the cashless debit card is a blanket approach, and the way in which the scheme will affect people in their day-to-day lives has not been truly considered—either that, or people just do not care. It is not simply about access to alcohol; it is also about freedom to go about everyday life without stress and without having to live with stigmatisation.
We have heard that in trial sites people have had trouble paying their Telstra bills using the card at post offices, and also when trying to pay bills and pay for services online. People are very worried about falling behind on their rent and bill payments because their card will not work. How is that possibly helpful to anybody? The most horrifying thing is that this card is a back-to-the-ration-days approach, and for these people that evokes historical trauma within a contemporary setting.
We have not seen a genuine partnership between government and communities, particularly those people who are affected by the card. There is absolutely no question that we need to do more to address poverty, drug and alcohol issues, health and mental health issues, and unemployment. I am one of the people in this place who speaks about this the most, but these are complex issues and they cannot be resolved by simplistic solutions. The Western Australian Council of Social Service has noted that restricting access to cash does not address the underlying issues that contribute to social problems.
People’s lives are too important to subject them to what appears to be an ideological social experiment that is being justified on perceptions rather than on any sort of robust evidence of outcomes. This is not the first time that income management has been trialled, and it is not the first time that it has failed. We already know that compulsory income management is expensive and does not work. In 2014 a government-commissioned evaluation of income management in the Northern Territory provided conclusive evidence that the compulsory income management regime did not make a significant positive difference. It fell well short of meeting the trial’s objectives, and that was despite expenditure of $410.5 million. Income management in the Northern Territory did not reduce disadvantage or address drug and alcohol issues, and there is no reason at all to expect that it is going to work this time.
It is absolutely unfair to impose a paternalistic card that restricts cash to a community and claim that it is about addressing addiction, but then not fund adequate addiction services. Restricting someone’s cash is not an effective way of helping people with addictions to alcohol, drugs or gambling. If the federal government were serious about addressing drug, alcohol and gambling addictions, it would be working with the communities and properly funding wraparound services and turning its attention to the underlying causes of alcohol and drug abuse. Instead, people who are already vulnerable are expected to have this punitive, paternalistic, terrible approach imposed on them. It is not working, it is not going to work, and it will create more harm. The Greens absolutely oppose this motion.
Comments and speeches from various members
Question put and a division taken, the Acting President (Hon Adele Farina) casting her vote with the noes, with the following result —
Question thus negatived.