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representatives vote 2018-02-06#1

Edited by mackay staff

on 2018-05-04 14:21:20


  • Bills — Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017; Second Reading
  • Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017 - Second Reading - Agree with the bill's main idea


  • <p class="speaker">Andrew Giles</p>
  • <p>I rise to put on the record my serious concerns about the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017. I do so to join my Labor colleagues. I particularly acknowledge the shadow minister, the member for Jagajaga, and the shadow minister for human services, the member for Barton, for their contributions to the debate in this place and to the wider issues that this bill seeks to remedy in Australian society.</p>
  • <p>On that point, I also wish to make a small contribution to an important, wider debate about our social compact to one another as Australians: how we as a society support vulnerable people and how we treat our fellow citizens who are doing it tough; whether we listen to those who are most affected by the decisions we, in this place, make; and what agency we afford to people and to communities to shape their futures and to see their experiences reflected in the decisions made on their behalf by their government. We need to think about agency, dignity and respect as we debate the provisions of this bill. We should not lightly deprive Australians of these. My concern is that implementing the provisions in this bill would do just that.</p>
  • The majority voted in favour of the main idea of [the bill](;query=Id:legislation/billhome/r5939), which means that the House can now discuss it in more detail. In parliamentary jargon, they voted to read the bill [for a second time](
  • ### Main idea of the bill
  • The bill was introduced to:
  • > *remove certain restrictions on the cashless debit card trial and thereby allow the extension of trial arrangements in current sites and to further sites.*
  • Read more about this trial in the [bills digest](
  • <p>The debate we're having here about the cashless welfare card trial and its extension beyond any reasonable remit is a debate fundamentally, on the one hand, about ideology and, on the other, about evidence. In both of these regards, debate on this bill and on the wider issues has been revealing. The shadow minister, the member for Jagajaga, in her contribution in the second reading debate set out the principles governing the Labor approach to this issue. This is so important. So I join her in stating that I would like to support community driven initiatives to tackle alcohol abuse and all of its consequences, recognising that there are communities which have been reaching out for assistance but also that a cashless debit card or, indeed, any individual public policy initiative is no magic bullet.</p>
  • <p>As the member for Jagajaga said, Labor have consistently said that we would take a community-by-community approach to the further rollout of the cashless card. We'll listen to each community's leaders and talk with them about the consequences of this card being rolled out in their community. Wraparound support services must also be community designed, agreed upon and resourced to address the challenges facing these communities. Of course, they're different in different places.</p>
  • <p>We understand&#8212;and this is a very important point&#8212;that the vast majority of social security recipients are more than capable of managing their own personal finances. That's why Labor does not support the cashless debit card being rolled out nationwide. It's important that I reiterate the words of the member for Jagajaga, because they go to the very nub of this debate. That last point that she made is so fundamental: we should not assume that people who happen to be in receipt of social security benefits are incapable of making decisions over their lives. We should be very slow to do so. In fact, it's not just me or other Labor members saying this. That is at the core of the concerns which have been expressed by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, which expressed its concern that the provisions in this bill, unlike some other approaches to income management, do not reflect individual circumstances. It's an odd thing for the party of individualism to be so cavalier in its attitude to this right, although its attitude to rights in general has been exposed shamefully today, as it has, indeed, over the life of this parliament.</p>
  • <p>I turn again to Labor's approach to this issue, which is anchored in our deep sense of respect for individuals and community and our determination to have regard to the evidence in tackling real problems and helping people who are often in very complex circumstances not of their making. There is recognition on this side of the House of the need for a holistic approach to the challenges this bill is intended to address, rather than a superficially attractive quick fix which answers the call of ideology rather more than the calls of lived experience or evidence.</p>
  • <p>Earlier this week&#8212;or it may have been last week&#8212;I read with great interest an article in <i>The Guardian</i> by the journalist Calla Wahlquist, which highlighted a very troubling and, I say in fairness to the minister and his predecessor, no doubt unintended consequence of the present arrangements which are proposed to be extended&#8212;in my view without due warrant. This article is entitled 'Domestic violence survivor could not have escaped abuse on cashless debit card', and it recounts the experiences of Jocelyn Wighton, a woman from Ceduna who said that, without access to her entire disability pension in cash, she would not have been able to afford to start a new life. This, of course, refers to the circumstances of Ceduna, as well as her individual circumstances. I think the article dramatically and, for me, movingly and effectively highlights again an unintended consequence of what I believe to be a well-intentioned intervention:</p>
  • <p class="italic">"I'm a domestic violence survivor," Wighton said. "If I was on this card when I escaped from my husband, I would not have made it. I bought secondhand furniture down to the plates and knives and forks. You can't do that on the card."</p>
  • <p>She talks also&#8212;movingly again&#8212;about the sense of shame that she has.</p>
  • <p>I would commend this article to members because it highlights some of the complexities of individual lives that this instrument addresses. I think it requires all of us to ask ourselves if the intervention is appropriate in all cases and if it answers the aspirations that I think we share. This is why we need, as Labor has proposed, to properly consider firstly what is presently going on in Ceduna and in the East Kimberley, to ensure that proper evaluation is conducted and reviewed and also to listen to all of those who are affected and ensure that their experiences can be adequately reflected in the answers we seek to propose going forward. Let's be very clear. The legislation before the House would license, in effect, the expansion of the trials of cashless debit cards beyond those sites presently underway which impact, I think, some thousands of people in additional locations across the whole of the nation without due process or due consideration.</p>
  • <p>Government members, in supporting this legislation, have spoken of helping young people. It's a laudable goal and it's shared across this chamber, right across this parliament. But we should be careful not to take such claims from government members at face value for two reasons. Firstly, the record of the Turnbull government when it comes to young Australians is simply shocking. The conservatives, since their election, have been prosecuting nothing less than a war on young people. We on this side of the House remember the attempts to leave young jobseekers without any income support for up to six months. We know that today young Australians' futures are being constrained by $17.3 billion of cuts to school education and massive cuts and even greater uncertainty going to post-compulsory education. Young Australians' future is anything but secure under the Turnbull government. Secondly, fundamentally, the evidence is simply not before us to support this claim when it comes to the cashless debit card. We note the claim of the previous minister that it could 'provide additional motivation for a capable young person to take the jobs which are available'. Putting to one side the confidence in jobs being available in particular areas&#8212;and let me just say that in some parts of regional Australia, in deference to the areas you represent, Deputy Speaker, I simply do not share the confidence of the Deputy Prime Minister that, wherever young people can move to, jobs will magically appear. That defies the evidence where half of all the jobs in Australia in recent years have been generated in a very small radius around the central business districts of Melbourne and Sydney.</p>
  • <p>I also note that the bill that we're discussing today was rushed on for debate in the House last year while the Senate inquiry into it was underway, not enabling Labor members&#8212;principally, the shadow minister&#8212;to properly consult with community about the proposals. This is a fundamental problem with legislation like this. It is also said by government members that the extension of the trial, effectively without limitation, is warranted by reason of the evaluations of the Ceduna and East Kimberley trials. Again, this claim simply does not withstand the most cursory scrutiny. I will return to this point again.</p>
  • <p>As we return to the debate this year, in this place, we do have the benefit of the Senate committee review. I do hope that government members, if any are going to continue to participate in this debate, will have close regard to this too&#8212;and I say not to the tick and flick of the majority but, rather, the good work of Labor senators who looked to the evidence and the submissions before them and found there is an insufficient basis to establish further trials at this stage. If this government were either reasonable or responsible, it would have regard to this and, in doing so, would show at the very least the courage of its stated convictions. If the case for the extension of the trials is so strong, why not let it be shown to be so? What are they afraid of? The Senate has proposed further amendments consistent with the Labor framework laid out by the shadow minister, which I referred to earlier in this contribution, and the evidence before them.</p>
  • <p>This is the right way to go about this, not to rule the approach out&#8212;we're not proposing that through the amendments that we've foreshadowed&#8212;but to further interrogate the claims which have been made to consider alternatives and other services, always having regard to those whose lives are directly affected and their human rights. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has raised significant concerns which should not be lightly disregarded. It remains unclear whether the wide extension of the trial is a proportionate response to the important rights which are engaged. The committee found there to be serious doubts as to whether the measures proposed in the legislation are suitable in contrast with other income-managing approaches which reflect individual circumstances, not the blanket approach which is contained in this legislation. It's clear also that we need to continue building the evidence base if we are to deliver policies which are effective. So, as Labor proposes, let us continue and refine the present trial and see&#8212;as the present legislation in fact requires&#8212;what comes of this.</p>
  • <p>I want to speak briefly about the evaluation, because this is something government members have been hanging their hat on improperly. If we look to the evaluation, there are serious concerns that go to its findings, which seem, on fair examination, to be inconclusive. I note, just as one example, there is reference in the evaluation to some positive self-assessments by participants and community leaders, and I take them seriously. But these are inconsistent with some of the objective data which has also been derived. These are things which require further work before we roll out a program such as this more broadly.</p>
  • <p>Perhaps more telling to me than these issues with the findings&#8212;which we need to work through further&#8212;are the concerns that go to methodology. These, I believe, have been compounded by this rushed approach, racing to meet a preconceived ideological answer before considering the evidence. We do need to consider the evidence. And, in doing so, we need to reflect on the fact that the evaluation that the government's case is founded on rests on no baseline data, no control evidence and&#8212;this would be dear to the heart of the member for Fenner&#8212;no randomised individuals forming the basis of the trial. This is what we have seen from so many of the stakeholders&#8212;indeed, I would say almost all of the stakeholders without a particular interest; I note the AHA is a supporter&#8212;such as ACOSS, WACOSS and the Queensland Council of Social Service. The Australian Association of Social Workers' submission importantly highlights the weakness of the evaluation and, in particular, says:</p>
  • <p class="italic">&#8230; it contravenes the expectation of fairness and assumption of autonomy that underpins welfare support payments.</p>
  • <p>I think this is a really important point and it goes the nub of the issues which are before us here, and that is to give a sense of agency and a sense of decency to the individuals who are affected, as well as to the communities in which they live.</p>
  • <p>The Labor approach is not to say no to an extension of proposals such as these but to ask that the government properly interrogates them, having regard to the evidence and fundamentally to the lived experience of those affected. That's why I support the amendments foreshadowed by the member for Jagajaga. <i>(Time expired)</i></p>
  • <p class='motion-notice motion-notice-truncated'>Long debate text truncated.</p>