All changes made to the description and title of this division.

View division | Edit description

Change Division
senate vote 2019-07-31#2

Edited by mackay

on 2019-08-08 15:31:05

Title

  • Bills — Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Cashless Welfare) Bill 2019; in Committee
  • Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Cashless Welfare) Bill 2019 - in Committee - Introduce a consideration period

Description

  • <p class="speaker">Rachel Siewert</p>
  • <p>Both the opposition and the Greens have amendments, but I have some questions of a general nature. I'm wondering if we could deal with those first and then proceed to some of the amendments?</p>
  • <p>The CHAIR: Sure. We're in the hands of the Committee of the Whole.</p>
  • The majority voted against an [amendment](https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id:legislation/billhome/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22legislation%2Famend%2Fr6335_amend_5369bb11-64a5-400e-9e70-375867da82cb%22;rec=0) introduced by Tasmanian Senator [Carol Brown](https://theyvoteforyou.org.au/people/senate/tasmania/carol_brown) (Labor), which means it failed.
  • Senator Brown [explained that](https://www.openaustralia.org.au/senate/?gid=2019-07-31.129.1):
  • > *The amendments that the opposition are putting forward on [sheet 8731](https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id:legislation/billhome/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22legislation%2Famend%2Fr6335_amend_5369bb11-64a5-400e-9e70-375867da82cb%22;rec=0) will require the department to make a decision on the application to leave the card within 21 business days, and there is a stop-the-clock provision to extend the time when further information is requested from the applicant. We believe that this is a fair amendment because people should be able to get off the card in a timely fashion and get on with their lives.*
  • <p>First off, the minister made some comments in her closing statement, and I'm wondering if she could provide or perhaps take on notice the references for some of the comments she made around some of the figures, because some of those sound like new figures, and it would be very helpful to have them. Can I ask the minister to take that on board? My understanding was that the next report from the University of Adelaide's work was due in June. I'm wondering if my understanding is correct and, if so, has that report been made available to the government yet?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Anne Ruston</p>
  • <p>My understanding is that the report is actually due to be provided to me in October. I think the time frame was late 2019, but October is the time I'm expecting it.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Rachel Siewert</p>
  • <p>Can I be clear that you have received no other reports from The University of Adelaide since the report that was made public in February?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Anne Ruston</p>
  • <p>No.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Rachel Siewert</p>
  • <p>Can I also ask the minister about the consultation that's been undertaken about these particular amendments&#8212;communities involved, sorry.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Anne Ruston</p>
  • <p>The department has undertaken consultation with all of the communities for community trial sites. I also personally have had discussions with a number of members of one of the communities in Western Australia, in your home state in the Goldfields, in relation to their concerns that were raised about the specifics of the process for financial exemption.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Rachel Siewert</p>
  • <p>Did that involve general participants&#8212;people that were actually on the card&#8212;but also participants that were seeking wellbeing exemptions and the opt-out exemptions?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Anne Ruston</p>
  • <p>I can confirm that a number of people who were on the card were consulted through the process. I could not be specific as to whether any of those were seeking or intending to seek exemptions through this process, so I can't give you the exact details of the nature of the individuals that were spoken with and consulted with. But I can say that there were a number of people in each of the trial sites that were interviewed and consulted with in relation to the exit mechanism.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Rachel Siewert</p>
  • <p>You didn't seek out people that applied for wellbeing or who had already started ringing about the opt-out process, because I'm aware there have been lots of phone calls?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Anne Ruston</p>
  • <p>Much of the consultation was taken prior to the commencement of the process. We didn't actually seek out people who weren't on the card. Anybody who actually had been granted a wellbeing exemption obviously wouldn't be on the card, so we didn't speak to them particularly. But, whether there were people within the cohort of people that were consulted with who were on the card who would have intended and believed they were eligible for the new exit mechanism, I am unaware of the specifics of the number of those people that were consulted with. I'm not sure if that information is available, but I will certainly try and find out.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Rachel Siewert</p>
  • <p>That would be appreciated. I take your point about opt-out, although I know my office was getting phone calls prior to the opt-out about how we understood the opt-out process was going to work. I presume that they were phoning the department. I'm aware there are a number of people who have been applying for the wellbeing process. That's why I ask that particular question, because I know that my office has been helping a number of them. I've got specific questions to clarify a number of things. Do we start that process now?</p>
  • <p>The CHAIR: Yes, Senator Siewert. You can certainly ask questions, make statements or put your amendments through this Committee of the Whole.</p>
  • <p>I'm seeking some clarification about how the exit arrangements are going to be interpreted, because that's what people are looking for. Minister, you made a reference to a guide. Is it your intention to provide further interpretation about how people interpret the criteria in that guide, and when is it likely that the guide will be available?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Anne Ruston</p>
  • <p>The information that is required for anybody who's making application to be exempt from the card will be contained as part of the package that they will be provided access to as part of their application form. We'll make it available through their online portal or, alternatively, for those people who don't feel comfortable with doing it themselves or doing it electronically, these services will be available to assist them through the exit process through their providers in their local communities. But attached to that application process will be a set of guidelines to enable them to see the process they need to go through and the information they need to provide. At the same time, we will before using a person from the Department of Social Services to assist them, if they require assistance, to talk them through how they make that information available to them.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Rachel Siewert</p>
  • <p>There are a number of things I want to follow up on, just in that one answer. Do you envisage that someone from DSS will help with that process over the phone, or could someone also go into the Centrelink office in, say, Kununurra to obtain support with the guide? Is that also the sort of thing you see happening?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Anne Ruston</p>
  • <p>Just in clarification, it would be more likely that the local partner in the community is where the person would receive that one-on-one assistance. Equally, if they are happier to use our services, there will be telephone services available to them, and substantial online information. We recognise that sometimes connectivity and capacity prevents people from using a purely online service.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Rachel Siewert</p>
  • <p>When you talk about 'local partner', do you mean Indue or an NGO?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Anne Ruston</p>
  • <p>Community organisations or contractors within the community that are contracted by Indue to provide the service. Basically, there will be opportunity within the community&#8212;with the existing services provided for the operation or issues that a person on the card might have, not necessarily about this&#8212;for people to go and see the service providers, who will have the opportunity to assist them. They will also be able to phone and do it online.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Rachel Siewert</p>
  • <p>This is the sort of thing I'm being asked about. If I want to get the form, I can go online. Many community members who may be trying to apply for an opt out don't have access to a printer or even a computer. A lot of people do their communications on mobile phones, but it's very hard to fill in these sorts of forms on mobile phones. I don't have to go to an NGO to get the form&#8212;can I go to Centrelink and get a physical copy of the form?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Anne Ruston</p>
  • <p>Yes, you can. The new suite of technology being put into all of the Centrelink offices will provide you with that bank of access, so the person in Centrelink can assist the person to get access to it online.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Rachel Siewert</p>
  • <p>Thank you. Then they'll be able to get the guide. Have you got a list of things that you consider necessary for meeting the criteria? Is there documentation? Will they have to go somewhere to get somebody to verify what they're doing for the health and safety of the person and the community? It's those harder things to prove that I think will be concerning people, how they satisfy those criteria.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Anne Ruston</p>
  • <p>One of the things that we are currently in the process of doing is working through what is going to be the most streamlined and easiest way for us to make a determination about someone's preparation to exit the card if they're currently on it. Because, as you would understand, many of these situations are quite different to each other, we've actually taken a much more case-by-case approach on how this might be managed. I take your point. That's not the question you're asking. We will provide a guide that will outline what a normal, non-complicated process would be for the average person who would seek to come in and get the exemption. But we are also very mindful&#8212;and this is why we are particularly mindful about putting on determined time frames&#8212;that sometimes there is a level of complexity to get the information, and, because people are not able to provide the information, there is difficulty in accessing the information. Under a normal set of circumstances, the criteria and the process which the person needs to follow and the evidence that would be required for the exemption application would be clearly set out in the guidelines. Obviously, somebody will be there to help them through that. We also put on record that we understand that sometimes it's not a straightforward process, and, for those cases, we intend to put in a case-by-case process that could sit around more complicated cases.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Rachel Siewert</p>
  • <p>In terms of the issue I brought up during my second reading contribution, I see a potential conflict with the wellbeing provision. For example&#8212;and this is where I've had a little bit of experience&#8212;where someone has poor mental health and applies for a wellbeing exemption, how will that interact with the opt-out provisions where they talk about the health and safety of the person and the community? If I just apply for a wellbeing exemption, will that be considered in and of itself?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Anne Ruston</p>
  • <p>The conditions that exist around the exit provisions under the basis of wellbeing will remain the same. I thank you for raising the question. It would be my interpretation that the wellbeing provision would be considered a higher level of exit priority simply because you're talking about somebody's personal wellbeing as opposed to, I suppose, a more straightforward financial capability exemption. You would have to prioritise somebody's health and wellbeing above financial circumstances, so I think the wellbeing one would go first.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Carol Brown</p>
  • <p>Before I get on to some specific questions, I want to follow up on Senator Siewert with two questions. How many people have contacted the department to come off the card? And I want to seek some clarification about who will help people get off the card?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Anne Ruston</p>
  • <p>Thank you very much, Senator Brown. One thousand and fifty-four people have made a phone call to the relevant number seeking information or advice about the process. In terms of who will assist, it would depend on the individual as to what sorts of services they are seeking. At the moment, anybody who is currently on an Indue card, or the cashless debit card, has access within their community to locally based service providers that can assist them with any issue that they might have with their card. Those people will remain available to them to assist them in the process if they choose to seek an exemption, whether it be on the wellbeing criteria or the financial criteria. Equally, we will also make sure that assistance to exit is available by phone and there are provisions online, to give the person who is wishing to seek the exit provision a choice in the way that they make their application.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Carol Brown</p>
  • <p>You might have to give me an example of going to a location, but I want to know: is exiting off the card going to be provided only online or by phone? Or are there services&#8212;and what are those services?&#8212;that will help people exit off the card?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Anne Ruston</p>
  • <p>Just as an example, Centrecare is a provider that we use in Kalgoorlie. Centrecare provides all the services and resourcing to somebody who is currently on the cashless debit card in that particular trial region. These services are provided in all the sites, but I'm using that as an example, because you asked for an example. So, if the individual who is seeking a financial exemption wants one-on-one assistance in making their application, they can make an appointment, they can go into Centrecare in Kalgoorlie and they can sit down with a person in Kalgoorlie and have them assist them in filling out the form&#8212;even to the point of assistance with interpretation, for example, because obviously we want to make sure that we are assisting them in their mother language.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Carol Brown</p>
  • <p>And they're funded to do that?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Anne Ruston</p>
  • <p>Yes; they already are. We already have translation and language services that are available in these communities. If the person went in there and wanted the maximum level of assistance to enable them to make the application, they could go into one of these places and have somebody sit with them and take them through the whole process and tell them what information they need to provide and possibly then assist them in accessing that information as well.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Carol Brown</p>
  • <p>I now want to go to some questions around cost of the CDC. Perhaps you could provide how much has been spent to date on the CDC in total and in each location; how many people are currently on the card in total and in each location; the per-person cost of the card to date; and how much the government will spend across the forward estimates on the cashless debit card combined with expenditure to date&#8212;so, the total expenditure.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Anne Ruston</p>
  • <p>The costs of the card across all the trial sites, which include implementation, providing additional funding to existing services to provide the wraparound services that were identified as being needed, and communications, for the period up to 30 June 2018, was $34.2 million. Unfortunately I don't have the site-by-site costs broken down for you. There are approximately 12,000 participants on the card, but I can provide you with the numbers for each of the individual sites. And $126 million is budgeted over the forward estimates for the ongoing CDC program.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Carol Brown</p>
  • <p>Just following up on those responses, are you able to give me cost per location, on notice?</p>
  • <p class='motion-notice motion-notice-truncated'>Long debate text truncated.</p>