Adjournment Debate – Cashless Debit Card

Tuesday, 7 March 2023

Mr PITT: I rise to speak on what has now become the debacle of this nation: the cashless debit card. What we have seen since Labor has come to power has had an impact in the four trial sites, and it’s not a positive impact; it is a detrimental impact to the people that live there, to those poor kids who are being directly affected and to all of those individuals who struggle with alcohol abuse. Yet what we see is Labor ideology at work. They vowed to get rid of the cashless debit card regardless of what the community wanted. They vowed to go with their ideology rather than with something that clearly works. They vowed to the people that they would get rid of the CDC, even though all of the coalition sitting members in the trial sites were returned at the last election and the election before. What do we see now in place of it? I refer you to some pieces by Ellen Whinnett in the Australian. The headlines are: ‘Cashless debit card cut, “now it’s bedlam” in Ceduna’ and ‘How the cashless debit card’s axing left chaos in remote WA’. That’s chaos and bedlam.

When we rolled out the cashless debit card trial in my electorate, it took months. It was done in many, many weeks, in small portions at a time to help people adjust to the change and set up whatever structures they needed. Yet we saw a Labor government that was hell-bent on shifting something simply because they were ideologically opposed to it. The people that I and member for O’Connor and the member for Grey represent have all been directly impacted by what is a very, very poor decision.

Mr Speaker, I’m sure you’ve heard this before: Labor claimed that we had privatised the welfare system, simply because the cashless debit card was provided by—would you believe?—a bank. Would you believe you need a bank for a debit card? Who’d have thunk it! Guess what? The same bank providing the same card is still in place under this Labor government, because you need it to deliver the service. So all of those commitments were completely untrue, and it just hasn’t happened.

But what we have seen—even though the Alice is not a trial site—is exactly what happens when you take away systems that work in areas that need tough decisions. This is a tough but necessary policy. I would urge the minister to put it back in place, because it actually matters. The feedback I got was that there was an increase in rent rolls being paid. Fewer kids were using breakfast clubs in schools. In fact, the number at one particular school halved after we introduced the debit card. The number of individuals whose parents were then allowing them and helping them to go and do extracurricular activities that cost more money doubled. That sounds like a pretty good outcome to me. Every single one of those children were being fed and had opportunities because the CDC was in place.

Now, we’ve seen the mayors of the four towns affected by the abolition of the cashless debit card in WA and the remote Goldfields. They were pretty clear. They said the abolition of the card was a retrograde step that would increase social harm and that did nothing to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty, unemployment and substance addiction that some residents were suffering. In Ceduna, the residents have held a crisis meeting following the abolition of the CDC amid fears it has contributed to a spike in alcohol abuse, child neglect and absolute bedlam.

The descriptions are about bedlam in Ceduna and chaos in remote WA, and I have challenges in my own electorate, where the trial was very, very different. It was applied only to those individuals who were 35 and under and were on four separate payments, and those were Newstart, youth allowance other, parenting payment single and parenting payment partnered. It worked. We had significant and strong support from community leaders, from other individuals and from Aboriginal organisations who want this to be put back in place.

I have never had a policy which had a stronger level of support in my electorate than the cashless debit card. Roughly 70 per cent either supported it or were not opposed. This was tested by the media and by other individuals. They polled it; they did everything. And guess what? The people that I represent know that it’s a tough but necessary policy. They know you have to implement tough but necessary policies if you want change. Nothing will ever be a silver bullet, but to simply take it away and replace it with nothing—well, we have all seen what the results of that look like. I say shame on the Labor government.

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