Question without notice – Welfare reform

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Mr PITT: My question is to the Minister for Families and Social Services. Will the minister update the House on how the government is standing together with local communities to expand the cashless debit card into new regions, helping welfare recipients to fight addiction and regain control of their lives? Is the minister aware of any alternative views?

Mr FLETCHER (Minister for Families and Social Services): I do thank the member for Hinkler, who’s been a very strong advocate for the cashless debit card. He’s been a strong advocate for this program designed to reduce social harm caused by welfare-fuelled alcohol and drug abuse and gambling in areas with high levels of welfare dependency. He’s been a particularly strong advocate for extending the cashless debit card to Bundaberg and Hervey Bay—this, I might say, in the face of trenchant opposition from Labor and the Greens. But, despite that trenchant opposition, the Morrison government has now delivered, has now secured legislative approval to extend the cashless debit card to Bundaberg and Hervey Bay with the legislation passing the Senate yesterday.

Of course, this builds on three existing trials in Ceduna, the Goldfields and East Kimberly. Significantly, the composition of people in the trial in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay will be 14 per cent Indigenous and the rest non-Indigenous. A very significant question indeed was asked by an ABC journalist yesterday speaking to the shadow minister. He said, ‘So why would you’—meaning Labor—’support the trial in majority-Indigenous communities being extended but not support it being expanded to areas that are not majority Indigenous?’ It’s a very good question. What the shadow minister had to say in response to that was to assert that it had nothing to do with the demographics of the community. She said, ‘There’s not been a proper community consultation, which is patently clear.’

Let’s look at the facts. Let’s look at the facts in relation to consultation. Between May 2017 and December 2017, the Department of Social Services conducted over 188 meetings in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area. This included five meetings with Commonwealth government agencies, 19 meetings with community members, three meetings with the community reference group, two large community meetings with the public, 25 meetings with local government representatives, four meetings with peak bodies and 55 meetings with service providers, and yet the shadow minister says that there was not adequate consultation. There was extremely strong and extensive consultation because the principle is very clear: the cashless debit card is an initiative designed to reduce the negative impact of welfare-fuelled alcohol and drug abuse and gambling in areas with high levels of welfare dependency, which certainly includes Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. Where there is strong community support for it, we will introduce it, and that is what we are doing in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. We’re determined to make our welfare system work better. (Time expired)

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