Second reading – Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019

Monday, 25 November 2019

Mr PITT: I once again find myself on my feet speaking after the member for Barton, the shadow minister, on the cashless debit card. I once again publicly invite the member for Barton, the shadow minister, to my electorate of Hinkler to come up and talk to trial participants, talk to our individuals who are out there on the front line providing services for those in need, talk to our law enforcement agents, talk to real estate agents and talk to individuals who are actually in the community and have ties, not to those social activists who are on Facebook and those individuals who don’t live there. Come and see the real people who are actually affected by the card, who are participating, and see what the real results are on the ground.

In terms of consultation, I say again to the member for Barton: what more do you want? I will speak in detail later about what we’ve already done, but if you want more consultation then please be specific. Tell us what it is that you want us to do. To my mind and to my view, we’ve done extensive levels of consultation throughout the electorate, and I’ll outline those as the speech progresses.

The University of South Australia has been engaged to assess the outcomes and results of the cashless debit card trial in Hinkler. My understanding is they are out there and they’ve put together their baseline data. That is very near to being released. That will give us something to work on which is consistent, identifiable and verifiable. The University of South Australia is an organisation well-recognised for doing this type of work.

We find that those in the other place have magically discovered the benefits of my electorate. In Bundaberg and Hervey Bay we’ve had more visits by those opposite in recent weeks than I have seen in the past couple of terms. A senator in the other place, Senator Chisholm, has magically discovered the joys of Hervey Bay and Bundaberg. I hope that he spent plenty of money while he was there. I note that he had a meeting in Hervey Bay with regard to the cashless debit card. From what I’ve seen of the pictures, I don’t know that there was a single participant at the meeting. I’m not sure that there was a single frontline service provider. There were a handful of individuals who looked like they don’t even belong in the electorate; they’re not affected. If you want to consult with those individuals, call my office and we will put it together. We will put you with people who are actually on the card, who are participants who work there. Don’t just roll up and think this is simply a media opportunity for you to move on with.

To the Facebook activists: once again, come up and talk to the participants. It’s no good putting on social media things that frighten individuals, particularly if you’re based out of Sydney.

The Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019 extends the date for existing CDC trial areas from 30 June 2020 to 30 June 2021. It gives an end date of 31 December 2021 for the CDC trial in Cape York. It removes the cap on the number of trial participants. It removes the exclusion to allow people in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay trial area to be able to voluntarily participate in the CDC trial. I will say that again for those social media activists who are out there frightening individuals: they can volunteer. This is not forced upon those individuals. They can volunteer—for those outside of the trial participants in the Hinkler electorate. It establishes the Northern Territory and Cape York areas as CDC trial areas and transitions income management participants in those sites onto the CDC trial. It enables the secretary to advise a community body when a person has exited the trial and improves the workability of the evaluation process.

I want to focus on a couple of points in the bill, the main one being the ability to volunteer. We have people out there, particularly on Facebook and other social media platforms, who are trying to scare my local people. Whether they are pensioners, whether they are veterans or whether they are on a disability support pension they will not be forced onto the trial. Those individuals who are doing this should stop doing it in the Hinkler trial area. It is wrong and it is inappropriate. You are simply scaring those individuals who are vulnerable. This is a voluntary provision for those in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. We will also see those 23,000 individuals in the Northern Territory and Cape York transition from income management to the card from April 2020.

This has been, without doubt, a long and difficult process in terms of the implementation of the trial and the rollout in the first instance. The electorate was announced as the fourth region for the CDC—the cashless debit card—trial. Here are some of the stats and some of the reasons. What we’ve discovered is that 90 per cent of individuals under 30 and on welfare had a parent who was also on welfare during the past 15 years. The majority of those were on welfare for at least nine of those 15 years, and, without intervention, the projection was that 57 per cent of those under 30 on welfare would still be on income support in 10 years time. So the real question is: do you want to do something? What happens is those opposite quite simply don’t want to do anything. I can understand them being ideologically opposed. There is no doubt that that is usually the position for those on the other side. But my community actually wants action. They want change. They want our community to improve. They want opportunities for our youth. They don’t want to see these types of statistics into the future.

The cashless debit card is a tough but necessary policy, and my community wants change. Doing nothing is not an option. It works like any other debit card. People can pay their rent, their bills, their groceries. The anecdotal feedback from local organisations has been very, very positive: improvements in the rent roll; shopkeepers who are seeing people buy groceries and other types of foodstuffs—people they’ve never seen do that before. All of these services are available through this new technology. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: the cashless debit card is by no means a silver bullet. It does not hold all of the answers for all communities. It is a complex situation, but we are actually taking action, as doing nothing will never be an option. We hope the card will provide more stability for families and/or those jobseekers with the restrictions on welfare payments for alcohol, gambling or illicit substances.

We had Minister Ruston in the Hinkler electorate in August, and this is some of the feedback that we received at the time. We had individuals actually ask to go on to the card. This amendment allows that to happen. That legislation is now before the House. People are able to budget better. They have money left over at the end of the fortnight. They have some savings. One of the emergency relief organisations in Hervey Bay reported a reduction in people coming in for their free food service. I will quote from the transcript from the 7.30 program on the CDC. It is anecdotal evidence, but we are doing the reviews and we do have the University of South Australia doing the work for us to identify how it works. Jan Carlson, from We Care 2, said on the program:

We have noticed since about July a significant decrease in the number of people coming in for free food through the emergency relief program and an increase, almost parallel in numbers, to the people coming through our low cost food centre and actually purchasing food.

The journalist, Peter McCutcheon, asked:

Do you think that can be attributed to the cashless debit card?

Ms Carlson replied:

Well, I can’t say unequivocally but it’s a trend that we have never seen before. We have never had that, we usually would get in three days we would get at least 30, maybe 36 people through emergency relief previously. Now we’re probably seeing 12 a week.

The CDC started rolling out on 29 January 2019 across Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. It includes the townships of

Aldershot, Bargara, Elliot Heads, Woodgate, Branyan, Booyal, Burrum Heads, Torbanlea, Toogoom, Howard, Childers, Burnett Heads, River Heads and Point Vernon. On 9 August 2019, we had 5,764 participants aged 35 years and under who are on Newstart, youth allowance jobseeker, parenting payment single or parenting payment partnered who have received the card. I will say that again: 5,764 individuals in the trial site for Hinkler.

This card looks and operates like any other regular EFTPOS card. It quite simply does. Obviously, 80 per cent is quarantined. It can’t be used for the purchase of alcohol or gambling products, and, of course, the restriction on cash means a reduction in the purchase of illicit substances. The formal evaluation was undertaken by those researchers from the University of Adelaide’s Future of Employment and Skills research centre, as I’ve said. Consultation gets raised regularly by those opposite, and I say again: what more do you want us to do? Between May 2017 and December 2017, the Department of Social Services conducted over 188 meetings in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. This included five meetings with Commonwealth government agencies, 19 with community members, three meetings with community reference groups, two large community meetings with the public, 25 meetings with local government reps, four meetings with peak bodies, and 55 meetings with service providers. My office contacted 32,000 constituents to get an indication of their views before the trial was even put forward. That is a very large proportion of an electorate of about 107,000 voters. We sent 32,000 individuals direct mail. We phone polled about 500 people. We sent an additional 5½ thousand direct emails. We had calls in and out of the electorate. The feedback we got showed 75 per cent were not against the trial or the rollout. That was the feedback to my office from that type of polling and that type of work. In May of 2018, the local newspaper, the NewsMail and the Fraser Coast Chronicle engaged ReachTEL to do a poll. Everyone in this place understands polling and how it works, particularly through organisations like ReachTEL.

An opposition member interjecting

Mr PITT: I note the interjection from those opposite, who think the polling from the last election might have been inaccurate but we have had a very large poll since—the election. The ReachTEL poll showed that the overwhelming majority of people in the Hinkler electorate are not against the card. Just 27.8 per cent of those polled were opposed. There were 637 residents across the electorate polled. It is a good sized sample, it is a good indication that it is strongly supported in the community. I say again to those opposite: this is about actually doing something. It is not a silver bullet, it will not fix all problems but it is a big improvement on doing nothing.

My community wants change. They want action. We are doing this. We are taking that action and we are looking forward to the results of the trial. Quite simply, this has been a tough but necessary policy. There are people who have been inconvenienced—there is no doubt about that. It is inconvenient in places but, once again, I say to those opposite: you are welcome to come up. We will help you coordinate and meet these individuals. We will put you into the community with those who actually do these services, who are working every single day with individuals in my community who find themselves in very difficult circumstances. So please take that opportunity and come up to the Hinkler trial site. It is the purpose of a trial—that is why we run a trial—to establish the baseline, to establish the results, to establish whether it works, and the anecdotal evidence to date has been very positive from the community.

To all those individuals in my electorate who are listening who are on the CDC trial: if you have an issue, if you have a challenge with the card, if you find a fundamental technical problem, there are shopfronts in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay that can help you. You can go online; you can use the website. There is any number of ways to get help. The way you don’t get help is to go to a social media activist, post it on their Facebook page and tell them what you think may or may not have happened; that will not help you. I will say to all of those activists again: you are helping no-one by encouraging individuals to come to you so you can post something on social media. That doesn’t help a single person. Those shopfronts are active and their services are available.

In conclusion, and in my support of the original social security bill, there are just under 6,000 participants. If all of the challenges that the social media activists put forward are actually happening, I would have a queue of 1,000 people around the corner from my office. I do not. Individuals in that bracket, under 35, quite simply do not use a lot of cash. They use a debit card just like the cashless debit card. I fully support the amendments and the trial, and we look forward to the results. I commend the bill to the House.

#thegov_button_661ecfb17850a { color: rgba(255,255,255,1); }#thegov_button_661ecfb17850a:hover { color: rgba(255,255,255,1); }#thegov_button_661ecfb17850a { border-color: transparent; background-color: rgba(0,82,148,1); }#thegov_button_661ecfb17850a:hover { border-color: transparent; background-color: rgba(255,194,14,1); }